A former Orthodox Jew is now working to persuade his people that Jesus was, after all, their Messiah.
Adrian Glasspole, who lives in Barlby and is based at St James’ Church in Selby, is the national evangelist for the Church’s Ministry among Jewish people (CMJ) – an organisation set up over 200 years ago by the likes of William Wilberforce and which has played a significant part in the restoration to their Promised Land of millions of Jews in recent years.
Scattered throughout the earth following the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70, Jews have always had a hankering to return to their ancient land in fulfilment of a plethora of Bible prophecies. And CMJ has seen its role as helping them through prayer and practical support which, in the early days of the 20th century, led to a British Government promise (the Balfour Declaration) to grant a homeland for the Jews in what was known at the time as Palestine.
With one family member shot in the woods near Minsk in Belarus as part of a massacre by Nazis in 1942 at the time millions of his kindred were being herded to death camps, 50-year-old Adrian helped to mount an exhibition at St James last Friday to mark Holocaust Day – not only as a reminder of the atrocities committed but also as a warning that it could so easily happen again, especially in view of the Iranian president’s constant vow to “wipe Israel off the map”.
Adrian is all too aware of the difficulties of presenting Christ as the Saviour of his people in view of the shocking persecution meted out so often in his name. As he points out, Hitler died a Catholic but has still not been excommunicated – not even for the murder of six million people!
So how did an Orthodox Jew become a follower of Jesus?
With a slave ship captain ancestor who married a slave girl, and another at one-time governor-general of Jamaica, Adrian was born in Glastonbury, Somerset.
And because he felt forced into the merchant navy at 16, he lost contact with his teenage love Dawn. But 30 years later she got in touch with him through Facebook, and they got married in 2009.
Once at sea he realised he could die – and almost did on his first ship – and got interested in religion as a result. And because he was Jewish, he got in touch with the Rabbi on his return to Bristol. In due course he became a convinced follower of an Orthodox sect that believed the Messiah had come in the form of a certain Rabbi, who died in 1994, who was not only a genius with nine degrees and a fluent multi-linguist, but also a miracle worker.
Then he started meeting Christians, who talked about Jesus.
“The crunch time came and I realised the Messiah had come, and that he was either the ‘Rebbe’ – a term of endearment for the leader of the fiercely anti-missionary sect – or Jesus of Nazareth.
“So I sat with a cup of coffee and a cigarette in my digs one Saturday night, praying: ‘God, show me who this Jesus of Nazareth really is,’ and he did!
“It was not a vision, but I saw a Jewish man hanging on a cross and that changed the course of my history. I was 31 and about to graduate from university.”
And after a time of hotel management which included the Bristol Hilton and running his own restaurant, he found he couldn’t stop telling people about Jesus and subsequently completed a theology course after which he set up the UK branch of a New York-based outreach to Jews in Manchester. In due course he was ‘head-hunted’ by CMJ.
Explaining his calling, he said: “If Jesus is the Messiah, then Jewish people need to know. And even if he isn’t, and he’s just one of the greatest teachers who ever lived, then people need to know what it was he taught that was so great.”
And he admits that, though Jews are won over, it’s a tough business with people like himself seen at best as apostates or deluded – he has even been called a ‘spiritual Nazi’.
“But I can understand why that is in view of the history of the church which has persecuted my people over the centuries.”
Adrian believes there is just one word that sums up his mission – and that is reconciliation, whether between Jews and Arabs, or Jews and Gentiles.