Meyer Tan-Ditter (1896-1962) was an unlikely candidate to become an Assemblies of God evangelist and missionary. Born into an Orthodox Jewish home in London, England, Tan-Ditter abandoned his family’s strict religious standards when he reached adulthood. A gifted musician, he spent seven years playing in cabarets. He spent considerable time at race tracks, where he exercised horses. For nearly five years, he traveled the world in the British Naval Service and the American Merchant Marine. Tan-Ditter later described himself as living “the life of a sailor.” He spread his wings and imbibed deeply in the ways of the world.
A friendship with a Christian woman – known to history only as “Sister Wicks” – changed the trajectory of Tan-Ditter’s life. Wicks, knowing that the young man came from an observant Jewish background, began asking him about his childhood faith. At first, he resented her questions. He was not interested in discussing religion. Furthermore, his family had taught him to distrust Christians.
Wicks continued to show esteem for both Tan-Ditter and for Jewish traditions. Over time, he opened up to her. She asked about his thoughts regarding the identity of the Messiah, but she carefully refrained from mentioning the name of Jesus. Her inquiries sparked questions in Tan-Ditter’s mind. He was already very familiar with the Talmud and the Torah, and he began to suspect that it could be possible that the Messiah had already come.
One night while staying at his parents’ home, something jostled Tan-Ditter awake. He was startled to see a glow with a bright lighting shining in his eyes. The longer he stared at the light, the clearer it became. He soon realized that it was the face of Jesus Christ in the light! He jumped out of bed and ran into the kitchen, nervous and shocked.
His mother came into the kitchen and asked what was wrong. He was not sure what to say. His vision seemed to confirm what he already suspected – that Jesus could be the Messiah. He knew that his family would disown him if he confessed this belief. Finally, he told her that he had just seen Jesus in a vision.
Tan-Ditter’s mother began weeping, thinking that her son must be either crazy or apostate. Rumors circulated about his vision. A little while later his father asked, “What is this I hear? I hear you are becoming a Christian.” Tan-Ditter answered, “I am not becoming one, I have been one for three weeks.” His father immediately kicked his son out of the house and asked him to never return. The local Jewish community ostracized him, and people would come up to him on the streets and mockingly ask him to describe what Jesus looked like. Following Jesus would be costly.
Sister Wicks provided a room for the 25-year-old homeless convert and encouraged him to seek God in prayer. For 10 days, Tan-Ditter spent extended times of prayer on his knees. He asked God to show him whether Isaiah chapter 53 does indeed refer to Jesus. His vision of Jesus as Messiah held fast. His father brought him to two rabbis, who cross-examined the young man. But he held his vision of Jesus close to his heart, and the rabbis could not shake his faith.
Tan-Ditter received another vision. This time he saw an angel carrying a large book come into his room. The angel told him to eat the book, which he did. The next morning he awoke with a great hunger to share the message of Jesus Christ with the Jewish people. This vision propelled Tan-Ditter toward a life of ministry to the Jewish people.
To prepare for this calling, Tan-Ditter attended two Assemblies of God schools. He initially enrolled at Beulah Heights Bible Institute in North Bergen, New Jersey (now University of Valley Forge). After one year, he transferred to Bethel Bible Training School in Newark, New Jersey (now Evangel University). He graduated in 1922, was ordained as an Assemblies of God evangelist in 1924, and married Alice Laura French in 1926. Together, they served in pastoral ministry and became well-known musical evangelists and missionaries.
The Tan-Ditters served as missionaries to the Jewish people in the United States until Meyer’s death in 1962. Alice passed away in 1975. The couple did not have children.
Meyer Tan-Ditter’s testimony illustrates several themes in Pentecostal history. Many early Pentecostal converts testified that signs and wonders drew them to faith. Likewise, Tan-Ditter’s vision confirmed, in his mind, that Jesus was the Messiah. Early Pentecostals also often found that serving Jesus was costly. And Tan-Ditter was not the only early Pentecostal whose Jewish background and knowledge of Hebrew Scripture proved to be a strong foundation for Pentecostal faith. Myer Pearlman, the noted Assemblies of God systematic theologian from the 1920s through the 1940s, had a similar testimony. The Assemblies of God, mirroring the Book of Acts, proved fertile ground for both Jews and Gentiles.
Read Meyer Tan-Ditter’s obituary on page 23 of the Sept. 30, 1962, issue of the Pentecostal Evangel.
Also featured in this issue:
• “Open Doors in the Congo,” by Gail Winters
• “Dedicated to Sacrifice,” by Anthony Sorbo
• “Pioneering among the Deaf and among the Hearing,” by Maxine Strobridge
And many more!
Click here to read Meyer Tan-Ditter’s testimony, “How God Got Hold of a Jew,” published on page 8 of the Jan. 22, 1927, issue of the Pentecostal Evangel.
Pentecostal Evangel archived editions courtesy of Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center.