Missionary life is full of surprises. Sometimes it’s a matter of where and when God provides the opportunities, and other times it is to whom!
One evening I went to Barnes and Noble bookstore, not to shop, but to find a quiet place to sit and write thank you postcards to some of you who support Jews for Jesus. Many other people were sitting and reading, but I noticed some empty armchairs set in a circle. As I approached to sit down in one of them a woman asked, Are you here for the book discussion?” I replied, “No, I’m sorry. I just wanted to sit down.” “Well,” she said, “it looks like no one showed up,” (there was only one other woman seated). “So you can sit here.”
At that moment, a man arrived and asked if he could join us. They asked if he was Jewish. I had unknowingly walked into a Jewish book discussion sponsored by the Jewish Community Center and Barnes and Noble. The others asked if I was Jewish and invited me to join in on the discussion.
The book was about a girl who grew up in Poland after the war and moved to Canada at age 13. It was all about her adjustment and identity in a new culture. I said, “That sounds like my story,” and proceeded to tell about my Russian background. This launched us into a discussion about each person’s Jewish roots, and within a few short minutes we developed a very pleasant and warm rapport. At that point, I began asking God how I could introduce Jesus into this not-yet-spiritual discussion.
Then the man, Neal, began telling of a supernatural occurrence in his life. It sounded very much like the beginning of a story. I wondered if he was going to tell us that he believed in Jesus! When he finished describing the encounter, one woman said how unusual it was. The discussion leader, Wendy, said that she didn’t think it was strange at all. She began analyzing Neal’s experience from the perspective of psycho-therapy/energy/Daoism. I asked Neal, “What do you think it all means?” He replied that God was obviously trying to get his attention. When I asked for what purpose, he said he thought God wanted him to come back to the faith. Then we had the following discussion:
Victoria: I find it interesting how Wendy responded to Neal’s experience. We’re all Jews who have our roots in the Bible, and God acted supernaturally throughout our history. He did it to get our attention and reconnect us with Him. Yet when we hear about a supernatural encounter now, we explain it in terms of energy and psychology and synchronism. Isn’t it ironic?
Neal: That reminds me of this book by someone named Freeman that analyzes the Torah in light of God’s relationship with us. He concludes that with each generation, God starts out close and then pulls back, kind of like a parent.
Victoria: I think it’s the other way around. God is always there to be intimate with us. We’re the ones who turn away.
(Then I brought out examples from the book of Judges and our exile in Babylon as a way God used to get our attention back to Him.)
Wendy: Well, Victoria, it’s obvious that you’re much more versed in the Bible than I am. I haven’t heard these stories in a long time.
Neal: Have you read the Bible recently?
Victoria: I read it every day. I believe it is the Word of God and it’s a way for me to get to know Him.
Wendy: On your own or in an organized way?
Victoria: Both. I’m a believer in Jesus …
Wendy: Do you mean you’re like a … Jew for Jesus?
Victoria: Exactly like that.
Wendy: So how did you come to that? Surely you didn’t bring that from Russia?
From there, I proceeded to share my dad’s story and my story in the middle of this Jewish book discussion group at Barnes and Noble. My heart rejoiced. They had all listened attentively. Then it was time to go and they commented what a “coincidence” it was that I happened to sit there and what a spiritual discussion we’d had. Wendy asked if she could give me her card. Then she gave me a hug and told me that she was really moved by my story. She also asked for my phone number.
Neal and I walked away, and I asked him what he thought about Jesus. He wasn’t sure. I told him that I thought God was trying to get his attention so that he would believe in his Messiah. I told him about some messianic prophecies and asked him if he’d want to meet to discuss them. He said, “Not at this time, but I hope to see you at next month’s discussion.”
So instead of writing to thank you for your support, I had a unique opportunity to do the exact thing that your support makes possible: make the Messiahship of Jesus an unavoidable issue to our Jewish people worldwide!
—Victoria Lannon, outreach worker
Fannie is an unbelieving Jewish woman with whom I had been meeting for almost a year. She is a sweet, elderly woman who struggles under the weight of caring for her husband Bernard, who has Alzheimer’s. Whenever I went to talk to Fannie about the Lord, she tended to get distracted by her husband’s fragile health. It was heartbreaking to see her desperate need for the Lord alongside her unwillingness to accept Yeshua (Jesus).
For some time, I tried to discover the reason for Fannie’s objection to Jesus. She never would tell me, yet she was always willing to meet again. Whenever I went to visit, she seemed to shield her husband from meeting me, so I assumed that her reluctance to receive Jesus was from fear of what her husband would think.
Then one day, I received a call from Mona, one of the nursing assistants who helps care for Bernard. Mona is a Christian, and it was she who originally called to ask if Jews for Jesus would send someone to visit Fannie. Mona was calling to inform me that Bernard was very sick and had to go to the hospital—would I come visit him and Fannie? My husband Toviah and I decided to go together.
I knew that Fannie was spending every waking moment at Bernard’s side, so when we walked into the hospital room, I was surprised to find him alone. I was also a little nervous, since I expected him to be hostile towards the gospel. I explained that we were from Jews for Jesus and expected an angry outburst, but Bernard just blinked calmly. I continued to explain what we believed—that Yeshua was the promised Messiah of the Jewish people. Seeing that he wasn’t getting upset, I asked him what he thought about all this. “I think it could be true,” was his response. I almost fell over in shock! I went on to explain the gospel more fully. When I again asked him what he thought, he said, “I believe.” More joyful shock!
At that point, Fannie entered the room. Although she was very glad to see us, she was a bit upset to find that we were talking to Bernard about Jesus. “He’s so sick! It’s wrong to talk to someone who is so sick about these things,” she exclaimed. I gently explained that I was there specifically because he was sick and because I thought it was of utmost importance that he hear these things. She responded, “Well, let’s ask him what he thinks. Bernard, do you like it when she talks to you? Do you want to listen to what she’s saying?” When he responded with a “yes,” I thought Fannie would be the one to fall over from shock. She then told me that he had not spoken a word for a week due to his illness. She invited me to continue, so I did. When I asked him if he wanted to receive Jesus as his Savior and Lord, he said “Yes.” I was rejoicing inside! He could barely speak, but he whispered the words to the sinner’s prayer after me. Hallelujah!
I figured now that Fannie’s supposedly hostile hubby had received Yeshua, she wouldn’t have any objections left for herself. Unfortunately, I was wrong. I spoke to her of how wonderful it was to know that Bernard would be spending eternity with no more sickness, no sorrow, no pain and no physical disability. I told her that I wanted to know that she would also be there with him. She seemed a bit stunned as she considered the weight of eternity for a moment, but she gently refused the invitation.
Now that I’ve left New York, someone else will be visiting Fannie and Bernard. Please pray with me for them, that God will break through to Fannie and fill her life with the joy and peace that she so desperately needs! And for Bernard—whom I wrongly assumed was the obstacle to her faith—that he might grow in grace and become an instrument in her salvation.
(M. Rose was serving out her last month as a missionary in New York City at the time of this writing. She and her husband are currently in San Francisco, training for our next Liberated Wailing Wall team.)
co-authored by Victorial Lannon and M. Rose