The Joshua Fund’s Origin Story
What are the circumstances that gave birth to The Joshua Fund?
In this episode of Inside The Epicenter with Joel Rosenberg, Joel and his wife Lynn share their testimonies of coming to faith in Jesus and how The Joshua Fund was born. They also talk about the mission of The Joshua Fund to strengthen the church in the Epicenter and fulfill the Great Commission.
Listen to this episode to learn more!
- [Joel] Our heart, our mission, is to make sure that we can, as God enables and God guides, to strengthen the church in the Epicenter. How do we strengthen them so that they can fulfill the great commission, that they, when they see Jesus face to face, they will hear, "Well done, my good and faithful servants"?
- [Carl] Hi, and welcome to this episode of "Inside the Epicenter" with Joel Rosenberg, a podcast of the Joshua Fund, a ministry dedicated to blessing Israel and her neighbors in the name of Jesus. I'm Carl Mueller, Executive Director of the Joshua Fund. And today on the seventh anniversary of the Joshua Fund's founding, we wanted to give you this extra episode to celebrate. Today, you'll hear from Joel and Lynn about how Joshua Fund was born and its mission to strengthen the church in the Epicenter and help them fulfill the Great Commission.
- [Joel] We're gonna be talking about Bible prophecy. So, you're gonna really get to see and hear from the front lines, what is God doing in a region that we hear so much about the bad news and all the things you see on television. A lot of that unfortunately is true, but it's not all that's happening. God is moving in such a very powerful and moving way. And more Jews, more Muslims, are coming to faith in Jesus Christ in the region that we call the Epicenter than any time in human history. And I think maybe even more important, more Jews and and Muslims are listening to the Gospel, are considering the claims of Christ than any other time in human history. And this is an extraordinary thing. And the Joshua Fund exists to mobilize Christians, to educate and mobilize Christians to bless Israel and her neighbors in the name of Jesus. We are not an either/or ministry. And I think sometimes too often evangelical Christians can be very excited about one team or the other. And they get very excited about Israel. And then, "Ah, the Arabs, I don't know." Or vice versa. "We love the Palestinians, we love the Arabs. But those Israelis, they're apartheid colonialists, imperialists." God's heart is for both. He loves Jews and Muslims. And so many of those teams are very far from the Gospel. And the church that operates in Israel, in the Palestinian Territories, and in five neighboring Arab countries, Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Iraq, and Egypt, these churches often are struggling. They're fairly small. They're under-resourced, under prayed for, in my view, our view. And how are they going to make sure that every single person in their countries has heard the Gospel, at least had a chance to hear it. How shall they believe if they have not heard? And how will they hear unless somebody preaches the gospel? So, our heart, our mission, is to make sure that we can, as God enables and God guides, to strengthen the church in the Epicenter. Take that as my broad term for Israel and her neighbors. How do we strengthen them so that they can fulfill the Great Commission? That they, when they see Jesus face to face, they will hear, "Well done, my good and faithful servants. You were faithful in the part that I gave you. You were faithful in a few things." And then Jesus will say, "I'll put you in charge of many more things throughout the millennial kingdom and eternity. Enter into the joy of your master." And that's a challenge because this is the least reached region in the world. It should be the most reached. It's where the gospel came and came from. But the fewest number of people in this part of the world, our part of the world, have heard the Gospel and have responded positively. So, how can we come alongside them? How can we encourage them? How can we strengthen them? How can we financially invest in them? That's what the Joshua Fund is. We thought we'd start just by telling some testimonies, how Lynn and I came to know the Lord, came to know each other, and how God gave us a heart together to love Israel and her neighbors. So, I'm gonna turn to my lovely bride to start us off. And so how did she come to faith in Jesus? And that's how the road begins to get to actually why you're here tonight. I don't know, I mean, again, unless you're here mistakenly. But otherwise, the Holy Spirit has used us in some strange way. We still don't fully understand it, but we're grateful that you're here and to be able to share our stories a little bit tonight.
