The Asian Business Woman Who Brought Christianity to Europe
There was a thrill when you drove past her house. As a young girl, I’d peer out the car window to see what she’d added to her collection. Her house, trees, telephone poles, mailbox, and even wheelbarrow were painted purple. If you were fortunate enough to get a glance of her tending to the yard, you’d see that purple found its way in her apparel as well. She was notorious, a bit eccentric, and I found her a curious specimen of humanity. Last May, our “Purple Lady” passed away and I’ve often wondered why she loved the color so. She’d stated in an interview the color made her happy. As a writer, I want to believe there’s more to it. Could it be mixing blue and red was a wink at patriotism, or was this black Christian woman, with a farmhouse shadowing the North Carolina line needing a reminder she was royalty in the heart of God? The passing of my hometown “Purple Lady” recalled another purple lady in the ancient world found in the book of Acts.
Planted in only a few verses, Lydia leaves me much to ponder as well, but God is faithful in giving us just enough isn’t He? Through Lydia, whom Paul refers to as the “seller of purple goods,” we find an action plan to create eternal value in business and mission.
We are introduced to Lydia in Acts 16, where on a Sabbath morning Paul finds her within a group of women praying by the river. Outside the gates of Philippi, the river was a common meeting place for prayer for all religions, and due to the lack of Jewish men, there was no synagogue in Philippi. Paul and Silas settled down on the bank with this small band of women, and shared the gospel while God opened Lydia’s heart to receive it, making her the first Christian convert in Europe. Although she recognized Yahweh as the one true God, she was not Jewish. She was not even European. She was Asian. Isn’t that so like God? Picks out the least likely person to fit the mold and stamps her as His. How many times has God picked you for an assignment out of the more likely to succeed candidates? God looked past her heritage and into her heart, while she searched outside her pagan world to seek truth.
I think it’s appropriate to mention how difficult it was back in the day to create the color purple. I’m an artist and it’s easy to mix the color red with blue to achieve the shade. In the ancient world, the color was harvested from sea snails who were shucked from their shells and boiled for several days. During this pungent smelling boil the juices from their bodies turned a crimson-purplish hue that could easily stain fabric. It was labor intensive and expensive to harvest, making purple goods affordable only by the wealthier classes. The ideology of purple being the color of royalty is still prevalent today.
Lydia learned the trade in her native city of Thyatira in Asia, but recognized the city of Philippi as the best place to move her goods. Philippi offered a major highway and port to export throughout the Roman provinces.
Likely a widower, for no husband is mentioned, Lydia supported herself and her household exporting her purple wares. Once she accepted Christ, she went home and shared the gospel with her entire household. Her family and servants believed and were all baptized. After her household conversion, she invites Paul and Silas to stay in her home, and Paul reveals much about her personality, without saying much at all. He states, “And she prevailed on us.” (Acts 16:15b; English Standard Version) In other words girls, she didn’t take “no” for an answer.
Later, after Paul and Silas are beaten, arrested, and released, Lydia opens her home to them again, and they stay with her and preach the gospel to all who come in and listen. Not only does Lydia become the first convert in Europe, but her large home houses the first church in a Roman province that didn’t embrace the way to eternal life. The book of Philippians was a letter written by Paul to the church of Philippi, started by this Asian businesswoman.
The story of Lydia offers valuable lessons to us as Christian women today:
1. Be aware God is constantly working behind the scenes of our lives
God prepared Lydia’s heart for the gospel, before Paul arrived, and was quietly orchestrating Lydia’s success in the background. God is working behind the scenes in our lives too. We need to live with an awareness our successes and interruptions are under God’s authority.
2. We should allow God to lead our lives
Making God our CEO, is allowing Him to guide and direct us in life and business. Starting our day with prayer, reading the Bible, and journaling what God reveals, allows the Father the opportunity to give us direction. Furthermore, we should keep ourselves open to the will of the Father by checking in with Him and asking Him to reveal what He feels about the situations we face.
3. Our first ministry is in our homes
As followers of Christ our businesses should be our mission field, but our first priority is to minister to those living under our roof. Lydia insured all those in her household accepted Christ and were baptized before allowing her home to be used for ministry.
4. As Kingdom builders we should utilize our resources for something eternal.
Before donating our time and resources we should filter opportunities by asking ourselves, “will my sacrifice have eternal significance?”
In this small story of Lydia, she accomplished something beyond the color purple, beyond painted fences and electric poles. She ignited the spark of Christianity throughout Europe. Her determination, courage, wealth, and faith are all used by God for something more lasting than paint… more lasting than notoriety. Although, her name is not prominent in the scriptures, her contribution to the world has brought many to the kingdom and has held eternal value.
Scripture taken from English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
You can find the story of Lydia in Acts 16:11-40.
Another excellent source for discovering women in the Bible is All the Women of the Bible by Edith Deen Copyright 1955 by Harper and Row Publishers Inc.