The world’s opera stages were the ambition of a determined young man named Paul Wilbur. A passion for the arts, music, and teaching took him from under graduate school in Cleveland, Ohio across the Atlantic to study in Milan, Italy. There he was instructed in vocal technique, Italian, and high-opera by some of Europe’s most skilled mentors.
“By the time I had returned from Italy the direction of my life had been pretty well set in stone,” Paul says. “The life of Richard Tucker had become a pattern to success that I wished to emulate. Here was a Jewish man, who was one of the world’s most revered operatic icons, and who also honored his religious tradition by singing under the domed roofs of the world’s synagogues.” All of this was about to change. “I was pursuing a Master’s Degree in vocal music at Indiana University, and the things that normally attract a young man were also attractive to me: music, my friends, and girls. As I pursued relationships, inevitably two things happened: I asked girls out for a date, they invited me to church.” The writing was on the wall. “It was like I wore a t-shirt that said, ‘Please…somebody take me to church.’” Well, it was during one of those “church dates” that Paul encountered Jerry Williams a young man from West Texas whose testimony and friendship would change his life forever. “I was completely taken by Jerry’s love and passion for God. From the very first time I saw him ‘perform’ I understood that he was not singing about God, rather he was singing to Him. It was as if he actually knew the God I sang about at Temple: the one whose voice I longed to hear.”
This was all new to Paul. Being raised in the home of a Jewish father and a Baptist mother, he grew up attending a variety of churches. While in college he joined The Temple in downtown Cleveland, singing in the sanctuary choir. But now, he was being impacted for the very first time by the manifest presence of God. This experience, along with powerful teaching from the Scriptures, continued to draw Paul week by week. He joined a Bible Study in his graduate dorm and became hungry for anything that could teach him about the God of the Bible. One Sunday the church announced that anyone who would like a free meal would be paired with a church family. Paul signed up, but then had second thoughts. “I was picturing this grandma and grandpa, and my payment for eating their dinner was going to be hours of conversation sitting in a room with quilts over our laps looking at pictures of their grandchildren,” he recalled thinking.
But try as he might, Paul could not get out of the commitment. When he arrived at the house he was completely overcome to see the young man whose music had touched him so deeply several months earlier. It was just a few weeks later on a fishing trip to Tennessee that Jerry introduced Paul to his Messiah. The day was March 26, 1977. “In the next several weeks I began to understand the truth of II Corinthians 5:17 that says, ‘If any man is in the Messiah, he is a new creation’”.
Together with their friend Ed Kerr they formed the popular contemporary Christian group Harvest. They traveled and ministered together, and recorded several albums on the Benson Record label, Milk & Honey. “What an incredible time this was for my life,” Paul says. “But the call to bring the Gospel back to the Jewish community grew stronger and stronger in my heart.” After nearly five years Paul yielded to this call and moved his small family to the Washington DC area and a fledgling Messianic congregation.
“For two years I worked odd jobs and found part-time work to pay the bills until the Lord brought together three Jewish men and called them Israel’s Hope. We traveled and ministered together for more than eight years recording several albums on the Maranatha! record label.”
Music, Teaching, and Mercy Ministry
Today Paul’s ministry is as worldwide as his music. “God’s grace is truly amazing,” Paul says, “as we have ministered in more than thirty nations, recorded in three languages, and have witnessed thousands set free by Messiah empowered worship and praise.” One of the aspects of this ministry that may not be apparent at first glance is Paul’s commitment to the marriage of music, ministry, and acts of mercy. “As we travel to third world nations we seek to bring a larger expression of the kingdom of God in a practical way. Dr. Paul Williams staffs free medical clinics to minister to the needs of the poor; Paul Cuny brings MarketPlace Ministry to the business community; Messiah Company brings the beauty of movement to worship, while Integrity Worship artists stir the hearts to joyful song.”
Paul sees his calling to the Church and the Jewish community and to build bridges of reconciliation between them. His latest recording for Integrity, The Watchman, is a stirring call to the Body of Christ worldwide to take up their place on the walls of their lives, congregations, cities, and nations—to be faithful, prayerful, and watchful during what he calls “this most prophetic hour.”
The Watchman was recorded “live” on Yom Kippur at Cornerstone Church in San Antonio with Pastor John Hagee. “Yom Kippur, or the Day of Atonement,” he explains, “was the one day of the year that the high priest was allowed to come before the presence of God, and only with blood, making atonement for himself and all Israel. I believe this recording will carry that anointing in a very special way and will sweep many into the kingdom of God.”
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