- [Lynn] So, my next door neighbors had a backyard Bible club that I went to when I was eight years old. And they shared the Gospel with me there, and it was there that I gave my life to Jesus. I remember very clearly each day they would tell us another section of the Gospel. And on the last day gave us an opportunity to really repent and ask Jesus to lead us and put our trust in him for our lives and for salvation. So, that's how I grew up. And I was an acting major, a theater major, and auditioned to get into Syracuse University and was accepted and so that's where I met Joel.
- [Joel] I was born into a family with a Jewish father, Orthodox Jewish from his background. But my mom is not Jewish. Gentile, really a WASP, white Anglo-Saxon Protestant. But they were agnostics by the time they met and married in the mid 1960s. They didn't really know what they believed. And so they read the Quran to find out the answers. And then they're like, "Yeah, I don't really think so." And so they read the Bhagavad Gita and they thought, "Maybe we'll be Hindus." And then, "Eh, I don't know." They read the New Testament, which they didn't understand, and they just kept, they were searchers, they were seekers. But in 1973, so I was born in 60, they were married in 65. I was born in 67, I was born in Syracuse. But then they got lost in a snowstorm just outside of Rochester, New York, in a little town called Fairport. And they thought it was so adorable that they decided they were gonna move there without a job, without any plan. They just, that's where they bought a house and they moved there. And that's where I grew up, just outside of Rochester, New York. But they were still on this spiritual journey. And by 1973, my mother heard the gospel and made a decision to receive Christ and pleaded with my father, who had really no interest in becoming a follower of Jesus. He didn't, he's like, "You know, I'm Jewish. I don't," his little inner rabbi was coming out like he didn't know what he believed, but he knew that Jesus couldn't possibly be the answer, but he was happy for her. And the short version is she wanted to get in a small group Bible study with some young couples who were gonna go through Luke verse by verse, chapter by chapter. And she said, "Would you just please, please, please be part of the study with me, because I don't want to be in this couple study all by myself." He said, "Oh, sure." He really felt like every American should know Shakespeare and the Bible. And he wanted to know the basic plot. So, "Sure, I'm happy to go to this thing." And six months after studying through the gospel, according to Luke, he decided he believed this, that Jesus really is the Messiah. And he came home and said, "I can't believe I'm saying this, but I've become a follower of Jesus." And now he thought he was the first Jew since the apostle Paul who believed this. He'd never heard of a Jewish person who believed in Jesus. He certainly wasn't on the Jews for Jesus newsletter. He had never even heard of one. He'd never met one. And in 1973, there really weren't that many Jewish people in the world that believed in Jesus. In 1967, around the time I was born, we believed there were maybe, maybe 2000 Jewish people on the entire planet Earth who believed in Jesus. Okay? So now, fast forward, I was in fifth grade when I discovered I was Jewish. You're like, "I'm sorry, what? It couldn't be my hearing aid, but maybe Joel, did you just say you were in the fifth grade? 'Cause isn't your name Joel Rosenberg, isn't it? Well, you must have been the dumbest kid in the class." I said, "Well, they're okay now you're getting to know me a little." Yes, that is, sure that was the case, but I didn't know because my parents didn't tell me and because I was not bright enough to figure it out on my own. Lynn has the spiritual gift of discernment. I have the gift of obliviousness. So it's just, and that will come out I'm sure in various ways. That's why I'm very happy to have this great team. So my father was asked at our little tiny church, 300 people, "Hey, would you teach a sixth grade Sunday school class?" "Why?" "Because you're Jewish, right?" Now when people, when Gentiles say, "You're Jewish, right?" My father started to ball up his fists and just see what was coming next. But anyway, they said, "No, no, no. So that means you know the Old Testament, right?" That's a common fallacy that gentile Christians think that all Jews know the scriptures. Most of us don't actually. And my father didn't really, although he was growing in his faith. But he said, "Why are you asking me these questions?" "Because we have a sixth grade Sunday school class that's teaching Old Testament