Jewish People Telling Their Stories
Testimony of Alan Friesner
I never attended Hebrew school but rather memorized my Bar Mitzvah at 13 and soon after I chose to call myself an atheist. I was born and raised in Toronto Canada, to a middle class, gastronomical, Jewish family. We feared people more than God and our religion was based around the Seder table. Passover, Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and Chanukah were our only connection to Judaism. We only attended synagogue for weddings and Bar Mitzvahs.
I spent 30 years of my life arguing that “God was a creation of man, and man was not a creation of God.” All this time having “spiritual encounters” and privately acknowledging and thanking God for my “good luck.”
By the time I was eighteen I was in the SCUBA diving business in Miami. I traveled throughout the Caribbean servicing my customers and living a life many wish they could have. There was one problem, I was not happy, and being happy is all I really wanted. Unfortunately, at this point in my life I equated “happiness” with “money.” This resulted in a dilemma for me since I often had lots of money but still felt empty, lonely and unhappy. I had a problem I could not solve even though my business card called me “Assistant Problem Solver.” I sold my business and moved to Mexico to run a dive shop for one of my customers. Again I was living a dream life, living in a luxury resort, dong what people pay to do on vacations, and banking most of my salary. My bank account kept getting fatter and I grew more frustrated as happiness eluded me! It was here in Mexico, during the many hours that I spent alone living back to the basics and looking into myself, that I had the profound realization, that “where ever I went there I was.” I was the problem and brought it with me, so I returned to Toronto in my quest for happiness.
“The remedy to dissatisfaction is inside us, in our minds not in grasping for new and different outer sources of satisfaction.” (Tara Bennett Goleman)
My last business was a retail bicycle store in a very Jewish neighbourhood, Thornhill. I often engaged in lengthy conversations with my Orthodox Jewish customers who wanted to save my soul by getting me to observe the Sabbath, and follow the Kosher Laws. Over time I came to realize that despite the fact that they wore special attire and observed rituals that implied that they were closer to God than me; they were yet again more hypocritical in their life than I had been!
I coined the expression; “living above the Torah” to describe the life I wanted to live. Little did I know how prophetic this statement was, since I came to know that the only thing above the Torah is Yeshua? I began to relax my atheist views, as I wondered “who was my God.”
In January 2000 I travelled to Mexico on a month long vacation. One night while star gazing with some friends, we were discussing what we were looking at, and I came to revisit my interest in astronomy and marvel of where it all came from.
Upon returning to Toronto I enrolled in a continuing education class; “Back Yard Astronomy.” It was in this class while studying our solar system, the sun and moon that I had the profound realization that all this order could not be by accident. That indeed it had all been created and by none other than the one who created me! The God of the bible, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. God himself!
While operating my bicycle store I set out to know this God. At the same time a new church was opening half a block from my store. The Pastor of this church befriended me, and we would talk a few times a week. After some time, he asked me “what am I doing about my sin problem” to which I responded “what problem?” It was not long after that I bought my first bible and began to read it. I was also introduced to the Messianic Rabbi of a local congregation and came to know that there are Jewish people who believe in Yeshua (Jesus). People prayed for me in church, in Jesus’ name but it was not until I was prayed for in the Messianic congregation that I came to know Yeshua as my personal savior.
The First Day of Chanukah, Dec. 20th, 2003
Despite a throat infection, and not feeling well I felt a strong need, or let’s say desire to attend Synagogue (I was attending City of David Messianic Synagogue). It was Chanukah and I wanted to hear the message Rabbi Jeff Forman (no relation to George) had in store. Jeff spoke about the spirit of the Maccabees, the reclaiming of the temple, and the miracle of the oil.
But Rabbi Jeff had a far greater message in store for this first day of Chanukah: The Festival of Dedication. The litmus test to judge all believers. This was of great interest to me for I had asked many people: “Do you think it is possible to be saved and not know it?”
Jeff’s three principles of true belief are:
Fear of God: reverence
Living the Word: observance of Bible
Love of God’s people: how you treat others
I have evidence that I have feared God since I was 5 years old. When asked if I have children I often answer, “all the children of the world are mine”.
So I guess I now need to know God’s word and live in it to pass the test. For this I thought I would pray today.
