This testimony is of our dear friend Doctor Leo Petkoon’s father, uncle Abey Petkoon. Leo lives in Benoni, South Africa and is in his early 70s. This was sent to me from the USA, not knowing that it was the testimony of a very near acquaintance’s father. How wonderful that after 100 years, a living testimony still touches the heart of people all over the world. Abey, having been a boy of only 14 (when being rejected by his whole family) for choosing Jesus.
Abraham or Abey (as better known) a Jewish Friend, who died on 6th June 1969.
I was born in Johannesburg, South Africa in 1900. My parents from both sides were strict orthodox Jews. They brought us up strictly – me, until the time of Bar mitzvah. Being of an inquisitive and forward nature from my 12th year, I began to be concerned in heart and mind about the Messianic promises that according to orthodox Jewish teachings would be fulfilled later on. I didn’t feel satisfied and began to look into the Old Testament Scriptures.
Incidentally, I was the only Jewish boy in my class at school and sat at the back of the classroom while the Gentile children went through their morning devotions. I heard how they were taught of Christ, the Redeemer and Messiah. I was taught to hate and despise the name of Jesus Christ and never utter that worthy name under any circumstances. Through my curiosity, I had become acquainted from the Old Testament scriptures with most of the prophecies concerning the Messiah and began to feel that if Jehovah had not yet produced the Messiah, He must have failed to carry out His promises. Genesis 49:10 clearly states that, “The Sceptre shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh come,” etc. At the time when Jesus was born, the Sceptre had already departed from Judah and the Jews were under Roman rule. Psalm 22 opens with the words, “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?” In another verse it says, “They parted My garments among them and cast lots upon my vesture. I am poured out like water,” etc. “They pierced My hands and My feet.” How clear a description of Calvary’s scene. In Isaiah, we have several promises and also throughout the Old Testament , there are Messianic promises. I started to put questions to the teacher, the Rabbi, the chief Rabbi, and my parents, but only received whippings with a sjambok for my pains and curiosity and was told that these things were to be fulfilled at some future time, and that I should not let these things worry me.
On the contrary, opposition served to increase my desire to get to the bottom of it all and I was unwilling to go through with my Bar mitzvah until I was satisfied on this. Hence, it was postponed until the age of 14 years and 4 ½ months, on which date the conscious longing of my soul was somewhat appeased. Contrary to other arrangements, I spent the day 25/12/1914 alone in a kopje (hill) near Auckland Park, Johannesburg, prayerfully studying the Old Testament Prophets and opened my understanding to the fact that contrary to parental and Rabbinical teaching, in Jesus, whom the gentiles worship, was fulfilled all the prophecies as to His virgin birth – Isaiah 7:14. He was born in Bethlehem – Micah 5:2; the Sceptre was departed; Jesus was born when the Jews were ruled by the Roman Empire, Genesis 49:10. His hands and feet were pierced, Psalm 22:16. His blood was poured from His side like water, verse 14. His garments were parted and lots were cast upon His vesture, verse 18. He was despised and rejected, a Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief, etc, Isaiah 55:5. Imagine the unspeakable joy that I experienced when, after all my searching, I began to see faintly in Jesus “The Messiah,” “The Light of the world,” “The Lamb of God.” No wonder Simeon felt that he could depart in peace after seeing the infant Jesus brought to him. As was the custom of the law, Simeon took Him up into his arms and blessed God and said, “Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace, according to Thy word, for mine eyes have seen Thy salvation,” Luke 2:22-30. I had not gone through with the Bar mitzvah but had found Jesus the Messiah, my Saviour. For the first time in my life, I fell to my knees in the open and pleaded with God in Jesus’ name to accept my soul and grant me forgiveness of the load of sin that was weighing me down. When I arose from my knees, I had the assurance that He would grant me forgiveness and grace and power to face whatever experiences I would have to encounter.
On reaching home that evening 25/12/1914, I had the courage to testify, to my parents and guests who were still about (as this should have been the party to celebrate my Bar mitzvah) that I had found and was convinced that Jesus was truly the Messiah. “The Sent One,” “The Prince of peace,” and had accepted Him as my Saviour.
