Monthly Archives: August 2009

Text from the Chastain’s August Newsletter

(Note:  This is the text from our latest newsletter that is sent out via email each month.  It’s a .pdf file with all the fancy fonts, pictures and stuff.  If you’re not on the newsletter list but would like to be, please send an email to charlie@actsofadvocacy.org.  We’ll be glad to include you on future messages!  Also, feel free to visit http://www.actsofadvocacy.org for more info on our lives in Russia)

Greetings in Christ!

This month we’d like to share a little about a couple of the individuals God has brought into (back into) our lives in recent weeks/months:

Galya – Three times a week, for almost 3 hours Charlie and I are in Russian language class.  During that time, a beautiful young lady named Galya comes to teach, sit, and play with Isabel.

We met Galya through friends of ours who are running a Christian transitional home for orphans who are seeking to come out of the orphanage system and to learn to live well in the society as adults.  (Note that most kids coming out of the orphanage system do not choose a transitional home route because (1) it typically requires a level of discipline to which most of these kids do not want to adhere (very similar to American kids at that age) and (2) there really are very few transitional homes in St. Petersburg because they require so much private funding.)

One of the adventures of the relationship between Galya and Isabel is that Isabel speaks (spoke) no Russian, and Galya speaks (spoke) no English.  I think they are both learning a lot from each other, and I can only imagine what Galya must think on some days when she comes in early and I still haven’t had a shower and Isabel is running around in her t-shirt and underpants!  We have had a couple of rough days during which Isabel has become very frustrated that Galya will only speak to her in Russian, but overall this has been an amazing experience for all of us!

Galya is only 17, and actually has one more year in the orphanage.  She is only able to stay at the transitional home this summer because a couple of girls who live there are away until September.  This month, she had an opportunity to go to a women’s retreat for 3 days, during which she seemed to have developed a deeper understanding of the love of Christ in her life.  She has said that she wants to be baptized, and we’ve invited her to join us in the monthly prayer meeting we are starting at our home in September.  We are not really sure what will happen when Galya goes back to the orphanage in September and begins her school there.  I do hope you’ll pray for her and for our relationship, that God will lead us according to His will and to His glory.

Sveta – I first met Sveta on my first trip to St. Petersburg, back in 2001.  At that time she was 15 years old.  When Sveta turned 18, she was sent with a group of other girls her age to work and live at a nursing home in St. Petersburg, where they each cleaned one of the floors of the home in exchange for a room in which to live, food to eat, and a small salary.  Coming out of a “disabled” orphanage, this was considered to be a good opportunity for these girls.

Since that time, of the five girls who were originally sent to live at the nursing home: one was sent to an adult facility due to drinking and other behavior issues, and has since become pregnant and lost the baby prematurely, one is struggling with blindness due to a correctable problem in her eyes, but has been turned away from doctors due to her “disability”, and a third – with whom Sveta was the closest – passed away a couple of years ago due to kidney failure (many of you may remember us writing about Tanya).

One major distinction between Sveta and these other girls is that Sveta has always had a source of consistent support – an aunt – throughout her life.  She has occasionally spent periods of time staying with her aunt, and in the past couple of years has been able to find a job and rent a single room in a flat where she’s now living with her 3 month old baby girl.  (We understand that the father of this little girl is occasionally there also.)

This month, we invited a few girls, including Sveta and her baby, over for dinner.  You can imagine how surprised I was (and how much it meant to me) when Sveta gave me a beautiful tea jar for my birthday, which had already passed at that time.  We also found out that her and Isabel have the same birthday, so we invited her back for a birthday party for both of them.  It was such a blessing as she and Isabel both blew out the candles on their cake!  Again, we ask you to say a quick prayer for Sveta and her family, and to pray God’s anointing on her and this relationship, for His grace and peace to be upon them in her life.

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I recently said to Charlie (using a friend’s metaphor) that I sometimes feel like an onion made of an endless number of layers, all of which are weighing me down and are keeping me from being able truly know God and to understand who I am in Him.  Since being in St. Petersburg, the Lord seems to be specifically working on a few of those layers, some of which I had been totally unaware existed until recently.  I wanted to share a couple of these with you this month:

One – Recently, God has revealed to me that I approach a great majority of my walk with the Him from an entirely physical – as opposed to spiritual – point of view.

For example, despite all scripture to the contrary, I still tend to approach God as though evidence of His grace in my life is primarily provided by His blessing me with financial and physical comfort.  A reduction of either of these in my life makes me immediately begin to question what God is doing or whether I’ve done something “wrong”.

