Founding Pastor

Howard Katz
1955 – 2020

The following story is an excerpt from a booklet entitled God is Real! © 2020 by Open Door Christian Fellowship. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means—electronic, mechanical, photocopy, recording, or any other—except for brief quotations in printed reviews, without prior permission from Open Door Christian Fellowship.
ISBN: 978-1-988605-34-0

Howard Katz was the Founding Pastor of Open Door Christian Fellowship. The following is Howard’s personal story of how he came to faith in Jesus Christ, how his salvation impacted his family, and how his strong faith in the goodness of God sustained him through his final illness and revealed the true man of God he had become. On January 4, 2020, Howard went to Heaven to be with his beloved Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. We continue to pray for Howard’s family and friends who miss him dearly. We pray that they might taste Howard’s joy at where he is and Who he is with—for eternity.

The following is Howard’s story told in his own words:

Howard Katz’ Story

No matter what their background or culture, each person has a longing to find significance and purpose for their life. Some seek satisfaction in successful careers, while others simply pursue having a good time and living for the moment. However, there comes a time in each person’s life when these pursuits leave them empty and unfulfilled. For me, this happened when I was still a young man barely out of my teens. For others, it may be in old age as they face the reality of their mortality and impending death. At this point many will seek answers to the deeper questions of life: “Where did I come from?” “Why am I here?” “Where am I going after I die?” Those who are stirred for answers to these pressing
questions are not interested in rituals or moral teachings. Their questions will go deeper, wanting to know three things about God: “Is there a God?” “Can I know Him?” “Can He change my life?” They want to know if God is real and if He is relevant to their lives.

This is my story.

“Where is God?” “What will happen when I die?” These were the anguished cries of my heart as a five-year-old boy sitting on the steps of our front porch looking up at my dad. He had no answers, but simply said, “Please, don’t cry.” As I grew older, this dark shadow continually followed me, filling my heart with a sense of impending death and doom. My dad was intimately acquainted with this dark shadow of foreboding. He was a Holocaust survivor, having spent four years in forced labor camps and one year in a concentration camp during World War II. His entire extended family perished. He was liberated from Mauthausen, one of the most notorious concentration camps, on May 5, 1945. He emerged a skeleton of a man, his frame reduced to barely eighty-five pounds. After the war ended, he immigrated to Canada to begin a new life. The horror of what he had experienced drove him to work relentlessly. It was how he coped with his traumatic memories of the camps. As a child, in order to spend time with him, I would get into his car after supper and join him as he went back to work to speak with tenants and employees. He became a highly respected businessman, building a community of apartments and a mall. Anyone who knew my dad remembers his love for people and how he created a community complex for them—something his extended family never lived to experience—with outdoor gardens, swimming pools, a library, coffee shops, and communal rooms for games and fellowship. My dad was a generous and kind man. Looking back over my childhood, the words that best describe our family would be “chaotic” and “dysfunctional,” although I had no awareness of it at the time. This was all I knew. My dad worked tirelessly, leaving my grandfather to run the household. He was a domineering and materialistic man who lived downstairs and ruled our family. He regularly quoted the prices of everything we ate or purchased. Our mom was under his control and, although we loved her, due to an accident at birth she was emotionally unable to be a mom to her children. In short, there was no structure or discipline in my life at home. My dad became concerned as he watched how negatively my grandfather’s life affected me. Although I was capable, he saw that I was barely passing in school and I never did homework.

At the age of twelve I was sent to a private boarding school near Toronto where I thrived in the highly-structured and disciplined environment. There, I began to do well academically and develop friendships. Like most Jewish families, we gathered each year to celebrate Passover with a meal and to recite the Passover story of how God delivered Israel from the bondage of Egypt through a series of miracles. At our Passover Seder when I was fourteen, we again recited the events of the story. I remember thinking, Wouldn’t it be wonderful if there really was a God who did deliver His chosen people out of Egypt and who does answer prayer! Although I wished it to be true, another part of me felt this could not be possible. As I looked around the table at my family, I realized that they also saw the Passover Seder more as a ritual than a recounting of something they believed really happened. At that point I became an agnostic. I continually struggled with three overriding questions that demanded answers: “Is there really a God?” “If so, can I know Him?” and “If I can know Him, can He change my life?”

When I was in grade twelve and home for a holiday, one of my friends shared with me how he had experienced a great change when he became a believer in Jesus. I was interested in what he shared and saw the change in him but, being Jewish, I was skeptical. At that time Jesus was definitely not on my radar. I continued to struggle with a deep lack of purpose for my life. A pall of darkness and depression hovered over me. My quest for answers continued.

I returned from boarding school to London to complete grade thirteen, where I met a former friend whom I had not seen for almost six years. By this time, he had become heavily involved in drugs and alcohol. I stayed clear of him because of his lifestyle choices. A few months later, I met him again and this time he was completely different. He told me he’d had a blood clot in his leg and almost died. Through this experience, he had given his life to Jesus and experienced a transformation that led him to leave his former life behind. We met frequently and he continued to share his faith in Jesus with me. Even though I was curious, I didn’t see a personal need for Jesus. He was not for me. My career path in engineering was already mapped out and I was pursuing my dream to become successful, just like my father.