Naturally, my parents were very annoyed and I was immediately expelled and excommunicated from home and family. I had then to find my own means for my natural support. This served to instill in me faith in God’s ability to provide for me so for two years, I kept on seeking through the Old Testament to learn more of this wonderful Jesus, though I had been taught to hate and despise the very mention of His name. At this stage, my father had me brought back home and sent me to a farm in the Middleburg district with Jewish people who he had instructed to do all they possibly could to drive out my Faith in Jesus, failing which, it would not matter if I were to be involved in a fatal accident. After six months on the farm, I was sent back home as incurable of my faith in Jesus.
I arrived on the seventh of June 1917 and on Sunday the 10th of June 1917, for the first time I entered into a gentile place of worship. On the following Saturday, I was put on a train with a bottle of black tea (unsweetened) and a five penny loaf of bread bound for Cape Town. My brother, now Dr. Solomon Petkoon, Newcastle-on-Tyne, accompanied me as far as Germiston to make sure I did not leave the train and go back home. On this occasion, my Mother handed me a letter which was as follows, “Abbey, you are no longer my son; you have left your father’s religion and the Synagogue for that of Jesus, the Impostor. We have buried you in effigy and mourn for you as one dead. Now may the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob strike you blind, deaf and dumb, and paralyzed and damn your soul forever. Take your Mother’s curse. Basdhed.”
Since then, I had been leading a varied and wandering life in seeking satisfaction for my soul and a means of a livelihood. I had investigated all religious systems in my search for peace and satisfaction. As a means of living, I had been connected and traveled with a circus, carnival shows, played a violin on the streets and for dances, until I felt as the prodigal in the parable. I was hungering but there was none to satisfy my hunger. They could all affirm the fact of Jesus being “The Messiah,” “The Saviour,” “The One who was slain,” but there was nothing to prove to me that Jesus was controlling their lives. There was plenty of theory, etc., but very little example. I had never, since I first stood out for Jesus as “The Messiah,” felt that I would want to be connected as a member to any of the religious systems I had met. I had very often spoken my testimony in churches, mission halls, and in their open-air meetings, but this did not satisfy. I was still hungering on.
In 1954, I was engaged in a locust destruction campaign in Northern Natal and Zulu, and had taken up lodgings on a farm at “N’th Hlazntjie” when one day late afternoon, two men arrived and I was introduced to them, but wasn’t told that they were to hold meetings. Hence after supper as was my custom, I retired to my room for quietness and meditation. Later about 7 pm, I heard singing of hymns, etc, and realized a religious meeting was in progress. The following morning, I made inquiries and was told that the two men who had arrived in the afternoon held a gospel meeting. I questioned, “Why was I not invited to attend?” I was told that I was a Jew and it was thought that I would not be interested. However, when I gave my testimony and affirmed that I wished to attend and hear what these men had to tell me, I was invited to that meeting that evening.
What I heard and saw in these two men was enough to convince me that they were God’s messengers. What they said was confirmed in their lives. I had noticed previously that this was not so with other preachers – plenty of theory, theology, good advice, good grammar and eloquence but alas, no examples, no meekness, no cross-bearing, no submission, etc. Whereas, on the contrary in these two men, I couldn’t fail to see that they seemed so submissive to the leadings of Jesus, their “Leader,” that He was reflected in all they said and did. They seemed to be fully under God’s control and dead to self, and were certainly letting the life of Jesus be seen in them. I longed to have what they had but could not grasp the meaning of all they said. It was so different from all other preachers. They were not merely speaking on theoretical lines but all they said was based on actual, practical experience. I was tired of the old systems of plenty to say, plenty of theology, plenty of doctrine, plenty of theory, plenty of commanding but very little of example. In fact, I could see nothing to show Christ’s control or indwelling in them, whereas in these two men, I could see clearly that their lives and deeds were fully controlled by God; that they were truly following Jesus, who said, “I am the Way, The Truth, and The Life.”
I attended all the meetings these two men held, and was convinced beyond all doubt that they were really followers of Christ, and were seeking to help the needy. After holding a series of meetings in this vicinity, these two men left for other parts and I went on as heretofore until in 1955. I had arrived in Beaufort West. I was so disappointed with nominal systems that I was about to cut it all out, when I hired a room in the home of a poor widow. Strangely enough, in this widow and one of her daughters, I recognized the same qualities I had noticed in the two men I had met at N’th Hlazatjie. On inquiring, I found that they were in fellowship, and then by word and example they made clear to me what I formerly misunderstood. I made the greatest decision of my life, i.e., I asked Jesus to take my life under His control, to take up His abode in my heart. How akin to the parable of the Prodigal my life had been – left my natural father’s home with what was considered my share, i.e., a bottle of black unsweetened tea, a five penny loaf of bread and the clothes I stood up in, and most precious of all, the assurance of the authenticity of the aims of Jesus as the promised Messiah who lived and shed His blood and opened the way of Salvation.
