Large-scale Jesus video project in Jerusalem

By Jan Mortensen, Danish Israel Mission, Jerusalem

Sunday, February 10, 2002, a large-scale Jesus video project in Jerusalem was launched. A great number of volunteers from various local congregations distributed around 90,000 envelopes containing an offer to order the videotape "Yeshua" (Jesus) for free. The movie describes the life of Jesus on the basis of the Gospel of Luke and was available in Hebrew and Russian - and to a lesser degree in .e.g. Amharic and English.

The distribution in Jerusalem was part of a greater project that had already been completed in other Israeli cities - and with great success, it must be said. A great number of people have ordered and seen the movie and many have requested additional information. As a direct consequence of this project several messianic congregations have welcomed new believers in their midst.

The videotapes have been sponsored by the movement Or b'Aretz ("Light in the Land"), which is a subdivision of Campus Crusade, but the project has also been supported by the messianic organization "The National Evangelism Committee" as well as international mission organizations.

Careful preparations
Preparations for the Jerusalem project took months. The special status of Jerusalem required extra careful planning. The organizers were prepared for a greater measure of opposition here. The first step was to unite as many local messianic congregations as possible behind the project. It has been a key issue for the organizers to ensure that the local congregations themselves are involved and take responsibility every step of the way. Only in this way could a serious and durable follow-up be ensured. A large number of congregations decided to join the project.

During December and January the envelopes were packed, there were prayer meetings and coordination meetings. Jerusalem was being divided into districts, and the number of inhabitants estimated. Fortunately one of the congregations had some experience in distribution in Jerusalem and their figures could be applied. Although the project was fully legal according to Israeli law, it was decided to skip the distinctly orthodox Jewish quarters in order to avoid provocation.

Finally the districts were distributed among the congregations according to their abilities, and the volunteers there were instructed etc. The date and time of the distribution was kept a secret for a very long time because of the possibility of "Yad l'Achim" ("A Hand to the Brothers") and other similar anti-mission organizations getting the information. There was no reason to give them a chance to disturb the operation. 206 volunteers in the streets

Sunday, February 10, was the great day. Between the hours of 7 to 12 pm a total of 206 volunteers from the messianic congregations as well as other organizations in Jerusalem distributed some 90,000 envelopes in mailboxes. The operation was deliberately limited to these hours in order to minimize the risk of anti-mission organizations providing countermeasures. During the distribution hours no less than three groups of 10-15 people each were gathered at various congregations praying for the operation. The distribution went well. The volunteers went out with high spirits and great commitment - and most districts had been finished already around 9 pm.

Not without opposition
For the majority of volunteers the distribution went smoothly without any difficulties at all. There were episodes, however, all connected to angry orthodox Jews. In one place a Jewish woman threatened to call "Yad l'Achim". In another incident a group of very angry orthodox Jews surrounded one of the volunteers, a mother with a child, exhibiting very threatening behaviour. Here the police came to her assistance before the situation got out of hand. At Ramot Eshkol an orthodox Jew attacked some Finish ladies tearing envelopes out of their bags. As the ladies were trying to outrun the man, they were able to take refuge in a taxi, which swiftly left the area. The by far worst episode could have been fatal. A group of young volunteers were attacked by a masked man with a knife. Three of the young people managed to escape, but Dema, a 14-year-old boy, was stabbed six times in the arm, back and chest. Witnesses described the assailant as orthodox Jewish based on the religious garb he was wearing. Neighbourhood residents called the police and an ambulance. Dema vas hospitalised for quite a long time, but has now recovered fully.

Even after the distribution had ceased, orthodox Jews were active. In some areas late Sunday night orthodox Jews were seen going from mailbox to mailbox trying to remove the envelopes.

The Follow-up
Receiving the orders
Monday morning the orders started coming in. An interim phone centre had been set up. It was with great anticipation that a number of volunteers started answering the calls. Around 90,000 households had received a very good offer. How many were going to react - and - how? Two phone numbers had been advertised on the slips: one for Hebrew speakers and one for Russian speakers. The experiences from other cities tell that approximately half of the orders will come from Russian speaking people. The first day gave around 370 orders, which was good. Surprisingly enough 70% of these were Hebrew speakers. The rest were Russian speakers - except 10 people, who asked for an English version of the Jesus video.

Not all calls were pleasant. Quite a few just called in order to communicate their anger and disgust. Some continued to call again and again trying to block the line, but still the volunteers received less angry calls than anticipated. At some point Thursday around 550 orders had been filed, and within a week a total of 600.

Handing out videotapes
As early as Wednesday the congregations were able to start handing out videotapes. The volunteers for this important part of the operation receive careful instruction. It is vital that people receiving the video are not being "pushed". They have just ordered a free video expressly "without any obligations on your part!". Those who have ordered a video, however, do get an opportunity to express interest in additional material in various ways. At the door they are asked, if they would mind receiving a call some time later in order to get their opinion about the movie. Most people actually accept this. A slip in the video box gives the opportunity to order a book, and finally an entry at the end of the movie itself adds a phone number for additional information. One of the important characteristics of this part of the project is that any action taken is based on the express interest of those who have responded to the offer.