The second example I’ve noticed is in my approach to the scriptures.  So often in my efforts to see what God may be saying to me through His word, I concentrate so much on what the words might mean to the physical (in many ways, the temporary) state of myself and the church, that I almost completely neglect to seek what the scripture may be saying about our spiritual state.  I believe I do this constantly, but I’ll look at just one verse for example:  Isaiah 25:11-12 – “God will bring down their pride despite the cleverness of their hands.  He will bring down your high fortified walls and lay them low; he will bring them down to the ground, to the very dust.”

Now my bible notes say that the writer of this verse is probably literally referring to the city of Moab.  Every time I’ve read this verse, I’ve wondered if perhaps this was a prophecy describing what the Lord plans to do to the cities and nations who have not sought to obey and honor Him.

When I read this verse recently, however, for the first time the following question occurred to me so clearly:  Father, are You saying that this is what you want to do to me?  Do You desire to bring down my pride and my “fortified walls” not because You want to punish me, but instead because You want to set me free?  And is that what You also want for Your church?

Just to emphasize with this example, this new view of these 2 verses has led to more questions:  When God allows these deep, dark, painful times in our lives, which sometimes leave us absolutely broken, is this pain sometimes due to His stripping down the “fortified walls” we’ve built around ourselves?  I’m so afraid of feeling pain in my life.  Am I missing a deeper walk with God (and deeper freedom in my life) because of my efforts towards being comfortable?

Another layer – It’s occurred to me recently that I carry this insidious, ridiculous assumption that God is paying more attention to the work of the church in the U.S. than He is to the rest of the world.

This is wrong to me on at least 2 counts:

First, the “church” – in scripture and in my life I see over and over again that the majority of the work of God’s Kingdom is actually not done in a building formally known as a “church”, but is done “on the street” as they say (i.e. at dinner with friends, at home when only around our spouse/children, at the parties we attend, the way we spend our money/free time, etc.)

Second, the “U.S.” – Recently, the most amazing realizations of the nature of God for me have come through individuals who have never been to America and/or who have little/no experience with an “American” church whatever.  Scripture is also pretty clear on this (I’ve underlined for emphasis):

At Pentecost: Acts 2:4-6 – “All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues, as the Spirit enabled them.  Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven.  When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard them speaking in his own language.”

Rev. 7:9-10 – “After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb.  They were holding palm branches in their hands.  And they cried out in a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.” (Note that while my translation of this verse is from an English bible, that should not be meant to imply that these people from every nation, tribe, people and language will all be crying out to the Lord in English!)

It’s amazing how through the grace of God, both (1) my appreciation for the blessings of peace, freedom, family and prosperity into which I was born, and (2) my respect and desire for understanding the views and hearts of my brothers and sisters in Christ who were not born into such things can grow so peacefully together!

A sister living with her family in South Africa recently suggested to me that, especially since I’m in St. Petersburg, I should read Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment, which is set in St. Petersburg.  I have to say that this story has had a significant impact on my view of Christ’s love for me and for His church.  One line from the book: “They were renewed by love; the heart of each held infinite sources of life for the heart of the other.”

The heart. All hearts – from every tribe and nation – united with one another.  Or further, all hearts united with – in love with, giving up all else in the world for – the heart of Christ.  Letting our hearts be so truly devoted to His that not only do we have fullness, truth, and healing in our own lives, but our allowing these things to flow through us brings Him delight.  Seeking to let Him know that WE LOVE HIM.  I’m thinking more and more that this may actually be the place where His church resides.

His word says that every tribe and nation will praise Him in the end.  I challenge you this month to ask the Lord to begin to show you the role He has for you in His church.  Ask Him to begin to take down the walls you’ve built around yourself and your church.  Seek to chase after Him as your first true love, and then ask Him to strengthen you to go to the place where His heart beckons you.

Thank you all so much for the amazing love and blessing you’ve brought into our lives.  We love you and miss you and hope that you’ll be in touch to let us know how you are!

Love, Charlie, Miki and Isabel

Ways to donate to this ministry:

To make a donation by check:
– send a check to the following address, noting “Chastain/Russia 322” in the memo:
The Mission Society
6234 Crooked Creek Road
Norcross, GA  30092

To make a donation by credit card or debit:
– go to our website:  http://www.actsofadvocacy.org and click on
“Give” to go to the Mission Society “donations” page.

