Josh Simon: Following in His Father’s Footsteps

Posted on February 5, 2018

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Note: This is a magazine article which will be appearing in the March-April 2018 issue of Zion’s Fire magazine (which means it’s much longer than the usual blog). For those of you who know and love Tony Simon, I had the privilege of interviewing his oldest son Joshua regarding his memories of his dad, and how he is carrying on his father’s legacy. You can read Tony’s story here.

By David Ettinger

tony, joshOn May 29, 2017, Antony Simon, beloved friend and faithful Zion’s Hope missionary in Israel, went home to be with the Lord after being killed in a car accident while ministering in northern Iraq. The tragedy came as a shock to all who knew and loved Tony, but none more than to his beloved family – wife Dona, daughter Rachel, and sons Joshua and Yoel.

Thankfully, Tony’s “graduation to Heaven” does not mean that his rich work of street evangelism and Bible distribution in Israel has ceased. His oldest son Joshua has continued where his father has left off, following in his dad’s dynamic footsteps.

But it hasn’t been easy for the 27-year-old as the shock of his father’s passing is still fresh in his mind.

“Obviously, when I heard the news, I was devastated, as was my wife,” Josh said of his wife Linoy. (The couple also has a baby daughter, Liya.) “But I knew that because of my family, I really had to hold it together emotionally.”

It was a struggle.

“Besides being overwhelmed emotionally, there was also the business of having to bring my dad’s body back from Iraq,” Josh said. “So many people had to be contacted and all kinds of arrangements had to be made. The Lord, however, brought us through every trial.”

One of the most ironic aspects of that time in Josh’s life – what he calls “The Paradox” – is the polar-opposite episodes which were the birth of his baby, and the burial of his father.

“I wasn’t able to go to my dad’s funeral because Liya was being born,” he said. “I mean that literally. My baby was being born at the same moment my father was being buried. Liya was born at 11:56 in the morning, which was the precise same time my father was laid to rest.”

Despite the deluge of emotions engulfing him, Josh is grateful for the perfect timing of these two paramount occasions.

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The Simon family in 2003

“It really did turn out to be a blessing because I was able to focus on my daughter’s birth and how wonderful it was,” he said. “It was a contrast of rejoicing and mourning, but my daughter’s birth helped me cope better with my father’s passing.”

And though Josh still mourns the loss of his father, he is grateful for the impact Tony made on his life, and the legacy Tony has left for him.

“The biggest impact my dad had on me was the example of his life,” Josh said. “He showed me how to do street evangelism, which is of great practical worth. Also, I was very affected by his teaching, particularly his teaching in the congregation we attend (Voice in the Wilderness). What I got most from him was his strong conviction of the truth of the Word of God and to always hold tightly to it. He taught me not just to read the Word of God, but to believe and ‘do’ it, which means to go out and share it with people.”

But it is one thing in particular Tony shared just following a sermon that will always stay with Josh.

“It is amazing that just two week before he died, right after preaching a message, he said to us, ‘If I die, don’t let it stop you. Remember, whatever happens in life, to live is Christ, to die is gain [Philippians 1:21]. My dad absolutely believed in everything he preached, particularly that verse. To many believers, that verse is abstract because we can only relate to this life. To him, though, it was real because he was able to relate to the next life as well, that is, to having fellowship with Jesus when this life is over.”

According to Josh, Tony’s passion for a relationship with Christ in the next life manifested itself in this life through evangelism.

“The Gospel was everything to my dad,” he said. “He absolutely believed that it was necessary for the eternal souls of people here in this life, and also for the next. This is why he devoted his life to communicating it.”

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Josh and Linoy Simon

Josh shares his father’s passion and prays the Lord will enable him to make the same impact on the souls of men and women his father did.

“He was an exceptional human being,” Josh said. “I don’t believe we have apostles and prophets today, but if we did, my dad was the closest thing to both that I knew of. His very life, his very personality, reflected this. He lived every day of his life for God and did everything for Him. For dad, it was never about the money he made, the clothes he wore, or the cars he drove, but about how he lived for the Lord. That was the only thing that mattered.”