stories, and we thought maybe you'd like to teach that." He said, "Sure. I probably know more than the sixth graders. So, sure." So as it happened, there was a little girl in that class who was fascinated with Jewish people. Her parents, it wasn't Lynn, it was actually Angie, then Moser, now Graftman, married to one of our dearest staff guys. So this is interesting because she was in, now I was in fifth grade, so I didn't, wasn't in, I wasn't in this class. But Angie was in this class with my father. And her parents love Jewish people. They're not Jewish, that they know of. And she kept asking him, "Oh, Mr. Rosenberg. That's a Jewish name, right?" "Well, yeah." "And so you celebrate the holidays." "Well, I did." Anyway, every holiday that came up, she would ask him, "Could you tell us a little bit about that holiday?" Well, as it came time for Passover, she said, "Mr. Rosenberg, did you celebrate Passover?" "Well, of course, Angie. Of course I did." "Well, what did you do?" So he would explain this. And so she asked, "Could we have a Passover Seder in our class?" And my father couldn't think quickly enough of what would be an answer to say no, so he said, "Sure, we'll do it next week." So he comes home, we have Sunday lunch. Look, we were pretty assimilated. We were probably having ham to be honest. So dad says, over lunch, "By the way, next week, I'd like you to all come to my Sunday school class. We're gonna have a Passover Seder." I'm like, "A what?" He said, "You know, a Passover Seder?" I said, "What is that?" He goes, "You don't know what a Passover Seder is?" I said, "No, that's why I'm asking." He goes, "You know, the Seder, it's the thing you do to celebrate Passover." I said, "Okay, what's a Seder?" So he explains what a Seder is. I said, "What's Passover?" He goes, "Are you serious?" "Yes, I'm serious." So he explains what Passover is, and I said, "How would you know how to do that?" He said, "Because I'm Jewish." I said, "You're Jewish? Does that mean I'm Jewish? How did this never come up? Are you serious?" So this is how I discovered that I was Jewish. Now, a couple years later, Angie's parents were leading our little youth group, junior high youth group. And I now in that group, and Angie says, "Oh, you're Mr. Rosenberg's kid." I said, "Yes, I am." "So you're Jewish?" I said, "Apparently." "Well, that's really cool." I said, "Is it? Why is that it?" So anyway, this is where, this is how this started. And so as I grew in my faith, I ended up going to film school at Syracuse University. And this is where I met Lynn and this is where I began to get discipled. And even though my parents loved the Lord and had taken me as far as I could get in high school, the Lord was about to do something in both of our lives that was really going to change us forever and crisscross our paths.
- [Lynn] Yes. So I was a freshman and Joel was a sophomore, and I was very excited to finally be around Christians because I hadn't grown up around any Christians. And yet, I loved the Lord. So this was my chance to finally get involved with other believers and to grow in my faith. So in our little freshman registry, there was an ice cream social with Campus Crusade for Christ, a student group on campus. And I said, "I'm gonna be there." And Joel was the emcee, so he was up in the front welcoming everybody, introducing everybody and everything. And it was love at first sight for me. He was just so funny and so cute. I dunno why I get emotional.
- [Joel] It was a long time ago.
- [Lynn] We were both much cuter then. No, you're still cute. Anyway, but I just, he was hilarious and I was just, yeah, I just was enamored immediately. But I also thought I'm like a brand new baby Christian and he's so mature and he's the leader and he's never gonna see me at all. But he led one of my best friends to the Lord. I mean, a guy named Richie Costello, who was also, his mother was Jewish and his father was Italian. So I got introduced to Joel, kind of through Richie, and my sophomore year, I guess it was, we all were meeting up, it was the beginning of the new year, and Joel was there with Richie and a bunch of my girlfriends, and we were all just, "Hey, how was your summer? How is everything going?" And Joel said, "You know, Billy Graham is coming to our campus at the end of this year and we really ought to get prepared. We ought to be praying for our campus to have a revival and we need to be involved." And he said, "And in fact, he's gonna be in Rochester next month. So we should go there so we can get an idea of what it's gonna be like." And so I said, "I'll go." And so there were only four of us that ended up driving to Rochester, an hour and a half.
