By Oded Cohen
I was born and raised in Israel at Kibbutz Revivim, a very non-religious kibbutz. Living in a state where there is a constant power struggle among the Orthodox Jews, other religious groups, and the secular Jews, we developed a very anti-religious attitude of rebelliousness and disrespect to those who believed in God and in the concept of God as Creator and supreme power whom people worship.
I remember as a teenager, we had a tradition every Yom Kippurthe Day of Atonement and of fasting, the holiest day in the Jewish religious tradition (or at least it's supposed to be). Not only did we never fast, we looked down on those who attempted to. We even made it a point to have a huge barbecue that smelled up the whole kibbutz, and whenever we were able to get a hold of a pig, that was a double accomplishment.
As time went on, I came to America and married a Chinese woman. My wife appreciated the richness of my culture so much that she started reading the Old Testament and considered converting to Judaism. That was quite an inspiration for me; I even started reading the Bible a little. However, somebody managed to give her the "other part" of the Biblethe New Testament. Soon after, to my dismay, she became a Christian.
My reaction was, "Oh boy, what am I going to do now?" The whole idea of Jesus was very foreign to me and had a negative stigma because of things that were done in the name of Christianity. Also, I had a lot of misconceptions about Jesus. Any attempt made by my wife to talk with me and to shed some light about Jesus and Christianity in general met with strong opposition and resistance. I was completely close-minded to the idea that it may have had any relevancy to my life as a Jew, especially the "ridiculous" idea of sin. "I'm a good man, never harmed anybody, nor did I steal anything from anybodyI'm not a sinner." Besides, I thought, that's what Yom Kippur is for, for those with a guilty conscience.
My wife realized my resistance was too strong for her to take on by herself, as I have a tendency to enjoy arguing, and I started asking her challenging questions. So she flagged down one of the Jews for Jesus on Market Street in San Francisco and told him that we needed help. Jews for Jesusanother funny idea; I was wondering who made that up! Either you are Jewish or you are Christian. It sounded a little schizophrenic to me.
But since it was so important to my wife, I was willing to allow them to talk to me. After the first meeting with David Mishkin, who headed the San Francisco office of Jews for Jesus, I told my wife, "If they want to come to socialize or talk about politics or anything else, they are welcome, but if they come to 'sell' me Jesus to earn brownie points in heaven, they may as well save themselves the trouble." But since it was important for my wife that I would at least hear what they have to say, I gave in and let them come. In a few meetings, they actually managed to pique my curiosity. At the same time, I also noticed some changes in my wife since she became even more sweet. With the help and guidance of Jews for Jesus, I started to explore the possibility that maybe there was something to what they were saying.
Then Garrett Smith, another Jewish believer on the Jews for Jesus staff, began visiting us. First I had to be shown where in "our Bible" it referred to Jesus, and I was very surprised to see so many references, along with all the Old Testament prophecies, and the way Jesus fulfilled them one by one. The more I read, the more I understood that it is okay for a Jewish person to believe in Jesus, and that Jews for Jesus is not some wacky an idea after all. But this was on the mental level only (from the upper neck up). I still could not really believe in my heart, no matter how much sense it made in my head. So I started experimenting by challenging God and asking for signs to prove that He is who they said He is. And that is when some pretty amazing things happened.
To mention a few: we had a pet bunny at home who was paralyzed in her two back legs. I was sitting with her in the room petting her. Then I laid my hand on her head and closed my eyes and said, "Jesus, if you are who they say you are, let's see you heal her." And before I opened my eyes, she hopped on all four legs and circled the room. I was shocked and amazed, but that wasn't enough yet to make me really believe.
There was some pain in my hip that I had carried with me for the last two or three years. While driving one day to work, I challenged God again saying, "Let's see you take care of that!" Then I forgot all about it. After about a week, I suddenly realized that I didn't remember when the last time was that I felt that pain. It just disappeared and never came back. Again I was amazedwhat an instant response! But did I become a believer? Not yet.
I also had quite a few dreams. In one, I clearly saw Christianity like a branch growing out of a treeJudaism. In other words, Christianity is a continuity of Judaism, rather than being in opposition.
One day, after my wife had been out with a friend distributing pamphlets about Jesus, I told her that she was being phony, that she didn't really love those people because she wasn't ever going to see them again. She told me that she was trying to love them because Jesus loved them, and that she was commanded to share the hope that is in him with others, to try to save them from eternal damnation. I rejected the whole idea that God would judge and condemn people.
That night I had a dream of my favorite radio talk show host, whom I greatly respect, and who was somewhat of an authority figure to me. He told me to read the story of Lot's wife in the Bible. When I woke up, I had no idea what that meant. But after I read the Bible story, it made perfect senseit was about unbelief and Judgment Day. My wife was thrilled. She said that it wasn't a radio talk show host speaking to me in my dreamit was God speaking to me!
During this time, we attended several events, and the leaders of these events were not only men I greatly respected, they were also Jewish believers in Jesus as the Messiah.
The straw that broke the camel's back was when I came home from work one evening, and I felt sick as a dog, shivering, cold, lifeless, weak, and miserable. I knew I would be in bed at least a few days. It was at that point that all the walls inside fell. I lay on my back, my arms spread to the side, and for the first time, rather than challenging God, I simply prayed and said, "Jesus, I open up my heart to you; please enter my heart. Please help me." That's as far as I can remember. I fell asleep and woke up the next morning like a new man. At that point, I could not deny Him anymore, and my life has never been the same since. Things kept on happening, and still are happening on a daily basisthings that only acts of God can explain. I felt like all the pieces of the puzzle in my daily life were falling into place with such ease and peace that was simply amazing.
To top all that, a short time after I became a believer, I had still another dream. I dreamed that I drove a borrowed car down a very steep hill in San Francisco. Suddenly the front windshield covered with fog except for a narrow strip along the top. Not being able to see a thing, I panicked a little and tried to stop the car. But both my legs were paralyzed and frozen in place. I tried to reach for the hand brake, but both my hands were tied down at the side. The car was rolling faster now, and I was in a total panic. Then suddenly a huge voice like from an infinite source, a voice that filled the whole universe, said, "I Am." Not understanding this, I simply asked, "What?" as I tried to look through the narrow strip on top to see who was speaking to me. The voice spoke again, saying, "Shepherd." Then I understood that this Shepherd is Jesus.
When I woke up, I asked my wife what "I Am" means. She showed me in the Bible that it is one of the names of JesusGod Himself. I concluded that God wants us to put all our worries, burdens, and fears on Him, and He is in control of the steering and brakes of our life, if only we trust in Him.
In conclusion, I can say that since I've accepted Jesus as my Messiah and Savior, not only have I not lost my Jewishnessinstead, it has been the other way around. I feel more Jewish than ever. The stories I grew up with that used to be mere fairy tales or folk stories at best, along with the traditional ceremonies and holidays, all became much more meaningful and real to me. Most importantly, the God we knew of but never knew personally, became a living God in my life. He is an awesome God whose love for us is so great and whose desire for a relationship with us so strong, that He sent His only Son Jesus to show us the way and to die for us to be the ultimate atonement for our sins so we can come clean before the glory of God. As it says in the New Testament, in a passage known as John 3:16: For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.
Christopher Joel Dandrow