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Messianic association members express optimism about future
--By Joni B. Hannigan
     ATLANTA, June 15--Calling Jewish people "grossly overlooked" in the past by Southern Baptists, Jack Johnson said all that is changing with "new paradigms" put in place by the North American Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention.
    Johnson, special assistant to the president, told a small group gathered June 15 for a meeting of the North American Messianic Association that a new openness and attitude exists.
    "We're not necessarily hampered or hamstrung by the past," Johnson said. "NAMB is sympathetic with every group trying to reach their people group."
    Touting NAMB's "Strategic Focus" thrust for reaching people in large cities across the nation as "the beginning of good news," Johnson told those assembled to be prepared to be involved in reaching millions.
    "We can give you principles, but you are absolutely indispensable to reaching your own people," Johnson said. "We have levels of understanding, but you have depths of understanding I don't have."
    Jim Austin, association president and pastor of Congregation Beth Shalom, Helena, Mont., said he is excited about plans for NAMB to assist in the planting of Messianic congregations and for a special training camp planned for the future.
    "We are not to just have a Jewish experience, but to be evangelistic," Austin said.
    He said it is important for Jewish people to retain their cultural and ethnic influences which do not detract from the message of salvation through Christ, but only bring things full circle.
    Bob Ryan, director of missions for the Lake County Baptist Association in Illinois, agreed with Austin and said Southern Baptists are working in cities, but almost in isolation.
    In keeping with cultural distinctions, while not watering down the gospel, Baptists can reach even the "religious Jew," said Bruce Stokes, a religious studies teacher at California Baptist University, Riverside.
    Stokes predicted the modern Messianic Jewish movement will soon collide with a new national ethnic awareness. "Where people function together, we will share an altar."
    Fruit, however, is evidence of a people whose work is effective, said Mike Smith, first vice president of the Ohio Baptist Convention and a former Messianic association president.
    Using Matthew 21 as his text, Smith said the fig tree first puts forth its fruit and then its leaves. "Pray God we will not wither," he said. "Reach out to the Jeshua people. Let us be fruitful and multiply."

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