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Jewish Evangelism on College Campuses

Interview with Doug P.

Of the sixty universities in North America with the largest Jewish student bodies, eight are in New York City, accounting for roughly 32,000 graduate and undergraduate students.* This large number represents a vibrant mission field, one in which Chosen People Ministries’ staff member Doug P. has faithfully served for a number of years, making contacts through book tables and one-on-one conversations. Staff writer Alan Shore caught up with Doug for an interview and the answers to several timely questions.

Alan: What are some of the most important ways to minister to Jewish college students?

Doug: The first and most important way is to present Jesus in His Jewish context, where He belongs. This emphasizes His Jewish identity and gives the students what is often a perspective on Jesus that they have not yet heard – but one with which they can identify.

The next thing is that Jewish students feel at home with the Hebrew Scriptures – even if they don’t know much about the Scriptures at all. So you can present your case for Jesus from the Old Testament. Jesus did this, and so did the apostles, as we can see in the Book of Acts.

The next point is that non-religious, secular Jewish students often will not object to hearing something from the New Testament. Presenting Jesus from the New Testament can make Him really stand out, as we know He does – but you must be careful to determine if the person with whom you are speaking will respond to this. You must also listen to your Jewish friend’s point of view; it can’t just be a one-way conversation. By listening, you will also find out where that person stands on spiritual subjects.

One other thing I want to mention is that college students tend to be more open to new ideas than older folks – especially in dialog with people their own age. Peers have a real advantage in connecting with Jewish seekers. If you are a non-Jewish Christian, presenting the Jewishness of the Christian faith can be a complete revelation to a Jewish person. When I share the Gospel, I often convey it as simply information that they can follow up on. By doing this, you are not pressuring the person; instead, you are on safe ground by inviting them to investigate further. This is a non-threatening way to honor your Jewish friend and his or her heritage.

Alan: What are some of the topics you talk to them about?

Doug: I talk about sin – but I try not to use that word. I use the Hebrew word chet (the “ch” is pronounced as a hard “h” deep in your throat), which means “missing the mark.” I was talking with one young man who claimed he had never sinned. But when I explained the concept of “missing the mark” in terms of God’s standards, he paused and said, “You know, I guess I have sinned after all.”

Alan: What are some of the more effective ways to communicate with Jewish college students?

Doug: This is very important. Don’t use “churchy” language. They won’t understand it and it will turn them off. There is also a way to use Scripture more effectively: when you use the Bible – especially a prophecy in the Old Testament – don’t just read it to them. Rather, have them read it with you, right from the Scriptures. It will make a much greater impression.

Alan: What are some of the obstacles you find in reaching Jewish students?

Doug: Sometimes, Christian symbols can present a barrier – for example, if I’m wearing a cross. It depends on the person. But Jewish people definitely tend to be suspicious of Christians and the Church – and sadly, with good reason, especially considering the tragic history of the Jews in Europe, from whom most of these students are descended. We have to be as honest and transparent as possible in order to establish credibility. Sometimes, Jewish students are looking at us carefully, looking for any hint of an anti-Semitic attitude. We have to show real, Christ-like love.

Alan: What attracts Jewish people most to the Gospel?

Doug: I think it is your own relationship with the Lord. If the students are interested, let them draw your testimony from you. But another thing that intrigues them is the connection between Jesus and the Hebrew Scriptures. Understanding the already-existing relationship between the Jewish faith and the Gospel helps these young men and women make more of a connection themselves – and that is a big step along the way.

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