Remembering John Theodor – A pillar in the Israeli Messianic community who has gone to be with the Lord

956
John Theodor

Born in Australia in 1967, John Theodor was only 54 when he passed away from COVID complications on October 28, 2021. He leaves behind his wife, Alina, and their three teenage children, ages 13, 16, and 18.

He served in Israel as the field director and representative of the ministry Zion’s Hope, while also serving as an elder at the Jerusalem Assembly congregation, House of Redemption. In both positions, he led charity programs for those in need.

Meno Kalisher, head pastor of the Jerusalem Assembly, spoke to KNI. “His heart was to bring the gospel to every soul. The gospel flowed in his veins. A wonderful person and a faithful friend. He had a soft heart. Really, I’m a monster compared to him. I had to ask him to deal with issues I didn’t have patience for. I worked with him for almost 20 years, and we didn’t have even one argument. I couldn’t have dreamed of a better partner. He was a gift, and he had his hand in every decision the congregation made during these years. The current interior design of our congregation is all him. I feel like I’ve lost a brother.”

In his capacity as the field director of Zion’s Hope, he was the contact person to bring food packages to needy families, including for non-believers. He arranged payment of water and electricity bills for holocaust survivors, assisted them in medical and dental care and arranged special events and food packages. On Zion’s Hope’s website they wrote: “He had an unwavering commitment to help the poor, the elderly, the young, and those with special needs. But his passion was teaching God’s Word and bringing the Gospel to lost souls. Not only did he regularly engage Israelis on the streets of Israel, he also was a producer of evangelical videos which ran on YouTube.”

He was also a talented photographer, and there is an impressive picture library on his photography website. Many of his photographs were used as postcards and greeting cards.

On a personal note, I still have trouble comprehending that I won’t see him again on this side of eternity. I often translated his sermons in the congregation, including the last sermon he gave on August 7. He had been going through the Letter to the Hebrews slowly for the last year, and this last sermon was on Hebrews 5:3-11. My last interaction with him was in the middle of September, when I was looking for a ride to the new congregation in Mevasseret Zion to prepare an article about it for KNI. I asked if he was planning to go, and if he had a spare seat in his car. He replied they were planning to go, but that he and his son were positive for COVID and the rest of the family would be tested the following day. I replied I would pray for them.

After that, I didn’t speak to him directly anymore, and heard the news from the pulpit. I joined the prayers for the family’s well-being, as they were all infected with COVID. His wife and children recovered after a few days, while his situation deteriorated. For weeks, his situation was unclear, and people from all over the world were engaged in prayers for his recovery. Eventually, God answered the prayers and took away his suffering, even if he didn’t answer our prayers the way we wanted.

The funeral was held on Sunday, October 31 at the Alliance Church International Cemetery on Emek Refaim street in Jerusalem. It is a beautiful cemetery with a mural called “the Wall of Life.” A good friend and companion of John, Antony Simon, is buried in the same cemetery, as well as Chuck Kopp.

I arrived at the funeral with my wife and two of my children. Pastor Meno Kalisher held the service, which was also broadcast so his family in Australia and friends from around the world could take part. It was held outside, in the cemetery, a few meters away from the grave. Around two hundred people attended, including non-believers – neighbors, teachers, friends – for whom this was a first exposure to the Messianic community.

“Friends, I understand that we are at a funeral,” Meno said, standing next to the coffin. “But what unifies most of us today is the knowledge that the believer is in the presence of God. Yeshua said, ‘whoever believes in me will live, even if he dies.’ It is true that John’s body is here in the flesh. But his spirit and soul are in the presence of his creator. John was a preacher in our congregation, and there is not one sermon by John where the Gospel is not taking up at least 20% of the lesson. He would finish a sermon with the question, ‘are you ready to meet your creator?’ And he was. God decided in his sovereignty, in his wisdom, and his perfect plan, that he calls John to himself.” Meno continued, “For some of you here, this is your first Messianic funeral. During this funeral, we will sing. Some people will smile. Don’t misunderstand that. We are hurting, and we miss him. But if there are smiles and joy among us today, it is because of our security in our salvation, because of our faith in Yeshua as our Lord and Savior. Are you ready to see your creator?”

