Can’t Stop Sharing the Gospel: The Testimony of Tony Simon

Posted on June 1, 2017

5


By David Ettinger

Note: I had the privilege of working with Antony Simon as a staff member of Zion’s Hope, a Christian ministry with a heart for the Jewish people. I also had the privilege of ghostwriting Tony’s newsletters and spent many pleasurable Skype hours with him. Tony was the boldest and most passionate missionary I ever met. On May 29, 2017, we at Zion’s Hope were shocked to receive the news of Tony’s tragic passing. Back in 2013, while Tony was here in Orlando, Florida, we sat down together for an interview, the purpose of which was to put his testimony in writing. The story is below. In order to keep the dynamics of Tony’s personality intact, I decided to post this as it read back then, in other words, in the present tense rather than past. I post this in memory of our beloved friend and colleague.

Marv Rosenthal, Executive Director of Zion’s Hope, has affectionately – and quite accurately – referred to Tony Simon as a modern-day John the Baptist.

And for good reason.

tony kids

Tony loved working with children wherever he ministered.

Tony, a Zion’s Hope missionary in Israel, is uncompromisingly bold when it comes to sharing the Gospel of Jesus with Jew, Gentile, Muslim, Arab, and anyone else with a listening ear.

“I cannot picture not telling people about Jesus,” he said. “From the time I became a believer, I knew that I had to take the Gospel to everybody.”

However, things were not always this way for Tony, who was born into a Jewish family in Manchester, England.

“My parents were ‘traditional’ [rather than] orthodox Jews,” he explained. “They were members of an orthodox synagogue, and attended on the [high, holy] holidays. Some members of the family went on a regular basis.”

For the Simon family, that was their extent of adherence to Jewish practices.

“My family [Tony’s parents are divorced; he has two sisters] didn’t keep the Sabbath, but neither do most Jews in England,” Tony said. “About the most we can say is that we didn’t eat pork or ham.”

However, Tony’s parents did think enough of their faith to send their son to Hebrew school.

“It was very ‘Jewish.’ The students had to keep their heads covered all the time [with a ‘yarmulke,’ or skullcap].”

Tony attended Hebrew school until age 11, and then began a secular education, which he continued until graduation. He then followed the same course that many young British and American Jews take: an extensive visit to Israel. One of the most inexpensive ways to do this is to live on a kibbutz – a collective community – where residents stay without having to pay rent, but must contribute to the life of the community by working.

“I was told that there were missionaries on the kibbutz and that they might try to convert me,” Tony said. “I shared a room with a man from the U.S. who snored like a train, and I couldn’t sleep at night, so we did an exchange. That man moved out, and a Christian man moved in.”

This is when Tony first heard the Gospel.

“This man would talk to me about Jesus and the Old Testament,” he said. “There was also another man on the kibbutz who spoke to me about Jesus. One day, he read Psalm 22 to me, and I said, ‘I’m Jewish, I don’t want to know about Jesus.’”

Despite the objection, it was the beginning of a turnaround in Tony as his curiosity had been sparked. He had begun talking to other Jewish people in Israel about Jesus. He then went to a “yeshiva” – a Jewish educational institute – and it was there that Tony came to believe that Jesus was the true Messiah.

“Nobody over there – the rabbis or students – had any answers to my questions [regarding Jesus],” Tony said. “One day, a [Christian] friend of mine said to me, ‘Who is Jesus?’ I answered, ‘He is the Savior, the Messiah, the Son of God.’ That’s when I received the Lord. I was baptized a few weeks later.”

Tony was transformed, and was excited about sharing his newfound faith with his family. He returned to Manchester with high hopes.

tony books

Tony handed out thousands and thousands of Bibles during his more than two decades of evangelism.

“I thought sharing the Gospel with my father would be easy, like ‘ABC,’” he said. “Instead, he thought I was crazy, that I was going through a phase.”
Tony was still living at home, and his father did what he could to help persuade his son that his acceptance of the Christian faith was a mistake.

“He would invite orthodox Jews to the house to talk to me,” said Tony, who was 19 at the time. “I talked to rabbis, and many other people, including some friends, but the Lord was good to me. He preserved me. In fact, some of my friends [who tried to convince Tony to return to Judaism] became interested in the Gospel.”

Eventually, though, Tony and his friends began to drift apart.

“They were going to parties and pubs, and I was reading my Bible and doing evangelism with my church,” Tony said. “I had a totally different social life from them.”

His social life was also vastly different from that of his father. Because of the tension between the two of them, Tony left home and moved in with some Christian friends. He spent the next few years going door-to-door and preaching on the streets of Manchester. To further expand his ministry, Tony wrote down his testimony and placed copies of it (along with leaflets and tracts) in the mailboxes of Jewish families.

Not surprisingly, Tony’s Jewish outreaches placed him at odds with many rabbis. However, not all of them were instantly hostile toward him.