To make a monthly pledge:
Either contact us via email or phone (678-436-3016) so that we can send you the appropriate documentation, or go to our website:  http://www.actsofadvocacy.org and click on “Give” to go to the Mission Society “donations” page.

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Not worthy…

I’m revisiting Dostoyevsky’s Crime And Punishment.  It’s completely different than when I read it in college; and when I read portions of it in an old Britannica version a few years back.  (You know, the book collections people used to sell door-to door?  That version of Crime and Punishment was included in the same book with Robinson Crusoe.)

Miki bought it recently here in St. Petersburg, and her reaction after finishing the book prompted me to look at it again.  She walked in our bedroom in tears- I didn’t recall being moved by ol’ Fyodor in that way when I read it before.  So instead of just attributing it to pregnancy hormones, I decided to pick it up for a refresher course.

It is a very different book now- we live and walk the streets that Dostoyevsky is writing about.  This book is haunting and fragile.  I’m already overwhelmed at page 18.  It makes me want to call my literature professor at U.G.A., tell her she was completely wrong about her interpretations of the book and that I want her to revisit my grade on my book report!  (Not because my interpretation was right, but because she was as wrong as I was)

If you haven’t read it, please do and let me know what you think.  To quote Ferris Bueller:  “It is so choice.  If you have the means, I highly recommend picking one up.”

Then come to Russia and read it again!

I’ll leave you with the words of Marmeladov the drunk talking about Jesus:

“You too come forth,’ He will say. ‘Come forth, ye drunkards, come forth ye weak ones, come forth, ye children of shame!’ And we shall all come forth, without shame and shall stand before Him.  And He will say unto us, ‘Ye are swine, made in the image of the Beast and with his mark; but come ye also!’ And the wise ones and those of understanding will say, ‘Oh Lord, why dost Thou receive these men?’ And He will say, ‘This is why I receive them, oh ye wise, this is why I receive them, oh ye of understanding, that not one of them believed himself to be worthy of this.’  And He will hold out His hands to us and we shall fall down before Him … and we shall weep … and we shall understand all things!”

AMEN.

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Prejudice

This is a terrible thing to say, but I have become convinced that there is not a single person living in this world who does not struggle in some form or fashion with prejudice.

I took a women’s studies class in college, and they gave us a few questions to ask ourselves in order to “test” whether or not we held any prejudices.  The following are a couple to consider:

1 – When standing in line at the grocery store, the person in front of you becomes impatient and begins shouting and swearing at the cashier.  In your mind, what opinion is formed of this person if he/she:  – is a caucasian female?  – is an African American female?  – is an Asian American female who speaks with an accent?  – is a Mexican American female who speaks with an accent?  Now change all of these to male.  Is it the same opinion for each person?

2 – If you see a group of older teenage boys walking down the street toward you, do you become more or less nervous if those boys are: – caucasian?  African American?  Asian American?  Mexican American?

It seems to me that one of the most crippling effects of prejudice besides our treatment of other people is how it changes our expectations of other people.  I’m not sure which is more damaging – to expect more from a person because of his or her nationality/race, or to expect less.  I wonder if the human tendency towards prejudice is not one of the biggest trials we face as children called to serve (regardless of whether those we’re called to serve have a similar or much different background from our own).

I’ve only started looking at this, but it is interesting to me that, in general, Jesus did have a tendency to treat different groups of people differently.  His expectations for the Pharisees is a major example for me.  I have asked myself recently, “Why did Jesus show so many individuals compassion and mercy, but then continually give rebuke to the Pharisees?”  Jesus grew up under the oppression of the religious leaders (i.e. Pharisees) of that time.  Anybody else in history would have probably felt bitterness and prejudice towards that group of people as they became an adult.  Did Jesus?

Several examples are helping me work through this a little (I think), and to begin to distinguish between my own actions, which are a result of my prejudices, and those of Jesus Christ, which were not:

Matt 15:21-28 – The faith of the Canaanite woman – In this story, a Canaanite woman (considered a foreigner to the Israelites) came to Jesus and asked Him to heal her daughter.  Jesus’s initial answer was, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.”  To that, Matthew says the woman came and knelt before Jesus and said, “Lord, help me!”

Jesus then said, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to their dogs.”  She responded, “Yes, Lord, but even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.”  Jesus’s response to this is very interesting, because it seems that He actually changed His mind upon observing the spiritual condition of the woman, and did, in fact, choose to heal her daughter.

