Lou Leventhal is a pastor . . . and an illusionist.
Although this might seem an odd combination, Leventhal uses both roles to help others determine reality.
The Saskatoon resident is performing his illusion act at this weekend’s Youth Quake at Briercrest College and Seminary.
“I love this age,” Leventhal said, commenting about the many high school and college students attending the weekend event. “People are making decisions that will affect the rest of their life.”
For the last 35 years, Leventhal’s illusion act has given him the ability to speak to audiences who might not step foot into his church.
“Most of the time when people have us, it’s to reach people who normally wouldn’t go inside a church building,” he explained. “So the show is called Illusions and Reality. I share up front that the tricks we do are illusions and I show people how easy it is to be fooled – that the more intelligent you are, the easier it is to fool you. I don’t have any special powers or anything like that. The reality is our relationship with God. Towards the end of the program I talk about that.”
Leventhal’s illusion act is a family affair. His wife serves as his stage assistant and his son Josh, who is a student at Briercrest, also helped in this weekend’s YQ performances.
“Throughout the show people get to know us,” he continued. “There’s a lot of humour in the show and we have a lot of fun. Then people listen. I share my testimony and share the gospel very clearly. Sometimes people make decisions there, but often that’s their first step in the journey of coming to know who Jesus is. They actually start asking questions.”
Leventhal’s own spiritual journey began when he decided to become a Christian just three days before he started university.
“I grew up in a Jewish family,” he said. “Being a new Christian – I was so green. I didn’t know anything. So the church became my family in a lot of ways.”
His decision to pursue a career in full-time ministry happened soon after.
“I’d always thought I was going to be a doctor when I was a kid,” he said. “I actually started on that track – pre-med when I was in school – but really came to a point where I couldn’t imagine doing anything other than full-time ministry. I didn’t know what that would look like.”
The illusionist’s time in seminary was prolonged because of his touring schedule.
“When I was in seminary I was travelling about 7,500 miles a month, so we were everywhere,” he said. “That’s how people found out about us.”
For the last 20 years, Leventhal has been a senior pastor. The last five have been at Emmanuel Baptist Church in Saskatoon. The focus on full-time church ministry has made his illusion performances less frequent.
“I’m officially in retirement mode with the illusions stuff,” Leventhal explained. “We still do special things like Youth Quake. My church has been gracious because they believe in what I do, but it gets too hard to travel. We have a staff of 14 and as senior pastor it’s just hard to be gone too much.”
The high point for Leventhal in both of his vocations is when people respond to the gospel.
“Occasionally I’ll get a phone call or an email or somebody will check up with me on Facebook and will say, ‘You didn’t know this, but I became a Christian at one of your programs,’” Leventhal explained. “Every once in a while, we’ll meet people and they’ll tell us that the first time they heard the gospel was at our show.”
Experiences like this remind the illusionist of the ultimate reality.
“It’s a reminder that God is at work,” Leventhal said. “Even when you can’t see, God is at work.”