Australia: Reaching Down Under
It was 1994. Moishe was still the executive director of Jews for Jesus and was presiding over a meeting of the Jews for Jesus Council, where the ministry’s leaders come together to strategize. Moishe asked if anyone in the room had a vision to reach the 100,000 Jewish people of Australia. Would anyone take a special interest in that country, do research, plan trips and explore the possibility of Jews for Jesus establishing a work there? You could almost hear people thinking, Sounds great, but when would I have time to do it?” There were a few moments of silence. Then Bob Mendelsohn, who at the time was leading our Washington, D.C. branch, cleared his throat and said, “I will.”
The Jewish population in Australia is mostly centered in two cities: Melbourne and Sydney. Over the next four years, Bob made several excursions to Australia. His findings indicated that were we to begin a work “down under,” Sydney would be the best place to start.
Bob’s first foray into Australia was in 1995. He was accompanied by his wife, Patty, whom he says, “couldn’t wait to get there to see if the water really does go down the drain in the opposite direction.” The trip was encouraging, particularly the last day. Bob recalls, “It was February 2, Ground Hog Day. Patty and I walked and prayed on the beach at morning’s light. Then we went to the busy downtown shopping area at the Queen Victoria Building, across the street from St. Andrew’s Anglican cathedral. A Jewish believer who had joined us was concerned that it wasn’t a good place to hand out tracts, since most Jewish people lived in a suburb 15 minutes away. ‘No Jewish people will be there,’ he warned, but seconds later a medical student from a nearby university tapped Patty on the shoulder and asked, ‘What’s Jews for Jesus?’ Turns out he was Jewish and was seriously interested.”
Soon after that incident, the sortie (tract passing expedition) ended. Bob, Patty and the volunteer had just gathered to thank the Lord for the people who had taken our tracts and for the good conversations they’d had. Just then, Ann came out of the building. She was one of the people with whom Bob had had a good conversation. Upon seeing her again, he said, “Ann, are you ready to accept Christ now?” And she was! All four prayed together for Ann to start a new life in Christ that day. Three hours later, Bob and Patty flew home. What a wonderful way to end their first trip.
During Bob’s second trip to Australia later that year, he spoke at a church in Newcastle, which is about three hours north of Sydney. The church had rented a theater in town and had worked hard to advertise and invite non-church members to come. Among the crowd that night were two Jewish women who were Holocaust survivors. After the message on messianic prophecy, one of the women, Eva spoke with Bob. She didn’t get saved that night, but she did weeks later. Her confession of faith and her continued profession of His love continues to bless many.
And there are others who have been receptive to the gospel. Simone is a Jewish woman, originally from London. She met Gill because Gill’s children and Simone’s share the same time slot at an after-school care program. The two mothers found each other’s company enjoyable and became friends. After a while, Gill told Simone what her husband does for a living—he’s a pastor! Simone was interested in Jesus but was concerned about the family rejection she was sure to encounter if she committed her life to Him. When Gill learned that Bob was going to be coming to Australia in 1996, she arranged a meeting between herself, Bob and Simone. As Bob related his own story, and how his parents told him to leave their house because of his faith, God worked in Simone’s heart. She gave her life to Christ that day.
Then there is Merrilyn, who was originally from Melbourne. She developed an overwhelming curiosity about Jesus Christ and even began attending a church. While she found the sermons interesting, she always presumed the message was “for them” (those who belonged to the church) since she was Jewish, and “knew” that Jews don’t believe in Jesus. As Bob was setting up his itinerary for the 1997 Fall tour, he encountered a Christian from that particular congregation on the Internet. They made the arrangements on-line for Bob to speak at the church. Merrilyn was there that morning and at the fellowship hour afterward. She, the pastor and his wife joined together to pray for Merrilyn to give her heart to Yeshua. “It all made sense after I heard it from another Jewish person,” she explained.
The opportunities are plentiful, but there has also been hardship and tragedy in Sydney. During Bob’s trip in 1997, a Jewish believing leader of a new congregation at which Bob has spoken twice was diagnosed with liver cancer. She welcomed Bob warmly and their prayer together was meaningful. She died within two weeks. The man who took her place has just died of a similar disease. A volunteer, a widow who attends Bible college in Sydney, just went home in the middle of her course work due to Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. Another volunteer, a Jewish Christian man who got saved only two years before, was found dead at a Christian retreat center, possibly of suicide. When darkness piles up that much, it becomes clear that God is about to do something wonderful!
In the early summer of 1998, David felt the time was right for us to establish a presence in Sydney and to begin a regular work there. Bob was the logical choice, not only as the person who had been willing to lay the groundwork, but because he is one of our best missionaries, well suited for pioneering a new branch.
Bob moved to Sydney in July of this year, and was joined by his wife Patty and their three children, Nathaniel (age 19), Jessica (age 15) and Anne (age 8) in August. Please pray that God will bless each member of the Mendelsohn family as they make this transition.
And please pray for our new work in Australia!
Prayer concerns: Bob feels that spiritual warfare is especially “thick” in Sydney, and we covet your prayers for spiritual strength and protection for the Mendelsohns. Also, costs are quite high due to the shrinking Australian dollar. Everything seems to cost more there. While we will need more resources, the most important resource Bob will be looking for is people: volunteers to stand with him on the street corners, to help produce a newsletter, to answer the phones when people respond to our outreach. As Bob finds more and more Jewish inquirers who are open to Christ, he will need to recruit young missionaries to join him full time. This is an exciting venture of faith for all of us…we hope you will stand with us!
Did You Know?
Shifts in the Jewish population around the world are often due to persecution. The Holocaust is the single largest event in the mindset of most Jewish people today; it not only destroyed a large part of our population, but it caused a major geographical shift for those who survived. And there are more survivors living in Australia than any other country in the world.