Passion for taking Gospel to Jews drives NAMB missionaries
WASHINGTON CROSSING, Pa. (BP)--Paul Vermillion, a Mission Service Corps missionary for the North American Mission Board, has one overarching passion: to introduce the greatest Jew who ever lived to today’s Jewish people who don’t know Him.
From his base of operations in Washington Crossing, Pa. –- about 34 miles northeast of Philadelphia and famous as the place where George Washington crossed the Delaware River –- Vermillion and wife Marla have run New Covenant Fellowship since 2002.
Born in Anchorage, Alaska, young Paul was the son of parents who both played the violin in orchestras. With the violin in Paul’s DNA, the child prodigy began playing the instrument at the age of three and was touring America and Europe as a concert violinist in his own right by 16. At 19, Paul still loved his music but was “lonely and afraid of dying,” he recalls. He took a 110-day voyage around the world on a cruise ship searching for some answers.
“When I got back to the States after the cruise-trip, I had a life-changing experience with God,” Vermillion said.
Later educated at several colleges and universities, including Harvard, Vermillion was working as a manufacturer’s rep -- responsible for $144 million in annual sales -- when he finally found his true calling -– spreading the Gospel of Jesus Christ to Jews, many of whom still look and wait for the Messiah to appear on earth.
Now 32 and the father of four, he rattles off some sobering statistics about the Jewish mission field.
“There are six million unreached Jewish people in North America and another 5.2 million unreached Jewish people in Israel. It’s estimated that there are only 100,000 Jewish followers of Jesus in the United States,” Vermillion said, basing his figures on the most recent National Jewish Population Survey.
Only about seven percent of American Jews attend synagogue weekly. Some 80 percent of Jewish people in America do not even attend synagogue for the High Holy Days. Only 46 percent of American Jews have a religious affiliation to Judaism. That means 54 percent of the entire American Jewish population are “secular” Jews, who have no affiliation at all and are unchurched.
In America's largest city, New York, one out of eight citizens is Jewish. A quarter of all Jews in the U.S. live in New York City.
“We’re trying to build bridges to connect the church with God’s chosen people,” Vermillion said, “by focusing on His land, His language, His literature and His arts.”
In stressing God’s “land,” the Vermillions are leading mission trips and study tours to Israel and -- depending on Middle East conditions -- are planning a trip next February (visit www.israel2007.info).
“Even though most Jews are secular and not religious, they have a strong affinity and connection to Israel. They may have family there,” Vermillion said.
In addition to taking laypeople to Israel in February, Vermillion will take pastors and evangelists eager to better understand Israel and become more effective ministers back home in the States.
“We also want to create an awareness among the Jewish community that the New Testament is a Jewish book, part of Jewish literature that should be studied by Jews," Vermillion said. "Jews place a lot of emphasis on education. So we challenge them by asking how can they consider themselves well-educated if they haven’t read the one book that has influenced the world more than any other book?”
Not only have most secular Jews not read the New Testament, most have not even read the Old Testament, he said.
“We’re talking about basic biblical literacy,” Vermillion explained. “My wife Marla, who’s Jewish, had never opened up the Bible before she accepted Christ.”
Vermillion’s New Covenant ministry uses Isaiah 53 as a way to show Jews what the Old Testament prophetically says about Jesus.
“When I met Paul, he and his friends invited me to their fellowships and I came and loved the people,” Marla recalled. “But I had never even opened a Bible before. So they gave me a Bible and had me read Genesis and John. I didn’t understand it all but I was really excited about what I was learning about my Jewish heritage and history. They gave me the movie ‘Jesus of Nazareth’ to watch, and the Spirit of God did the rest.”
Marla later asked her husband a question that was both sad and profound.
“I asked Paul why is it that as a Jewish person growing up in the large Jewish community of West Bloomfield, Mich., I knew a lot of Christians but nobody ever shared the Gospel with me, and told me about my Jewish Messiah, who’s already come?”
Vermillion said God used Marla’s burning question to place a burden on their hearts to reach Jewish people for Christ.
“And today, Marla is still a magnet for drawing Jewish people to our ministry," he said.
Why is it so hard for Jews to believe that Jesus Christ is the Messiah? Vermillion gives two reasons: 1) they’ve never heard the Gospel clearly explained; and, 2) most Jews feel that Jews who accept Christ are traitors to their religion and culture.
“Of course, Jews who accept Jesus are not traitors to their religion,” Vermillion says. “That’s just not true. If anything, being a follower of the greatest Jew who ever lived would make a Jew even more Jewish, not less.
“What we are really excited about is that as we have been able to share the Gospel with the Jewish people, especially focusing on secular and unaffiliated Jews, there has been an incredible openness and responsiveness,” Vermillion said, stressing that half of the Jewish population not only is secular and unaffiliated, but perhaps even one or two generations removed from the synagogue.
Vermillion summed up his ministry by reciting God’s promise to Abraham: “I will bless those who bless you.”
“Is there any greater blessing that you can give Jewish people than the blessing of salvation?”