Ron Levin. Liberty, SC: Ron Levin Ministries, 1994. xvii, 171 pages. $10.00, paper.
There are many testimonies of Jewish believers in Jesus, but Ron Levin’s is one of the most compellingly told. Instead of your having to read it,” writes the sixty-three-year-old author, “I’d much rather tell it to you just as people once told stories around camp fires for thousands of years.” This direct, engaging style permeates the entire volume, directed at “Christians, Jews, agnostics, atheists—whatever, whomever” (p. xi).
The saga begins with six-year-old Ron in Glassboro, New Jersey in the year 1938, one day after the infamous Kristallnacht of Nazi Germany. From there we return to the author’s early Philadelphia Jewish upbringing. Most of his childhood, however, was spent in the deep South, as his family moved to South Carolina, put down fresh roots and entered the peach business.
In a style both direct and affectionate, Levin gives us warm-hearted glimpses of his father’s shrewd lessons in selling peaches (put the larger peaches on the bottom of the basket in contrast to the dishonest competition that put the largest on top where they would be seen first). We hear of his child’s-eye confusion when he is exposed early on to rabid anti-Semitism. Yet even this part of the story is laced with the grace of humor: “I would stand there, listening to the words of Onward Christian Soldiers.…I wondered exactly who these ‘soldiers’ were. I didn’t get it. Weren’t there Jewish soldiers in the army as well? My brother was bombing the Nazis, and he was a Jew. So how come we didn’t sing Onward Jewish Soldiers, too?” (p. 11).
A talent for playing piano and entertaining, evidenced in his college years, became Ron’s mainstay for some time, along with a penchant for high adventure and endless excitement. Levin narrates his ultimately failed marriage to Sally (a convert to Judaism), his relentless pursuit of careers in advertising and marketing, his driving restlessness and perfectionism, and his encounters with various Christians who came into his life. Perhaps the combination of being Jewish and Southern explains his mixed response of unease yet openness in relating to these people. There is Gail, the outgoing believer who “nudges” still-unbelieving Ron into praying for God’s help in business. There are Jason and Lisa, the young neighbor couple in Levin’s condo, who invite Ron for dinner and give him their story over the meal.
Not only does his own marriage not last, neither does that of his daughter Gretchen. But by an improbable series of circumstances, Gretchen meets Stephen Marlowe, in the process of a divorce himself, and then Stephen’s father Reuben, a United Methodist pastor. Happy for Gretchen, Levin is also uneasy as he wonders whether Reuben will “preach” at him.
In fact, Levin had begun reading the Bible, and his life of independence, fast-lane entrepreneurship, restless pursuit of accomplishment and depression came to a head:
One night, I came across a passage in Deuteronomy that stopped me cold.
“Your life shall hang in doubt before you; night and day you shall be in dread, with no assurance of your life. Among those nations you shall find no ease, no resting place for the sole of your foot. There the LORD will give you a trembling heart, failing eyes, and a languishing spirit. In the morning you shall say, ‘If only it were evening!’ and at evening you shall say, ‘If only it were morning!’—because of the dread that your heart shall feel and the sights that your eyes shall see.” (Deuteronomy 28:66-67)
I realized with a shock that this was exactly what I was going through (pp. 122-123).
Prior to this, Levin had undergone therapy. The Bible in Leviticus and Deuteronomy seemed to insist that unless he obeyed God’s laws, God Himself would take it out on him. And as for therapy, “Therapy without confession and repentance cannot bring you out of the pit. Understanding why someone has stuck an ice pick in your heart does not stop the pain or bleeding. Someone has to remove the ice pick, in order for the healing to start” (p. 123).
Finally, as Levin was on the brink of suicide, Reuben Marlowe called on the phone and advised him to read Romans 7 and 8. Once again he relates how the Scripture jumped out at him when he read Paul’s words, “I can will what is right, but I cannot do it.” To Levin, “The thought that another human being had struggled with this—a Jew, like me—let me know I was not alone anymore” (p. 127). That night, as he continued into Romans 8, Ron Levin was reborn.
The climactic moment is Levin’s encounter with God in Romans, but that is only the starting point of his new life. He goes on to tell of his call to the Candler School of Theology and on into ministry in the United Methodist Church. The final page of the book contains a space to mail comments along with Levin’s phone and fax numbers. This is obviously an author who is eager to hear from his readers.
This is a superb book for several reasons. As a story, it is well told. Moreover, Levin’s Jewishness comes through in a most natural way. After reading his story, you will see why. This is someone who has nothing to prove, only grateful thanks to give to the living God who reached down, touched him, and set him on a new course in life at a time when most people are preparing to retire.
Furthermore, it shows the diversity among Jewish followers of Yeshua, for in this case, Ron Levin is a United Methodist-trained Jewish minister. It is in fact unique among Jewish testimonies in print.
Finally, and not least, it shows the power of the Scripture to speak to the human heart and effect spiritual rebirth. God used the testimonies of Gail and of Jason and Lisa and certainly used the intervention of Reuben Marlowe. But the “hero” of the tale is the Lord, who spoke through His words directly into the heart of Ron’s life. I want to encourage Jewish believers everywhere and anyone interested in Jewish evangelism to read Ron Levin’s gripping story!
Ron Levin is a Lay Evangelist in the United Methodist Church and founder of a teaching ministry called “My Father’s Business.” If The Long Journey Home is not available at your local bookstore, contact: Rev. Ron Levin, 4303 Old Greenville Hwy., Liberty, SC 29657. Telephone and 24-hour fax: 864-646-5689.