Jewish and Twice Born
The Personal Testimony of Marvin J. Rosenthal
Published in Zion's Fire Magazine in February, 1991
I first met Fannie in 1948, the year that the modern State
of Israel was born.
The day started typically enough. There was no hint that an
encounter was about to take place an encounter which
would touch thousands of lives. I was mature for my thirteen
years of age. My mother and father were separated, and responsibility
came to me early. On this day, I was tending our family luncheonette.
It was a large store in a middle-class Jewish community. Strawberry
Mansion had been an exclusive neighborhood; now it had passed
its prime, and was beginning to show its age.
I was behind the large grill where sandwiches were prepared,
when Fannie first entered our store. It was the busy lunch
hour, and I doubt that I would have noticed Fannie except
that her dress was long and old-fashioned, and there was something
"strange" about her appearance. She ate quietly
and then walked up to the cash register. Fannie was not satisfied
with simply paying her bill and leaving with a customary "thank
you" or "have a nice day." Instead, she startled
me with a question: "Young man, are you saved?"
My response must have been equally startling to her. "What
do you mean, am I saved? Im not drowning!"
As I recall, she made some vague comments about Christ, sin,
and hell; gave me a little pamphlet; opened the screen door;
and left almost as suddenly as she had entered. As I immediately
threw the unread pamphlet into the trash, I thought with my
thirteen years of wisdom, Where did she come from?
Perseverance Pays Off
I doubt that I would have given further thought to Fannie,
except that the following week she entered our luncheonette
again. She sat in the back, ate her lunch slowly, waited until
most of the customers were gone, and came up to pay her bill.
Once again she wanted to talk. "Young man," she
said, "youve got to accept Jesus." Smiling,
I assured her that I was Jewish, and "Jesus," I
confidently asserted, "is not for the Jews."
She responded, "I know youre Jewish, but you still
need to accept Jesus as your Savior." This time before
leaving she gave me two pieces of literature, and this time
two unread brochures were dropped into the trash can. By now,
I was certain that she had serious mental problems
that she needed a psychiatrist.
But Fannie, it turned out, could not be put off easily. She
returned to our luncheonette the following week, and the week
after that, and the week after that month after month,
for two years. Sometimes I was in the store when Fannie came;
more often it was my mother. During those first months we
felt deep resentment for this woman who was presumptuous enough
to dare to think that she could "convert" us. After
all, we were Jews my grandparents were orthodox and
had come to America from Kiev, Russia, in 1905.
The name, Christ, which I had heard used in cursing on the
streets of our city and occasionally when gangs came into
the neighborhood and called us Christ killers, I was certain,
was for the Gentiles. Fannie, we came to learn, was a Jewess
herself a missionary to the Jewish people. "Missionary"
had a negative connotation to us, although we had little understanding
of what it really meant. One day a week she engaged in door-to-door
evangelism in our neighborhood and came to our store for lunch.
It was conspicuous that Fannie was not welcomed in our neighborhood,
and she certainly was not warmly received in our luncheonette.
Strange, I thought, that she should return week after week,
though an unwelcome guest.
One day an incident occurred that bore out that opinion. She began
to talk to one of our regular customers. He was an older Jewish
man who owned a store directly across the street. He still
spoke with the accent of his European origin, and was deeply
religious. When he realized she was suggesting that Jesus
was the Jewish Messiah Gods sacrificial Lamb
for sin, he turned on her with a verbal barrage of insults
of such intensity that I could not help but feel sorry for
her. His scorn and ridicule vented, I watched, bewildered,
as he stormed out of our luncheonette. When my glance returned
to Fannie, her head was bowed, cradled in her hands. Concerned
that the incident may have seriously upset her, I asked if
she was all right. As she raised her head, I saw tears, but
through them shone that "strange glow" I had observed
on other occasions. Then I heard her say, "Yes, Marvin,
Im fine. I was praying for the gentlemans salvation."