Another example is Luke 7: 36 -50 – The story of the woman who anointed Jesus’s feet.  You may recall that Jesus had been invited to dine at the house of a Pharisee, when a woman showed up with a jar of perfume and began anointing Jesus’s feet with the perfume and with her tears, wiping them clean with her hair.  According to Luke, the Pharisee who had invited Jesus said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is – that she is a sinner.”

But what did Jesus say?  “Do you see this woman?  You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair.  You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet…  Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven – for she loved much.  But he who has been forgiven little loves little.”  (both verses paraphrased and italics added)

In reading these accounts, two thoughts occur to me:

First, there does seem to be another significant similarity between the two women on whom Jesus had compassion, besides their being marginalized from the Israelite society:  both women showed true repentance in the presence of Jesus Christ.  Neither woman seemed to feel worthy of the blessing they sought from Him.

Secondly, I wonder – how would the story of the Pharisee be different if he had gotten up from his seat, knelt down in front of Jesus, and wept?

In my life I have been blessed tremendously by the amazing family and friends God has provided.  But, there are for me (as I think for everyone) a few individuals in my life around whom I feel particularly safe.  A few who I know wouldn’t even notice whether I drove up in a brand new car with my brand new dress on, or if walked up covered in filth and stinking of alcohol.  In either case, I know they’d just be happy to see me, and they’d wrap their arms around me and they’d tell me they love me.  And what is more amazing to me about this small group of individuals who’ve taught me the most about grace and unconditional love, is that only a couple of them are actually involved at all with the church.

Oh, God – continue to gracefully reveal to me and heal the deep layers of my prejudice, and teach me to lay down every lens through which I view my world – they are so heavy after all.

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Text from The Chastain’s July Newsletter

(Note:  This is the text from our latest newsletter that is sent out via email each month.  It’s a .pdf file with all the fancy fonts, pictures and stuff.  If you’re not on the newsletter list but would like to be, please send an email to charlie@actsofadvocacy.org.  We’ll be glad to include you on future messages!  Also, feel free to visit http://www.actsofadvocacy.org for more info on our lives in Russia)

Greetings in Christ our Father!

Sorry the July newsletter is arriving in August!  I had the final draft ready for delivery at the beginning of the month, but had some hesitancy about my take on the topic- Fatherhood.

This recent Father’s Day had more significance than any that I can recall.
First, I’m really excited to meet our new child in January.  Maybe a little TOO excited-  I didn’t hesitate at all with posting our first ultrasound photo on Facebook, and didn’t take into account that Miki might not want her uterus on display for the whole world to see!  (Thankfully, she wasn’t too concerned about this!)  Second, I really miss my dad- and this is the farthest I have ever lived from him, so this year was hard.  Finally, I spent some time considering what it means to be a father in Russia.  I have to be honest, I am more confused now about the subject than when I began writing a month ago.

My initial draft was based on the premise that manhood, and fatherhood by default, had been crippled by 70 years of the Soviet Union.  I made the assumption that due to Soviet suspicion many men were seen as a threat and were held back from their potential in order to lessen the ability to revolt.  And over time, men were conditioned into a state of submission and were having a hard time shaking that mentality in the new semi-capitalistic Russia.  I then connected this learned passivity to the alcoholism, violence and neglect that are common paths to the at-risk children that we love and minister to here in Saint Petersburg.

But something didn’t feel right.  I wondered if my assumptions were too simple; and that my words might do more harm than good. So I started asking people-  Russians and Americans alike.  Two things quickly became clear:  I had oversimplified the path to current Russian manhood, and that I (and the other Americans with whom I spoke) seem to have a hard time looking at Russians without inferring the Cold War.  We in the west seem to forget that Russia was Russia for hundreds of years before a man named Lenin came around.

I’m starting to understand that manhood in Russia is a very different concept from the American one- and it was this way before the Revolution in 1917.  I’ve recently learned that women have always been the breadwinners in the family (on top of feeding the family and raising the kids).  In my opinion, they are (or are expected to be) “superwomen.”  Russian poets have celebrated these roles, Russian women take pride in it and many citizens don’t see an issue with it.

So am I “tripping over my culture” here?  Am I attempting to apply the American ideal of fatherhood to Russia?  No doubt, and I’m grateful to those who helped clarify this to me through this topic.  It was actually the decline of fatherhood in America that prompted me to consider its impact here.  The fact is that 70% of inmates living in American prisons today lived in fatherless homes.  So there are issues to face on both sides of the Atlantic.  With manhood playing such a miniscule role in Russian society, it makes sense that fatherhood would follow that path as well.  Many Russian men don’t see any responsibility in raising their kids, and it undoubtedly impacts the lives of children here.

