Dr. Arnold Frank

This biography was first published in the Neuer Zion’s Freund in 1965. This is an edited version of an English translation by Ruth Hanson for the British Messianic Jewish Alliance. Used with permission.

Arnold Frank was born on 6 March 1859 in Schuja, Hungary, where his father was a respected magistrate. His parents were pious Jews and gave their eight sons a good Jewish upbringing.

The young Arnold always had a strong desire to travel to foreign lands. At seventeen he left his homeland and went to live in Hamburg. There he became an employee in Baruch’s Bank. He took his lunch at a nearby restaurant and shared his table with a widower. One day, this companion invited him to see his canaries and hear them sing. Arnold gratefully accepted the invitation. After that, they would often go for walks.

The widower was an earnest Christian and a member of the Jerusalem Church in Hamburg . He sometimes invited Arnold to the services. This was how he came to enter a Protestant church for the first time. The simplicity reminded him of a synagogue and impressed him deeply. Soon he was going regularly to services and Bible studies, and conscientiously studied the New Testament in his room.

Finally the Lord revealed himself to Arnold Frank through Luke 4:16-21, “And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. And as was his custom, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and he stood up to read. And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.’ And he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. And he began to say to them, ‘Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing’” (ESV).

Arnold Frank accepted Jesus as his Redeemer and Saviour and confessed him in baptism on 24 June 1877. The service was conducted by the then pastor at the Jerusalem Church, Dr J. C. Aston.

Dr and Mrs Aston saw the young man’s potential as an instrument in the Lord’s service and believed he had a calling to spread the Gospel. With their encouragement,  Arnold attended the Grammar School in Hamburg and after that, in 1879, went to study theology in Belfast, where he spent five-and-a-half joyful years at the College of the Presbyterian Church, culminating in his ordination.

In January 1884 he became a British citizen and was called to the Jerusalem Church. His work at the church was to be greatly blessed and would continue until 1938.

In January 1885 he became engaged to Ella-Louise Kingham, the daughter of a pastor in Belfast whose home was a hub of religious life, where Arnold Frank had been a frequent guest.

Pastor H. Weber [one of Dr. Frank’s successors] continues the story:

“Pastor Frank initiated a much-blessed ministry, in which the main emphasis of the work lay in missionary witness to Jewish people. It took Pastor Frank’s convincing combination of Jesus’ love and cultured sensitivity to achieve a welcome for missionary house-calls to families of upper bourgeois Jewry in Hamburg. On the other hand there was also service to the émigrés who came through Hamburg as a result of persecution in the East, mostly on their way to America , waiting for a boat in the emigrants’ hall. Pastor Frank arranged soup kitchens and gave the emigrants Christian booklets in the many languages of the east, including Hebrew and Yiddish. There are testimonies to the way these writings had an effect during the long days of the journey by sea, so that many began a new inner life in the New World .

It was the Jerusalem Mission house that acquired special significance over the decades. It bore the inscription: ‘We have found that of which Moses wrote in the law and the prophets’ (John 1:45). Jewish men, mostly young people who were seeking both adventure and spirituality, called in there, found occupation in the workshops of the home and received daily teaching in the New and Old Testaments from Pastor Frank.

The Pastor abhorred any hasty and superficial Christianization. Very often it was the explanation of Isaiah 53 or the treatment of the passion story through which his students made decisive progress. The fact that 50 of these became ministers, missionaries or preachers shows how numerically fruitful and intensely effective was the quiet work of the Jerusalem Mission house.

The leaflet Zion’s Friend, published by Pastor Frank from 1899 onwards, had a wide distribution to East Prussia, South Germany and (in translation) to Denmark. It differed from other Jewish mission leaflets in that its style was easy to read and comprehend while at the same time its contents had biblical depth. Every issue contained the life story of a Jewish Christian – if possible, with a picture. With its practical style, this leaflet communicated to many Christians and many Jews.

So, for example, a lady in Berlin who was a subscriber, always put the Zion’s Friend on the table of her lodger, a young chemist. He regularly allowed the leaflet to wander into the wastepaper basket, until one day his glance fell on a picture which he reckoned to be that of a friend; he read the life story which went with it, was gripped by it and eventually got in touch with Pastor Frank who gave him instruction in the Christian faith.

In his tireless search for ways into the hearts of Jewish people, Pastor Frank was particularly disturbed by the difficulty of building a ministry in Jewish female society, especially within educated circles; he also recognised it as a task and a calling, to show the love of Jesus through the service of mercy to the sick and concluded that mission must be combined with diaconal work. So there appeared in Zion’s Friend (1905) a challenge: ‘It has for a long time been the earnest wish of our Mission to found a home for Protestant nurses, in order to send them into Jewish families to nurse there.’

First, the nurses were placed in a home in an area where many Jewish families lived. In 1913 they moved into the “Jerusalem Diaconate and Hospital” next door to the new Jerusalem Church which had been rebuilt the previous year. So in the church, while the normal congregation sat in the middle, ‘the Sons of Zion ‘ (students of the Mission house) sat on their left and the ‘Daughters of Zion’ (deaconesses) sat on their right.

Sister Elisabeth Weidemann related that ‘Pastor Frank was a real father to us sisters whom he warned, corrected and praised with even-handed friendliness. I especially remember one conversation with him in 1920. Pastor Frank asked me, “….. have you also noticed, that sisters are no angels, even though they are sometimes described that way by patients? The veil and the uniform do not turn people into angels, and it is not God’s intention that they should be such. Your seniors are not angels and nor are you; but you may witness to your colleagues and your patients of the love of God in your Saviour Jesus Christ by your life. You are called to this, as the apostle Paul writes, “that you be a letter from Christ, written by the living God and read by everyone?’”’

