As the founder of an anti-missionary training organization, Penina Taylor's mission is to keep Jews Jewish.

"We have a beautiful gift in being created Jews and we shouldn't squander our treasure," the 43-year-old mother of four says. "If Judaism doesn't feel joyful and isn't a treasure to us, then we need to find ways to make it so."

Clearly, Taylor has come a long way from her 17 years as a practicing Christian, when she was an Evangelical leader and inspirational speaker at church services and conventions. In those years, her aim was to make Jews believers of Christian ideas.

Her tumultuous spiritual journey – from secular Jew to evangelical Christian to Messianic Christian and ultimately Orthodox Judaism – is chronicled in her lectures and recently published book, "Coming Full Circle."

Taylor has come a long way from her 17 years as a practicing ChristianTaylor now lives a strictly Orthodox Jewish life and can be found inspiring crowds at synagogues, yeshivas and Jewish centers throughout the world as she talks about her search for the truth and advises Jews to find fulfillment in their own heritage instead of looking elsewhere.

She was vulnerable to Christianity, she says, because of the lack of Jewish spirituality at home. She grew up in a chaotic secular Jewish household in South Jersey where nobody mentioned religion.

Taylor felt isolated and depressed during her teenage years after a painful childhood in which her parents divorced, and she suffered abuse at the hand of a family friend.

Subsequently, she fell into the wrong crowd and began drinking and taking drugs in high school. Her grades hit rock bottom. Such struggles left her questioning the point of her existence. When a Christian friend in school urged her to let Jesus into her heart, Taylor was intrigued. She never knew religion was about a close relationship with a divine being. "I understood at that moment that I was a spiritual person and needed a connection with the divine," she said.

At age 16, she converted to Christianity and joined a church-going crowd. She stopped drinking and quit drugs and her grades improved dramatically. She felt empowered, she said, by a new sense of purpose that turned out to be life altering. "My whole life changed when I became a Christian," she said.

Her mother was impressed by the transformation, and she too embraced Christianity. Penina was so convincing, she also succeeded in converting her sister and her father, who subsequently decided to re-marry her mother.

After high school, Penina attended Bible College and trained as an evangelist. She fell in love with the brother of her best friend from church. Paul Taylor was a devout Christian serving in the U.S. Air Force. She admired his commitment to Christianity. They married and started a family.

The couple moved around the globe and lived in various communities, but wherever they settled, they became involved in their church, holding leadership positions. Taylor, a dynamic speaker, became a counselor for the Billy Graham Crusade and was in demand as a motivational lecturer at churches, youth groups and women's events.

"People were attracted to my story," she said. "I was a Jewish girl who came to believe [in Christianity] and amazing things happened in my life."

One Friday afternoon while praying, Taylor experienced a deep yearning to light Shabbat candlesBut she felt something missing. One Friday afternoon while praying, Taylor experienced a deep yearning to light Shabbat candles. At first, she was confused by her desire to perform a Jewish ritual, but Paul urged her to follow her soul's instincts. Using an old Maxwell House Haggadah that her grandmother had once given her, she recited the prayer.

Weeks later, Paul was reading the "Old Testament" and discovered that Jews were supposed to follow commandments to do thing like keeping kosher. He asked Taylor to give up pork and shellfish.

As she continued her study of Jewish Scriptures, Penina became determined to follow the laws. She and her husband began adopting more mitzvot, and she felt herself drawn to Jewish observance. But she was confused because of her belief in Jesus.

Messianic Judaism seemed to be an answer to her religious crisis. She and Paul established a Messianic congregation in Maryland, in which Paul preached and she played guitar. All the while, she continued learning about Judaism.

In 2000, they purchased a home in Baltimore's Orthodox neighborhood with the hope they would evangelize Jews. But when she started talking to people about Christianity, they were not responsive. One Shabbat a Lubavitch rabbi came over to their home and insisted that though her beliefs were not Jewish, she and her children were. He urged them to continue attending his synagogue.

"It took me 33 years to discover what a treasure I had in being created a Jew"The rabbi also introduced her to Mark Powers, then the director of the anti-missionary group "Jews for Judaism." During many meetings, which lasted hours, Powers countered her beliefs of Christianity and Messianic Judaism.

"That was the watershed moment for me that convinced me that Christianity wasn't for Jews," she said. "The biblical verses on which Christian belief was based were either misquotes or mistranslations of the original text," she said.

He gave her the strength she needed to pull herself away from Christianity.
Taylor and her children became Torah observant Jews. Paul wasn't convinced immediately. "It took him a while - nearly five years - to work through what he had been taught as a Christian," she said.

"It took me 33 years to discover what a treasure I had in being created a Jew. What a tragedy for a Jewish person to spend most or all her life searching for a spiritual connection that was right beneath her nose the whole time. So many Jews have no idea that they can have a relevant and meaningful relationship with G‑d within the context of Judaism – there's no need to look elsewhere."

The Taylors moved to Israel four years ago and were joined by Penina's parents (who since became observant Jews too). Taylor's children, aged 17 to 22, live in Israel and are all observant Jews.