Director of Jews for Jesus Canada
Andrew Barron, a nice Jewish boy from New York and former space scientist and engineer, describes how he came to believe in Jesus, the Messiah of Israel.
I was a scientist, an engineer. The only God I could bring myself to believe in was far too busy coordinating the clockwork of the cosmos to concern himself with me, and I saw little reason why I should concern myself with him. Faith in a God who actually cared would be intellectual suicide. Unless, of course, God was not who Spinoza and Einstein made him out to be.
Sometimes people walk up to me (when I’m handing out leaflets as a Jew for Jesus)–people I don’t even know–and say, ‘Why don’t you get a real job?’ I’m not a panhandler, I’m not on welfare; I’m not even a starving artist. The fact is, I’m a fairly well-fed, decently-dressed working man. The question of my employment isn’t really a question; it’s a comment on the fact that some people don’t think too highly of my occupation. They might be surprised to know that I left my ‘real job’ working on the space shuttle program at Martin Marrietta to work with Jews for Jesus. So how did a nice Jewish boy like me end up becoming a missionary?
My name is Andrew Mark Barron. My parents were born and raised in New York City. I spent the first year of my life (1959) in that bastion of Jewish civilization known as Brooklyn; then my family moved to Queens and there we stayed until I was 11.
Our Conservative synagogue in Queens both puzzled and fascinated me. While it seemed to me that the velvet-lined pews were not meant for something so mundane as sitting, they lent a certain elegance to worship. The first thing one saw upon entering our synagogue was a huge golden plaque engraved with a list of names of people’s dead relatives. I silently wondered why people paid to write their loved ones’ names on that big brass list, and why, on special days, a lamp next to the plaque was lit. Once inside the sanctuary. I was momentarily awed by the majestic altar, the very size and beauty of which seemed to command admiration and respect.
Then the service would begin. Almost mechanically, I would stand up for certain parts and then sit down again. My mind wandered and I wondered–wondered about things like why God cared if we sat or stood. And why did we have to whisper in the sanctuary? Perhaps these rituals had something to do with keeping away evil spirits. It didn’t occur to me to ask; it seemed natural for ‘religious’ things to be mysterious. Though there was much I did not understand, I developed an early awareness of God and the fact that things pertaining to him were to be somehow set apart from the ordinary.
The first person who told me about loving God was my Hebrew school teacher. I was 10 years old when I began attending cheder after school. We had a class of about 25 boys and girls which met twice a week. Our teacher was also the synagogue cantor. I don’t remember his name but I do remember that he told us he loved God. I hadn’t ever thought of God as someone to be loved.
I never forgot my teacher’s explanation of why he prayed when he awoke each morning. He told us that when we sleep, our bodies are close to death. To wake each morning was a miracle, and a sign of God’s ownership and watchful care over our bodies. He thanked God each morning for letting him wake instead of leaving him to sleep forever.
I rode my bicycle 4 kilometers to Hebrew school in the winter and was pleased to think that, like my teacher, I was doing something to make God happy. I remembered hearing how Abraham Lincoln walked for many kilometers in the dead of winter to return a book. Maybe I would become the first Jewish President and people would tell stories about how I’d ridden to Hebrew school in the freezing cold!
Everyone in New York City was Jewish, or at least it seemed like it. But when I was 11 years old, we moved to Monroe, in upstate New York, and I discovered that I was in a minority. My mother explained that being Jewish was special. We were obligated to have higher morals and stricter intellectual standards than others. She often pointed out that many of the world’s greatest achievers were Jewish: people like Albert Einstein and Jonas Salk. Their great accomplishments, she explained, were due to the fact that they were Jews.
I enjoyed knowing that I was different from the others, and that I was destined for greatness. My mother probably intended that I develop just enough pride to hold fast to my Jewish identity in the midst of a Gentile society. She succeeded, but I may have gotten a bit of an ethnic ‘superiority complex’ in the process.
Childhood memories of Jewish life snap to focus when I recall the aromas which seemed to herald most of our holiday observances. Our nostrils twitched as the pungent sting of ammonia signaled the coming of Passover. Then there was the must and dust of my yearly trek into the attic to retrieve our Passover dishes. And, finally, there were the fragrances of chicken soup, tzimmis, brisket and chicken. My grandmother’s deft hands separated the egg whites from the yolks as she prepared her famous desert and when she put it in the oven to bake, the whole house was filled with the sweet aroma of ‘the-most-delicious-spongecake-you-have-ever-tasted.’