I was stunned. I could not comprehend her kind response. How,
I thought, could she pray for a man who had treated her
so shamefully. Years later I was reminded of that incident
when I read for the first time the words of the Savior while
dying on the cross: "Father, forgive them; for they know
not what they do." But thats getting ahead of the
My mother and I did not share Fannies belief, but slowly,
almost inexplicably, a respect began to emerge for this woman
who had simple courage and profound faith. Amazingly, my mother
began to eagerly await her weekly visits, ready with an almost
limitless number of questions. Did accepting Christ mean one
was no longer a Jew? Wasnt it the Christians who had
killed, robbed, and persecuted the Jewish people for two thousand
years? (How many times I remember my grandmother crossing
to the other side of the street when passing a church, to
get farther away from it. And that, because she well recalled
the many times Russian Cossacks, on horseback, had galloped
into her village to plunder the Jews in the name of "Christianity.")
Did the Jewish Scriptures say that God had a son, and, if
so, how would we recognize Him when He came? Why did He have
to die, and if Jesus really was the Messiah, why did the Jewish
people reject Him? And how can a man also be God? Slowly,
patiently, tactfully, she would open her Bible and answer
these questions from what she repetitively called "The
Word of God."
Two years had now passed since that "uneventful"
day when Fannie had first entered our store. On this visit,
she and another missionary, who occasionally accompanied her,
were seated with my mother. "Mrs. Rosenthal," Fannie
inquired, "what have we been saying to you these past
years that is so wrong? What have we said that is inconsistent
with your own Old Testament Scriptures the writings
of Moses and the prophets of Israel? If you really want to
know the truth, why dont you pray to the God of your
forefathers pray to the God of Abraham, Isaac, and
Jacob ask their God if what weve been telling
you is really true." As they were about to leave, Fannie,
in what had now become a familiar ritual, quoted from the
Scriptures. This time her text was from Revelation 3:20, "Behold,
I stand at the door, and knock." She paused and literally
knocked on the table top three times. Then she continued,
"If any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will
come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me."
What a strange concept, I thought; does God knock
on the door of mens hearts?
My mother went to bed that night, but sleep wouldnt
come. She twisted and turned, but to no avail. She felt immersed
in a sea of restlessness. Im the middle of three sons
one brother is five years older, another five years
younger. Raising three boys, without a husband, and running
a luncheonette seven days a week, sixteen hours a day, were
no easy tasks. But in the midst of her restlessness that night,
the God she knew about only impersonally and from a great
distance brought to remembrance the counsel given earlier
in the day: "Pray to the God of your forefathers
to the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and ask their God
if what we have been telling you is really true."
And on that night, perhaps motivated more by despair and the
futility of life than anything else, my mother prayed aloud
to the God of her forefathers and almost immediately fell
soundly asleep. Her sleep, however, was not long in duration.
She was awakened at about three in the morning. What awakened
her were three clear unmistakable knocks followed by the words,
"Behold, I stand at the door, and knock." She would
tell me later that she heard, and yet she did not hear in
the traditional sense it was as if the words permeated
her whole being. And, they were accompanied by a mysterious
presence and tranquility she had never known before. Quickly
she dressed, went down into the store, and gathered up all
the unread tracts and Bible portions which Fannie had given
her over the two-year period and which by now, unread
and untouched, had gathered dust. Returning to her room, she
read the remainder of the night. When I came downstairs the
next morning, my mother came running up to me all excited.
"Its true, its true, I know its true!"
she exclaimed. "Ive trusted Jesus as my Messiah
I thought. Oh, no, this cant be! But it could
A Free Insurance Policy
I was sure that my mothers newfound faith would not
be long lasting. A week, perhaps two, a month at the outset,
and then the novelty would wear off. That month passed, then
two, and soon half a year. My mothers faith did not
deteriorate or diminish as I had anticipated. Quite the contrary,
her faith, which had begun as a little sapling, was now growing
into a mighty oak. Fannie began a discipling program, and
Bible reading and prayer had become a regular routine. There
was a reality in her life that I could not comprehend. She
still had problems; they had not disappeared. But somehow,
she was able to live above them to cope with life on
a new and higher plane. I was confused. I didnt know
if what was happening to my mother was good or bad. I only
knew that it was real.