- [Joel] Not even Richie went.
- [Lynn] That's true.
- [Joel] Oh my God.
- [Lynn] So four of us drove, those other two guys were in our wedding eventually. And that's how we started to hang out, let's say. And then we started having breakfast and lunch and dinner together. We had no money so we were eating at the cafeterias. And after about a month or so of doing that, Joel said, "I'm so glad that we've become such good friends." And I said, "Yeah, I never thought you'd even wanna be my friend. I'm just like this new believer." And he said, "Wouldn't wanna be your friend? I'd like to be dating you." He just blurted it out. It was very exciting. So all my girlfriends learned that you could pine away for somebody for more than a year and something could actually happen eventually. So that's when we started dating.
- [Joel] Amen. So we got engaged at the end of my senior year, but she still had a year to go. So we got married just, I think, two weeks after Lynn graduated. We had our four sons: Caleb, Jacob, Jonah and Noah, and 25, 23, 21, and 15. And as we settled in Washington and I became a failed political consultant. If you know, anything, you know about my history, you know that everyone I ever worked for lost in politics. And then I started making things up for a living and I started writing political thrillers. And as those novels became successful, again, you know, who knew? I'm like, I'm one of the few Jewish people in America that didn't get the financial gene, right? I'm not your stockbroker, not your hedge fund manager, your accountant, I'm not a doctor or a lawyer or a chiropractor. You didn't really get the classic, I'm not running a movie theater or a movie company. But as the novels began to be more popular and I got invited to speak around the country, I found that because the novels were talking about worst case scenarios that could happen in the Middle East. People would ask me, "Okay, well bad things are happening in the Middle East. What should we be doing as Christians in addition to prayer, certainly, how can we be making an impact on the Middle East? What should we do? What should we give to?" And I would come home to Lynn after these book tour events, and I'd say, "I actually don't know how to answer them. Not because we don't know ministries that we think are really worthy of investing in, but because I don't know how to summarize at the end of a sermon or a Q and A session all the dozens and dozens of ministries and leaders and projects. How could I possibly summarize that for people and give them enough information in that short amount of time that they would be able to make a good, wise, thoughtful decision about where to invest their financial resources to advance the gospel in an age of radical Islamist terrorism and war in Iraq and so forth?" And this is when we started cooking on, "Well, what does the Lord want us to do?" And from that, the Joshua Fund began to take shape.
- ]Carl] The verse of the day is found in 1 Corinthian 16:9. For a wide door for effective work has opened to me and there are many adversaries. And the prayer request today is pray for the Joshua Fund, that God keeps opening ministry doors and provides resources to reach the Epicenter and pray for the Joshua Fund, that people are drawn from all around the world to partner with Joshua Fund's goals and mission.
- [Lynn] Joel got invited to speak at a fundraiser for Campus Crusade Canada. And so, as alumni of Cru, we said, "Yes, we'll come. We'll do that." And so Joel spoke and just talked about, he always says that, "Yes, he'll come and speak about his books," but what really excites him is what God's doing in the region. And that's what he really wants to talk about. So he'll usually quickly talk about how the books came about and then immediately get to some great stories about what God's doing among the people in the Middle East. So that's what he had done. And afterwards, two different couples, without talking to one another, came up to us at two different nights and literally handed us checks for $15,000 each and said, "We would like you." One of them said, "We think you should translate your book into Hebrew," the one that's called Ezekiel Option, "because the gospel's very clear in there. And we feel that if you translated this into Hebrew, it would be a great evangelistic tool, and we wanna pay for that, or at least $15,000 towards it." And then another night, a different couple came up to us and said, "We wanna write you a check for $15,000." We're not used to this happening to us. "And we feel like it should be translated into Russian because it deals with the Russians and it talks about the Russians, and it's so evangelistic and one in five Israelis come from a Russian background. So if it's written in Russian, it would be really effective." Well we thought, "We don't know who you should write these checks to." We're not gonna just take a check for $15,000. We don't know any translators. And we wouldn't know what to do with it. So we asked the people that had organized it, the Campus Crusade people, they said, "Look, we'll set up a bank account for you."
