Testimony of Barbara Korycka
I grew up in Queens, one of the five boroughs of New York City, in the 1970’s, the daughter of two Jewish parents who divorced when I was 3 years old. My father had a religious Jewish upbringing, but rebelled and lived a secular lifestyle. My mother was raised non-religiously, because although her own mother tried to keep a kosher house, my grandfather deliberately mixed the meat and dairy dishes together and sabotaged my grandmother’s efforts, until she finally gave up trying. So I grew up knowing I was Jewish, but not knowing much about what that meant. We celebrated one Jewish holiday, Chanukah, mainly so we had something festive to enjoy while everyone else was celebrating Christmas. I had no understanding of why we lit the Menorah or what it commemorated. In fact, I took no interest or pride in my Jewishness, because I was a child who always felt “different” and left out, and to me, being Jewish was one more thing that separated me from others. I was one of those unathletic kids with braces and glasses, who was teased, and always picked last for any sports team. I always had a friend or two, but was never part of the popular crowd. The popular girls at school or camp often made fun of me, and I felt excluded, and just “not good enough.”
I was an excellent student (although always criticized on my report card for being too quiet), and I respected and believed what my public school teachers taught me. So I believed in the Big Bang theory (never realizing what the word “theory” meant) as fact, and I believed we evolved from one- celled organisms, and so-forth. Misunderstanding these theories to be fact, I had no belief in a Creator God, and found it pathetic to hear my mother speak of a God who was “watching over us.” I assumed my uneducated mother just needed to believe this as a crutch. I recall once having a conversation with a born-again evangelist on a busy street when I was about 14 years old, and arguing with him that I didn’t need to read or follow what the Bible taught, because I didn’t believe anyone created me. My morals and ethics were mine to invent as it pleased me. This led me to experiment with anything I wanted to, and as I got to high school and college age, and given my low self-esteem, this led me to some irresponsible and self-destructive experimentation, and a willingness to do whatever I had to, to try to “fit in.” By the time I reached college age, my friends were mostly male, as I found more acceptance with men than I felt with women.
During college, I considered myself very broadminded, and was always seeking to “expand my horizons.” Looking back, it seems I was dissatisfied with my agnosticism, and was searching for meaning anywhere I could find it. I took every opportunity to learn about Hinduism thru practicing Yoga (the first physical activity I found I was actually good at!), Buddhism (by attending a house meeting where my friend claimed her brother worshipped lettuce—it was actually a shrine that had fruits and vegetables on it where they chanted in Korean). I even went with a friend to Hare Krishna headquarters in Brooklyn because they were serving free Indian food! I went to an Ethical Culture meeting with my mother’s cousin to see what that was like, but everyone was middle aged, and I didn’t fit in there either. I went to the Hillel club at college, but they were “too Jewish” for me to feel any belonging there. I also went to a large public gathering of a local Guru (of whom my yoga teacher was a disciple). At this gathering, the audience was invited to file up onto the stage to receive a “gift” from the guru (an orange), but I wouldn’t go up, explaining to my friends that I just didn’t feel worthy to accept a gift from him (they thought I was being weird).
In 1986 I attended a college graduation party, hosted by one of my few female friends at the time. We were both graduating from Community College. That night I met my future husband, Eddie. He’d had a Catholic upbringing, but hadn’t been to church for many years. I quickly became infatuated
with him, but after two months he “dumped” me! He had told me he cared about me and would never want to hurt me, yet he cut off all contact with me, with no explanation. About three months went by, and Eddie contacted me. He wanted to meet for coffee and apologize. While we’d been apart, a crazy ex-girlfriend had moved in and taken over his apartment, he’d flunked out of college for the second time, he’d been injured at work, and forfeited his job, he’d had to move back in with his parents— basically everything had gone wrong in his life, and he realized he’d let go the one good thing in his life—me! What he didn’t tell me, was that he had become a follower of Jesus. I noticed there was a difference in him. I felt more secure with him, he was not trying to seduce me, and he seemed to have Bibles everywhere—in his car, in his room…weird. When his life had unraveled, he finally had listened to all the people God had been sending his way, and gave his life over to Yeshua. After picking up where we left off, and dating for a while, Eddie eventually told me that if he had children one day (which at this point we both knew would probably involve me), it was important to him that they know Jesus. This statement terrified me. I still did not think anyone could prove to me that God even existed, and now I was confronted with a future where I would feel left-out yet again, but this time in my own family! I had an image of Eddie sitting cross-legged in a circle with our future children, strumming a guitar and singing hymns while I huddled alone in another room! I really had to figure out if God existed, and who Jesus was! I didn’t want to seek answers at a Synagogue, because I knew they wouldn’t solve the “Jesus” issue. I also didn’t want to seek answers at a church, because I did feel some small loyalty to my Jewish roots. When I rode the NYC subways to work and school, I remembered receiving gospel pamphlets from Jews for Jesus. They were very creative and enjoyable to read, but I would only read the first few panels for entertainment value, but throw them away without reading the “gospel” part at the end. I decided now, however, that if I received another of these Jews for Jesus tracts, this time I would call the phone number on the back, and try to learn something. Of course, it was only a matter of days before I received a tract, and I called the phone number from work, when no one was around to overhear me. Bob Mendelsohn answered the phone, and chuckled when I asked if there was some sort of meeting I could sit in on. He asked if I believed in God, and I said I really didn’t know, to which he replied humorously, “Oh! So you’re normal!” He invited me to come meet and talk with him at the Jews for Jesus office. I worked at a brokerage firm in the World Trade Center and was continuing college classes after work, so I couldn’t meet Bob till after 9:00 at night, but he didn’t seem to mind! I literally knew close to nothing about the Bible, but Bob taught me things from the very beginning—Genesis, creation, the sacrificial system that the Jews needed to follow to atone for sin. He showed me prophesies, and their fulfilments. He drew diagrams showing how only a Messiah could help us cross from sin to reconciliation with God. Honestly, I couldn’t really believe what I was reading and hearing. It seemed to fit together too perfectly, and “conveniently” make too much sense, for it to be true! It just all sounded made-up to me, like a fairy-tale. I kept meeting with Bob, sometimes on my lunch hour, sometimes at night, and memorizing scripture verses he would assign me (he said it was useful to memorize scripture—I just blindly obeyed not fully understanding this). In addition I went to mid-week group Bible studies at the Jews for Jesus building. I had so many questions and doubts. I once asked Bob, “If God is real, why hasn’t he ever shown himself to me in any way?” Bob said, “You’re talking to me right now, aren’t you?” That was an interesting point.