Meno then invited the worship team, who sang a few worship songs. After the worship, Meno said that John had been in the middle of a sermon series on the letter to the Hebrews, and reached the middle. “So today, let us finish it,” he said, and delivered an excellent concise summary of the contents of the letter to the Hebrews. He finished with the words in the end of Hebrews: “Now may the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.” (Hebrews 13:20-21).

After this, John’s wife, Alina, came up and read some words and letters that John’s parents and siblings in Australia sent. One of them said, among many other things: “I love how you sold everything to follow Christ. Leaving your home country, Australia, and move to Israel where you accomplished great exploits for God, including meeting your beautiful wife. No one wanted your life to transition this way. I pray that the spirit of God will comfort, empower, and teach us how to live in this next season of life. I love you, John.”

Then his children came up one after another and shared things they had written to him and about him. “I started a prayer journal during these past two weeks,” his daughter said, “and I ended each prayer with the words, ‘God, please bring my Abba home.’ And God did just that. He took my Abba home. And I can’t wait for the day I’ll be home with him.”

Seeing this young girl, a friend of my daughters, standing there mourning her father, made something rupture within me. I still can’t even write about it without almost bursting into tears again. The rest of the service became a bit of a blur for me as I wept on my wife’s shoulder. I couldn’t help it.

They read additional testimonies and letters, sent in from friends of John and from the leadership and staff from Zion’s Hope. Meno then said, “Usually, at times like these, people say many good things. I worked with John for twenty years, and I can tell you – everything that has been said about him is true. They were not exaggerated. Everyone would have loved to have a friend like him.”

After another few worship songs, they lifted the coffin and brought it to the grave, where they lowered the coffin and covered it with earth, while Psalms were being read out loud in Hebrew. Meno closed the funeral by inviting everyone to the memorial service that would be held in the congregation later in the evening and ended with a prayer. “Father, we thank you. You teach us to trust you and to know that you’re our sovereign father. And you have the right to use your children in a way that will advance your kingdom. Father, to say the truth, straight from my heart, I do not understand. I currently do not understand why. A young man at the peak of his strength, at the peak of his service to you. Why? But yesterday, we learned from the book of Job that you are involved in every detail in your creation. You, father, know why, in your perfect plan. If this is the test for the family, and for the congregation, then we turn to you and trust the guidance of the Holy Spirit within us to direct us every day to withstand the test, so we will be blessed twice, just as you blessed Job. Yours is the glory and the splendor forever, in Yeshua’s name, amen.”

Later on the same day, there was a memorial service for John in the congregation, where many people shared memories and anecdotes about him. I said a few words about how difficult it had been to translate him. Not because of his Australian accent. On the contrary, I loved that. No, the challenge with him was because he was so passionate with the gospel, he tended to run forward with the things he wanted to say, barely leaving me room to translate. But even that challenge was a blessing, because it kept me on my toes, and forced me to focus on conveying his enthusiasm with the gospel to the listeners. Alina shared that John was of Greek descent, and the verse “For the Jew first, but also the Greek,” had been significant to him. He came to Israel to put the Jews before his own Greek origins. She also shared that she was a relatively new believer when she met him, and she married him as she realized he would teach her and help her grow in her faith.

I was never a personal friend of John. He was more of a leader and a teacher for me. If I needed help with anything, he would always be there. In fact, my wife and I trusted him so much we entrusted him with our children in our will. We empowered him to make the needed decisions about the children, should anything happen to us. I knew I could trust he would ensure they would end up in a strong and faithful believing family. I couldn’t imagine he would leave this world so early.

The Messianic community in Israel has lost a pillar and a faithful servant. But we rejoice, knowing he is with the Lord, and we trust the Lord’s sovereign decisions.

We ask our readers to lift the Theodor family in prayer. Alina is an amazing and strong woman. So far, anyone who came to comfort her ended up being comforted by her instead. You can also help financially, as Zion’s Hope has set up a special fund for the Theodor family to anyone who wishes to contribute to the family’s immediate financial needs.

“I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die.” John 11:25-26