So it was, that six months after my mother found the God of
her forefathers (or more accurately, the God of her forefathers
found her), the seed of the Word of God was about to take
root and "set up business" in my heart. On this
occasion, Fannie literally cornered me by the soda machine.
"Marvin, do you believe in Heaven?" she inquired.
My response was affirmative, I always had. "Do you believe
in Hell?" she asked, probing further. Again I answered
in the affirmative. Her direct questions were disarming, and
she sensed my uneasiness but she would not be put off.
"Do you want to go to Heaven when you die?" she
challenged. Rather abruptly I said, "Certainly, doesnt
everyone?" With bulldog tenacity she held on. "Well,
Marvin, you can go to Heaven and it wont cost you a
thing not a thing." I blurted out, "How do
I get into Heaven for free?" Her response has never been
erased from my memory. "Heaven is free to you, Marvin,
but Heaven is not free. The Passover Lamb had to suffer. Gods
Son shed His blood on the cross of Calvary for your sin. He
made the payment and satisfied the requirements of a holy
God. The premium has been paid. You cant buy salvation.
You dont deserve it. All you can do is receive it as
a free gift." She had been telling me these things since
the first time we met they seemed strange and inappropriate
for someone of Jewish birth. But this time it was different.
Somehow, I knew that what she was saying was very right and
very Jewish. It was something that Abraham, Isaac, Jacob,
and the prophets of Israel would approve of.
There in the luncheonette, next to the soda machine, I bowed
my head and invited Christ into my heart, asking Him to save
me from my sin and make me His child. It was so simple
and yet so complex; so free for me so expensive for
God. I had, without fully understanding the implications,
appropriated divine grace. I was fifteen years of age and
had never been inside a church. No one in the fourth largest
city in "Christian" America had ever told me that
God cared that He demonstrated that care at Calvary
no one until Fannie came along.
I was unprepared for the pressures my decision for Christ
would generate. In my youthful exuberance, I concluded my
faith had nothing to do with the here and now, but would be
advantageous in the by and by; that my decision did not affect
my living, only my dying that I had a free, paid-up
"life insurance" policy. I would soon see how wrong
Instead of opening the store Sunday morning (normally a very
busy time in our Jewish community), my mother began to take
my younger brother and me to a Bible-believing church in the
adjoining neighborhood. Business could wait. For my mother,
God came first. The luncheonette was opened when we returned
from church. After a few weeks, word spread to many of our
neighbors and customers that the Rosenthals were attending
church. Our luncheonette was situated on a corner and there
were very large plate glass windows facing both streets. Regularly
now, on returning from church, we found graffiti on the windows
with comments like, "This is Christs house,"
"Theyve flipped their lids," or "Dont
buy here." We knew this was the work of many of the young
people in our neighborhood. To them, our belief in Christ
particularly my mothers public and vocal testimony
was an occasion for mischief.
As if that were not bad enough, my mother now began to invite
friends and customers to attend a Bible study in our living
room. Some ridiculed, some politely declined, and some had
a hunger to know God. To her, the good news of the grace of
God was not a thing to be hoarded. A door in the back of our
luncheonette opened into our living room and kitchen, and
steps in the living room led upstairs to three bedrooms and
a bath. We lived behind and above our place of business. I
shall never forget that first Bible study. There were always
ten or twelve young people "hanging out" in the
luncheonette each evening. Some played the pinball machines,
others danced to the jukebox, and still others were seated
in the back booth talking, joking, and perhaps eating a famous
Philadelphia steak sandwich or drinking a malted milk shake.
And then came the shock "the unpardonable sin."
From this Jewish home in a Jewish neighborhood, amidst the
noise and activity, arose the clear words of a Christian hymn.
Those who had gathered in the back room were singing, "What
can wash away my sin? Nothing but the blood of Jesus."
Words cannot adequately convey the impact on those present
of hearing such lyrics in the center of a Jewish community.
