In Biblical times, women were not held in very high esteem and didn’t have much say about anything that went on outside of the home. So, I’m sure the last thing anyone would have expected in that male dominated patriarchal society of the first century is that in God’s plans, the first convert in Europe would be a woman!
When Paul (of the New Testament) traveled on his many missionary trips and arrived at his destination, he would usually go straight to the local synagogue. But, to be able to form a synagogue, there had to be at least 10 male heads of household in the town. Phillipi didn’t have many Jews, so there was no synagogue! Well, that could have been a setback, but Paul heard about a group of God-fearing women who were having a prayer meeting by the river and he headed out to find them. We aren’t sure who else was among this group of women, but we know one of them was named Lydia. She was a very successful businesswoman from Thyatira – the largest manufacturer for the distribution of purple cloth. Purple cloth was worn only by royalty and wealthy aristocrats, so we know that Lydia was a woman who was wealthy and ran with an elite crowd. She was the Coco Chanel of that day.
Scripture doesn’t tell us exactly how Paul approached these women, nor what he said to them. But we know that Lydia’s heart was opened to believe that Jesus was the Messiah she had been waiting for. She responded in faith, along with all of her household. From that household of Lydia came the founding of the very first church on the European continent!
Wow. No one has elevated the status of women like Jesus. No religion has elevated the status of women like Christianity. God’s choice of Lydia as Europe’s first Christian is a reminder of that.