As a part-Jewish South African, it was a special delight for me to meet up recently with a compatriot who was among the pioneers of Messiah’s People.
This is the name given to the gospel work among South Africa’s Jewish community sponsored by CMJ (Church’s Ministry among Jewish people), a worldwide movement co-founded by William Wilberforce in 1809.
Rodney (‘Roni’) Mechanic, now 75, caused quite a stir when he became a follower of Jesus, with his story even splashed across a national newspaper.
His interest was aroused at art college by his Messianic Jewish lecturer, who challenged his students on what they were trying to communicate with their designs; his motive was to share the gospel. So together they embarked on a study of the Tanakh (Old Testament).
“I was amazed at the writers and prophets who foretold the coming of the Messiah,” Roni records in his book, A Quest for the Jewish Jesus.
He encountered much ignorance about Jesus among his people. “Though I knew that he came from a Jewish background, I knew little if anything about who he really is, what he came to do and why we as Jews did not believe in him.
“Slowly, but surely, the mist began to clear and the veil of blindness was being lifted from my Jewish heart…”
He continued studying the Messianic claims about Jesus with his lecturer, Peter Eliastam, specifically Psalm 22 and Isaiah 53.
“Peter spoke about the suffering of the Messiah as a vicarious offering for sin. The concept of the need for sins to be atoned for and human guilt to be forgiven are well known in Judaism – the Day of Atonement is set aside to particularly address our failures and shortcomings.”
As for Psalm 22, Roni says: “There cannot be a more graphic description of crucifixion than given in this psalm and foretold by Isaiah a thousand years and 700 years respectively before the birth of Yeshua (Hebrew for Jesus). Peter explained how I could personally appropriate what the Suffering Servant had done for me. A strong sense of conviction took hold of me, I put my trust in Yeshua and invited him into my life.
“I was flooded with an overwhelming sense of joy and peace and I instinctively knew that my sins were forgiven, and the burden of guilt and shame were covered by the atoning sacrifice of the Messiah’s death.”
He was soon to be seen among an informal group of ‘street preachers’ in a covered shopping and leisure complex in downtown Johannesburg.
“When it was my turn to preach, I stood there with an open Bible in one hand (Billy Graham style) and began to deliver my short message at the very moment that the cinema show had just ended. Down the steps came my dad’s friend Harry, a Jewish man who also worked in the garment trade together with my dad. He saw me standing there in full flight.”
Word soon spread. Then the bomb dropped for South Africa’s Jewish community when his story appeared in the Sunday Express. But he was able to say, with the Apostle Paul: “I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God unto salvation for all who believe, to the Jew first and also to the Gentile.” (Romans 1:16)
“It was never my intention to cause pain or discomfort to my Jewish family, friends or the wider Jewish community. However, I could not live as a secret believer, never breathing a word to anyone, for that would be a betrayal of the very tenets of the gospel message. For if it is good news to be shared, then it is good news for everyone – Jew and Gentile alike.
“Though I have faced many challenges, I have no regrets. Putting my faith in Yeshua the Messiah is the best thing that I have ever done in my life as a Jewish person. Before I took the step to embrace him, I read a book called They Looked for a City by Lydia Buksbazen. It describes the epic story of a Jewish family who, having embraced Yeshua, were rejected and persecuted by their fellow Jews for having become believers. I knew that if I took the step, it would be costly.”
Sadly, Jewish opposition to the gospel is not the only problem he has encountered in his efforts to share Jesus with his own people. For many Christians take the view that Israel is no longer on God’s agenda and that the Church inherits her blessings.
“So the church has taken all the blessing promised to Israel,” Roni points out, “but has conveniently left the curses for hapless Israel. Truly this is a travesty and tragedy, and one of the reasons why we need to engage in the battle to restore Israel to its rightful place in the plan of God.”
With respect to the gospel work among the Jews of South Africa, it is ironic that CMJ’s Jewish co-founder Joseph Frey was originally set to sail for South Africa with the Church Missionary Society when he realised that his mission was right in front of his eyes in London’s East End, which had become the home of many Jewish refugees escaping the pogroms of Russia.
Now living in Newport, South Wales, Roni is an artist, lecturer and theologian, is married to Elisheva, and hosts a radio blog, Shalom Radio UK (www.hotrodronisblog.com). The couple have three children and four grandchildren.
Roni has just published his latest book, Encountering This Jewish Jesus, available from Amazon.
Charles Gardner is author of Israel the Chosen, available from Amazon; Peace in Jerusalem, available from olivepresspublisher.com; To the Jew First, A Nation Reborn, and King of the Jews, all available from Christian Publications International.
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