Tony displayed that attitude day in and day out, Josh said.

“For dad, it was not only about telling people about the truth, but of fighting for the truth. That truth, of course, is that Jesus is the only way to salvation. My dad built his entire life around that truth.”

Besides Tony’s passion for the Gospel, he was also a father and husband, and Josh has fond memories of those father-son moments the two shared.

“My dad was almost always sharing the Gospel, and even when he wasn’t looking to share the Gospel, opportunities always ‘found’ him. I’ll give you an example.

“One day our family went shopping at Ikea. While walking through the store, my dad heard several people speaking with British accents, so, being British himself, he turned to see who they were. They were Hasidic Jews from the United Kingdom.

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Tony, Dona, and Josh Simon

“My dad said to them, ‘Hey, boss! Are you lost? Where Are you from?’ They began to talk about the U.K., and my dad asked them again if they were lost. They had a confused look on their faces, and my dad proceeded to share the Gospel with them. He said to them, ‘I was once lost, but I have been found, through Jesus Christ, Yeshua our Messiah!’”

Josh continued.

“They went on talking and the Hasidim seemed interested, until one of them called an anti-missionary group called Yad Lachim. Meanwhile, one of the managers at Ikea asked us to leave the premises because it was a private business and such discussions were not permitted.

“Dad explained that not only were such conversations permitted, but because we were there shopping we could talk about spiritual matters. He then struck up a conversation with the manager – who was a practicing Jew.

“Eventually everyone went their own way and we ended up enjoying a delicious Ikea salmon dinner. But the point is that this episode was so typical of my dad. We came in just to go shopping, and ended up having the privilege of sharing the Gospel. Things likes that were always happening with my dad.”

Another thing that was always happening with Tony was his occasional “negligence” of practical matters.

“I remember when Linoy and I got married, we had to do so in Cyprus because there we could have a legal marriage; Israel only offers religious – not civil – marriages.

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Josh and Liya Simon

“My dad insisted that he and my mom tag along, and he purchased tickets to join us. When we got to our room, he opened his hand luggage and there inside was a full stash of Bibles – and only Bibles! Only my dad would fill hand luggage with Bibles and leave no room for clothes or even a toothbrush!”

Indeed, traveling with Tony was always an adventure.

“No matter the occasion our family trips always included evangelism. Even though I would sometimes get embarrassed, especially when I was younger, I was always so proud and excited to have a father who had this passion for sharing the Gospel. What a great example he set for me!”

And there were other personal, cherished times.

“There are so many great moments,” Josh said. “One of my fondest memories came when I was a teenager. My dad and I served at a [Christian] camp for children and the times he and I had together were amazing. Those were times I will never forget.”

Another unforgettable moment regards the aforementioned “negligence of practical matters.”

“When I was in high school, I was scheduled to take a final exam in geography, and it was an important test,” Josh recalled. “Back then, my dad had a jeep, and he wanted to take it for a drive, and he asked me to come along with him. I said, ‘Fine, dad, so long as you get me back for the test.’ He said, ‘Everything will be okay.’ So, we went out driving, ended up getting lost, and I arrived an hour late for my exam. This was so typical of my dad. Fortunately, I was well prepared and was able to pass the test.”

Josh’s other fond memories include Tony’s love of traveling and nature, his special affection for young people, and how he would lead Bible studies in the Judean Desert with the church youth group.

“I loved those desert Bible studies,” Josh said. “Dad would lead us in worship, and we would have barbecues while praising the Lord. These were really special times, and I will greatly miss them.”

josh, linoy, liya

The happy family

Now Josh, who got married in 2016 and became a father in 2017, is looking forward to creating “really special times” with his own family.

“I love being a husband and father,” he said. “I love my little girl, and am so excited about seeing her grow. I am excited about seeing our family grow together in the Lord.”

That growth has begun as Josh and Linoy are already preparing little Liya (not even a year old) for the mission field – something which would put a proud smile on Tony’s face.

“We actually take her out with us when we share the Gospel on the streets of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem,” Josh said. “We like to do things as a family, and evangelism is one of them. It works out great because she draws so much attention. Sometimes people will stop us just to look at her because she is so cute. This gives us a great opportunity to have encounters with people when they ask us why we hand out tracts and talk about God. They find it unusual that we do this as a family.”

