I am gentile and my husband, Barry, is Jewish. Both of us believe in Jesus. Barry’s parents, Sy and Frieda, tolerated Barry’s faith but did not like to discuss it. Frieda was terminally ill with ovarian cancer, and my mother wanted Frieda and Sy to know what the Scriptures say about eternal life. But when mom sent a card about knowing Jesus to my Jewish in-laws, they called Barry, expressing their anger and indignation.
“Who does she think she is sending us a card about Jesus?” Sy demanded. “Doesn’t she know we are Jewish?” They requested that Barry politely ask my mother not to do anything like that again.
Six months later, in 2004, Frieda passed away. We invited Sy to come from his home in Tucson to visit us in Tulsa on Thanksgiving. He was lonely and missed Frieda terribly, so we were pleased when he accepted our invitation. My entire side of the family came, and we heaped tender love and compassion on Sy, knowing how much he was grieving.
My mother in her zeal once again attempted to approach Sy about Jesus, and he responded, “Thank you, but that is not for me.” She then told him, “You are precious.” Little did we know how those three simple words affected him.
While Barry drove to the mall with me and Sy, I turned and asked Sy, “Would you like to go to church with us this Sunday?”
Barry looked over at me dumbfounded. A simple “no” was Sy’s reply.
“Oh, that’s too bad,” I said. “Afterward we usually go to this marvelous buffet where they have, lobster bisque, Cajun tilapia, key lime pie and…”
Sy quickly interjected, “Okay.” My husband was so shocked he nearly drove off the road!
At church, when our pastor, Billy Joe Daugherty, asked if there were any visitors, many in the huge auditorium raised their hands. But of all who responded, the pastor pointed at Sy and said, “You sir—there is a reason you are here today.”
The pastor’s message was about the sanctity of life…the baby in the womb and the senior citizen (Sy was 82), and that Yeshua died for all … the Muslim and the Jew.
After the service, while eating the wonderful meal we had promised, Sy commented, “That preacher of yours is a sure a good talker.”
“What you were feeling, Dad,” Barry said, “was the presence of the Ruach ha Kodesh [Holy Spirit]. You don’t have to quit being Jewish to know Jesus. It just completes you as a Jew because you understand that Messiah has already come.”
“What about all these Christians who try to convert us?” Sy asked. “I am Jewish and I will be Jewish until the day I die.”
“I completely understand, Dad. I’ll send you some books, and you can study and make up your own mind.”
“I guess that would be okay.”
After Sy returned to Tucson, Barry and I requested prayer each week at church for Sy to come to know Yeshua. We mailed him The Complete Jewish Bible and encouraged him to read Isaiah in the Hebrew Scriptures as well as the writings of Jesus’ Jewish disciples in the New Testament.
One day Sy called to tell us that he had joined the choir in the small church at his mobile home park. He had a beautiful bass voice and, oddly enough, knew a lot of old Baptist hymns because he spent time as a sales representative in the southern part of the U.S. when he was a young man.
“I’m just doing it for the singing because that preacher is nothing like yours,” he said. “He just reads straight from the Bible. Frankly, he bores me to tears.”
Despite Sy’s lack of interest, God says “My word … will not return to me empty” (Isaiah 55:11). We knew God was quietly working behind the scenes.
Sy visited us the following Thanksgiving, We were especially excited to show him on the Internet something that had happened at our church a week earlier.
Our pastor made national news when someone in church inexplicably punched him in the face, requiring him to receive stitches under his eye. Pastor Billy Joe immediately spoke of forgiveness, even as police took the man away.
“I can’t believe that!” Sy exclaimed. “I would want to deck that guy, and here is your pastor, blood dripping down his face, talking about forgiving him.”
He then sat down at our kitchen table and began to tell us one of his greatest secrets.
“Barry, I’ve never told you this before, but I was abused as a child.”
We listened earnestly while he began to weep and explain.
“I wasn’t abused sexually. I didn’t have a father, and every day the three women in my life—my aunt, mother and grandmother—told me I was just like my father … good for nothing. Sadly, it has made me the man I am today.”
“Dad,” Barry said gently. “I didn’t know.”
“I never told you. Cyndie’s mother was the first person to say to me that I was precious. No one ever told me that before … not ever. When we go to church tomorrow, Cyndie, I want you and your mom to sit on either side of me and hold my hand.”
“Okay,” I said softly.
The next day at church, we knew the message—about letting go of the past and people who have hurt you—was meant for Sy.
At the end of every service, our pastor invites people who don’t yet know Yeshua to raise their hands to acknowledge they have fallen short of God’s standards and need a savior. He then asks them to come forward. Sy’s hand went up, but he wasn’t ready to walk forward.
Sy visited us again on Memorial Day weekend, 2006. He said the pastor in his mobile home park “finally told a good story,” about a dying man who asked his daughter how to know God. She told him to put an empty chair next to his bed, pretend that God was in it and talk to him like a friend. The next day, when she came to visit, her father was dead, his head cradled on the empty chair… his head in God’s lap.
“I never thought I would say this,” Sy said, tears rolling down his cheeks, “but I want to know God as a friend too.”
At church the next day, the message—about how to have a closer relationship with God— again seemed tailor-made for Sy.
During the invitation, Sy held up his hand but again did not go forward. Just then, Pastor Billy Joe pointed up to where we were seated and said. “You up there in the purple shirt (it was Sy). Come down here right now!”
My jaw hit the floor. Thirteen rows up in an auditorium filled with thousands of people and the pastor spots Sy Gardner and calls him down?
Sy, Barry and I walked down to the front of the church. The pastor asked Barry if we had been praying a long time for his father. We told him it had been three years.
Pastor Billy Joe grabbed the microphone and announced to the entire congregation, “This is a Jewish man and his Jewish father, and today Yeshua ha Mashiach [Jesus the Messiah] has come!”
He asked Sy if he was ready to pray and receive his Messiah, and Sy tearfully said yes.
There are not enough words to express how we felt that day. Only a supernatural, loving God could have orchestrated these events.
God was not quite finished.
A member of the congregation tapped Sy on the back. He did not say, “Now you are a Christian.” Instead he told Sy, “Now … you are a completed Jew!”