I remember Eddie asking about my progress and I was having such conflict over it all, that I was in tears. My cynicism just seemed to be a wall, keeping me from getting anywhere. Finally I decided to go on a “30 day plan.” I committed to accept and believe everything Bob showed me for the next 30 days. I would suspend my cynicism and doubt just for that long, and if on day 30, I still wasn’t buying
into it, I would just return to my former state of agnosticism. This way, I would stop shutting out what could be the truth, but I’d have lost nothing if I ultimately decided this wasn’t for me.
A turning point came during this time, when I was planning a weekend away with co-workers. Since I was on this 30-day “quest for truth,” I was trying to live biblically, to be consistent with what I was learning about God. But this trip was going to involve drinking and drugs, and I was agonizing over how I would be looked on by my coworkers if I didn’t partake in the things they were doing. Because of my issues with self-esteem and not feeling like I belonged, anything that would involve taking a stand or abstaining, was very difficult for me. So as I lay in bed agonizing over what they would think of my behavior, what they think of me….my thoughts were suddenly suspended, as if an eraser wiped clean a blackboard, and John 3:16 appeared in their place! “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him would not perish, but have eternal life.” It was very abrupt and completely out of the blue, and it profoundly impressed upon me the significance of what God had done for me, versus the insignificance of my petty fears, worries, and self- absorption. I then went on the weekend trip, confidently refused any substances that were offered to me, and no one even seemed to notice!
A short while later, meeting with Bob on my lunch hour, while standing in line for the falafel cart, he asked if I would say a prayer to invite Yeshua into my heart. He had asked me this once or twice before, and once again, I responded that I was not ready yet. He asked why, and I said I just didn’t have my act together yet, I didn’t yet feel like I was good enough.
Bob then told me a story about a woman in a filthy cluttered house, whose doorbell rang. When she peeked through the blinds, there was God, standing on the other side of her front door! She couldn’t let him into her house in its current state! She frantically ran around trying to clean up and hide the dirt, but the more she tried, the filthier it looked. Finally she realized there was nothing she could do to make it any better, and she completely gave up, opened the door, and there was God still standing there waiting, but he was dressed in a cleaning uniform! The story made its point, and that day, in 1987, I prayed to receive the Lord on a concrete bench, with hundreds of Wall Street employees rushing around on all sides of us.
After that day, I began to realize that I was not an outsider, in fact I was of the very same lineage as Yeshua, who was the Saviour of the world! What more significant group could you possibly be included in?! For the first time I became interested in my heritage, and learning about the feasts and observances, and ancestors that I never knew about. I realized I was not an accident, I was not inferior. I was exactly who God had created me to be, with whatever abilities and talents, and personality I had. He had created a quiet, perhaps non-athletic, short girl with curly hair, and He did it on purpose! I didn’t have to try to be anyone else, because I now knew Who made me, and that He loved me just the way He made me. What a relief! I began to operate from a different worldview. I no longer had to invent my own morals and standards, and hope for the best. I experienced the freedom of praying and following God’s word in any situation to know right from wrong—I had the “owner’s manual” to my life, at my disposal! Through attending a Messianic congregation, I developed social skills because I now wanted to greet strangers so they would feel welcome also. Having the confidence of who I am in Messiah has allowed me to come out of my shell more and more over the years, to the point of taking leadership roles in organizations and congregational ministries, forming many wonderful female friendships and even being able to speak in public. My comfort zone has grown larger and wider, with God’s help.
My mother came to know the Lord shortly after I did, as well as my 80-year-old aunt, and my two brothers. In hindsight I realized the truth of Romans 5:8 in my life: “While we were yet sinners,
Messiah died for us,” in that God really protected me all the influences that could have overtaken me, and redeemed me before I knew the truth, despite my rejection or ignorance of Him.
God has met me in my times of need, and given me the abundant life Yeshua spoke of. He has truly been the Good Shepherd to me, and I am so grateful.