Alina Theodor: Remembering John Through the Joy and the Tears

Posted on November 15, 2021

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by David Ettinger

Note: Missionary John Theodor – Foreign Field Director based in Jerusalem for the ministry I work for, Zion’s Hope – recently went home to be with the Lord due to complications from Covid-19. John, age 54, left behind his wife Alina, and 3 teen-age children. In this article (which will appear in the next issue of Zion’s Fire magazine), Alina tells the remarkable story of how she – a native of Russia – and John – a native Australian – met in Israel, fell in love, married, started a family, and served the Lord faithfully during their 24-year marriage. I pray this account will bless you! – DE

From Russia to Israel
For Alina Theodor, the passing of her beloved husband John from complications due to Covid-19 is a cause for mourning, but also for reliving memories – some sweet, some difficult to recount.

And heading up the sweet, of course, is Alina’s relocation to Israel and eventually meeting her future husband.

“I was born in Russia and grew up between Moscow and St. Petersburg,” said Alina, who was raised in a secular Jewish family. “Though I lived in an unbelieving home, I never doubted the existence of God, but never gave it much thought.”

At age 16, Alina seized an opportunity to come to Israel. The year was 1993.

“I was part of an Israeli program that brings Jewish teenagers to the Holy Land to finish high school. I spent my final two years of high school in Israel.”

One of Israel’s objectives with the program was to encourage not only the student graduates to immigrate to Israel, but the student’s entire family as well. For Alina, however, there was a sticking point: Israel was not to her liking!

“I wasn’t happy about it,” she said. “I didn’t want to be in Israel.”

Therefore, at first, Alina didn’t apply for citizenship, which led to considerable problems.

“After high school, I found myself without citizenship, a visa, work, and basically nowhere to go,” she said. “I ended up back at the boarding school I stayed at while in school.”

Her options were limited.

“Even though I didn’t want to be in Israel, I had to apply for citizenship. There was no way I could go back to Russia without money and, basically, without any way to get there.”

While waiting for the citizenship process to unfold, Alina began seeking God.

“I prayed that He would show me the right way to Him,” she explained. “At that time I believed there were many ways to God, but in my heart I wondered if one of them had to be the ‘right way’.”

Then something unexpected happened which would aid Alina in her search.

“A very short time later, I received a phone call from the program that brought me to Israel. The person asked me, ‘How would you like to go back to Russia?’”

Alina replied with an enthusiastic “yes!”

“That’s what I had been waiting for.”

They gave Alina some clothes, put her on a plane, and she returned to Russia, where she thought she’d be staying for good. But there was a twist she wasn’t expecting.

“When I arrived in Russia, I discovered that my family was about to make aliyah [an Israeli policy allowing Jews from around the world to move to Israel]. They had already sold the house and had their plane tickets!”

Because they sold the house, Alina had to stay elsewhere, and, in the providence of God, ended up living with an American missionary to Russian Jews.

“While I lived with her, she kept witnessing to me,” Alina said. “I finally said to her, ‘There are many ways to God; there is not just one way.’ Even though I believed that, I prayed to God, ‘If there is just one way to you, please show me that way.’”

Alina went to church with the missionary, but wasn’t satisfied.

“I said to God, ‘I asked You to show me the way, but You brought me to this weird place with weird people. I really don’t know why You brought me here, but can You please show me the right way?’”

As Alina and her missionary host were walking home, the missionary said to Alina, “Jesus said, ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life.’”

It was a turning point for Alina.

“That’s when I finally got it,” she said. “I realized that God was finally answering me in this quote. I said, ‘If that’s the way, then that’s the way I am going.’ That’s when I came to faith in Jesus.”

Shortly after, Alina, now age 18, was convicted to return to Israel, and did so at the start of 1996. Alina began searching for a church, and God led her to the church of Zion’s Hope missionary Tony Simon (who went to be with the Lord in 2017).

And that’s where Alina met John.

From Australia to Israel
Interestingly, John also arrived in Israel in 1996, but through entirely different circumstances.

John’s heritage was Greek, with family in Cyrus. But as the son of an evangelist, he was born and raised in a Christian home in Sydney, Australia. At age 12, he “came forward” during the post-sermon “invitation” at a Billy Graham crusade and gave his life to Christ.

However, over the next few years, John had disagreements with the church he attended, and, according to Alina, “was spiritually off track.”

Rather than seeking a closer relationship with God, John immersed himself in forging a business career, and eventually ended up managing one of the largest car-audio stores in New South Wales (an Australian state).

As it turned out, John remained “off track” for an extended time –lasting all the way until age 28.

“Finally he realized he was giving all his time and effort to the world, but not to God,” Alina said. “He knew he needed to take a break from work, and talked to his two managers about it. One of them was not happy about it, but the other was very understanding. He told John, ‘We’ll keep the job open while you work things out. I go to the gym to exercise my body; you need to exercise your spirit. Go for it!”

That’s exactly what John did. He purchased a camper-van and traveled around Australia, sometimes with others, sometimes by himself.

“John traveled for six months,” Alina said. “It was a time for him to read the Bible, pray, and get back to a right relationship with God.”

It was during this time that a life-changing verse took hold of him. It was Romans 1:16, which says: “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.”

