The Larry Rosenbaum Story:
High School: Graduated from North Central High School in 1963
Synagogue of youth: Indianapolis Hebrew Congregation / Reform Judaism
College: B.A. in Social Sciences from Yale University, 1967
Graduate School: M.A. in Psychology from Brandeis University, 1970
Ministry: Founder and Director of S.O.S. ministry in San Francisco
Passion: To reach young people on the streets of San Francisco with the message of Gods transforming power. To see them set free from addictive behaviors, destructive lifestyles, and in exchange receive new life, purpose and the forgiveness for their sins.
Introduction by Jon Lieberman: Larry and I grew up in the same Jewish community and attended the same Temple as youths. Larry was about three years older and attended a different high school, so we didnt have the same set of Jewish friends, but we were all mishpochah (family) since my parents knew his parents very well. Our paths, though, took on very similar "seeking" directions. I, obviously, was quite excited when I first learned of Larrys experiences with God that paralleled mine in many ways.
Introduction by Larry:
Every week I spend countless hours reaching out to hundreds of wayward teenagers, drug addicts, and prostitutes on the streets of San Francisco. I counsel them, offer them hope, and share with them a message that has literally transformed their lives. You might ask, "How did a nice Jewish boy from Indianapolis end up helping lost people in some of the most needy skid row areas of San Francisco as the Tenderloin district?" Wasnt I supposed to be a doctor or lawyer? Shouldnt I have followed in my physician fathers footsteps?
Medical School was definitely not for me!
My father was a pediatrician and wanted the best education for all four of his sons. Also, there was that unspoken "Jewish pressure" to be a doctor, lawyer or respected entrepreneur businessman in the community. I guess it was assumed that I would emulate my father, go to Yale, and then go to John Hopkins Medical school. There was one small problem. There was something about blood that I didnt like! The idea of opening up peoples bodies and looking at all of the blood sickened me. I just didnt want to go to Medical School. I didnt even like dissecting frogs. My older brother, however, ended up being a professor at Northwestern University. Another younger brother became the physician while the youngest brother became the lawyer! All I knew was that I was Jewish and was supposed to be successful in some profession.
Early indoctrination in atheism and naturalistic evolution
Let me tell you, I didnt grow up having such grandiose plans for my life. In fact the furthest thing on my mind was the idea that individuals could really be changed in the core part of their personality. You see, I was thoroughly indoctrinated in philosophy beginning with courses I took in the middle of high school. I read Plato, Voltaire, and other atheistic philosophers as Bertrand Russell, who wrote, "Why I am not a Christian," and I became familiar with the arguments against Christianity. I had a rudimentary understanding of this religion and I was Jewish! My parents had taught me that Christians believed in three gods and the Jews believed in one God, and we were by both religion and culture very very different from the gentiles.
I attended the Reform Temple, Indianapolis Hebrew Congregation. We were basically a non-religious Jewish family. We did not believe in a personal God, but instead proudly affirmed naturalistic evolution. I was not totally isolated from gentiles since I had non-Jewish friends, but my parents did forbid me to date non-Jewish girls.
First encounter with Christianity
During my junior year at North Central High School, my good friend, Danny, invited me to a "Youth for Christ" meeting. It was a religious club and the young people seemed to be very happy. I was attracted to them for some reason. I guess I went about five times. I knew it wasnt pleasing my family to go, but I cant say exactly why I eventually stopped going. Since there were hundreds of Jewish kids in my high school, I didnt experience overt anti-Semitism. These young people, though, seemed to really care about me, but no one actually shared what it meant to believe in Jesus.
I considered myself an open type of person and wasnt hostile toward the historical person of Jesus. I was, though, often disturbed about the overt religious observance of Christmas at school.
Off to Yale University. Kennedys assassination changed my worldview.
In my freshman year at Yale I was really affected by President Kennedys assassination. There was the possibility that the ongoing cold war with Russia could escalate and pose a very real threat of nuclear war. There existed this very realistic fear that the world would come to an end! I became increasingly aware that this world was in very bad shape. I began my search by changing my major to social sciences and also took psychology courses in hopes of finding a solution to why mankind was in such a mess. Maybe, I thought, there was a way to change human nature so that people of different cultures could get along.
Existentialism Was life truly without meaning and purpose?
The more you get into those academic disciplines you realize that they only raise the questions, but dont offer any adequate answers. I took several philosophy courses and again found no answers. All of this eventually led me into existentialism, which taught that basically life had no meaning and the individual had to create a meaning. I clearly saw that nothing really mattered.
This brought real despair into my life. Not only would I eventually personally come to an end, but also the world itself would come to an end. It seemed inevitable to me that sooner or later we would find a way to destroy ourselves. College seemed to be an academic game; the professors werent really looking for answers.