I loved to breathe in the scent of the fresh-cut wood when it came time to build the huts for Sukkot. And Purim was great for the fresh-baked smell of hamantaschen, not to mention the delicious taste! But even more than the holiday cookies, I enjoyed raising the ruckus which was only permitted in the synagogue on that one incredible night of the year. As we cheered Mordecai and booed wicked Haman throughout the reading of the megilla, I think my voice was the loudest of all!
My ideas of God changed as I grew older. When I was 14 years old, I watched my grandmother die a slow and painful death which resulted from hardening of the arteries in her brain. She had been an altruist all her life. Where had it gotten her? What good had it done her to keep all the religious rituals so faithfully? In 1974, Grandma Jenny’s name was added to the brass plaque in our synagogue in Monroe. I thought bitterly that if such was her reward, it left much to be desired. The thought of a loving God seemed absurd.
I began to wonder about the distinctions between Jews and Gentiles, and why they were separated. One day I was playing basketball with some friends when a man came to join us. As he approached the court, one of the boys mumbled to me that he was a priest and asked me if I was allowed to play with him!
I considered my friend’s question. Once I had visited a Catholic church and wondered if being there would somehow make me dirty. Now in high school, I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to worry about being contaminated by this basketball-playing priest or vice versa. But the court was a far cry from the Catholic church, so I decided it wouldn’t hurt me to play ball with him. If he had a problem about playing with me, well, what he didn’t know wouldn’t hurt him.
Thoughts of Jesus were few and far between. I assumed he was Catholic. I figured that the Gentiles were looking for a way to be more like Jews, so they built a religion around a Jew who was Catholic. I might have realized how silly that was had I given it more thought, but saw no reason to bother about it.
After High School, I saw my self as a sophisticated college student…which meant that I had no tolerance for superstition and no need for God.
In college, I became friends with Dr. Cissy Petty. Cissy was the director of student activities and my boss. I did part-time office work to earn a little extra pocket money. One day she told me that Jesus was my Saviour. At first I thought she was crazy, but then I realized that she probably didn’t realize who I was. Therefore, I informed her that I was Jewish, expecting that she would immediately realize her mistake. But she still thought that Jesus was my Saviour! In addition, she asked what being Jewish meant to me. I wasn’t certain how to answer.
To me, being Jewish was sort of a birthright to success. After all, I was following in the footsteps of Albert Einstein and Jonas Salk!
I shrugged off the fact that Cissy thought being Jewish shouldn’t keep me from believing in Jesus. But I could not shrug off the fact that she lived differently from every one else I knew. She acted as though God were actually watching. She had a morality that seemed to be more than a social standard. C.S. Lewis described it when he wrote: ‘There is something above and beyond the ordinary facts of men’s behavior, and yet quite definitely real–a real law, which none of us made–but which we find pressing on us.'(C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, Macmillan Publishing Co., 30.) It was amazing to observe God’s reality in Dr. Petty’s life. She gave me a Bible towards the end of my senior year: the inscription was dated May 20, 1981. I accepted it only to avoid hurting her feelings.
Cissy Petty was just one of the many reasons for me to begin thinking about God again. A book called God and the Astronomers, written by a famous astrophysicist named Robert Jastrow piqued my interest. Jastrow was convinced that the creation account was backed by science. Even though he wrote as an agnostic, there was something in his conclusion that jolted me into thinking more seriously about God. Jastrow wrote, ‘For the scientist who has lived by his faith in the Power of Reason, the story ends like a bad dream. He has scaled the mountains of ignorance; he is about to conquer the final peak; as he pulls himself over the final rock, he is greeted by a band of theologians who have been sitting there for centuries.’ (Robert Jastrow, God and the Astronomers, New York: W.W. Norton & Co. Inc., 1978, 116.)
I majored in Space Science at the Florida Institute of Technology, so I spent hours and hours up in the observatory. Sometimes I paused from observing the stars and planets to wonder if I, too was being observed. It was the strangest feeling, but studying the vastness of the universe just naturally led me to think about God. One night a friend and I were watching a spectacular meteor shower. As we counted the ‘shooting stars’, he mused over the thought of the planet earth as a mere experiment in someone’s gigantic petri dish–in which case he said all our striving and the meaning we attribute to life would be a ridiculous joke.