- [Joel] "We'll take the money."
- [Lynn] Yeah, "We'll take the money." We'll set a bank account for you temporarily until you guys get this figured out. You need to start a ministry. You need to start a ministry so that you can do this." And so we gathered together, I guess seven really wonderful friends that we'd been on many mission trips together and we'd been in church together, and including the Lugbills, were there around our dining room table, that very first gathering and prayed and talked and did the paperwork and started a nonprofit so that we could start to translate these books. But at that same time, the Lebanon war broke out right as that was happening. So do you wanna talk about?
- Yeah, that was two. So this was the summer of 2006, and we wanted, we took the Joshua Fund, the name comes actually, we just plucked it right out of my first novel, The Last Jihad, in which the main character, John Bennett, is a global hedge fund manager, or he's a chief strategist for a global hedge fund called the Joshua Fund. And so we thought, "Well, let's just, we want to invest in the gospel work in the Middle East, let's just pluck it outta the books." So that's what we did. We don't think we thought much about it. We thought, "Let's just do that." And we also like the idea that Moses brought the people up to the land, but then Joshua led them into the land. And this is now taking the gospel into the land. And Joshua and Yeshua, the name for Jesus is so basically the same name. So this was why. But we thought we can't just invest in the gospel work for Jews. Dan Ribes, who just led us in worship, he's our brother-in-law and he's from Lebanon. He was born and raised in Beirut in the Civil War of the mid-1970s. His family eventually escaped. He lived for a while in the hallway of his apartment building because the building was rattling from all the bombing of the Civil War in the mid-seventies in Beirut. Eventually they got to the United States and then eventually, Dan came to faith and married Lynn's sister and he's part, he's a dear member of our family. And we thought, "Well, we can't just start a ministry and say," go over to Dan and Susan's house every few days and go, "Hey, we're blessing the Jews. Yeah, you guys, in Lebanon. You're on your own." It just, God doesn't work that way. He's not just a brother-in-law. He's a brother in Christ. And we believe that God is a both and God when it comes to love for Israel and her neighbors. So that was the basis. Then we also thought, "Well we ought to do, we can't just use my books in some evangelistic way. There ought to be other ways that we can strengthen the church and bless Israel." And we thought, "Well, humanitarian relief. There's poor and needy people. Maybe we can help with that." So I think I recommended we do, I don't know, $50,000, $25,000 worth of relief. And let's just say the rest of the board members laughed and said, "That's not walking by faith. Let's do a million dollars worth of relief." And I said, "Well, sure, let's just do a hundred million. I mean, where are you getting that money from?" They said, "Well, aren't we gonna walk by faith here?" So we began to lay out the principles that should really govern this. And I'm glad that we did because ultimately the goal was how can we not do the work of the gospel in Israel and the neighboring countries? How can we come alongside and how can we resource, pray for, encourage, and invest in as relationally and financially as God enables to help the church do its job in the Middle East? And so that's the, you know, and then just weeks after we signed the paperwork and formed this board, of which Tim was the founding chairman and Carolyn was one of the founding board members. Boom, the second Lebanon war broke out. 4,000 rockets and missiles rained down on Israel and it was devastating. But because I also had a book coming out at that moment, suddenly, people just, the Holy Spirit just started moving people's hearts. And we, I was mentioning that, that Joshua had just been started and we're gonna try to help strengthen the church in this region in the midst of this war. And just checks started coming in to a PO box. Barrels, baskets full of checks like the fish and the loaves.
- [Lynn] I just wanted to back up for one second to say that when we were newlyweds and we joined this kind of megachurch in the Washington DC area, we really wanted to get involved cross-culturally because in college we both felt the call to, I felt like I was supposed to live overseas and be involved in mission work for the rest of my life. That was gonna be what I did. And Joel knew that his role somehow had to do with bringing the gospel to Israel. And so we'd been praying and wanting to be involved in Jewish ministry in some way. So the very first year of marriage, our church had a missions conference where all the various missionaries came to, if they could, they came back and they all set up little booths in the auditorium. And we went around to every single person that was in any way connected to the Middle East and said, "What can we do to help you? To know you, to support you, to teach us, please." And there were no, nobody was working among Jewish people there, but there were two couples that were working in the Arab world. One in radio, in Arabic radio, and the other in Trans World Radio.