The world of drugs, hippies and communes
The next step downward (which deceptively appeared at that time "upward") was the descent into the world of drugs. Maybe there was a way, I thought, that drugs would "raise my consciousness." The year was 1967. I was excited about the rumors I was hearing about the new enlightenment offered by the communal aspect to life. The utopia I soon discovered was illusory. They were people just like me without answers. I even went to the infamous Haight-Asbury hippie haven district of San Francisco in the summers and got more involved in the drug scene.
Reincarnation - Was that the answer to mans suffering?
My ultimate goal in life at that time was to get so "enlightened" that I would arrive at this spiritual place where I wouldnt have to be reincarnated anymore. It later "dawned" on me that reincarnation (the belief that one keeps coming back in another earth form) was a cop out to justify ones hedonistic lifestyle. It really didnt matter how you lived because if you messed up, you then would have another chance. There was no eternal judgment. Of course, most of the seekers I knew were very proud and believed that they were all on their last incarnation, and that they would achieve nirvana in this lifetime. Nirvana is a state of being where you experience nothingness. You are one with the cosmos, whatever that meant! Of course, I was perennially looking for someone to love in college. That never worked out either. I knew my parents wanted me to be a doctor and marry a "nice Jewish girl."
After Masters Degree in psychology I was still in despair:
I continued my studies at the University of Chicago in psychology and later received my M.A. in Psychology from Brandies University in 1970. I think my main interest in this area at first was to try to understand myself and straighten out my own problems. I studied a lot of Freud and considered myself neurotic (like everyone else). I went to a psychiatrist while at Yale for therapy. It didnt help.
I wasted no time in relocating permanently to Berkeley and continued my spiritual search with drugs, Eastern religions, and following various gurus. I quickly became brainwashed with the idea of what others called "Christ-consciousness," which is essentially the same as "New Age" philosophy, which is Hinduism repackaged for Westerners.
Attraction to Hinduism and eastern religious consciousness
What attracted me to this very foreign ideology? To be honest with you the most appealing aspect of Hinduism was that it did not emphasize a personal God. Therefore there was no absolute morality. There was no right or wrong. Eventually everyone through many reincarnations reaches enlightenment no matter what he does. I inferred that I could continue to live what I later learned was a sinful lifestyle. I never found real lasting pleasure in those pursuits. There is a temporary pleasure, but since there is no ultimate meaning to life and the goal is to realize we are one with this cosmic void, this belief can hardly give life any real meaning or provide any fulfillment.
Encounter with a hippie cult, "The Love Family"
For a short time I joined a cult in Seattle, WA. I left it after only three months. It was a mixture of Hinduism and Christ consciousness. These philosophies were prevalent in the "hippie" culture and very compatible with the drug experience. I began traveling with this group of people seeking to start a new commune. It was called the "Love Family." They read the Bible, but interpreted it in an eastern way. Jesus was the way to God, but the only way to get to Jesus is through the Guru. The only positive things that he said about ethics and morals was that sex before marriage was wrong. The cult eventually kicked me out because I wouldn't conform to their very strict standards and control.
Joined a band of 70 hippies
I later joined about 70 hippies who were all trying to get some money together and start the perfect commune. We were hitchhiking together to find that perfect place "somewhere." One day we all decided to just go to this park outside Portland, Oregon.
Unusual man with a "message" approaches us in a park
One afternoon we were camped at a park when a Christian man in his 50's began sharing with us about how much Jesus loves us. He offered us a place to stay in what was called a "Jesus people commune." Only a couple of us decided to go, while most everyone outright rejected his kind offer. The mans name was Nick Gray, a Texas saddle maker who had a shop in Portland, Oregon. We also didnt know that he had a passion to help bring young people to Christ. The other person who went with me was convicted about his wayward lifestyle since he had at one time in his youth been a follower of Christ. He ended up rededicating his life to the lord. All of this, however, was quite new to me.
Discovery of the "truth"
I told some of the Christians at the "Jesus commune" about my involvement with the Love Family. They told me that I had been deceived. I then became quite defensive and argued with them. I don't know why I was so adamant about defending the cult? What impressed me with Nick and the others was that they told me to just ask God to show me the truth. Nick had started the Jesus house next to his business. I immediately identified with these Jesus people since they also had long hair and beards (that is except the women). And they had been saved out of the drug scene. The concepts about salvation, being born again, heaven and hell, were all new to me because I was Jewish. I dont know if I understood initially that much of what they were saying.
Thus, I prayed to God. After my prayer to know the truth, I started seeing things. I had been concerned that I wouldnt be deceived again. How was I to know this religious truth was "the" truth and not just one of "many" possible truths/religions? I had believed that all religions led to God.
