Merv and Merla Watson
Catacombs Productions, ICC (International Christian Center) Ministries Humanitarian,
Abbotsford, Bc, Canada
What is the main focus of your activities today?
We’d do concerts but there is Covid lockdown, so We are very active on defending Israel and combating antisemitism in social media, and pursuing and building relationships with Jews and pro-Israel Christians worldwide.
How long have you been doing that?
concerts for about 58 years. Merv is 84 and Merla is 82 and the voices are still there!
What are some of the successful related programs or projects that you have done this year and in past years?
This year we recorded a CD in Jerusalem called For Such A Time As This. It is our 16th CD.
A friend of ours in the ICEJ is making a movie of our life, 7 episodes of 20-40 minutes each, soon to be released.
Merla has written 564 songs, and we’ve produces 16 albums with about 12 songs each. We had done recordings in our own home studio in Abbotsford in the past.
Merla also is a member of a string quartet and she wrote or adapted 160 works for that. Her violin was made in 1754.
Came to Israel in July 1976
Established the Feast of Tabernacles in 1979
Established with another 10 Christian couples the ICEJ in 1980.
We have naturally done much in the past 50 years, we will try to find an online biography of ours..
How did you get to where you are today?
God put into our heart to love Israel and Jerusalem, back in the 70s we were able to be tourists for the past fifty or so years. We had been teachers of Music and English, but eventually we just managed to be de facto permanent residents.
Since Merla played for the Canadian Council of Jewish Women as a child, they awarded her a music scholarship.
In the 60s Merv was the band leader in a Toronto school. Merla was playing in the orchestra.
We’ve been celebrating Shabbat of over 40 years. We have been teaching and learing with Christians since then too.
What is your “testimony”?
Merv was born in Penticton, British Columbia, Canada, of Irish/Scottish Plymouth Brethren heritage. He studied piano, voice, art, and pre-medicine in Vancouver, before leaving for the University of Toronto Faculty of Music, where he graduated with a Bachelor of Music. In the summers for several years, he worked at the popular resort Chateau Lake Louise, where he wrote the music, acted, and sang for holiday productions. It was in Toronto during his university time that he met his future wife, Merla. While there, he taught bands and orchestras in high schools and at a Jewish Talmud Torah school. He also taught music on a private basis.
Merla was born in Toronto, Ontario, Canada of Swiss/Mennonite descent (née Lehman). She began piano lessons at 2 ½, violin at 4, composition at 9, voice at 11, and viola at 13. When only 3 years old, it was detected she had perfect pitch. By the time she was 15, she was a full-fledged professional musician, having amassed 150 awards and scholarships. She earned a solo performer’s A.R.C.T. from the Royal Conservatory of Toronto in both voice and piano at 16, and an Artist Diploma for viola (violin) in her early twenties. Her string quartet performed weekly on the CBC. She also had a music variety act which she did for many conventions and clubs.
Merv and Merla were married in 1962. They began to perform classical concerts, as well as musical variety acts for service clubs. During this period, Merv was appointed Director of the Christian Performing Arts of Canada. Following this, they both produced the Schoolhouse Concerts, a Christian performing arts concert series in Toronto’s oldest school house, which resulted in the schoolhouse being professionally renovated into an historic site. In 1967, after a powerful experience with the Holy Spirit, they felt the Lord’s call to launch out into fulltime music ministry. Merla writes all the music they sing and play. (She has written almost 500 worship songs, e.g. “Jehovah Jireh”, “Awake, O Israel,” “Then Shall the Virgin Rejoice”, “He That Keepeth Israel” ). This ministry was to be entirely on faith, depending upon the Lord for their sustenance.
During the late 60’s and early 70’s, they led the Toronto Catacombs, drawing from 2-3000 young folk per week, among whom was Benny Hinn who came to the Lord. It was developed out of Merv’s high school class. It met in St. Paul’s Cathedral and resulted in hundreds of young folk committing their lives to the Lord, well over 2000 baptized in the makeshift basement tank, and many going into fulltime Christian service in many parts of the world. Following this, they directed “”Shekinah,” an international group of Christian musicians, singers, and dancers in presentations in Canada, Holland, the United States, Switzerland, England, and Israel.
