Responding to Missionaries and Cults On Campus and in Israel

Many college students and students “doing their year” in Israel have contacted Jews for Judaism to speak about run-ins they have had with missionaries and cult recruiters. It may have been someone they met on the street, at a cafe,in the library or cafeteria or over the Internet, and often, at college, by a roommate, dorm-mate or new “friend” from class. It is often referred to as “friendship evangelism“.

A Jewish student is befriended by a warm and outgoing Christian or recruiter. As rapport and trust develop, the newfound friend invites the Jew to a special club on campus, at a friend’s house or at a local off-campus institution, ostensibly just to hear an exciting talk, see a movie or hear a cool band. Regardless of the pretext, the Jewish student soon discovers that the real name of the game is “conversion” and that he or she is the target.

In the case of a deceptive missionary, eventually there will be a barrage of questions, such as: “Have you ever sinned? How are you going to have those sins forgiven? If your sins are not forgiven, you’ll go to hell. Do you want to go to hell? Wouldn’t you rather go to heaven? Do you know that Jesus Christ is the savior who died for your sins? If you believe in him and accept him into your heart, you’ll be forgiven, be assured a place in heaven, and have a personal relationship with God.

A cult recruiter can start by talking with the student about the pressures of school and life, fulfillment, frustration, being a good person and joining with others to help the world. The student will be questioned on his life and ultimate goals, then shown how the group has the answers to all their doubts.

Deceptive and aggressive proselytizing by both missionary and cult groups is on the rise and post-high school students continue to be a favorite target. Young people engaged in learning and deciding how they will live their lives are vulnerable to “questions of ultimate importance“. Especially when presented by an “earnest” individual who appears to be content or happy with his life, one who has found the answer in the group or life-style they have chosen.

Individuals are most vulnerable to these groups and their tactics when they are lonely and hurting, overwhelmed or confused, away from their support system or have lost a loved one or a close friend. Can you engage in a good religious discussion with a new friend? Can you join a campus group involved in chesed work in the local community? Of course, not everyone out there is trying to convert or recruit you. However, one should know with whom they are becoming involved.

Ask your new friend about the group and make sure you get straight answers. Among the questions any reputable organization should be able to answer: What national groups, if any, is the group affiliated with? What values or beliefs does the group advocate? What is my commitment to the group? What is the group’s commitment to me? “Red flags” should be raised in your mind if: the group claims to have “all the answers” to your problems; questions are discouraged; or the group can’t tell you the specifics about a program or retreat that they want you to attend.

Jews for Judaism has reports from college campuses around the world that, among others, the following groups are actively targeting students for conversion: Jews for Jesus, Campus Crusade for Christ, Chosen People Ministries, Every Student, the Intervarsity Fellowship, the Fellowship of Christian Athletes and the Boston Church of Christ. Some of these groups dress up fundamentalist Protestant Christianity in Jewish clothes and say you can be Jewish and still believe in Jesus. They often look Jewish (wearing kippot, tzitzit and dressing modestly), use Hebrew and Yiddish terms, and talk about observing Jewish holidays and learning Tanach.

Other students report that interest groups to protect the environment or help the poor and literacy or political campaigns can also be fronts for cultic organizations. These groups can apply high pressure tactics that get people ostensibly involved with social action projects. These programs soon start to take all of a student’s time and redirect their efforts toward the goals of the group and subsequently removes them from the outside world.

The key to making informed decisions is knowing the groups that are on campus or seeking your commitment. Jews for Judaism is available as a resource if you have questions about groups, colleges or techniques used by recruiters and missionaries. Our international staff is available in centers in Baltimore, Los Angeles, Toronto, Johannesburg, Jerusalem, and Sydney. Be alert, be informed and take control of the decisions in your life.

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