In 1944, before the end of WWII, there were many Jewish refugees flooding the United States. Certain believers’ hearts were burdened for these shattered souls, and sought to comfort and provide for them. O. E. Phillips was such a believer. Leaving the Biblical Research Society of Los Angeles, Phillips began to sense a leading to establish a ministry to Jewish people in the Philadelphia area. Armed only with a strong commitment to prayer, and the pluckiness so characteristic of the WWII-era American, Phillips later learned that his desire germinated from the prayers of a small group of men in the early days of August 1943. He himself described these events in the very first issue of The Fellowship Bulletin:
During the early days of August, 1943, Rev. Roy S. Forney of Mt. Joy, Pa., was led to take two members of his official board to Philadelphia and survey the need among the Jewish people. After two days of looking about the city they called a prayer meeting in the Y.M.C.A., on the morning of the seventh. The burden of that prayer meeting was that God would raise up some one who would head a movement to get the Gospel to this vast throng within our borders and at our very doors. This meeting was unknown to the writer until late in October, when Rev. Forney wrote and asked for a Bible conference in the coming February, 1944. Inasmuch as I was deeply concerned about the matter I thought I would put out a little fleece. I wrote that I felt led to resign from the Biblical Research Society and begin a work in Philadelphia, and that perhaps they would not want me under the new work. I thought that if he accepted me under those conditions that this deep feeling in my heart was from God. He wrote immediately about the prayer meeting and stated that he and his people believed that this was a direct answer to their prayer meeting.
—O. E. Phillips, The Fellowship Bulletin: Spring 1944.
How thrilling it must have been to see the hand of God moving, directing His saints to establish this ministry at such a pivotal time in the history of the world, and the Jewish people. Upon surveying the situation among the Jews in the city of Philadelphia, Phillips saw incredible physical needs. He noted that “When the war shall be over, probably great numbers of Jews will be coming to our shores. Many of them will need food, clothing, a place of refuge and relief for their suffering bodies.” One facet of the ministry was to establish a dispensary to simply meet the physical needs. After concluding that “renting a hall or store building for the purpose of preaching to the Jews would be an unwise thing to do in light of the experience of others,” Phillips established a small “attractive reading room with a nice window display” at 107 S. 12th St. in Philadelphia. There, among current periodicals and low pressure, Phillips hoped to generate conversation with Jews about the Messiah. Phillips noted that “the reading room gives us an opportunity to form the acquaintance of many who will learn we are their friends and from that friendship will lead them to Him who can wipe away all sin and all tears.”
With the suggestion that “the Jews are the greatest readers in the world,'' Phillips wanted the distribution of literature and the “fast and economical method of the printed page” to be an essential part of sharing the Gospel with Jews. HCF also sought to train the laity in appropriate means of reaching the physical and spiritual needs of Jews. For Phillips, this always meant establishing a friendship and trust with Jewish friends and neighbors as is evidenced in the following anecdote:
I stopped to buy gasoline from a Jewish man whom I have known for some time. As I brought the car to a stop and got out another Jewish man walked up and greeted the owner. The owner came toward me as if to fill the car tank with gasoline. As he did this he spoke loudly and said, “Mr. Phillips, a woman told me that your business is to change Jews into Gentiles.” Both men laughed heartily over what they thought was a most foolish thing to attempt. I replied by saying, “Have I ever tried that on you?” His answer was, that he had told the lady that he had known me for two years and that I never tried that on him.
—O.E. Phillips, The Fellowship Bulletin: Spring 1944.
Phillips' purpose for reaching out to the Jews was not limited only to spiritual hunger; in fact, in establishing the ministry’s name, he detailed an incredibly sincere concern for the entire Jewish person, not just his or her spiritual condition:
We do not make a distinction between Gentile Christians and Hebrew Christians. They are one in Christ. The name has been selected because it is our offer of friendship and sympathy to suffering Israel. Whether they be Christians or not we would like to offer our sincere sympathy, share their sorrows, help them with their problems and point them to Him who can heal the broken heart and show them the silver lining of a better day. Many names have been thought about, but we always come back to this name. After months of prayer, meditation and consultation we have chosen the name, Hebrew Christian Fellowship. Evidently, it is the one God would have us use.
—O. E. Phillips, The Fellowship Bulletin: Spring 1944.
From this, one can conclude that the founder’s passion was toward the whole Jewish man, the whole Jewish woman, the whole Jewish child, not simply to see Jews “evangelized.”
This vision found a logical extension in the ministry of Rose Warmer, a Hungarian Jewess who came to know Jesus as her Messiah and was so moved not to leave her people, that she allowed herself to be identified as a Jew (even though she could have passed as a Gentile Christian) so that she could minister to her people, even in the concentration camps. There, she, like so many other Jews, stood on death’s edge, but Rose had the Messiah Jesus to keep her from falling, and her life was preserved, no doubt, to continue her life’s work and passion: telling her people about Jesus, the Messiah. Her story (so inspiring, so unbelievable, so great a testament to the grace and mercy of God) has inspired countless readers of Myrna Grant’s account of Rose's life, entitled, The Journey. Her story was dramatized and broadcast in twenty-five individual episodes, over American radio waves in the middle of the twentieth century through Moody Bible Institute’s Stories of Great Christians. To this day, the work of HCF, more than six decades since O.E. Phillips and Rose Warmer articulated their vision of meeting the spiritual and physical needs of the Jewish people, is carried on in the footsteps of these saints, and this mission will continue, by the grace of God, to lovingly and sensitively present the Gospel of Messiah Jesus to Jewish people, while continuing the legacy of meeting their physical needs, as well.
With a schedule of extensive travel, prolific preaching, and constant writing, Phillips was able to touch the lives of many and remain faithful to his calling throughout the rest of his life until going Home in 1974.
After a lifelong testimony, after caring for her people who were in such need, and after distributing Bibles containing those very words that changed her heart so many years ago, Rose Warmer went Home to be with the Lord in 1986.
Want more HCF heritage? Contact publications to receive a limited reprint of the original 1944 Fellowship Bulletin.