If going to church had caused problems this was far
worse. Our family had become the open scandal of our neighborhood
we were meshummeds not simply Christians,
but "traitors" to the Jewish people! The young lady
I was dating was forbidden to see me by her parents. Friends
whom I had grown up with now avoided me or made me a chief
target of ridicule. Fist fights, because of my mothers
public testimony, became an almost daily event. A petition
to have us thrown out of the neighborhood was circulated.
And anonymous, threatening, phone calls would occur in the
middle of the night. Fannie counseled, "If they rejected
the Lord, they will reject the servant." Maybe she was
right, but I wasnt ready to pay that kind of price to
be a Christian.
Jonah couldnt flee from God, but I wasnt sure
it couldnt be done. I planned to go into the military,
leaving God, religion, and Christ behind. I had had it! I
wanted no more peer pressure and ridicule. Soon after I turned
eighteen, I enlisted in the United States Marine Corps. It
was, I decided, time to spread my wings and do my thing. The
night before I left home, Fannie had some farewell advice.
"Youre a true Christian, Marvin," she said.
"You have that paid-up life insurance policy
I told you about. One day when your earthly life ends you
will go to Heaven because of what the Messiah has done for
you. But if, when you get to Heaven, there is a great big
parade and if, in the front of the parade, there is a great
big band, if you dont change your way of living, youll
be so far back in the line that you wont even hear the
music." Fannie never gave me a chapter and verse to support
that statement, but somehow it impressed my impressionable
mind. Notwithstanding her advice, I planned to stand firm
in my rebellion. God had no place in my plans.
During basic training at Paris Island, South Carolina, I received
two or three letters a week from my mother. In retrospect,
Im sure she was convinced that tracts were "cheaper
by the dozen." In every letter she enclosed a packet
of them. I was furious! In the rebelliousness of my heart
I wrote, "Mom, I love you very much, but if you cant
write without including Christian literature, Id rather
you not write at all." I received the next letter and
opened it quickly to see if there was any literature. There
was none, and I thought to myself, I have finally gotten
away from God. Then I read the letter. It began, "Dear
Son." The body of the letter followed, and she closed
in her usual fashion, "Oceans of love. Mom." Then
followed a postscript. (I have been fond of writing brief
postscripts ever since.) It pierced my heart like a knife!
It read, "Keep looking up, for He is always looking down."
She sent no more literature. But, it wasnt necessary.
She had committed me to her Lord, and whenever I went where
I should not have been, or did what I knew God would not approve
of, the Holy Spirit was ever present to convict of sin and
remind me of my mothers words, "Keep looking up,
for He is always looking down."
Through Closed Doors
I felt self-confident in the club car drinking my cocktail.
The train would soon arrive at Philadelphia and I would be
home. My three years in the Marine Corps had passed rapidly.
They were, I felt, good years. I had experienced life
I had grown up. I was a man. I even had sergeant stripes to
prove it. I was, in my eyes, a real "John Wayne."
Prospects for the future seemed excellent. My older brother
and sister-in-law were both professional dance teachers. I
loved to dance and had won a dance contest on national television.
I was certain that I would make my way in life as a professional
dancer. Only one thing clouded my optimism that day. I had
gambled away all my money while in the service and would have
to live with my mother in her recently acquired suburban home.
But that, I was certain, would be short-lived about
six months long enough to save some money. Then I could
get my own apartment, a half-dozen suits, three redheads,
and a new sports car.
I moved into my mothers home and soon started teaching
at a dance studio in downtown Philadelphia. My life became
a predictable cycle. I went to the studio at about 1:00 p.m.
and finished at 10:00 p.m. This was frequently followed by
a night of dancing at some of the after-hour night clubs.
On occasion, I broke that routine by playing poker until early
morning at a friends home. Both my mother and Fannie
encouraged church attendance, but I wasnt interested
and was now far beyond parental control. Week after week they
pleaded that I attend the Bible study in our home, but their
pleas fell on deaf ears.
But God has ways of making the blind see and the deaf hear.
It was my day off. It was also the night of the Bible study.
