We started off the week with a baptism at Brighton Beach. There were three people to be baptized, one man and two ladies one of whom is Jewish. It was amazing to be standing on the beach singing and worshiping GOD with my fellow brothers and sisters in Messiah whom I had never met before and welcoming yet new siblings into the family of GOD! I felt so connected to these people that are so different from me, but yet we all share the same Heavenly Father and the same love and gratitude for HIM. And the joy to watch these three new believers announce publicly to the world what GOD had done for them and their decision to follow HIM for the rest of their lives was something I really can't describe to you. But if you are a Christian, you know what I'm talking about.
(each person being baptized gave a short version of their testimony beforehand)
Everyday started off with a worship service and devotional. We had training all morning and headed out to the streets in the afternoon. There were about 34 participants in Shalom Brooklyn and we were divided into teams of 5 to 8 with a Chosen People staff member as our leader. The teams would rotate between sites throughout the week so there was a new team at the same location through the entire week (which proved to be very helpful in many ways). At the sites (usually a park) we would set up a book table with some Biblical literature and Bibles to give out. While 2 people would man the table the other team members would break off into pairs and walk the park doing a one-page spiritual questionnaire to try to get people in conversations about their beliefs.
If you will notice our shirts say Isaiah53.com on them. The main book we handed out at the tables was the book Isaiah 53 Explained. This book goes through Isaiah chapter 53 (also known as the Suffering Servant passage) and breaks the passage down explaining how Yeshua (Jesus) is the Jewish Messiah. We would ask people if they had ever read Isaiah 53 and if they had who they thought the person in the passage was.
You will also notice in the picture above that the sign on the table asks the question "Does God Exist?". Another way we got people to stop by the booth was to pose a question on a white board and ask people's opinion on the question. Some of the questions the Shalom Brooklyn group thought of included "Was Jesus really the Messiah?" "Have you found peace with God?" and "Who or what is god in your life?".
It was interesting to hear the answers people had. One guy stopped by the booth that I was at with the question "Does God exist?" on it and checked "yes" in the boxes we drew below the question. When I asked him why he checked "yes" and who he thought God was he said that he didn't know who or what it was but he knew that all this (meaning creation) didn't just happen but chance that something, or someone, had to have made it. It was amazing to see that no one taught this man that knowledge, GOD revealed HIMSELF to this man. I always felt like it was MY responsibility to tell people about GOD, that if I didn't tell people they would never know about HIM. But that day GOD taught me that it was not my responsibility to save people. HE saved people, it was just my responsibility to obey HIM as HIS disciple.
In the months leading up this mission trip I had really been struggling with having a Messiah complex (meaning I felt like I was responsible to save people). Through this trip GOD showed me that HE was orchestrating plans that I didn't know about to draw people to HIMSELF and that when I, in my human disadvantage, could not fulfill or finish a task HE would and that nothing was slipping by HIM. Every person is precious to HIM and HE desires that ALL come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9, 2 Peter 3:15) and, while HE wants us to choose HIM of our own free will, HE will do the drawing.
Which leads me into my next story.
On the fifth day we were in NY we set up our booth in a part of Central Park (actually right next to the Trump campaign headquarters). There I met who I'll refer to as Pigeon Man. Pigeon Man was feeding pigeons (thus the name) and had drawn the attention of me and two other young people because the pigeons where eating right out of his hands (literally!). The particular tracts I was handing out that day were advertising a website called I Found Shalom where several Jewish people share there testimonies. I mentioned that he seemed to have found shalom because he obviously seemed to be at peace and asked him if he'd share how he found it. Apparently this man has looked at every major religion of the world and has picked out the "common threads" in them to be his religion. This man also believed strongly in free will and that the purpose of life is to choose righteousness and that if you don't choose righteousness in this life, you will come back again and again until you do. I tried pointing out to him that you can not say that you believe in free will if life's ultimate goal is to choose righteousness.
Let me explain what I mean by that:
Free will is the ability to choose your own path in life and how you will walk that path. In order for free will to work, the choices you or I make must be honored. If I want to choose to follow a Jewish Rabbi my choice to do so must be honored by letting me follow this Jewish Teacher. And if I want to choose to be evil and not choose righteousness in order for free will to work I should be allowed to pursue evilness. But what this man was saying is that while I could choose to be evil, at the end of the day (or the end of one of my many lives) I must choose to be righteous in order to move on. Otherwise I would be stuck and unable to proceed in life. But if free will is the ability to choose ones' own life, how can we make our own choices if at the end of the day we MUST choose to be one certain way?
I tried to be respectful in presenting my case, as Pigeon Man was in presenting his. But in the end we had to part ways because neither of us could agree with the other. We talked for a good hour on this subject and many others before he had to leave. Honestly I would have finished the conversation sooner but remember the two young people I mentioned earlier who were watching the pigeons with me? They were hanging on every word Pigeon Man and I said. So I stuck around because I knew they were listening and when we parted ways they walked off with Pigeon Man asking him more questions.
Watching them walk off I literally began to weep knowing just how blind this man was and here he was making disciples. It was so heartbreaking to see an intelligent man who has genuinely studied be so blind to one simple truth. It was hard to walk away from that meeting not knowing if I made a difference and feeling like I had not.
But you know what? GOD gave me a peace about it. No, I didn't feel like I presented my case in the best way and that Pigeon Man got back to his house, fell on his knees, and gave his life to Messiah. But, I had defended my Savior in the best way I could, and even if those people didn't listen, I shared The Truth with them and GOD was going to handle the rest.
I've got more stories coming up so stay tuned!
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