BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (BP)–After sensing a call to missions as a teenager at First Baptist Church, Weaver, Ala., it would be 20 years before Dottie Marden discovered her mission field — the Jewish community.
Now at 68, Dottie is nearing her 30th year as a missionary to Jewish people. Founder of World Wide Jewish Missions, based in Birmingham, Ala., Dottie recounted as a teenager having visions of “going to Africa” as a missionary.
Born into a godly home, Dottie described her father as the “pastor’s right-hand man” who always unlocked the church doors.
“Even though my parents had seven children, our home was always filled with missionaries, evangelists and visiting pastors,” Dottie said. “I listened to my father and his friends talk about the Lord and ate up every word I could.”
Dottie’s parents taught her that everything God did centered around the Jewish people. Still, her early desires to be a missionary kept her looking to Africa, but the opportunity never opened up.
In the meantime, she married and traveled with her first husband who was an officer in the U.S. Air Force. In 1956 while living in England, Dottie’s husband was killed in a plane crash during the same time she was fighting a deadly muscle-crippling disease. Widowed and with a baby daughter less than a year old, Dottie returned to the United States.
Dottie was miraculously cured of the disease that doctors had no hope of defeating; she attributes the cure to prayer and fasting on her behalf. She then moved to Birmingham and entered Southeastern Bible College, where she studied music and Bible.
It was in 1966 after witnessing to a Jewish man that Dottie developed a strong burden for Jewish people.
“He asked me how many Jews I had invited to my church,” Dottie said. “I could not sleep after that. I thought of all the Jewish people who lived around me. I had never invited them to my church.”
The thought of being a missionary to Jewish people was frightening, Dottie said, because she did not understand their culture nor how to witness to them. But, once she surrendered to evangelizing Jews, the opportunities to witness were everywhere.
“I can stand still and God will bring them to me,” Dottie remarked, saying she even recognizes Jewish people quicker than her second husband, Victor, who is a Jewish believer.
Victor said he and Dottie are not proselytizing Jews. Just because a Jewish person becomes a Christian does not mean he or she is no longer Jewish, he said. “I didn’t get a blood transfusion,” Victor said. “I’m still a Jew.”
Christianity is actually a Jewish religion, Victor said, noting the Bible is a Jewish book and Jesus is the Jewish Messiah. “We practice biblical Judaism,” he said. Jewish believers form Messianic Jewish congregations and continue their religion. They just add the part rejected by rabbinical Judaism — Jesus the Messiah, Victor said.
In reference to the Southern Baptist Convention resolution to evangelize Jews, Victor said, “We were enthralled. It is a good thing that Southern Baptists are becoming more aware.” Of course, the Jewish community is upset because they do not understand the intentions of Southern Baptists, Victor said, adding he also used to get upset when a Christian witnessed to him.
Married for 21 years now, Dottie and Victor met while she was on a mission trip in Tampa, Fla. Victor, along with many in his family, were saved after Dottie witnessed to one member of the family. By May of the following year, Victor and Dottie were married.
Victor then moved to Birmingham to help Dottie continue to develop World Wide Jewish Missions while Victor’s family also established a similar Jewish ministry in Florida, Dottie said. “God called me to establish World Wide Jewish Missions all around the world,” Dottie said. The ministry’s efforts include church-oriented seminars on Jewish evangelism and Christianity’s Jewish roots, as well as support of workers active in Jewish outreach, with funding provided by churches and individuals who have a love for Jewish people.
While the organization’s headquarters remains in Birmingham, the Mardens have recently expanded to Marietta, Ga. They are training Robert Willis to become executive director of the organization. Robert also is the audio-visual coordinator at Samford University’s Beeson Divinity School. The Mardens will serve as missionaries in Marietta while Willis and his wife, Vikki, will work out of Birmingham.
Vikki, a native of Gadsden, Ala., met Robert while studying music in Boston. Robert is from a New York Jewish family but became a Messianic believer while studying in college.
“Robert and Vikki’s love for music, art, Messiah and Israel wove their hearts together and they dedicated to serve the Lord together,” Dottie stated.
The young married couple served as Home Mission Board church planters in the U.S. Virgin Islands until a hurricane forced them to return to the United States in 1995.
Moving to Alabama to be near Vikki’s family, the Willises settled in Birmingham. Robert became interim rabbi of Beth El Shaddai Messianic Jewish Synagogue before accepting the position with World Wide Jewish Missions. Besides administrative duties, the Willises are ministering to the near-8,000 Jewish population in Birmingham through a weekly Friday night sabbath celebration, prayer ministries, study groups, hospital visitations and other evangelistic outreach.
Vikki has just started a monthly Messianic Jewish women’s fellowship. “I hope to develop it into a group of women from different Messianic groups who will come together under the fellowship,” she said. While the group will provide support within, Vikki said she wants the focus to be outward.
Jewish evangelism has burdened her since she was 10, Vikki said. “I had a Jewish uncle who put a very strong mark on my life,” she said, recounting he was not a believer and his death brought to mind the many other Jewish people who did not know Jesus. Since that time, Vikki has focused her life toward Jewish missions. She has even developed an educational program on Jewish evangelism, “My Brother’s Keeper,” for church mission groups.
More information about World Wide Jewish Missions’ work can be obtained by calling the organization at (205) 991-0560.