- [Joel] The entire Arab ministry there.
- [Lynn] Right? Yes. Evelyn and Hana Shaheen, and then also this other couple, Henry and Ruthie Allen, who were reaching, who were overseeing cruise ministry to the entire Middle East and the Stans and the Persian world, anyway.
- [Joel] We don't call it Campus Crusade in the region. Crusade as a bad aura in our part of the world.
- [Lynn] So we said to these two couples, "We just wanna learn from you. We wanna be involved somehow with what God's doing in the Middle East. We're just this newlywed couple and can we do anything for you? When you're here in Virginia, we will set up meetings for you. You can stay in our home or we'll arrange you to speak around and everything." And those two couples taught us so much and they really became mentors to us. And we had no problem with Arab people. We never would've said, "We don't like Arabs," or, "we're afraid." But we didn't know anybody. We didn't know anybody from the Arab world. And it was like the Lord said, "It's great that you think you love Arab people and you love all people. I want you to have, to know both sides of this story." And so we ended up starting really with the Arab world and going to Spain and reaching people from Morocco and Algeria and Tunisia and learning about Islam and how to talk to Muslims about the gospel. And we don't just think that we love the Arab world. We know dear brothers and sisters that we would, we wanna stand with and we love so dearly, and that's who we think of when we think of this region. So it's kind of amazing. I'm so grateful that God did that. He started us with the other side of the story and we learned both halves that way.
- [Joel] So much so that for, even though we both knew that as by getting married, we were committing ourselves to reach Israel with the gospel 'cause we knew both of us had been called to that. But for 13 years in our marriage, God prevented us from going to Israel. I mean, every opportunity that came up, boom, the door on was locked shut. Couldn't get through it. And yet, in God's timing, he started the ministry of Joshua Fund in 2006, exactly 20 years to the fall of 1986, when I was at Syracuse University as a sophomore, I was having my quiet time, and the Holy Spirit just spoke to me and said, he doesn't do that usually. But he spoke very clearly. He said, "Your mission is to reach every Jew and every Gentile in the land of Israel with the gospel of Jesus Christ." End of transmission. "What, what?" And 20 years later, the Joshua Fund was born. I don't know, I can't explain why 20 years later. And now after 13 years of not being even able to go into the country, Lynn and I are citizens. We have one son that just finished the army in Israel, one that's in the army now, one's that's a freshman in high school there. We look forward to teaching the scriptures, talking about these issues. But we thought it would be good to just, you get a little sense of who we are and why we do what we do. Hi, this is Joel Rosenberg, founder and chairman of the Joshua Fund, and I've got exciting news. In 2023, I'm inviting you on behalf of our entire board and staff to come to the holy land, to come to Israel on the next prayer and vision tour. This is the 75th anniversary of the prophetic rebirth of the modern state of Israel back in 1948. And what is God doing here? It's amazing. Spiritually, economically, in so many ways. There's been so much growth, so much progress. But the best is yet to come and we want you to see it. We want you to walk where Jesus walks. We want you to see where the apostles ministered. We want you to see where people's lives were transformed by the love of God and the power of the Holy Spirit. We want you to see this city where Jesus died and rose again and where he's coming back, I hope soon. But in the meantime, come to Israel with the Joshua Fund. You can learn more about the trip, the itinerary, the cost, all the details at joshuafund.com. But sign up quickly 'cause I think this thing is gonna fill up fast. The prayer and vision tour of Israel in the fall of 2023. I hope to see you there. I'm Joel Rosenberg. On your left you'll find some videos we've chosen specifically for you. We look forward to partnering with you to bless Israel and her neighbors in the name of Jesus.