This reality is clear in Saint Petersburg.  Women are the main workforce.  This being the case, many women are either resentful towards their spouses or have minimal expectations of them.  In my opinion, both attitudes are contributing to decline of families here.  One of my Russian friends helping me with this explained it this way: “In Russian language, Fatherhood is a word very similar to fatherland.  Being a good father is being loyal to your country and being a good citizen as well as being loyal to your family.  You are so right when you say that women have little expectations of men here.  It is so often that you can hear a Russian woman say:  “Let him do whatever he wants.  Its fine.  As long as he doesn’t start drinking again.”

So that leads us to the issue of alcoholism.  Alcohol is the great coping mechanism:  Men with little expectations upon them drink because they can, and women drink to deal with the overwhelming workload they take on.  More people are drinking today than in the last few years of the Soviet Union.  In fact, a recent study revealed that since the Soviet collapse, 52% of deaths among Russians aged 15-54 are due to alcohol.

I often encounter scores of drunk middle-aged men on my way home from the metro station, and a few days ago Miki and I witnessed a domestic dispute on the street outside our flat.  It took place in front of the small store on our corner- its main product being alcoholic beverages.  Both the man and woman were very intoxicated.  They would trade blows, stagger to gain their balance and do it all over again.  Our first observation was that nobody on the street was trying to stop the fight, and we have since confirmed that its not customary to involve yourself in other people’s affairs.  From our vantage point it was apparent that the lady had had enough with the man’s behavior, and all her rage and resentment came out right there on the street.  I have little doubt that gender expectations impacted this situation.  The man could care less that he put his spouse in this situation, and the wife seemed to be taking the whole burden by herself.  I finally ran outside to do something when the man tackled her to the ground.  By the time I arrived, she had left him bleeding on the curb.  I watched her walk down the street in tears-  I had no idea what to do.

This event serves as a somber example of the brokenness of manhood here in Russia
.  It is a complex struggle that plays a direct role in the large amount of orphans and street kids that live in the country.  Many street kids are running from violent adults such as that feuding couple, and many of the disabled orphans we see were born with fetal alcohol syndrome.

There are Biblical fathers that we all can turn to.  Abraham was chosen by God to “train his children and future family to observe God’s way of life, live kindly and generously and fairly…”.  Eli pleaded with his sons to stop sinning against God.  Job prayed for the sins of his children-sins he didn’t even know of.  Jesus talked about His Father loving him and including Him in everything.  “The Son can’t independently do a thing, only what He sees the Father doing.”

For many children this is simply not happening.

The Lord has put Russian fatherhood on my heart, and I honestly don’t know how to go about it.  And pondering this has triggered questions about our current ministry:  When we minister to at-risk kids and they ask why we’re here and we tell them that our Father called us to love them, are we causing more confusion than comfort?  Their reference of fatherhood (if any) does not paint a comfortable picture when we tell them about “our Father, Who art in Heaven.”  Why would they trust someone who puts their trust in a father?  It troubles me to think about it.

So what should we as the Body do?  We should pray proportionate to the struggle, which means A LOT.  Pray that the Holy Spirit provides direction as to how we can begin working on this fatherhood project.  Pray for the Holy Spirit to reveal to you how you can participate.  This will probably sound like a broken record to many of you, but we need men to come and help us minister to these kids.  You are the key to opening their eyes to what a godly man looks like.  Many of these kids were hesitant to interact with me initially because of my gender, but they had to learn to trust me first before considering opening their hearts to another man named Jesus.  Imagine the privilege of being the individual who helps breaks down those barriers of fear, anger, sadness, emptiness, regret, suffering and sin.  Imagine the day when a child you simply played with opens up just enough to see our Father.  When your wives and sisters talk about visiting orphans in Russia, please don’t push aside the possibility that you should join them on the journey.

Finally, now would be a good time to make sure you know that are are lots of amazing Russian men here
.  It’s not my intention to insinuate that manhood here is hopeless.  I have had the privilege of meeting and working with Russian men of compassion, integrity and passion for service- believers and non-believers alike.  I pray that they become beacons of light in this fog of confusion that is fatherhood- Here and in America.

Peace to you in Christ!

Charlie

(and Miki and Isabel)

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