I began the staff meeting in Moscow with a quiet announcement. I have good news. Felix Melstein won’t be opposing our efforts in Odessa any more.” I held out an article from an Odessa newspaper that carried the news of our leading opponent’s indictment for recently uncovered connections to an international scam.
It was the end of a rather tense, protracted battle. It had begun on Purim, the holiday that commemorates God’s deliverance of our people through an unlikely redeemer, Queen Esther. A Purim celebration had been planned by leaders of the Jewish community in Odessa. We Jews for Jesus had arrived to distribute free literature about God’s ultimate deliverance through another unlikely redeemer, the Messiah Yeshua. The festivities were cut short when an anonymous caller informed the police that he had planted a bomb in the theater where the Purim celebration was taking place. The police were obliged to evacuate the theater, and the party ended abruptly.
As it turns out, there was no bomb. But within days, explosions of a different sort were occurring in the Odessa press and on local television programs. Felix Melstein, a leader in the Jewish community, was publicizing his theory that we Jews for Jesus were behind the bogus bomb threat.
We responded in a fashion that might surprise you. Rather than plead our innocence, we decided to proclaim the Messiah’s love for our opponent. Within the week, the Jews for Jesus in Odessa were holding “Jesus Loves Felix Melstein” parades down the city’s central pedestrian thoroughfare.
“Who’s Felix Melstein?” a passer-by asked one of the Jews for Jesus.
“A man whom Jesus loves very much.”
“Does Felix Melstein love your Jesus?” the passer-by asked with a smile.
“Not very much, we think. Not yet. But maybe he will. Maybe someday soon.” The false accusations against Jews for Jesus intensified. Soon, we were accused not only of being public malefactors but also of being a front for neofascist groups.
In the West, unfounded accusations can be risky for the accuser. Slander and liable are serious offenses, and lawsuits abound. But in the former Soviet Union, a different attitude prevails. Officially, a person is innocent unless proven guilty, just as in the West. But in reality, once you are accused, you are presumed guilty until you have established your innocence beyond a reasonable doubt. Therefore, the local officials who regularly monitor religious groups were puzzled and even perturbed that we refused to defend our innocence. “We have nothing to prove,” we told them. “Let our accusers give you hard evidence to support their accusations.”
The more we refused to defend ourselves, the more the local officials looked askance at us. But we were convinced that to protest the accusation would distract time and energy from our simple purpose: the proclamation of the gospel. We didn’t want to defend ourselves. We wanted to declare the gospel. And that’s what we did.
In fact, we redoubled our efforts to preach the gospel. We handed out more tracts and visited more inquirers. If the officials were going to shut us down as a consequence of something we didn’t do, then at least we would be “guilty” of telling as many people as we could about Jesus. We continued to preach the gospel, and we continued to pray. Specifically, we prayed that God would stop our opponent’s plans and save our opponent’s soul.
Five months later, we received word from our colleagues in Odessa about another newspaper article. But this time the target was Felix Melstein. He had been arrested in Odessa, and his wife was taken into custody in Israel. It was alleged that they had defrauded Odessa Jews of several thousands of dollars with the promise of bringing their money out of Ukraine and into Israel.
Felix Melstein’s credibility as an opponent against the claims of Messiah was shattered. But nobody rejoiced that morning over his fall. After all, the Scripture gives a clear warning: “Do not rejoice when your enemy falls, and do not let your heart be glad when he stumbles; lest the Lord see it, and it displease Him, and He turn away His wrath from him” (Proverbs 24:17).
Why should it displease the Lord if we rejoice over an opponent who falls while trying to bring us down? Perhaps because the Lord wants to accomplish more than the halting of an opponent’s hands. The Lord wants to bring about the humbling of an opponent’s heart as well.
Yeshua does love Felix Melstein. Yeshua died for Felix Melstein and rose from the dead. Yeshua is waiting for Felix Melstein to repent.
The most productive way that we can respond to the destruction of an opponent’s plans is to pray for the salvation of that opponent. And that’s what we did.
We praise God for His protection. And when Felix Melstein repents, then we will rejoice!