“Some rabbis would talk to me, and there was one who even invited me to his house for dinner with his family,” Tony said. “We would talk about Jesus and the New Testament.”

Of course, there was a motive behind the dinner invites.

“They wanted to convert me back to Judaism,” Tony said, “but it never worked. I knew what I believed. Many of the Jewish people [in Manchester] would write bad things about me and say that I was crazy and that I lied.”

But Tony wasn’t crazy, nor was he preaching to Jewish people only.

“Sometimes I would go to parties with my friends and preach the Gospel there,” he said. “They began calling me a ‘Jesus freak.’”

Besides his work in Manchester, Tony joined an evangelical group called Operation Mobilisation and did outreach on the streets of London, where he ministered to people of all walks of life, Muslims included.

A few years later, Tony enrolled in a Bible college in Wales, and then returned to Manchester. He eventually joined an evangelical church led by a Welsh pastor named Andrew Davis.

“He was a really good man, one of the best preachers in the U.K.,” Tony said. “His wife loved the nation of Israel and the Jewish people, so they would invite me to their house frequently.”

When Tony was 23, he spent a summer evangelizing in London, which was about 200 miles from Manchester. It was then that he met his future wife, Dona, a believer from Scotland.

“I was staying with a friend of mine who was a colonel in the British army,” Tony recalled. “Every day I would go out and preach, hand out tracts, and talk to people. It was while on the streets that I met Dona.”

tony man

Meeting needs: Tony and a refugee who had just received a space heater.

In the meantime, Tony maintained his relationship – strained as it was – with his parents.

“There was no hostility between us, but they were very embarrassed about me being a Christian,” Tony said. “For instance, when I got married, my dad stopped talking to us for a time.”

Tony, however, was undeterred. He continued serving his church in London and evangelizing at a location called “Speakers’ Corner” where open-air public speaking, debate, and discussion are permitted. He also evangelized in London parks by simply approaching people and beginning conversations with them.

After two years in London, a door opened for Tony and Dona to share the Gospel in Israel. The year was 1990.

“The head of my church was a friend of Marv Rosenthal, and he helped make the arrangements to get me to Israel [as a field worker for Zion’s Hope],” Tony said.

Once moving to Israel, Tony and Dona began attending a small Bible study, which eventually became the Jerusalem Assembly, the church Zion’s Hope now supports. Tony was also learning Hebrew so that He could effectively share the Gospel with Israelis, something he engaged in with great passion.

“I shared the Gospel [in Israel] everywhere I went,” Tony said. “I found sharing the Gospel in Israel much easier than in England.”

One of the reasons for this was that the streets of Israel were (and are) filled with Russian immigrants, the primary focus of Tony’s evangelism.

“The Russians are far more open to the Gospel than are the British,” he said. “The Russians have a curiosity and appreciation for the Gospel that I don’t see in other people.”

Though Tony spent much of his first two decades in Israel ministering to Russians, his focus has changed as many more Russian-speaking Christian workers have descended upon Israel. Tony concentrates much of his evangelism on Jewish Israelis, Arabs, Muslims, and African refugees.

“We also go to Hebrew University and do outreach among the young people,” he said. “Many students are interested in what we have to say. People are willing to talk with us.”

Which is the way Tony prefers it.

“My goal is not to get into deep conversations with people,” he said. “My goal is to explain to them that Jesus is Jewish, and that even if they don’t believe in Him, they should at least read the book that is written about Him. I tell them that the Bible is historically correct and that it is worth reading.”

Israelis, Tony said, are very receptive to accepting the New Testaments he and his fellow workers distribute for free.

“As I hand out New Testaments, I hear more and more of them say to me, ‘Oh, thank you, but I already have one.’ I know they are telling me the truth. I only hope that they are reading them.”

After 22 years in Israel, Tony remains just as zealous about sharing the Gospel now as he ever was.

“The Jewish people – especially the younger ones – are open the hearing the Gospel,” he said. “Many Christian groups from other countries come to Israel, but, unfortunately, they do not share the Gospel because they love Israel so much and don’t want to offend the Jews. However, they forget that Jewish people need the Gospel. Not to share the Gospel with Jewish people is to compromise the Gospel. Christians must be willing to not only pray for Israel, but to share the Gospel with the people of Israel.”

P.S. During the last three years of his life, Tony extended his ministry to Iraq, where he faithfully shared the Gospel and helped meet the needs of Iraqi, Kurdish, and Syrian refugees. He also ministered on the streets of Athens, Greece. You may read his newsletters and posts, and see pictures of his work in Israel, Iraq, and Athens on is Facebook page. https://www.facebook.com/antonys64?fref=pb&hc_location=friends_tab&pnref=friends.mutual

You may read Zion’s Hope’s post about his passing here: https://www.facebook.com/Zions-Hope-186250101857723/

Watch Zion’s Hopes heartwarming tribute to Tony: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BHI0EA3O99o

Read “Josh Simon: Following in His Father’s Footsteps”