I am writing this note to you from New York City at the beginning of April. Spring is in the air, and Passover and Easter are around the corner. Normally, I would be more upbeat, looking forward to the warmer weather, sunshine, and the beauty, believe it or not, of the parks and gardens in New York City.
But, not this year!
We are still at war with an unseen enemy.
As C. S. Lewis wrote,
War creates no absolutely new situation: it simply aggravates the permanent human situation so that we can no longer ignore it.
(C. S. Lewis, Weight of Glory, p. 44)
This has been so true of our battles against the coronavirus. It has pushed us all to the brink of our human frailty and weakness! For a born-and-bred New Yorker, I can tell you that the impact on our lives, economy, and especially our souls is devastating. We are at the end of ourselves and have only one place to look, and that is up to the heavens. So many are broken in health and finances and are now searching for spiritual answers as earthly solutions leave us hopeless.
This morning, I awoke to an email telling me that the relative of a dedicated Christian sister, a Jewish person who as far as we know did not know the Lord, passed away from respiratory complications due to the virus. And there are many others who will pass into eternity from this dreadful disease.
I wanted to bring you up to date on what it is like for us in New York City, which, if you remember, has the largest Jewish population in the United States.
THE STATE OF THE MISSION
We closed the Chosen People Ministries New York headquarters and Brooklyn offices, and we are working remotely to try to keep our staff healthy and in compliance with the mandated shutdowns of “non-essential” businesses. I did not mind doing this and thought it was the right thing to do, especially as much of our staff travels to work by bus or subway, where the density of people and space limitations are breeding grounds for illnesses—even in ordinary times.
Our administrative staff of more than twenty-five people meet “virtually” (by Zoom) for prayer every morning. This group represents the backbone of Your Mission to the Jewish People and handles our office tasks related to finance, print and digital publications, creating video content, church calling, development, and much more. These prayer meetings enable us to stay connected spiritually through prayer and worship. As a result, we are more unified than ever, and all of our administrative systems are working well…Thank God!
However, I noticed in our prayer time this week that more and more of us know someone who has the virus and a few who have died. At this moment (and I hope it has changed by the time you are reading this), my hometown is a battlefield, similar to what I experienced during 9/11!
Yet, in spite of the suffering that comes from the disease, isolation, economic uncertainty, and a massive shift in the way we live, worship, and work for the moment…I know that God is still in control!
I am glad that we had already started using the Internet for ministry years ago. We have now intensified our digital outreach and follow-up. We have more Bible studies with Jewish people happening right now than I can count. I am amazed by the way our staff has adapted to the new environment and are reaching out in new and creative ways to the Jew first and also to the Gentile!
This is not only true in the United States, where we serve in two dozen cities, but also in other countries, including Canada, England, Argentina, and Israel to name a few. Chosen People Ministries is in eighteen countries, and once the dust settles and a missionary family moves to Brazil to conduct ministry among traveling Israelis, we will add Brazil as number nineteen.
In Israel, where there is currently a severe lockdown and incredible uncertainty about the future, we continue our online Hebrew Isaiah 53 Campaign, Passover outreaches, and meetings with dozens of Israelis online who are seeking the Lord.
I am so glad our dedicated and innovative staff are finding new ways to meet these seekers through the phone, Zoom, Skype, and other tools which have enabled new pathways for personal communications.
Someone compared this new technology to the Roman roads of the first century—one of the possible reasons for the rapid spread of the gospel throughout the world. The good news is now traveling from place to place through disciples of Jesus using digital tools.
I am hoping that when life returns to “normal,” we will have discovered many new ways of reaching today’s Jewish community with the gospel and will continue using them.
A BEAUTIFUL JEWISH PRAYER
One of my favorite Jewish prayers is called the Shehechiyanu. The word simply means “has given us life.” The prayer is as follows:
“Blessed are You, Lord our God, Sovereign of all, who has kept us alive, sustained us, and brought us to this season.”
We say this prayer at the start of something new—whether it be the first day of a holiday, beginning life in a new home, a new job, or after a season of hardship.
I look forward to joyfully reciting this prayer when this vicious virus has been controlled and conquered. Meanwhile, we will serve the Lord and wait for His deliverance. It is the waiting, especially in isolation, that is so difficult! God’s people learn patience by waiting. It is the Lord who allows us to experience difficult situations to teach us how to wait on Him.
HOPE AND THE DAY OF PENTECOST
Jewish people around the world are now counting off fifty days between Passover and Pentecost, which begins on May 28, 2020. I see a wonderful convergence between our waiting the fifty days and looking towards the day when the virus is gone.
The Shehechiyanu prayer is recited on Pentecost, The Feast of Weeks (Shavuot) in Jewish tradition. As believers in Jesus, we view this holiday through the lens of Acts chapter 2, when the Lord poured out His Spirit upon one hundred twenty Messianic Jews waiting in an upper room for the promise of the Spirit.
The Spirit empowered them to fulfill the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19–20), beginning in Jerusalem and, eventually, to the remotest part of the earth (Acts 1:8).
These early disciples and my Jewish tradition teach me to wait. The disciples were waiting for the coming of the Spirit. I am waiting for a more “normal” existence—but even more so for the great day of redemption when the Lord returns to reign as King!
When this season of suffering and testing passes, I plan to shout the Shehechiyanu to the Lord.
I will thank the Lord for bringing us to this new season with more enthusiasm than perhaps on any previous Day of Pentecost! I plan to praise God for a new start after being reminded so powerfully of His priorities and that our lives must be dedicated to the proclamation of the gospel. It is all that matters, as this life is frail and momentary.
One day, every tear will finally be wiped away. Until then, we know what we must do!
We are called to proclaim the gospel as we await His return.
And if for some reason we are still in the midst of the crisis, my thoughts about the future will not change—just the dates. He is still the Lord, and He is in control. He loves us, and our future is not knitted to this world, but rather tethered to the age to come and to the One who gives us the gift of everlasting life—Jesus our Messiah.
Stay strong and serve the Lord,
P.S. We know you have suffered as well, and we want to pray for you. Please include your prayer requests for our prayer teams to uphold you and your families before the Lord. Visit chosenpeople.com/pray.