“Being Greek,” Alina explained, “John realized he had that part down. But he also realized that the Jews didn’t understand that Jesus was intended for their salvation as well. Therefore, he decided to go to Israel and preach the Gospel to the Jews.”

John didn’t know it at the time, but the groundwork was now set not only for Jewish evangelism, but for meeting his future wife.

John and Alina
John wasn’t in Jerusalem long before one day walking through the Old City and seeing a sign which read, “Evangelical Meetings.”

“John went in, and that’s when he met Zion’s Hope missionary Anthony [Tony] Simon,” Alina said. “They started working together as Tony took John with him to share the Gospel out on the streets of Jerusalem. John was surprised to see just how good Tony was at identifying Jewish Russian immigrants and ministering to them.”

Despite John and Tony working together, it was a while before Alina would actually meet John.

“John had to leave Israel every three months to renew his visa abroad,” Alina explained. “So, when I joined the church, all I heard was, ‘We are praying for John Theodor who is in Egypt. We are praying for John who is in Cyprus. We are praying for John who is in Jordan, and so forth. Therefore, I continually heard about John and prayed for him, but hadn’t met him!”

By this time, Alina was also volunteering to evangelize throughout Jerusalem with Tony.

“One day he [Tony] came to pick me up, and John was with him,” Alina said. “And that’s how we met. I fell for him almost from the get-go. Apart from being fun, adventurous, and extremely handsome, I saw in John a man who could help me grow in faith. He, however, was rightly focused more on the ministry. However, we developed a close friendship, helped by the fact that he saw in me a new believer to disciple.”

John and Alina began spending more time together. He began teaching her English, and the two shared the Gospel with Israelis as part of Tony’s team.

“We’d go to the desert together, and he’d read from the Psalms. Also, when my friends and I were looking for an apartment, he found one for us – right across the door from him! So obviously, even when not out evangelizing, we spent a lot of time together. Finally, we got to a point that he realized my feelings for him, as well as his own.”

John proposed to Alina on his 30th birthday. That was followed by not one, but two weddings.

“All Jewish weddings in Israel are overseen by the rabbinate – the religious court of Israel which handles marriages and divorces,” Alina explained. “They don’t handle non-Jewish weddings, and they don’t handle mixed weddings between Jews and non-Jews.”

Not being able to have a civil marriage in Israel, John and Alina exchanged their vows in Cyprus, surrounded by John’s Cypriot uncles and cousins. A week after returning to Israel, John and Alina had a proper Christian wedding in Jerusalem – with, fittingly enough, Tony officiating. The newly married couple then embarked on a 3-month honeymoon to Australia, where Alina was introduced to John’s family.

When they returned to Israel, John and Alina applied for the recognition of their marriage status, and after a 2-month wait, were granted it – which in those times meant that John automatically became a citizen of Israel.

That was 1997. Their first child, daughter Naomi, would be born in 2003. Next came their second daughter Halleli in 2005, and son Nathan in 2008.   

And with the plans for a family, and after 5 years of service with Tony, John and Alina said good-bye to their first church.

“In the year 2000, we decided that if we were going to have kids, we’d need a Hebrew-speaking congregation,” Alina explained. “We also needed a congregation with more families.”

This led them to the Jerusalem Assembly. John began almost immediately serving at the church, then a few years later was officially recognized as an elder. John remained there until his passing.

 John was a tremendous blessing to his church, and he was a wonderful husband and father.

“He was an amazing husband,” Alina said. “He was very wise. He took care of our family. He was kind and patient, and was always there when we needed him. He was a loving father and no matter how busy he was with ministry, he always had time for the family. We did so many things together, went so many places together, and have so many experiences together. He left us with so many great memories.”

Blessings and a Need For Prayer
Life went on like this for years for the Theodors, until September 2021.

As Covid-19 spread throughout the world, it would hit closer to home than John or Alina ever could have imagined. One day John began experiencing flu-like symptoms, which over the next week developed into full-blown Covid.

Barely able to breathe, John was taken to the hospital – and never left. He battled his illness for almost a month, but his body could no longer stand the strain. On October 28, 2021, John Theodor graduated to Heaven at the age of 54.

As difficult as the experience has been, at least one blessing came out of it: Alina discovered just how loved John was.

“Throughout the entire ordeal, we received messages from all over the globe,” she said. “People were praying throughout the world and I was hearing from people I hadn’t heard from in many years, and many I didn’t even know. People were sending word of John’s condition to their home churches, and people in those churches were praying. We received messages from as far as China and Vietnam to South America.”

The outpouring of love was a comfort to Alina.

“It was beautiful. It was so good to know we were not alone. We were able to see God’s hand in everything that has happened.”

Yet, the reality of John’s passing has still not fully set in.

“It doesn’t seem real,” Alina confessed.

In the meantime, Alina is grateful for the outpouring of affection she has received, and asks for continued prayer.

“Please pray for comfort for the kids, particularly our youngest,” she said. “We’re going to have a lot of learning to do. I’ve been married since age 19 and never really had a life of my own outside of John – a life where I had to look after myself and stand on my own two feet. I always had John there. So yes, I’m going to have an uphill climb, and we’re going to have to figure it out.

“But I’m grateful for the support and all of your prayers, and I ask that you continue to lift us up in prayer. Thank you for your kindness to our family in this very difficult time.”