But whether by himself or with his family, the important thing for Josh is that he is out on the streets preaching.

“The way I prefer to do evangelism is by taking teams out, as my father did,” he explained. “An ideal team would consist of six people who want to share the Gospel, who want to learn how to do it effectively, and who have a passion to do it. These teams evangelize Jewish people, Arab people, Muslim people, basically anyone we meet – but our focus is on evangelism to the Jewish people. Whether in Tel Aviv or Jerusalem, we’ll witness anywhere we find an opportunity.”

The evangelism teams Josh leads are a continuation of the work his father began. These teams consist of visitors to Israel from other countries who hear about the “Simon-led” street outreaches and want to be a part of them.

“Some of the places we visit are Tel Aviv University, popular gathering spots for Jewish people on Friday nights in Tel Aviv, and Ben-Yehuda Street in Jerusalem,” Josh explained. “We hand out leaflets [tracts] and try to engage people in conversation about the Lord. We do this in different ways. Sometimes we meet people by going to cafés and striking up discussions. Other times we use the leaflets as tools to ask people questions.”

One of the most effective evangelism tools Josh’s teams employ is a tract titled, “Are You a Good Person?”

happy couple“Some people will smile and laugh when we ask them that question, others will be hesitant and not know what to say, and they just walk by,” Josh said. “But that’s okay because [the tract] is designed to make people think.”

Some, however, will stop and discuss the issue.

“We ask them, ‘What does it mean to be good before God?’” Josh said. “We talk about ‘objective good’ versus ‘subjective good.’ We talk about how bad a place the world is and how we [the human race] need a Messiah.”

For Josh, as for Tony, these short-term mission trips are at the heart of his ministry outreach.

“We want volunteers to come to Israel for at least a week,” he said, “and if they are really serious, they are welcome to stay with us for a much longer period of time. My vision is to have a constant flow of volunteers who have a ‘feel’ and a zeal for the Gospel, and also the stamina for street evangelism. For those who aren’t as comfortable with street evangelism but have a heart for it and are willing to learn, we will definitely teach them.”

For Josh, stamina is a key most people don’t consider when regarding street evangelism, but should.

“I remember when people were witnessing with my dad, some would complain that they were working too hard. But the fact is, if you are going to give yourself to the Gospel, you need to give everything you have. I’m not saying we’re going to be at it twenty-four hours a day, but people must remember witnessing is not a nine-to-five job. It’s more of a ‘fluid’ schedule; it can be long or short. The main thing is, street evangelism is built around the opportunities the Lord opens for us, and though it can be very enjoyable, it can also be very intensive, demanding, and confrontational.”

Josh’s passion for street evangelism is demonstrated by the fact that he does so exclusively on a volunteer basis; he earns his living as an Israeli tour guide. It is because of this passion for evangelism ­– and that he is carrying on the work of his father – that Zion’s Hope has joined forces with Josh as a Missionary Partner to help bring the Gospel to the people of Israel and the Middle East.

“Our partnership will be very much what it was with my father,” Josh said. “It will include involvement in the Servant’s Heart Volunteer Missions Program, working with and housing volunteers [in the Zion’s Hope Servant’s Heart Ministry House], and various other evangelism activities occurring throughout the year. We’re very much looking toward the future.”

In the meantime, Josh is asking those with a heart for the ministry he and his colleagues are engaged in to be faithfully lifting them up in prayer.

“Please be praying for our congregation, because the work we do comes out of there,” he said. “Please be praying for the leadership of our church for wisdom as we look to expand and bring on new people. Please pray for our evangelism outreaches, that God will bring people to us who need to hear the Gospel. Please pray that God will bring us many, many opportunities to reach people with the truth that Jesus died for their sins. And please pray for Israel.”

There is one other thing Josh wants people to put on their prayer lists.

“Please be praying for my family – my mother, Dona, especially, and also my brother and sister. Don’t forget, it is less than a year since my father left us. The family is still hurting, and we miss dad very much.”

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