There is this “girl” at City of David. She is a woman of God, a mother of children of God, the wife of a man of God; she is Janet, Rabbi Jeff’s partner in life. I am drawn to her, for she has something spiritual that I want to share in. Janet walks in it, she sings in it, she talks in it, and oh how she prays in it, “the presence of God.”
Janet is the first person to ever ask me if I felt the presence of God, for she saw it came over me, when Jeff prayed for me a few weeks earlier. On this the first day of Chanukah I felt compelled to pray with Janet, even though I had never prayed with her before. We talked a little about all the activities I had done this week, leading up to this moment. She responded by saying all I needed to do was surrender. I told her how surrender wasn’t in my vocabulary, neither agenda nor intent! Winning was where it was at, what I had been taught, and what I strived for. Under my breath I thought, “they will never take me alive.” Little did I know? Janet began to tell me about how she was before Yeshua came into her life, how I reminded her of herself in my “I will do it all my way” attitude. As she shared her story of salvation with me tears began to form inside of me, but I stopped them before they emerged, as I have always stopped my surrender.
I looked at Janet and said “let’s pray” and she said, “Why don’t you?” and I said, “No please you pray. “When she placed her hand on my shoulder I reached out and placed my hand on the back of her arm, as I always do when people pray for me. As she called out to the Lord I could feel that special presence of God come over us. And I knew, that she knew, that I was there, as was He. My tears began to flow. She moved her hand to the crown of my head, and showed me how to hold up my arms. I reached out with hands open and palms up, as I had seen others do in worship. I invited Yeshua into my heart. I didn’t just say it! I meant it, I felt it, I wanted it! I had never opened up to the Lord in this way before.
We recited the prayer of salvation that Janet had first said when Yeshua came into her life. We invited Yeshua into my life. A warm elated state came over me. I was filled with love and peace. In that exact moment I knew, without a doubt……
GOD LOVED ME, EVEN ME!
As quickly all the images and reasons not to surrender appeared, accumulated and choked me up, my elation and warmth grew even stronger. I knew I was in the presence of God. Then something happened. For just one brief “instance” I ceased to be, along with all my reasons, I had surrendered. The elation I was experiencing turned to euphoric bliss. I knew I had surrendered and Janet knew and God already knew I was His!
So I dedicated my life to Yeshua. On the feast of dedication, the First Day of Chanukah, Dec. 20th, 2003.
During that first year I attended both Church and Messianic Synagogue.
In October 2004 I made a short mission trip to Malawi, Africa to visit an orphanage. When in Africa I felt a strong calling to do mission work there.
My bicycle store had a large Jewish clientele who needed to hear the Gospel message, so I prayed to God to know; if I was to stay and witness to them, or answer a pressing call to go to Africa.
In January of 2005 I travelled to Israel and lived with an Orthodox Jewish family in an effort to know for sure, my God. And I also had an urge to visit Messianic Rabbi David Levine in Kiev, Ukraine who I felt God was leading me to see. While there I also visited the largest Messianic congregation in the world.
There was no question to me that Jesus had become Lord of my life. I returned to Canada and running my bicycle shop.
Later that year, the president of Hope for the Nations invited me to go to Africa with him and I closed my bicycle store of eighteen years and stepped out in faith. I traveled to Uganda, Kenya and Malawi on a forty-day mission trip. It was during this trip that I truly knew that this was God’s will for my life, and what I wanted to do.
Another Pastor friend of mine said that “when your heart’s desire lines up with the world’s greatest needs, you know that you are in God’s will.” I rented a house in Nairobi and made three trips over a year and a half to Africa and did many humanitarian works all in the name of Jesus. But the biggest work was done in my heart by Him. For “the one who teaches learns the most.”
Upon returning from Africa I often said “anyone can bring a peanut vendor in Africa to faith, and get him to church.” But deep inside me I had a crying out for “Jewish people” my people. If you have ever tried then you know it is not easy to witness to a Jewish person.
I always like a challenge and a good discussion, so here I am. “Many are called but few are chosen” is the first line of scripture I ever knew by heart. I truly know that God has chosen me to take on this calling as Missionary leading The Toronto Jewish Mission at this point in my life and at this time in the ministry’s history.
My mother has asked “well what will you be doing” and my immediate response is “the work of God, changing people’s lives, one person at a time.” Starting with mine!
This includes ministering to one and all that God should put in my path Jew and Gentile alike. This is my story of how Yeshua came to be my Messiah.
“He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for My sake will find it.” Matthew 10:39