In a 3rd grade classroom in Bethesda, Maryland in 1957, a 9-year-old Greg Schneider began his search for something bigger than himself. His teacher Ms. Walters, who oozed grandma-like kindness, started each school day with a Bible reading, the Pledge of Allegiance, and a time for quiet prayer.
It was both foreign and refreshing to experience prayer in this way, according to Greg, whose family, although Jewish, wasn’t very religious. In fact, Greg didn’t even know he was Jewish until he had to pretend he wasn’t Jewish in order to get into the local swimming club where Jews still weren’t allowed.
“Anne Walters taught me love of God, love of people, and love of country,” Greg said about the three central allegiances of his life.
Sometimes Ms. Walters would share a spiritual story from her life, and she always ended each day with a hug for each of her students as they walked out the door.
“For me this was my starting point in my search for faith,” Greg shared. “I thought, someone couldn’t just do that out of her own self. There was something more motivating her.”
And from this young age, Greg set his mind to discovering what it was that inspired an elementary school teacher to cheerfully share her faith with his class.
Around the same time, a Christian family friend learned about Greg’s interest in prayer and Scripture reading, so she asked Greg’s parents for permission for him to attend her family’s church.
“My father never stopped me from my interest in learning about spiritual matters,” Greg said. “He actually encouraged the family [spiritually] by bringing us to Jewish Passover Services. Dad wanted me to be proud to be a Jew.”
And Greg was proud to be a Jew. He was proud to be his father’s son, the son of a man who, along with two brothers, survived the German Holocaust when the rest of their family was exterminated. Greg formed an acute awareness of his father’s painful past in triggering moments like when he and some school friends scribbled swastikas on their arms. What Greg and his friends had likened to wearing a Daniel Boone coon skin cap as a way of banding together, his father associated with the heinous experiences of his ancestors.
Greg always wanted to honor and respect his father for what he went through, but he was also searching for something outside of what his Jewish heritage gave him. This created an internal conflict for Greg because he didn’t want to disappoint his father with his choices.
Throughout grade school, Greg continued to have an extensive interest in faith. In the 8th grade, he asked to go to an Episcopal Preparatory School in Connecticut. From there he went for 9th and 10th grade to a Quaker Preparatory School.
At times Greg’s family became concerned with his interest in a “different” faith, as noted in a letter from Greg’s sister to their father on Greg’s 17th birthday. The letter states, This whole religious thing is just a need on his part to talk and express himself, [and] they will guide his thinking to their own purposes and according to their own beliefs.
“The letter saddened me because I was the one looking for a personal relationship with God,” Greg shared. “No one was misleading me.”
As a middle schooler, Greg joined the Safety Patrol at school. From a young age, Greg wanted to show gratitude for the Americans who liberated his father and uncles, and by joining the Safety Patrol and becoming captain, he felt he was giving back to society out of gratitude.
“In my young mind it was a way of serving our country,” Greg said.
Greg graduated from high school in 1967 with many academic, athletic, and leadership recognitions, and went to college where, aside from the occasional chapel service, he was still unsettled about his faith and direction in life. So he enlisted in the U.S. Army.
“I joined the Army because I really felt that they saved my father and my two uncles,” Greg said. After basic training, he was assigned to the Pentagon, and it was there, in 1969, where he met a very persistent man in a bar.
Andy Puleo came into the bar across the Army base where Greg and his Army brothers frequented. According to Greg, Andy seemed to be following him, wanting to talk to him.
“I literally escorted him out,” Greg said, explaining he just wanted to hang out with his buddies. But Andy came back the next night, looking for Greg again. “I said, ‘What are you doing here? I told you not to talk to me!’ and he said, ‘Well, I’ve got something very important to share with you.’” Greg thought the guy was either nuts or really did have something important to share, so that second night, Greg listened.
“And that was the first time I really heard the gospel.”
Andy shared from the New Testament, not knowing Greg was Jewish. But, at that time, Greg was not going to be convinced of Christianity based solely on the New Testament.
“I wanted to see if there was something [about the gospel of Christ] from the Old Testament.” Greg thought that he would have a better chance at getting his father’s approval if he had reason to believe in Christ from the Old Testament. Greg’s love for his father and the pain he went through was so profound that, if he were going to be a Messianic Jew, he wanted to do it in a way that would respect the Jewish heritage.
While Greg agreed to go with Andy a few weeks later to a gathering of Christians from an international Christ-based ministry, the seed of the gospel hadn’t yet taken root in him.
Greg returned to college in Buffalo, New York, during the fall of 1971, to prepare for a career in business and finance. After settling in, he attended a picnic for what he thought was an athletic group called InterVarsity but what was actually another Christ-based ministry. Regardless, he went with the hopes of developing friendships, and that day he met Peter Ford and Carolyn Fisher.
“They spent time talking with me that day and learned of my background,” Greg said. “After an hour they wanted to share some Scripture with me from Isaiah 53:3-12. The Old Testament Scripture was so prophetic that, unless you were really fighting to not see something, the gospel message was clearly shared.”
He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem. Surely, he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth.
Until this point, Greg wasn’t sure how he could continue to please his father if he abandoned the faith of his heritage. But after hearing God’s word that day, Greg realized his allegiance was to Christ. He was ready to take the step he needed to take to transition from loving his father first to loving the Lord Jesus Christ first.
“So I prayed to receive Christ right outside my home that day.”
In 1977, Greg became a leader with Campus Crusade for Christ, another Christ-based ministry. It was at the new leader training where he met his now wife, April. At first, he was so focused on serving the Lord with his life, he wasn’t interested in marriage. But, a few study groups and quiet times together and they both knew marriage was God’s will for their lives. To this day, Greg and April still enjoy their daily times of Scripture reading and prayer together.
Greg and April moved to Clear Lake in 2018 and became members of Clear Creek Community Church after hearing and aligning with the church’s We Believe statements. They have a son, Michael, and a grandson, Elijah, and their family still attends traditional Jewish Passover services as a way to honor and celebrate Greg’s Jewish heritage. They also attend as a way to build relationships that might lead to sharing the gospel to Jews who may be seeking the way Greg was back in Ms. Anne Walter’s class.
“I really think Anne was wanting to witness to us with the gospel message, risking [her job] every morning.” He witnessed this gospel sharing through Ms. Walters, through Virginia Harpham, through Andy Puleo, and through Peter and Carolyn Fisher.
Now Greg is the one planting gospel seeds.
The 73-year-old continues to show Christ to others as a navigator of Clear Creek small groups and an Egret Bay Campus First Impressions volunteer. He and April serve weekly to be a light to those who walk through the doors of the church. And up until his father passed away, Greg shared Christ’s love and sacrifice with him, not ever truly knowing if the seed took root.
“I am thankful today for being born a Jew, but I realize the real reason I am thankful has nothing to do with me, but all to do with Jesus — who came as a Jew to save all of mankind by living a sinless life and then taking all the sins of mankind on himself, so we may be forgiven of our sins by his dying on the cross.”