Lydia and Mario
The 16th chapter of Acts describes an encounter between two Bible personalities. One was the well-known Apostle Paul, and the other was Lydia, who found a place in history because of that encounter and the effect it had on her life.
Paul, forbidden by the Holy Spirit to remain in Asia Minor, had been prompted by a vision to go over to Greece to bring the gospel message to the European continent for the first time. He came to Philippi, the leading city of that area, and one Sabbath day he and his apostolic band went outside the city gates. There they met Lydia.
The Bible account portrays this lady endearingly as a person of character and integrity. Though possibly she was a Gentile with pagan roots, she worshiped God, and she was an honorable, hardworking woman. The account also names Lydia’s homeland, Thyatira, which is in Asia Minor.
Unknown to one another, Paul and Lydia had both traveled a long way, across the Aegean Sea, to Philippi. There, under the leading of the Holy Spirit, God engineered this chance encounter” and opened Lydia’s heart so that she could respond to Paul’s gospel message. She and her household believed and were baptized, probably that same day.
Recently I had what I like to think of as a similar encounter for the gospel’s sake. Although I am originally from Kansas City, I have been a missionary in New York City for several years. I had been sent back to Kansas City on a speaking tour, where each evening I spoke to different congregations in the area. At one church a Gentile believer had brought her Jewish neighbor Mario, a young man from Buenos Aires, Argentina. After the service I met Mario.
“What did you think of my message?” I inquired.
“I’m confused,” he responded.
We made an appointment to talk the next day. When we met again, we discussed sin, messianic prophecy, being Jewish and believing in Jesus.
“I’m beginning to believe, but it’s hard,” Mario said.
I gave him our Jews for Jesus Growth Book for new believers and said, “I want you to ‘read the fine print’ before you ‘sign up’ to be a believer. Find out what God requires of you, then make the commitment to accept Jesus.” I showed him a sample prayer and told him that I would call him soon. I allowed him a couple days of “think time” and then telephoned him.
“Have you read the book I left?” I asked.
“Yes,” he said. “I understood it.”
“Have you prayed and asked Jesus to be your Lord?”
“Not yet,” he said.
“Would you like to do that now?” I asked.
“Yes,” he said, and we prayed together as Mario made a commitment of faith to begin his new life with God. With follow-up, I am confident that God will continue to perform the good work begun in Mario’s heart.
Mario had traveled a great distance to come to Kansas City from Buenos Aires. I, from Kansas City and then New York, had traveled a great distance to return to the Kansas City area on ministry tour. There God had engineered this brief encounter to bring Mario face to face with his Messiah. We met so briefly, perhaps like Paul and Lydia, and surely by the leading of the Holy Spirit. Lydia’s soul hung in the balance the day she met Paul, and so had Mario’s the day he met me. They both made the right choice.
Bob Mendelsohn is the leader of Jews for Jesus' work in Sydney, Australia. He grew up in an Orthodox Jewish family in Kansas City, but became a college drop-out when he decided to look for the meaning of life in the counterculture of the '60s. He found meaning and relevance in Jesus which caused him much trouble at home. But he says, "it was worth the cost." Bob has worked for Jews for Jesus since 1979, and served as the leader of our work in Washington DC and New York City before moving to Sydney in 1998. Bob and his wife Patty both graduated from the University of Kansas and Fuller Seminary. The Mendelsohns live in Sydney near their son. Their two daughters and two grandsons live in the US. Their son has a son and is expecting another in 2019.