After my first year in engineering, I worked in construction during the summer months. I encountered another co-worker who shared with me how a relationship with Jesus had changed his life. Although I continued to be curious, I still did not see my need for God. Then one day in August of that year I had an insight I now believe was from God. Suddenly, I realized the emptiness in my life. It finally dawned on me that even if I accomplished everything I wanted in life, I would still be empty. It was as if I had been struck by a lightning bolt from Heaven. I began to think even more deeply about my own emptiness. A quote I once heard persisted in my thoughts: “A dream, once fulfilled, is only a memory.” I immediately began to sink into a deep depression as I realized that all this life offered would end in emptiness and bring no true satisfaction.

For the first time in my life I saw my need for God and I began to pray. I began to call out to God throughout the day from the depths of my heart. “Are You really there and is Jesus Christ really Your Son?” Depression was my constant companion. This lasted for weeks. During that time, I was working on construction and spent my days digging through hard clay. There was something about being depressed and digging in unyielding clay day after day, that seemed to synchronize with my agony. I knew I had to have an answer. Within a few weeks God answered my prayers. As I was reading the Gospel of John alone in my room, I suddenly knew that what I’d been resisting for so long was true. Jesus is the Son of God. As I acknowledged this truth, I decided I would put my faith in Jesus. Something unexplainable happened. The dark clouds of death and doom lifted. My heart was overcome with an incredible joy I had never before experienced. This continued for days and, even today, I still experience great joy in knowing Jesus and the truth that He is our Messiah. Now a problem loomed on my horizon. I feared telling my dad of my newfound faith. Would he feel utter betrayal for all he had suffered and lost as a Jew? Our Jewish identity was vital and we belonged to a close-knit community. All these thoughts flooded my heart. Bringing grief to my father was something I never imagined. I loved him and wanted him to be proud of me.

When I finally told him, it was a catastrophic event, just as I had imagined. He was overcome with grief, intermittently crying out and weeping in utter anguish, tearing his clothes, and expressing great shame that he had failed as a father. Witnessing his grief was one of the most painful events of my life. Over the years I continued to love and pray for my dad that he might also be convinced to believe in Jesus as our Messiah. Years later, Dad did come to trust Jesus as I did. More than 40 years have passed since I made this most important decision of my entire life—one that led to many other events I never dreamed possible. I now pastor Open Door Christian Fellowship, where teaching and preaching the Bible is one of the greatest joys of my life. As well, people from all walks of life have come to know Jesus and his transforming love. What an awesome privilege!!

In late December, 2018, I was admitted to hospital for what I thought was a routine surgery, the removal of my gall bladder. A few days later, I was told it was full of cancer which had spread to my lymph nodes. The doctor told me I had stage three cancer and gave me six months to live. When I was given the diagnosis, a supernatural peace and joy immediately filled my heart. I know that no matter what the future holds, I am completely at peace and can trust God and His purpose in this season of my life as well. Thankfully, I have no regrets that I have wasted my life. I have accomplished the things I felt Jesus had for me to do. Every morning when I wake up, I read my Bible and I thank God for my salvation. Each new day affords me the opportunity to continue to love and trust Him. Whether I live fifteen more years or only a few more months, I am not clinging desperately to my life. The best is yet to come—to be with Jesus forever in Heaven.

My prayer is that those who are already followers of Jesus would be encouraged to grow into a deeper relationship with Him. For those reading this booklet who have not yet met Jesus, my prayer is that they would begin to turn to Him and find Him as their Lord and Saviour. Perhaps as you have read this story, you have felt the Lord stirring your heart, and creating a desire within you to have a personal relationship with God through His Son, Jesus Christ. Perhaps you never realized what it means to be born again, and with new understanding, you want to ask Jesus to be your Saviour and the Lord of your life. You may have been confirmed, dedicated to the Lord, or even baptized—maybe you have attended church all your life, yet lack the assurance that you know the Lord Jesus in an intimate way. Perhaps you cannot recall a time when you invited Jesus to be your personal Saviour. Then this prayer is for you…

Heavenly Father, I confess before You that I am a sinner and cannot save myself. I recognize that my sin has separated me from You and Your plan for my life. I believe that You sent Your Son, Jesus Christ, who took upon Himself all of my sins, died in my place on a cross, and was resurrected from the dead. I ask You now to forgive me of all my sins and wash me with the precious blood of Jesus. I invite You to come into my life and make me the person You created me to be, that I may serve You and bring glory to Your name. I thank You and praise You that I am now Your child. In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.

Ask the Lord to lead you to a local Bible-believing church where you can be fed the Word of God to help you grow spiritually. Begin to feed your soul with the Word of God. Partake in water baptism, as an outward sign that you have received the Lord Jesus Christ, that your former life has passed away, and that you are a new creation. Ask God to bring other Christians into your life who can nurture you and with whom you can have fellowship.

Howard Katz
Founding Pastor
Open Door Christian Fellowship

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