'God is bringing the Christians back'

Bridgebuilders Spotlight: Meet Merv and Merla Watson

Thousands of Christian supporters of Israel march in Jerusalem in the annual Feast of Tabernacles parade in 2019 (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Thousands of Christian supporters of Israel march in Jerusalem in the annual Feast of Tabernacles parade in 2019
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)

“When Constantine forced the Roman Empire to adopt Christianity, we went off the track,” said Merv and Merla Watson. “Today, God is bringing us back.”

The Watsons are a musical couple. Ages 84 and 82, they have been giving concerts for 58 years. Since they first came to Israel 1976, they have been using their music in part to inspire people about Israel. 

“We were the pioneers in the modern era of Christians seeing the relevance of modern Israel,” they said. 

Merv and Merla Watson (Credit: Johannes Enarson)Merv and Merla Watson (Credit: Johannes Enarson)

They also helped establish the Feast of Tabernacles pilgrimage event for Christians to come to Israel on Sukkot in 1979 and to open the International Christian Embassy in Jerusalem (ICEJ) the next year, together with 10 other Christian couples. Today, the ICEJ puts on the feast event, attracting at least 6,000 people. 

“A friend of ours in the ICEJ is making a movie of our life, seven episodes of 20-40 minutes each, soon to be released,” the Watson’s told The Jerusalem Post. 

Despite their age, they are both still very active. This year, they recorded a CD in Jerusalem called “For such a time as this.” It is their 16th CD.

During any given concert, both Merv and Merla sing, play violin, viola, guitar, accordion, piano and small percussive instruments. They always come garbed in colorful Israeli costumes. But in between those concerts, they share information about Israel’s past, any current crises and what they believe will be the country’s eventual destiny.

How did they get to where they are today?

“God put into our heart to love Israel and Jerusalem,” they said. “We’ve been celebrating Shabbat for over 40 years. We have been teaching and learning with Christians since then too.”

Merv and Merla were married in 1962. They began to perform classical concerts, as well as musical variety acts, for service clubs. During this period, Merv was appointed director of the Christian Performing Arts of Canada. Following this, they both produced the Schoolhouse Concerts, a Christian performing arts concert series in Toronto’s oldest school house, which resulted in the schoolhouse being professionally renovated into an historic site. 

In 1967, after a powerful experience with the Holy Spirit, they felt the Lord’s call to launch out into full time music ministry. Merla writes all the music they sing and play; she has written almost 500 worship songs. 

“This ministry runs entirely on faith, depending upon the Lord for their sustenance,” they said. 

During the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, they led the Toronto Catacombs, connecting with around 2,000-3,000 young folk per week. It met in St. Paul’s Cathedral, and resulted in hundreds of young folk committing their lives to the Lord; well over 2,000 baptized in the makeshift basement tank, and many going into full time Christian service in many parts of the world. 

The Watsons have ministered in over 50 countries, including Israel, which became a home for their family from 1976 to 1988.

The Watsons were the first ones to introduce the Hebraic style of music and choreographed spiritual dance into worship. Together, they teach seminars about Israel, Biblical history and worship in many countries throughout the world. 

Between 1988 and 2011, they were living in Vancouver in Abbotsford, BC, Canada, where they established a main fellowship and several offshoot fellowships with the name R.O.O.T.S. – an acronym meaning Recycling Of Old Testament Secrets. This work explores the Jewish roots of the Christian faith, using the Hebrew language as its basis both in spoken word and worship. They also were called upon to produce the Biblical Feasts in different countries in the indigenous languages. 

“Several times, we have hosted Christian pilgrims to the Holy Land in a way that only those who have lived in the land could do,” they said.

In 2011, the couple returned to Israel and now live again in Jerusalem. Here, Merla has organized a Christian professional string quartet called “Serenata Jerusalem”, which is a sister to the one she leads when in Vancouver. 

For a time, they led the worship at the oldest Protestant church in the Middle East – Christ Church, in the Old City of Jerusalem at Jaffa Gate. It is an Evangelical Charismatic Anglican church, very much steeped in Jewish roots. In Jerusalem, they also minister for conventions, Christian tour groups and Israeli audiences. 

This year they will be the creative coordinators for the Feast of Tabernacles. Merv has also been commissioned to write a series of books on anecdotal insights on history, archeology and life in Israel. These books will be produced in several languages for world distribution.

Participants at the Feast of Tabernacles March (Credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)Participants at the Feast of Tabernacles March (Credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)

Why work with Jews?

When asked what they think God is doing with regards to Jewish-Christian relations, they said “Christianity’s basis is Judaism. There is a tremendous growing interest in Israel and what is happening here. 

“It is a prophetic interest, most things that are happening have been predicted.”

They called replacement theology that teaches that Christianity replaced Judaism “ridiculous.”

“The big question was did the Exodus actually happen? Because if it didn’t, neither Jewish nor Christians have anything to say, as it is all one big myth,” the Watson’s said. “But now that Mount Sinai has been discovered and the miracle of the Red Sea is being proven and confirmed, it is all true and God is forcing us Christians to go back to the original language and the original people to find out what we really believe.”

When the Watsons started sharing their love of Israel and the Jewish people, “at first, we were misunderstood by both the Christians and the Jews. We waded through that suspicion from both sides. Soon afterwards, others came beside us. And then many others, each doing what they are called by God to do. 

“We sowed the seed, not knowing what would happen,” they continued. “We are both of us, Christians and Jews, people of the Book. Both of our enemies – antisemites and anti-Christians – are forcing us into a relationship that acknowledges the much that we have in common, more than what we don’t have in common. 

“What we don’t have in common, let us just leave it up to God.”

About this column

Over the past few decades, a community of activists in the Christian-Jewish engagement space has developed, with people reaching out to each other to promote fraternity and humanitarian projects in and between the Christian and Jewish communities.

In 2020, Root Source and Israel365 initiated “Bridgebuilders: Top Activists in Christian-Jewish Engagement,” honoring 70 of these trailblazers. 

Each month, Bridgebuilders will bring one of these leaders to Christian World so readers can learn more about these people, their projects and the efforts going into Jewish and Christian relations.

You can reach the author at [email protected].