It’s a quiet morning at Houston’s George Bush Intercontinental Airport. A few people are milling about checking in for their flights, while others are gathering their baggage. I step outside the terminal into an early morning Texas breeze. It’s a little cool but humid. I scan the area looking for my contact and soon spot him waving to me from across the street. I grab my bag and rush over to his car. Rod (Reuven) Bryant is sporting a big black yarmulke on head and his face is covered by a well-trimmed beard. He is wearing a white button-down shirt and a sharp single-breasted black suit. “Shalom aleichem!” he exclaims as he embraces me in a hug. I notice the Glock pistol strapped to his waist; we are in Texas, after all. We climb into his small sedan and set off for Humble, a small suburb of Houston only ten minutes away.
After making some small talk we arrive at our destination. The sign above the door reads “Netiv Center for Torah Study.” “I don’t know if you davened yet, but if you haven’t, feel free to daven inside,” he tells me as he opens the door. I go in and find myself in a large room filled with tables and chairs. On one side there’s a small aron kodesh, and the rest of the walls are lined with bookcases full of sefarim. If you thought that I just walked into a kollel or yeshivah, think again; you’re in for a shock. And as for Rod, despite his appearance he’s not even Jewish.
Let me correct myself; it’s kind of complicated. Rod lives his life as a Jews, but he is not halachically Jewish. So what am I doing with a gun-toting, yarmulke-wearing non-Jew in Texas? Allow me to introduce you to a community of righteous people who keep the Sheva Mitzvos Bnei Noach. Rod Bryant is their leader. As a former pastor, he knows a thing or two about Christianity—which is why he is perfectly suited to lead this group of ex-Christians who are searching for the truth.
I am quickly introduced to several people who are members of this community. This is the place they gather several times a week to learn Torah and further their knowledge of Judaism.
“I started doing missionary work in the Northeast at the age of 16,” Rod begins. “After my wife and I got married we moved to Houston to attend Bible college. After graduation I became a chaplain in the army. It was during my time in the military that I began to question Christian theology. There were a lot of flaws in it that I called ‘Swiss cheese holes.’ After I was discharged from the army I decided to leave the ministry and became a police officer in the Houston Police Department. For a while I tried attending different churches but I eventually became disillusioned with all of them. After spending hours and hours praying to G-d to help me find a church with integrity, I decided to start a Bible study group in my own home. We started off with just a few members of my own family, but it quickly grew to 35 people. We held weekly church services in a hotel until we were able to buy a building in Humble, which is only a half-hour from Houston, and our congregation eventually grew to around 250 people. We were doing multiple services because the building couldn’t accommodate more than 50 or 60 people at a time. Then we moved to a larger building, and within five years I found myself the pastor of a church that had 600 worshippers.
“Nonetheless, there was something missing. The church was growing, but the people weren’t. I began to search for a way to fill in the gaps, as there was a lot of Christian doctrine that was inexplicable to me. In the process, I began to comprehend that there was some level of connection to the Jewish people, considering that the founder of Christianity was a Jew. For the next few years I attempted to combine both Christian and Jewish concepts, but it was like putting a square peg into a round hole. It wasn’t working; the two could not be mixed. Then somewhere along the line I decided to teach exclusively out of the Tanach, or the Old Testament, as Christians call it, based on concepts I’d learned from listening to lectures of Rabbi Yehoshua Gordon of Chabad, of blessed memory. At that point I started to lose many of my congregants, who thought that I was trying to convert them to Judaism. It wasn’t true, but that was their opinion.
“A few years later I decided to abandon Christianity altogether and convert to Judaism. In the interim, I had found out that my wife had Jewish ancestors on both her mother’s and father’s side. I also learned that my father was descended from a family of Latvian Jews. When I realized the implications I decided to convert to Orthodox Judaism, but for various reasons I still haven’t done it. One thing led to another and I started a study group that I called the Netiv Center for Torah Study. Some of the participants were Christian and some were Jewish. We started off meeting in a hotel, but we soon moved to the building we’re in today. The only texts we used were the Five Books of the Torah with Rashi and Onkelos, and we quickly went from five or six people to around 80. Nowadays we have 35 to 40 people at each of our lectures, and we also have a very large international viewership. Our goal is to teach the Torah’s wisdom to the nations. We consider ourselves Bnei Noach, committed to observing the seven laws that were given by G-d for the children of Noah, meaning all mankind, so we can have a meaningful relationship with the Creator of the Universe. Everything that is taught here is 100% under rabbinical supervision, and I consult with my own rabbanim and mentors several times a day.”