I had been burning the candle at both ends and decided to
stay home and get some much needed sleep. Of course, I took
precaution to make sure that I was safely in my bedroom before
my mothers friends arrived. I did not want to have to
answer questions about my spiritual condition, which I was
certain would arise. It was early evening and, try as I might,
sleep would not come. I heard the guests arrive heard
them hanging their coats in the closet, heard them begin to
sing some of the familiar Christian hymns, and I desperately
didnt want to hear.
Then the Bible teacher began his lesson. In rebellion, I pulled
the covers up over my head, but I could not drown out his
words. In a last desperate attempt, I clamped the pillow over
my head. I thought, Surely this will blot out the teachers
voice but I was wrong. From the living room, down
the long corridor, through the closed door, and in spite of
the up-pulled covers and pulled-down pillow God was
speaking to me. I could not flee from the "Hound of Heaven."
For the first time in years, I lay still, emotionally spent,
and let Him speak.
When the message was over, unknown to all of the guests, I
got down on my knees beside my bed, with tears streaming down
my face. I dont remember the text or the message on
that occasion, but what I have never forgotten is the fact
that God the Sovereign of the Universe the One
who spoke the worlds into existence and breathed into man
the breath of life, was communicating to an unhappy and confused
twenty-two year old. I still remember my prayer on that occasion:
"Father, I have no gifts that I know of I have
nothing to offer you but my sinful life. I know it is Yours
by right of redemption. I give it now, if You will receive
it, for Your purposes and Your glory."
In my heart, I knew that the words of Augustine, the fourth-century
theologian, were true. He had written, "O God, Thou hast
created man for Thyself, and man is restless until he rests
in Thee." I had experienced that restlessness. King Solomon
expressed the same thought when he wrote, "vanity of
vanities; all is vanity," (Eccl. 1:2). Solomons
words can be paraphrased this way: Soap bubbles of soap
bubbles; all is soap bubbles. Soap bubbles are attractive,
colorful, and tantalizing. They float leisurely by, and hold
out so much promise, but when you reach for them, they break!
I knew in my heart that thats what life is really like
At three or four years of age, a boy wants a fire engine,
wagon, or a three-wheel bike; a few years later he wants a
two-wheeler; when thirteen or fourteen, he wants to play "Spin
the Bottle," "Post Office," or "Five Minutes
in Paris" (perhaps the names of the games have changed);
at sixteen, a car is the appeal; at eighteen, the desire is
to get out of parental control; then marriage, a family, a
beautiful home, perhaps a sports car or a big diamond, and
financial security. Each new goal is like a soap bubble. It
promises much, but when you reach out for it, it breaks! There
is nothing wrong with any of these things inside the will
of God. But outside of it, they leave man with an "itching
heart" which he doesnt know how to scratch. I knew
that to be true during this period of rebellion. In the midst
of all my activity, my heart had been "itching like mad,"
and I couldnt scratch it. But I didnt want anyone
to know it.
A Desert Place
Needless to say, my mother and Fannie were thrilled to hear
of God working in my life and my new commitment. They shared
the news with the pastor, and within a week I found myself
at the Sandy Cove Bible Conference grounds in the State of
Maryland. Hearing, through the pastor, what God had done in
my life, the director graciously made a temporary job available
It was winter and the conference grounds were closed, but
there was a great deal of work to be done to get the facilities
ready for the summer conference season. The director would
visit on the weekend and assign work for the following week.
And work I did digging a trench for the pipes to be
connected to the new pool, scrubbing and waxing the very large
dining hall floor, painting and cleaning cabins, fixing some
of the cabin roofs there seemed to be no end to the
things that had to be done.
I felt like I was in the middle of a desert with no television,
no papers, no one to talk to only work and study and
sleep. (Only later would I read of the 40 years Moses spent
in the Sinai Desert, and the three years Paul spent in Arabia.)
I remember saying, "Lord, I told You that You could have
my life, but Youve got me here in the middle of nowhere."
I began to pack my suitcase. I was going to walk out to the
highway and hitchhike home. But somehow I sensed Gods
thoughts. Did you say I can have your life? Well, this
is where I want you now. I unpacked my bag and stayed on.
As spring began to turn to summer, I welcomed the news that
the director planned to send me to their teenage camp. I was
to be a counselor and life guard.
