Last of the Hebrew Christians

Ernest Lloyd 1913-2010

At 2.40pm on Wednesday 23rd December 2010, in his 98th year, Ernest Lloyd passed suddenly, quickly and peacefully into the presence of the Lord he had trusted, loved and served for almost eighty years. The following tribute is taken from Mike Moore’s address given at Ernest’s funeral on 7th January in Belfast.

By any standard, the life of Ernest Lloyd was remarkable, spanning, as it did, almost the entire twentieth century. He lived through the reigns of four monarchs and under the leadership of more than twenty different Prime Ministers; he experienced the trauma of two World Wars and saw the gradual decline of the British Empire as well as the establishment and survival of the state of Israel.

At the age of five, Ernest was abandoned to the care of the Naomi Home for Women and Children, run by the Barbican Mission to the Jews. He never knew his father and the only recollection he had of his mother was that of a tall, dark, Italian Sephardi Jewess from whom he probably inherited his height, black hair and striking looks. Life was particularly hard for Jews in the years of the First World War. A timid and melancholic child, Ernest was an object of hatred: he was a “Jew”, a “Christ-killer” and a “Sheeny” and, like many other Jewish children, he suffered frequent taunts and even stoning.

In his late teens, following an intense intellectual, spiritual and emotional conflict, Ernest became convinced that Jesus was the Messiah foretold by the ancient Hebrew prophets and in 1933 commenced his life’s work with the British Society for the Propagation of the Gospel among the Jews, now Christian Witness to Israel.

In August 1937, he married Jessie McGowan, a blunt, independent spirited but immensely compassionate Geordie who patiently endured his long absences in the cause of Jewish mission. The door to their flat in London’s Muswell Hill was never locked and anyone who wished could come and go as they wished, and treat the place as though it was their own. There were always guests, visitors and lodgers, and the number of social outcasts and unfortunates they helped materially, physically and spiritually was phenomenal. Even in the war years and beyond, when food was strictly rationed, the Lloyds welcomed and fed all who were in need.

The mission Ernest actively served for seventy years changed its name twice – in 1965 the British Society for the Evangelization of the Jews became the International Society for the Evangelization of the Jews and, after uniting with the Barbican Mission to the Jews in 1976, became Christian Witness to Israel – and he outlived five of its directors. In three score years and ten of active service, Ernest Lloyd travelled more than a million miles by land, sea and air, and preached around 20,000 times in some twenty countries to countless multitudes. Although his pace of life in the last two decades of his life was nowhere near as hectic as it was when he was a missionary, in the 1990s Ernest was regularly away from home for three months each year on preaching tours that took him to Australia, New Zealand and Canada. He also served on the councils of Christian Witness to Israel (in an honorary capacity), the International Messianic Jewish Alliance, the British Messianic Jewish Alliance, the Prophetic Witness Movement and the Spanish Gospel Mission.

Ernest was an evangelist, a teacher, a preacher, an advocate of mission to the Jewish people and a spokesman for the international Messianic movement. In spite of frequent bouts of ill health, he single-handedly laid the foundations for the work of CWI in South Africa, India, Australia, New Zealand and Canada. Though not all remain affiliated to Christian Witness to Israel, almost all those branches continue to present a vibrant witness to the Jewish communities in their countries.

The number of Jews and Gentiles who have been saved through his ministry, either directly or indirectly, is incalculable. In many cases, he led them to the Messiah himself but at other times his role was to break down prejudices and lay a foundation on which others could build or, to change the biblical metaphor, he broke up the fallow ground allowing others to sow and reap. The number of lives Ernest touched for good by preaching, teaching, encouragement, advice, kind words and actions, example and precept cannot be counted.

Ernest never owned his own home, never learned to drive, never learned another language and never sent an email but at the age of 97, he had a better memory than many men half his age. He was an avid and wide reader, a lover of music and an indefatigable writer of letters, almost all of which were bashed out with remarkable inaccuracy on a series of portable typewriters, each of which he wore out.

But it was in his role as an evangelist that one of Ernest’s outstanding qualities was seen most clearly: an almost infinite patience enabled him to suffer being rebuffed time after time in his efforts to lead his “kinsmen according to the flesh” to the Messiah.

Ernest was the last of a race of spiritual giants who insisted they were “Hebrew Christians”. They included men of the calibre of Mark Kagan, Victor Buksbazen, Herman Newmark and the Bendor-Samuels. Another generation of Jewish believers has arisen who prefer to be known as Messianic Jews, many of whom are learned in rabbinic literature and are zealous for the cause of Messianic Judaism. But what’s in a name? Whatever our Jewish brothers and sisters in Messiah choose to be known as, it should be our prayer that this new generation will feel the same deep love for their own people and be willing to sacrifice as much for their salvation as did Ernest Lloyd.

This article first appeared in the Spring issue of the Herald 2011

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