Among its patients the hospital always offered beds to Jewish people and encouraged Jewish doctors to send their patients there. The diaconate provided housemothers for the Mission house and nurses for a private Jewish clinic in Haifa, and an English mission station in Haifa. It was the zenith of the Mission ‘s life. Descriptions of Pastor Frank’s life by Christians from Israel, and many of his talks and sermons, appeared in book form. At jubilees and conferences Pastor Frank and his co-workers related what God had done for so many Jews.

In 1925 Dr. Frank was at the first conference of the Hebrew-Christian Alliance and he helped in the leadership of the Alliance from the beginning. He organised the Hebrew Christian Alliance in Germany and it quickly became the largest and most influential of the national Alliances.

Pastor Frank was Vice-President of the International Hebrew Christian Alliance and President from 1937 to 1947. As President, he had the responsibility of inspiring and leading the various committees and through these the members of the Alliance throughout the world. This he was able to do through his mature experience and his great love for his Lord and for his brethren. Because of his great age he expressed the wish that a younger man shoulder this great calling. After that he was the Honorary President. He was a true father in the Lord to many people and they thanked God for him with all their hearts.’ (From the Festschrift for Pastor Dr Arnold Frank – 1959.)

It was noted by a colleague, G. G. Uberreich-Moffat, that ‘When in one of the committee meetings of the church council it was suggested that a wealthy businessman belonging to the congregation be voted onto the council, Pastor Frank advised against it with the argument: “the money should not decide; it would not be good to do this for the sake of the money; we might damage the congregation that way.”

The events of 1933 broke right into this period. Suddenly the work was disgraced, but at the same, time it was needed so much more. Pastor Frank regularly organised Jewish-Christian evenings in which about 250 Christians of Jewish origin, who had suddenly become inwardly homeless and outwardly endangered, received love, warmth and the comfort of God’s Word. Pastor Frank, as president of the ‘Hebrew Christian Alliance’ and fatherly friend of a great number of Jews in many lands, was able to help in cases of personal need and emigration matters.

Then the blows were struck. Zion’s Friend had been given a new title-page in its 38th year (1936): ‘It is God’s will that all people be helped’ was unmistakably printed there. That same year the pamphlet was banned. In a farewell piece the publisher identified himself openly with service to and hope for Israel : ‘Not a few Jews and Jewish Christians have attended our worship services, Bible-study and prayer meetings. Many non-Aryan Christians from all parts of Germany who are in unbelievable spiritual and physical need write to me. It is my duty to serve them as strength permits, to dry some of their tears and to point them to Jesus, the Comforter and helper.

Finally the state police closed the Mission house. Although Dr Frank was already of advanced years when Hitler came to power and began to persecute Jews and Jewish Christians, he put his whole energy into rescuing many men and women and helping them to emigrate. In addition to those who owe their spiritual life to Pastor Frank, there are many who owe their physical life to him too. From 1933 to 1938 he worked tirelessly in this work of mercy until he was himself arrested and sent to a concentration camp.

According to one writer, Principal Davy: ‘In 1938 Dr Frank, although a British citizen, was arrested, thrown into prison and then sent to a concentration camp. Through the intervention of the British Government his detention lasted only nine days after which he was able to take off his prison garb and go home. Even then his position remained difficult and dangerous. One day a friend in the police force came and told him to leave Germany at once as the police were going to arrest him again next day.’

He was able to flee the country and returned to Ireland. In the following year the state police also closed the church and the congregation was disbanded. There remained in the work only the diaconate and the hospital. (This was probably due to the fact that Pastor Frank annexed the Jerusalem diaconate to one in Bern, Switzerland in 1933.)

After the war it was revealed that through Dr Frank’s life-work a trust capital had been established so that there could be a new beginning. Survivors of the Mission House came back and the “Jewish Christian Evenings” were continued. Out of their hiding places and from concentration camps they came back, wounded, insecure, poor, without the means of existence. They trusted that ‘Jerusalem’ in Hamburg would still, or again, be a place where they would find understanding. And brothers and sisters in Northern Ireland, England, America and Sweden sent gifts which they had collected for these persecuted and needy Christians. The gratefulness of those who had suffered so much during 12 years had no limits. In Bevensen there came into being, with the help of the International Hebrew Christian Alliance and Deaconesses Home, Berne, the Children’s Home ‘Jerusalem’, where by preference orphans and other children of Hebrew Christian families found admission.

The reverend Dr. Frank visited his life-work in Hamburg three times. That he could be present in 1953, when the Jerusalem Church he had built and which had been badly damaged in 1942, was a sign of God’s goodness.

In recognition of his great services to Germany, Dr. Frank received on 30 March 1963, from the President of the Federal Republic of Germany, the Cross of the First Order of Merit of the Federal Republic.

On 6 March 1965 Pastor Dr Arnold Frank celebrated his 106th birthday in good health. The next day he became ill and on 20th March his Saviour took him to glory.

His home-going was an infinitely great loss for countless people in all parts of the world. Through him, I too came to faith in Jesus and through him I received baptism in the Jerusalem Church on 15 January 1928.

My loss is especially great as I lost not only my spiritual father and fatherly friend, but also the best advisor in the ministry of God’s Word. He wrote to me regularly up into a great age, encouraged me in the work.