For the first time, I experienced the thrill of teaching others
the Word of God. My mother had brought me two daily devotional
books Streams in the Desert, and My Utmost for His
Highest. Each night after putting my cabin of ten teenage
boys to sleep, I would sit on the bathroom floor and read
six or eight unrelated devotionals from each book. The next
day I would teach everything I had read a sort of spiritual
smorgasbord, and only Heaven knows what those young people
were taught that summer. But God was there, and that literally
made all the difference.
The camp was nearing its end, and before me lay an uncertain
future. "Tomorrows your day off, isnt it?"
asked the camp director and his assistant. "How about
spending the day with us?" I was to meet them the next
morning. I had no idea where we were going. We drove north
for about an hour and a half and entered the city of Philadelphia.
They parked the car at Eighteenth and Arch Streets, and we
walked into a large building. Over the entrance in bold letters
was written "PHILADELPHIA BIBLE INSTITUTE." We climbed
the steps to the second floor, walked down the long hall,
and entered the Office of the Director of Admissions. I broke
into loud laughter when they said rather matter-of-factly,
"We have a young man whom we think the Lord wants in
the ministry." The admissions director sternly inquired,
"Whats so funny, young man?" I explained that
I had never graduated from high school didnt
even make it through the 11th grade! I had never read a book
through, had never written a term paper, did not know the
difference between a noun and a pronoun, had cut classes in
school much of the time and here I was at a college
in the Office of the Director of Admissions. I was certain
he would see the humor in the situation. How wrong I was!
My laughter turned to bewilderment when, after an extended
interview and examination, I was told to plan to attend orientation
classes in two weeks. I would be admitted to the college on
academic probation. That, I soon learned, meant that I could
not participate in any extra-curricular activity until I achieved
a grade point average of "C" or better. And so,
with considerable fear and trepidation, a young man
from a Jewish background, who had served in the Marine Corps,
and taught dancing professionally entered Bible college
alongside young people who, with few exceptions, had been
raised in Christian homes and Bible-believing churches. It
was, I thought, an altogether wrong environment for me. But
I had told God that He could have my life, and besides
somehow my heart wasnt itching quite as much since committing
my life to Christ.
I quickly learned that the College had a basketball team,
and I wanted desperately to play. I had grown up playing basketball
in the school yards of our neighborhood and had continued
while in the service. For me, basketball vied with dancing
as a favorite activity. But I had a problem I was on
academic probation and couldnt play unless I got off.
As a result, for the first time in my life, I began to study.
My motives were less than exemplary; it wasnt to become
a preacher, missionary, or Christian worker that I "hit
the books." It was because I wanted to play basketball.
Somehow, I got off of academic probation and made the varsity
basketball team. That became the incentive to return to college
the next year. And in such a very special environment, I began
to grow spiritually. During my second year, I met the beautiful
young lady who was to become my wife. She had graduated from
the college and stayed on to work first in the accounting
office, and then as the college presidents secretary.
During my third year, while studying New Testament Greek,
for the first time I began to understand English grammar and
acquired my high school diploma.
The college would become Gods instrument to faithfully
impart the Word of God to dramatically change the direction
of my life to lay a strong foundation for future ministry.
How could I know in 1960, that fifteen years later I would
begin a ten-year period of service as a member of the colleges
Board of Trustees?
Fruit for His Glory
During my four years of undergraduate study and two years
at Dallas Seminary, Fannie constantly encouraged my wife and
me. But more than that, she daily held us up before the throne
of grace. And somehow, from her small income, she managed
to send cash gifts to help with our education. She was quietly
present when I was ordained to the gospel ministry and again
when I was called to the pastorate. And how very exciting
pastoral ministry was for my wife and me. Beginning with a
small flock in a rented building, our heavenly Father was
pleased to rend the heavens and bestow blessings upon us.
Property was purchased, buildings were erected, souls were
gloriously saved, backsliders were restored, and missionaries
were being supported and sent out to serve the King. How glorious
to be part of Gods program of evangelism and discipleship.