In my travels I had met a lot of so-called Jesus people who said they had been saved, but they were still doing drugs. There was no repentance. Now, these people seemed for real. They were the first group that told me that I had to actually give up my sin. I considered myself both a "seeker of truth" and a "seeker of pleasure." I did really desire both at the same time. Ultimately, when confronted with the Truth, I had to choose between the two.
They explained in detail how Jesus died on a cross for me, and that I could be born again and have a new life. I need to trust in Jesus and not just mentally believe. They helped me to understand what the word "believe" meant. As I prayed that night, God gave me some understanding in 1 Ti. 2:5, "For there is one God and one mediator between God and man, the man The Messiah Jesus." I remembered that Scripture. I had read the New Testament a number of times in the cult and even in college. I didnt understand it back then. Now I understood that Scripture.
There was a real change in my life; I knew that I was born again. I had trusted Christ. I didnt pray a memorized "sinners prayer" but I was a new person.
Jesus is my Jewish Messiah
Over the next few days, God began speaking to me that Jesus was the only way to God. The Christians showed me Old Testament prophecies concerning the Messiah, which helped convince me of the truth of Christianity. I committed my life to Christ.
I called my parents and I must have come off like I was some crazed fanatic. I had letters filled with Scriptures. They had just dealt with me in the Love Family 3 months before. They had come out and were freaked out, and now Im in another cult, they thought. To them it was just another communal thing. We all had long hair and outwardly didnt look any different from the cult hippies. I didnt know how to reach them. I didnt know any other Jewish believers initially, but I kept praying for them.
New life in the Messiah
I became discipled by this group, Shiloh Youth Revival Centers, and found out that this ministry had a nationwide network of communal Christian houses. Everybody in our ministry witnessed on the streets, so I considered it a natural part of being a Christian. After I got over the initial fear, I loved to witness and did so at virtually every opportunity
I spent the next 4 1/2 years in this Christian ministry, studying the Bible and learning to follow Jesus. I also learned to do street evangelism. Once I overcame my fear of witnessing, I loved sharing my faith with others and knew God had called me to this ministry.
I read the book, "Messiah in the Testaments" and that really helped me and the questions I had and how Jesus fulfilled these prophecies. It strengthened my faith as a new believer.
I started in this journey into hedonism (a life with a philosophy centered on sex, drugs, rock and roll) and realized it was ultimately unfulfilling. It involved the use of other people to please self. Any relationship between two people with each seeking to use the other to please self inevitably leads to conflict and will not last. The Spirit of God living inside us gives us the ability to love in an unselfish mannerto desire to help another person with no ulterior motive.
As Jesus said, it is more blessed to give than to receive. God has given me a purpose in life, to help others by offering them the greatest gift anyone can give them, something that can change them now and for eternity, life in Jesus Christ. Nothing is more important. I now dedicate my life to this purpose.
Call to share Jesus with street people
When I first came to San Francisco at age 28, I started attending a local church that was known for being evangelistic. They had a full-time minister of evangelism and most of the church members had been through an extensive evangelism-training program. As I met people in church, I would invite them to go witnessing with me. Usually they would agree, and we would set a time and meeting place. Almost every time, the person wouldn't show up. Finally, I realized that most of these Christians, even though they had a lot of teaching on evangelism, had virtually no experience witnessing to strangers and were terribly afraid to do this.
Pioneering a brand new ministry in SanFrancisco
In 1975, God called me to return to San Francisco, where I had previously spent much time using drugs. I knew God wanted me to witness to people, but had a hard time finding other Christians willing to join me in witnessing on the streets. After a few years, I met some Christians who wanted to help organize outdoor evangelistic concerts in San Francisco. In 1980, a dozen pastors and evangelists, including myself, organized the first SOS-San Francisco outreach. Over 1000 Christians joined us in a week-long outreach involving evangelistic concerts and street witnessing throughout the city.
Some Christians I knew had a band and they had started doing evangelistic concerts in parks. It seemed like a good way to reach a lot of people with Gods Word at one time. So I found out how to get permits, borrowed a small PA system from a church, and asked some friends who had a Christian band to play at Union Square, a small park in downtown San Francisco.
During a single afternoon, several hundred people would walk through this park. There were businessmen, tourists, drug addicts, homosexuals, teenage runaways, and prostitutes. When the Christian rock group started to play, they drew a good-sized crowd. People would eventually realize that these musicians were singing about Jesus, but most would stay because they liked the music. The musicians shared testimonies about how they got saved and someone would preach a short message. A local ministry called His Way gave us New Testaments to give away and people took as many as we had.