Merv and Merla have ministered in over 50 countries, including Israel, which became a home for their family from 1976-88. Here they conceived and spearheaded the International Christian Embassy in Jerusalem, as well as the Feast of Tabernacles, an annual event lasting a week, which draws 6000 Christians from 108 different countries. Both these ventures annually produce millions of dollars, which go into the Israeli economy. The Watsons were also the first ones to introduce the Hebraic style of music and choreographed spiritual dance into worship. Now they are majoring on the restoration of the four Biblical Feasts for Christians to celebrate (Trumpets, Tabernacles, Passover, and Pentecost). Together they teach seminars about Israel, Biblical history, and worship in many countries throughout the world. For the last few years, they have been residing near Vancouver in Abbotsford, BC, Canada, where they established a main fellowship and several offshoot fellowships with the name R.O.O.T.S. – an acronym meaning Recycling Of Old Testament Secrets. This work explores the Jewish roots of the Christian faith, using the Hebrew language as its basis both in spoken word and worship. They also were called upon to produce the Biblical Feasts in different countries in the indigenous languages, especially in Berlin, for the Feast of Tabernacles for 4 years. During this time, Merla played in 3 symphony orchestras, and Merv perfected his mural artwork and gave lectures on Jewish roots. Also, while there, Merla formed a Christian professional string quartet called “Serenata”, which played classical concerts, weddings, other social events, and recorded 2 albums, with most of the music arrangements by Merla. Several times they have hosted Christian pilgrims to the Holy Land in a way that only those who have lived in the land could do.
In 2001, Merv and Merla returned to Israel, and actually live again in Jerusalem. Merv functioned again for a while as the Head of the Music Department of the Anglican International School in Jerusalem, where he taught band and orchestra, as well as music theory and music history. Merla assisted him, and also became the house music arranger, as well as a private music teacher in piano, voice, violin, and viola. She has organized a Christian professional string quartet called “Serenata Jerusalem”, which is a sister to the one she leads when in Vancouver. For a time, Merv and Merla led the worship at the oldest Protestant church in the Middle East – Christ Church, in the Old City of Jerusalem at Jaffa Gate. It is an evangelical Charismatic Anglican church, very much steeped in Jewish roots. In Jerusalem, they also minister for conventions, Christian tour groups, and Israeli audiences. This year they will be the creative coordinators for the Feast of Tabernacles sponsored by the International Christian Zionist Center. Recently Merv has been commissioned to write a series of books on anecdotal insights on history, archeology and life in Israel. These books will be produced in several languages for world distribution.
On any given concert, Merv and Merla both sing with their trained voices, as well as play violin, viola, guitar, accordion, piano, and small percussive instruments. They always come garbed in colourful Israeli costumes. Merv and Merla have made several CDs, cassettes tapes, songbooks, and other reading materials, which are displayed on their book tables, as well as products for sale from Israel. In between their songs, they both share concerning Israel’s past, current crises, and eventual destiny.
Merla had a bizarre accident in 1986, after a piano fell on her left hand, severely crushing her wrist. Contrary to the top surgeon’s predictions, that she would never play a musical instrument again, she had a phenomenal instantaneous miracle. (Story told in her book “Merla’s Miracle”, which has been translated into several languages.)
Merv and Merla have 3 highly gifted adult children – (2 sons, Sean and Ariel, and a daughter Elana) who are all professional musicians. Sean is a world class opera/oratorio singer and recording artist with Naxos. Elana has issued a Hebraic CD called “Awake O Israel”, both in English and in Spanish, as well as another jazz CD “Rising from the Ashes” which has received enthusiastic acclaim everywhere she gives concerts. Recently, she sang 3 concerts of George Gershwin songs with the Toronto Philharmonia, with a standing ovation each time. Ariel is a professional ‘cellist, and has made his own CD “Ariel – Album 1” which features his voice, some of his own compositions, and many instruments, all of which he plays.
Since the Watsons live on the outskirts of Jerusalem, they are able and willing to give accurate accounts about the political scene, which are often quite contrary to the media. Come and hear all about Israel first-hand!”
What do you think God is doing with regard to Jewish-Christian relations?
Christianity’s basis is Judaism. There is a tremendous growing interest in Israel and what is happening there. It is a prophetic interest, most things that are happening have been predicted. There has been a ridiculous teaching called replacement theology, that teaches that Jews had their chance but now (since Jesus’ time) it is the Christian’s chance. The big question was – did the Exodus actually happen? Because if it didn’t, neither Jewish nor Christians have anything to say, as it is all one big myth. But now that Mt Sinai has been discovered and the miracle of the Red Sea are being proven and confirmed, it is all true and God is forcing us Christians to go back to the original language and the original people to find out what we really believe.
We were the pioneers in the modern era of Christians seeing the relevance of modern Israel. That began around 1966 or so. At first, we were misunderstood by both the Christians and the Jews. We waded through that suspicion from both sides. Soon afterwards, others, like the Rawlings, came aside us. And then many others, each doing what they are called by God to do. We sowed the seed, not knowing what would happen. All of a sudden, we are seeing Jews reaching out to teach us! We are amazed and blessed by that.
We are both of us, Christians and Jews, people of the book. Both of our enemies – antisemites and anti Christians – are forcing us into a relationship that acknowledges the much that we have in common, more than what we don’t have in common. And what we don’t have in common, let us just leave it up to God.
When Constantine forced the Roman Empire to adopt Christianity, we went off the track. Today, God is bringing us back.
The enemy knows that we are bound together!
The ICEJ which we have been the founders of has probably impacted hundreds of thousands, maybe millions of people in 120 nations around the world. Personally, we probably interacted with thousands of Christians throughout the years.