I was not given to such cynicism, but I did wonder how a God who was busy making the sun shine and keeping the planets with all their moons in orbit could possibly care about me. I believed God existed because of the phenomenal order to the universe; yet I felt that human beings were far to miniscule for his notice.
Upon graduation I moved to Denver, Colorado, to take a job with Martin Marietta. They paid me quite well considering I was ‘fresh out of university.’ I wasn’t surprised that my dreams of success were becoming a reality, but I still could not resolve the spiritual questions I had begun to ponder in college. I had expected my knowledge of science to supersede my belief in God. Instead, it seemed to point to his existence, to insist upon it in a way that I could not ignore.
It came time for a holiday and I went back to Florida. While there, I visited my friend Cissy. She gave me a Jews for Jesus pamphlet and I addressed a note requesting more information to their headquarters in San Francisco. I don’t remember much of what the pamphlet said except the title, ‘Hospital Tsuris,’ and frankly, I forgot about writing the note until three or four months later when the response came.
One of their staff, Mitch Glaser, ended up with my note just before a trip he had scheduled to Denver. I was surprised when he called and introduced himself over the telephone, but I agreed to meet with him. Mitch and I had a good rapport, and he was able to answer some of my questions about how a person could be Jewish and believe in Jesus. Still, I wasn’t quite ready to believe. I had oral surgery the day before and had taken plenty of Percodan to kill the pain. I knew I wasn’t quite myself, so I told Mitch that I was probably crazy even to be thinking about Jesus.
I felt much better the next night, so I went with Mitch to watch him speak in a church about the Passover. He talked about the Jewish roots of the Christian faith and explained how Jesus’ death and resurrection were in keeping with God’s plan for redeeming our people even as far back as Moses. Before he left, Mitch put me in contact with Eliezer, who worked with the American Board of Missions to the Jews. Eliezer was an older Jewish believer in Jesus whom Mitch knew to be a wise and godly man.
From the first time I walked into his home, it reminded me of my grandmother’s house. First there was the familiar smell of moth balls in the closet when I went to hang up my jacket and then the aroma of chicken soup wafting in from the kitchen–I felt at home instantly! Eliezer and his wife, Sarah, might believe in Jesus, but they were mishpochah; they were Jews.
I spent time with Eliezer and observed the people who came to his home for Bible studies. I was impressed by the way they related to God, especially in prayer. It was incredible to hear people praying for daily concerns, not needing a liturgy to approach the Maker of the Universe.
Eliezer and I read the Bible together. We studied the messianic prophecies, and we read from the Gospels so I could see for myself who Jesus was and what he taught. ‘The Sermon on the Mount’ from the book of Matthew really took me by surprise. I saw that people can be clean on the outside, and still be dirty on the inside. I realized that one didn’t have to be a criminal by society’s standards in order to be a sinner in God’s sight.
I had grown in my reverence for God. I knew He was real, and that He was holy. I knew I was separated from Him because I couldn’t measure up to His standards. I wanted to be part of the people He called His own.
The biggest obstacle between me and Jesus was my pride. I was a scientist, an engineer. Until now, the only God I could bring myself to believe in was far too busy coordinating the clockwork of the cosmos to concern himself with me, and I’d seen little reason why I should concern myself with him. I had a couple of words to describe faith in a God who actually cared–intellectual suicide.
No one could explain to me why the Creator of the Universe should care about His people, but after confronting Scripture I knew God is not who Spinoza and Einstein had made him out to be. He is not some impersonal force. He is a personal creator who made us because He wants to be involved in our lives. He constructed us with souls that can be fed only by His hand. I concluded that believing God cares is not intellectual suicide– believing that He doesn’t care is spiritual starvation.
I came to faith in Jesus as my Messiah on 20 May 1982. I went home that night to read the Bible Cissy had given me. I was astounded to see her simple inscription: From Cissy Petty to Andrew Barron, 20 May 1981. It had taken exactly one year from the time she had given me that Bible to the time that I finally read it…as a believer in Yeshua.
Cissy had challenged me to think about spiritual matters. But somehow, it took other Jews who believed in Jesus to help me overcome my prejudices. When I realized I could be helping my people discover the Messiah, building space shuttles, exciting as it was, no longer seemed like a career for me. I can’t be angry with people who tell me to get a ‘real job.’ If they’d just look to God with an open mind, they’d know that the job of proclaiming His Messiah is very real.