The Silence of the Lamb: An Interview with Martin Goldsmith

This weekend we have the pleasure of hosting Martin & Elizabeth Goldsmith as the key note speakers at our Mission Weekend.

International speaker, teacher and missiologist, Martin is a Jewish Christian who trained as a Russian interpreter. He and his wife Elizabeth spent ten years as missionaries in South East Asia, and were involved from the start with All Nations Christian College.

We asked Martin to tell us a little bit about himself.

"All of us are, to some extent, the product of our family backgrounds. My grandparents, like many German Jews of their generation, were strong atheists; yet my father’s parents believed that their children, as immigrants to England, should adapt to British life. They therefore had all their children baptised. Later my mother also wanted to escape the narrow ingrown Jewish community in Manchester so, whilst in her late teens, she went down the road to a local church and was baptised! In neither case was baptism viewed as being in any way religious; rather it was seen as a cultural form to aid identification with the British community.

So I was brought up without any religious teaching or practice but, if anything, we were ‘Christian’ and I too was baptised as a baby. By the grace of God, at my baptism my godmother gave me a Bible, which I later discovered on a bookshelf when I was about ten or eleven. As it had my name inside the front cover I thought, with childish pride, that it must be a good book and began to read it. I started with Genesis and proceeded steadily through the Old Testament and on into the New. Its exciting stories and very Jewish character fascinated me! My mother had taught us nothing about our Jewish heritage or history, so this book opened my eyes to a new world.

At that time my Jewishness was being brought home to me by the shocking revelations in the news of what had been happening in Germany during the war. I knew this had affected distant relatives of ours. In fact, the first person to show me round the sights of London was a distant cousin, a broken survivor with a strong foreign accent. Then, aged thirteen, I moved to Charterhouse Public School and found myself the butt of severe anti-Semitism. For the next couple of years I was badly bullied and miserable, but I was still reading the Scriptures, like a novel, from the beginning to the end. I probably read the whole Bible through about once a year and was fascinated by it."

A Hopeless Case

"By the age of fifteen, I began to realise that God had performed all sorts of miracles for his people throughout the centuries. Could he do the same today too? Would he do it for me? And did he really exist? It was worth a try! Out of these thoughts came what was, I think, my first ever prayer, ‘Please God, give me twenty-four hours when no-one will say or do anything to me’. What I meant was that nobody would do anything bad to me, but God in his amazing grace took my prayer literally. No-one said or did anything at all with respect to me for the whole of that next day! No teacher took a register, gave me homework or asked me a question in class. We ate communally but nobody asked me to pass the salt or clear the table. When playing football in the afternoon no-one asked me to pass the ball.

That evening I went out to the school chapel, a long narrow building with a high ceiling. I stood in the dark at one end and, in a loud voice, gave my life to God. I think that was probably my new birth and I set out to be very religious and to please God in my life. I attended chapel almost every day and was confirmed. But in trying to please God and follow him, it was very much my own effort rather than his work in me. This phase continued through the rest of my school days and through my two years’ National Service, when I trained as a Russian interpreter in the Navy. Aged twenty, I went to Oxford University and was contacted by a keen young Christian student who tried to win me for Christ. He invited me to his room and asked if I would like a drink but he then narrowed the offer down to Horlicks. Coming straight from the Navy, I had assumed ‘a drink’ meant something a little stronger! 

After this rather disastrous encounter my friend declared, at a Christian Union prayer meeting, that he had tried to witness to me but I was ‘hopeless’. Another student picked this up, believing that with God no-one is hopeless. He was more suited to my temperament and in simple terms he explained the concept of grace. It was not what I did for God that was important, but what God had done for me in the death and resurrection of Jesus. This revelation changed my life and set me on fire for the Lord."

A Jew among Muslims

"When I joined the Christian Union there were just four or five of us in a college of 250 students. But God worked wonderfully that year and many came to faith in Jesus. By the end of the year we had a dynamic CU with some sixty members. By necessity I had to learn how to lead people to Christ, how to disciple them and how to lead Bible studies and prayer meetings. This experience of a considerable turning to the Lord was good background for my later ministry as a missionary with OMF in Indonesia where we worked with a local Reformed denomination in the midst of a mass movement of God. 

When we went to Indonesia in 1961 there were only about 20,000 Christians among our particular people, the Karo Batak. Now, over forty years later, there are some 350,000. It was wonderful to see God changing lives by the thousand, new churches being established and multitudes turning to the Lord. The Asian character of the Karo Batak church stimulated me to begin the process of thinking through what it meant to be Jewish and Christian. What is a Jewish understanding of the Bible? How do we Jews formulate theology? What about Jewish worship, communication patterns and styles of leadership?

The Karo Batak people were largely animistic, but some were Muslim. My heart had been directed towards Muslims through previous encounters in Malaysia, in the prosperous city of Singapore and in the rural context of southern Thailand. As a Jew, I quickly discovered that Muslim beliefs and practices are strongly influenced by Islam’s Arab origins. Jews and Arabs are both Semitic, so we have much in common. I found therefore that my Jewishness enabled me to walk in our Muslim friends’ sandals and thus to present the gospel to them more effectively."

All Nations

"After ten years with OMF in Asia my wife Elizabeth and I were asked to lecture and tutor at All Nations Christian College, preparing students for cross-cultural ministries. We were on the staff there for twenty-four years, seeing some two thousand graduates going into mission amongst Jews and Gentiles in every nation. It has been a thrill to see our graduates having vital and influential ministries in so many places and organisations, including CWI and other Jewish missions!

In 1994 we left the full-time staff of All Nations in order to be available for invitations to speak at churches, Christian Unions, Bible colleges and conferences both around Britain and all over the world. It is a real privilege to see first-hand what God is doing in so many countries and on every continent. And we still have the privilege of being Associate Lecturers at All Nations, playing a small part in teaching there. Living near the college gives us the opportunity of inviting students round for coffee and a chat, which is very enjoyable. When we are at home we also have the joy of visiting, and being visited by, our three wonderful children and our seven beautiful grandchildren. What an amazing privilege it is these days to be within a loving family! It is in this context that my wife and I write our books and we pray that God will use us, and our books, for his glory."