As we did these concerts, I met many Christians who thought this was a great idea, and wanted to be involved. One brother, Ron Woodruff, was doing outdoor concerts in the East Bay and had a large PA system. He also had contacts with other Christian bands, access to a computerized mailing list, a typesetting machine, and a Christian printer. Ron had just formed a non- profit corporation for his ministry called Shama Sound Ministries, Inc. ("Shama" comes from the Hebrew word meaning "to hear" or "to proclaim.") So we started printing up fliers of our concerts and mailing them out to Christians as well as giving them out at Christian concerts.
Evangelism outreaches expand in SanFrancisco
In a short time, we met leaders of several churches in the San Francisco area who wanted to do evangelism outreaches in San Francisco. We would schedule a weekend outreach and each group would bring 30-50 Christians from their church. We got another 30-50 Christians from our mailings, bringing the total to about 200. On Friday and Saturday nights, we met at a church for worship and prayer, and then went to some area to witness. On Saturday at noon, we had an outdoor concert, usually at Union Square, and then witnessed downtown. We started writing and printing our own tracts.
Since those early days in San Francisco, we have continued a weekly street outreach in San Francisco and Berkeley. Every Friday night we witness in the various neighborhoods of San Francisco. Twice a month, we hold "church in the street" rallies in downtown San Francisco involving music groups from various churches. Once a month, we witness on Telegraph Ave. in Berkeley. And for the past 21 years, we have organized an annual week-long SOS-San Francisco outreach, involving hundreds of Christians in a concerted effort to reach this city for Jesus.
After several years of organizing weekend outreaches like this, which involved 100-200 Christians every six weeks, twenty leaders who had been involved in planning these outreaches met together in January 1980. At that meeting, we decided to plan a major, week-long outreach for August, which we called SOS-San Francisco. People are constantly asking us, "What does SOS stand for?" An SOS is a distress signal, a call for help. We wanted to send out an "SOS" to Christians all over the United States to come to San Francisco to witness for the Lord. People have suggested various meanings to the letters, but the only one I like is "Serve our Savior."
We printed up thousands of posters and other literature inviting Christians to the outreach. Our mailing list grew to 5000 and we sent newsletters out all over the country. We set up booths and gave out fliers at every Christian event we could find. We shared about the outreach at churches and on Christian radio stations.
Writing a book to help others learn how to share the messiah with other lost people.
I eventually wrote a book, You Shall Be My Witnesses: How to Reach Your City for Christ, which documents our evangelism outreaches sin San Francisco. It also gives practically ways to reach the supposed "unreachable" in your community
One summer, David Wilkerson, founder of Teen Challenge ministry and now director of World Challenge, brought a team of thirty workers to San Francisco. They gave out 200,000 copies of a booklet David wrote called "Two of Me: the Struggle with Sin." They also established a Christian coffeehouse in the heart of the Tenderloin district, the skid-row area of San Francisco. This coffeehouse continued as an effective ministry for four years.
About 1500 Christians were involved in the first SOS-San Francisco outreach. Every day and night we sent teams of Christians throughout the city to witness for the Lord. We printed up and gave out about half a million tracts written specially for San Francisco. We put up hundreds of SOS posters around the city. Every afternoon we had an evangelistic concert in a downtown park. Everywhere people went that week in San Francisco, they would run into Christians who would witness to them about Christ.
Looking back, I still marvel at the way God used some very ordinary Christians to establish a powerful street ministry in San Francisco. When God called me to San Francisco, I never expected to do anything but witness on the street with a few other Christians. I knew nothing about establishing a ministry, setting up a non-profit corporation, putting out newsletters, or coordinating evangelism outreach involving hundreds of Christians. But after five years of witnessing on the streets, getting little response either from unbelievers or Christians, I became a leader of a ministry that was having a significant impact for Christ on one of the wickedest cities in the world.
As I look back on my life these last 30 years, I would have considered myself the most unlikely candidate to be Gods "social worker" on the streets of San Francisco. I was interested in psychology mainly to figure out my own problems. I was a hedonist who didnt think that there was any answer to mans sin, selfishness and despair. I could have never dreamed that God would use "me" to reach so many people in San Francisco. I guess in a way I did become a Jewish "doctor," except instead of offering a cure for broken bodies, I am sharing the good news "cure" for broken souls. I have witnessed broken hearts and lives that have been restored and made whole by the transforming power of a risen Jewish Savior, Jesus.
Why dont you stop relying on yourself and let the Great Psychiatrist, the lover of your soul, be first in your life?
If you have further questions about anything written in the testimony, please send me an email, write, or call me. I will also provide Larry with your email address if you would like to talk to him directly. - - - Jon Lieberman