After completing three building programs in five years, we
thought we could rest a while enjoy the fruit of our
labor. But the Lord, who had saved us through a missionary
to the Jewish people, had other plans.
The Potter at Work
I always had a love for my brethren according to the flesh.
I was proud (I trust in the right sense) of my Jewish heritage.
I had a genuine concern for their salvation and, through the
years, I had shared my faith with many of my kinsmen according
to the flesh. But I didnt want to be a missionary to
the Jews. Not me! I had seen missionary work among the Jews,
and I didnt like some of what I had seen. Jewish people,
I thought, were largely unresponsive to the gospel, and many
Christians and churches seemed largely disinterested. Some,
I came to realize, trusted a Jewish Savior but, tragically
and illogically, disdained the Jewish people He sprang from,
wept for, and loved. And with such obstacles, a Jewish ministry
just didnt appeal to me. I had told the Lord I would
go any where He wanted me to go the mission field,
the pastorate, Christian education anywhere but into
a ministry to Jewish people. But my mother prayed she
Fannie that somehow God would burden me for my
kinsmen, to see their great need and respond.
Then one day I was approached by Dr. Victor Buksbazen, who
would soon be retiring from his position as General Secretary
of The Friends of Israel. He had given fifty years of service
to the Lords work thirty in his present leadership
position. He was concerned about a successor and the continuation
of the Missions ministry. He knew our family for many
years and thought my background and training uniquely qualified
me for the job. But I wasnt interested. With persistence
he kept coming back, convinced that I was Gods choice.
"At least pray about it," he pleaded, "give
God a chance." And only because of his persistence, my
wife and I made his invitation a matter of honest prayerful
inquiry. As we did, the Spirit of God kept bringing to memory
an event which had occurred eleven years earlier.
My wife and I were, at that time, engaged. I was leaving my
home in Philadelphia to travel to her home in southern New
Jersey. Transferring between three buses, the trip would take
just under two hours. I walked the three blocks from my home
to the bus stop. But strangely, after waiting for a period
of time, I felt compelled to return home for a small pocket
Bible. That accomplished, I retraced my steps to the bus stop,
boarded the bus, and made my way to the back. Once seated,
I opened the Bible and began to read. My eyes fell on Exodus,
chapter three, and Gods command to Moses concerning
captive Israel. Five times God commanded Moses, His servant,
to go down to Egypt to confront Pharaoh and deliver His people.
And five times Moses refused. Eventually, the Word of God
states: "And the anger of the LORD was kindled against
Moses..." (Ex. 4:14). I dont recall transferring
to the second or third buses that day it remains a
blur. But somewhere en route, it was no longer God and Moses
in debate, but God and me. When I disembarked from the bus,
tears were streaming down my cheeks. My soon-to-be wife was
waiting at the bus stop and, seeing the tears which I could
not hide, asked if something was wrong.
"No darling," I responded. "Everything is wonderful.
But if you marry me, you have to know that our Lord may one
day lead us into a ministry among the Jewish people."
And now, formal education and six years of pastoral ministry
behind us, God kept challenging us with the remembrance of
that experience and used it to call us to serve Him among
the lost sheep of the House of Israel.
The sixteen years we served the Lord as director of The Friends
of Israel were, for my wife and me, both blessed and fruitful.
God gave opportunity for ministry beyond our limited vision,
fragile faith, and loftiest expectations. They were days of
deep joy, ministering with some of Gods choicest servants,
and knowing that we were where He wanted us to be serving
among the Jewish people who, though still blinded, remain
the apple of His eye.
Through a Glass Darkly
In May of 1989 we had to leave our beloved ministry. During
a period of two and one-half years of intensive study, my
view concerning the chronology of Christs return and
its implications for the Church and Israel changed (the details
of which can be read in the authors book, The Pre-Wrath
Rapture of the Church, it can be purchased online at The Silver Shekel Shop).