The project is still running
The messianic congregations are still busy with the project. At some point 30,000 additional envelopes were distributed in some Jerusalem suburbs by mail. The two phone lines are still open but are being transferred to private numbers, so that no phone volunteers are necessary. In mid June around 1000 orders had been made. In mid May I asked two large messianic congregations - one Hebrew-speaking and one Russian-speaking - how the follow-up was going.

The Hebrew-speaking congregation was responsible for about 100 orders and had managed to deliver 90 at the time. The reaction was positive. People were generally grateful and some asked to get additional videos for neighbours, friends or family. Many were interested in receiving additional information about Yeshua. About 30-35% received a New Testament on the doorstep. The majority didn't mind receiving a revisit. There were of course some instances of false addresses and people having second thoughts. Quite a few orthodox Jews had mistaken "Yeshua" to refer to Ye(ho)shua (Joshua) of the Old Testament, and thought they were ordering a video about him. A Christian Polish woman, married into a Jewish familiy, was delighted to finally get in touch with believers in Jesus.

The Russian-speaking congregation was responsible for 120 orders - and had already delivered all the videos by the time I contacted them. They too experienced cases of false addresses. In one case a man had amused himself by stating the address of a convent. The nuns of course vehemently denied any knowledge of the man in question. In general people were grateful and expressed appreciation of the fact that the videos were handed over in person. In most cases the volunteers were invited in for a cup of coffee and a chat. All accepted the offer of being contacted again. Some were curious about the congregation and considered coming to visit. In one case a lady who had watched the movie together with her daughter thought the movie was so bad (most people like it) that she had decided to study the gospels themselves in order to compare them to the movie. This had proven so exciting that she now considered joining the congregation for more Bible study. Another person who, while ordering the movie, had found it important to underline that he was a "hardcase atheist" not only accepted the movie but happily received an evangelistic book at the doorstep with the reply: "I shall read this with great pleasure."

In one area there has been a quite alarming response. Some religious Jews in Ma'aleh Adomim, where the envelopes were distributed by mail, succeeded in finding out who had delivered the envelopes at the postoffice. This person subsequently received death threats by phone. Following this incident it was a little hard to find somebody to take the 30 orders from this area, but finally a congregation agreed. It should be interesting to see how things proceed in this area.

Good fruits
The Jesus video project has been a very encouraging experience for the messianic congregations in Jerusalem. Not only have they managed to reach an impressive number of people with the Jesus video offer - but the reaction has been surprisingly positive. New contacts have been made and the congregations will be occupied with the follow-up for a long time. There was opposition, but even the negative experiences have carried good fruits, as the congregations close ranks around those who were hurt in one way or another. Furthermore, this wonderful and carefully planned project has sparked a new sense of cooperation and belonging together among the messianic congregations in Jerusalem, and the fact that smaller congregations were able to experience themselves as part of a bigger project has given them a new sense of purpose. So even at this early stage it is fair to say that the efforts have been very fruitful - but there is reason to believe that more is to come.

Good experiences from other cities
New followers of Yeshua
The Jesus video project has already been running in other cities in Israel for some years. In general the results have been very encouraging. Reactions vary from place to place, and the leaders of the project have calculated that the percentage of people ordering the videotape in relation to the number of envelopes distributed varies from 1,5% to 6%. I have been granted permission to share some of the results of the project in various cities so far.

In 1999 47,000 brochures were distributed in Bat Yam south of Tel Aviv. Approximately 2,000 ordered the video and as a direct result of the project around 30 people later joined local congregations.

In 2000 around 140,000 brochures were distributed in the Tel Aviv area, but here the response was surprisingly low: Only 1,980 ordered the video. Still around 10 persons found their way to a messianic congregation.

In 2001 material was distributed in a number of cities of various sizes:
Ashkelon: 26,000 envelopes - 800 videos were handed out.
Ashdod: 40,000 envelopes - 900 videos.
Kiryat Gat: 15,000 - 420.
Nes Tziona: ca. 5,000 - 100, etc.
Haifa probably had the most exciting response. 100,000 envelopes were distributed and 2,200 ordered the videotape. More than 100 (one hundred!!) of these later joined a messianic congregation in the area!

Russian Jews more open to the Gospel
In most places the percentage between Hebrew speakers and Russian speakers ordering the video is about fifty-fifty. When it comes to actually making a decision to join a congregation, the Russian speakers by far outnumber the Hebrew speakers. This observation confirms an already well-known trend, that the main growth in the messianic congregations happens among Russian-speaking Jews. A lot of the Russian Jews who have come to Israel in recent years do not share the same prejudices and reservations towards Christianity as many of their Hebrew- speaking countrymen.

The distributed material
The ad consists of a rather neutral envelope containing a coloured pamphlet written in Hebrew on one side and in Russian on the other, plus a magnetic reminder to stick on the fridge. The text says:

  • FREE
  • At some point in the history of the people of Israel lived a Jew whose life has affected all the peoples in the world
  • What did he do?
  • How was his ministry?
  • We offer you the movie "Yeshua" in full length and in Hebrew (Russian), FREE.
  • The movie is based on historical facts and has been filmed in The Land featuring Israeli actors.
  • Call and we will deliver the video to you without any obligations on your part.

Jan Mortensen