For the first 21 years, from the time 25/12/1914, I accepted Jesus as Saviour and Messiah, I had sought in vain for reality and as the Prodigal, found nothing to satisfy, although I had very often been called upon to testify of my faith in Jesus, The Messiah, The Saviour, etc, but had never really got to know Him, “Whom to know is life eternal.” When the Prodigal decided to return to his father, he was willing to be made as a servant – a servant in the parable worked for a penny, the humblest coin; one side shows its insignificant value, but the other side had the image of the king impressed thereon, so he was willing to become humble and insignificant as long as he could regain the father’s image. The father ran to meet him, gave him the kiss of reconciliation, robe of righteousness, ring of fellowship, shoes of preparation for the gospel and for walking in the Way, and then the feast.
Note the older brother’s attitude. He had never done wrong, never left home, never died, was never lost, and was never in real fellowship. Whereas, note the father’s answer to him, “This my son was lost, and is found, was dead and is alive again.” How glad I am that I have been brought into fellowship with Him and His people. It is well to note the brother who stayed at home did not come into the fellowship feast; he had a garment of self-righteousness, was not lost, had never died. It is only when we are willing to allow Jesus to be born into our hearts and lives, that this indwelling and control can be experienced.
The body of Jesus was not found in the sepulcher. I could not find the body of Jesus – the fellowship of Jesus – until I found His people – a people who sought to know and follow Him and do His Will, allowing His Will to cross their own. Only now it is becoming real to know what it really means to be born again as Jesus told Nicodemus. He gave an explanation but Nicodemus seemingly did not understand. Mary also did not grasp at once when she was told that she was to be the mother of Jesus. She asked, “How can this be, seeing I know no man?” But when she submitted to God’s plan in faith and the Spirit of God overshadowed her, the word of the angel messenger became flesh, and in due time Jesus was born. The words of those two messengers whom I had met and heard in “N’th Hlazatjie” had germinated and brought about the birth of a new life in me and made me willing to be led and controlled by God. I have given God the opportunity for which He longs in the life of each one who would be one of His, i.e., to begin a work of regeneration in my heart and life, and to teach, lead, and guide me, and help me to be a help to others.
I had made my decision to come as the prodigal and allow God through Jesus to begin to make me and work the work of regeneration in my life on the 15 December 1935, practically 21 years after having accepted the fact of Jesus being the Messiah. During the whole of that former period, I had no real fellowship as I felt that I could not cast in my lot with any of the numerous religious systems I had made the acquaintance of, as I could see nothing of Christ controlling. On the contrary, there was much that I could see to make me doubtful as to the authenticity of their claims. I had been seeking for reality and was in a state of utter disappointment when in His mercy, God permitted me to meet His true messengers and family, “The body of Jesus.” Jesus died for us but His death would have been in vain had He not risen from the grave. His body was not found in the grave on the first day of the week, but He appeared to the two men on the way to Emmaus, and a few times to His disciples as they were gathered together on the first day of the week to break bread and meet for fellowship. He still meets with His body (Church) for fellowship and breaking of bread and this He will continue to do until His return.
Also, God in Jesus is calling to Himself a spiritual people, a people who are willing to allow His Will to cross their own, to walk as He would have them walk – do as He would have them do. You can find people of His family fellowship in all parts of the world, and one thing is certain, their worship is the same, their love is the same, and they are a separated people. Just as God had called our father Abraham out from Ur of the Chaldees and promised to make him the father of nations and make us Jews a separate, peculiar people, so also He, through Jesus, is calling unto Himself a Spiritual people, whom He is commanding to come out from the others to be a peculiar people unto Himself.
What a great privilege is mine, as a Jew, to be one of those, who from every kindred, tongue, and people are being called to be a peculiar, separated people, a great family, with God as our Father and Jesus Christ our Elder Brother.