As a result, I could no longer sign the doctrinal statement,
which I had personally presented to the board for approval
some years earlier. An impasse was reached. I could not be
untrue to my convictions; and a majority of the board members
did not feel they could broaden the statement on the timing
of Christs return, which would permit me to remain at
Having to leave, at what seemed to me to be the apex of ministry
opportunity, was the most difficult and traumatic experience
of our lives. I can only say that our exalted view of the
Scriptures demanded that we follow those Scriptures as we
understood them, whatever the personal consequences. We could
not, with integrity before our Lord, hide or sidestep the
issue. (Perhaps this was Gods way of expanding His outreach
to the Jewish people and also warning the Church to be prepared
for the coming storm. Only eternity will reveal Gods
ways in this matter.)
Where to go and what to do became the next important issue
for our lives. Always believing that you cant steer
a parked car and that God doesnt lead passive, sedentary
Christians, we began to actively seek Gods direction
for our lives. Surprisingly, under the circumstances, many
avenues of ministry opened up to us, and each had to be carefully
and prayerfully considered. Though not mystical by disposition,
in the end, the Holy Spirit used Exodus 3 and the memory of
Gods presence in the back of a bus many years earlier
to give the quiet assurance that we were to continue to minister
to the sons of Jacob. To that end, ZIONS HOPE, a not-for-profit
missionary agency, was incorporated in June of 1989. And the
first issue of the monthly magazine, Zions Fire,
was published in January 1990. By the end of the first year,
circulation grew from 15 to 45 thousand copies each issue.
Missionaries are now being placed in strategic Jewish population
centers in North America and Israel; and books, brochures,
cassettes, and videos on evangelism, discipleship, and prophecy
are being disseminated throughout the world.
Reports, letters, and calls received daily tell of the spiritual
impact of ZIONS HOPE. We have been humbled by the mantle
of Gods presence and evidence of His omnipotent power
to make the blind see, the deaf hear, and the lame leap with
the unspeakable joy of new life in
Christ abundant and free.
But what of Fannie faithful Fannie? She never made
the hit parade. She was never listed in anyones "Whos
Who." No one ever gave her a gold watch or "service"
pin. No banquet was ever attended in her honor. Materially,
she never had much of this worlds goods she lived
by faith. Educationally, her formal training ended at fourth
grade but few knew the Word of God better than her.
The world never took note of her. Some would say her life
never counted for much that she was only a lowly missionary.
Were they right? You judge.
More than forty years ago she was used of God to reach my
mother with the gospel. Six months later she reached me and
the succession started; my younger brother, my older brother,
my sisters-in-law, other relatives, and friends. Home Bible
studies were started and continue up to the present. Literally
millions of tracts, books, and cassettes have been distributed
throughout the world. Today, we can identify students studying
for Christian service, men in the pastorate, and men and women
on the mission field and other areas of Christian service
as a direct result of what God began to do 40 years ago in
a luncheonette in a Jewish community in Philadelphia. Thousands
have trusted Christ and, if God pleases, thousands more will
be reached. In part, one solitary woman faithfully served
her God. She started a chain reaction that will continue into
eternity. I never think of Fannie but that Im reminded
of the words of a chorus, "It only takes a spark to get
a fire going." Fannie allowed herself to be a spark for
her God her life started a conflagration!
I had it in my heart for some years to write a little article
about Fannies influence in the life of our family. On
Saturday, February 28, 1976, I felt an irrepressible compulsion
to sit at my desk and write this article I literally
couldnt pull myself away from the task. I would learn
two days later that on Wednesday, February 25th, three days
before my "strange" compulsion to write. God had
called this true daughter of Israel "home."
Invariably, whenever I saw Fannie I would ask, "How are
you today?" Her response was always the same, "Marvin,
Im just praising the Lord." Fannie never had, nor
wanted, the praise of man. She lived only to please the God
she loved. Doubtless, her entrance into His presence was abundant
as she heard those blessed words, "Well done, thou good
and faithful servant."
When I heard of Fannies home-going, I didnt weep
for her. How could I? If mansions in Heaven are of varying
sizes (and I suspect they are), shes got a large, beautiful
one. And shes doing what she loves to do best
praising her wonderful Lord.
Jewish and Twice Born
From the Writings of Marvin J. Rosenthal
Published in Zion's Fire Magazine in February, 1991