Monthly Archives: April 2010

Text from the Chastain’s April Newsletter

CLICK HERE  4-10 Newsletter for the .pdf version of the latest newsletter.   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)

And He is before all things, and in Him all things consist.  (Colossians 1:17)

Miki and I realize that our first year “on the field” is somewhat unique in comparison to many, if not most, first-term missionaries. Where most may travel to their intended field one or two times before moving, we had almost 8 years of short-term experience working in Russia before we paid our first rent check in St. Petersburg.  This was mostly in the form of bi-yearly visits for 2+ weeks in efforts toward helping at-risk kids.  While the exposure was limited compared to actually living here full-time, it gave us enough of a “taste” to consider working towards moving to Russia.

Among the many things that have made this first year so very challenging (having a child abroad, a new language, culture shock, etc.), laying that body of previous work down has been, for me personally, among the most trying.  Miki and I made the decision, with guidance from many, to set the majority of our work aside for the first year in order to better assimilate into Russian society, focus on our family’s transition and prepare for the arrival of our son.  We felt like this would only help our longevity and effectiveness for the future.

While the fruits of our decision have been abundant for the most part, it’s the bad days in which we’ve felt as though the whole decision to move to Russia was a gigantic mistake.  We could easily start asking ourselves, “What are we doing here if we’re not helping these kids we know and love?”  When a rough language class would throw us off the hinges, we would ask, “Why are we doing this if we can’t get the language?”  The worst, however, has been when we would start questioning the impact of our move on our marriage and kids.  Stress is natural in a transition like this, but boy, has it felt like a constant barrage!  It’s hard not to wonder, for example, if our kids will pay for this later in life.  It’s hard to watch our normally outgoing child shy away on the playground because she’s not sure if she can communicate.  It can be heartbreaking.

During those rough times, the temptation was to feel like there needed to be a justification for our presence here- and we’d start thinking about ministry work again.  It would have been so much easier to have “hit the ground running” upon arrival and expand our work from day one.  But at what price?  Would we feel as comfortable as we do now if we had been working in the orphanages and shelters full-time, relying on interpreters and trying to take our short-term processes and put them in a day-to-day perspective?  I doubt it.

I mention all this to say that it feels like we’ve turned a corner. God was faithful and kept us “sane” enough to press on, and now our ministry work is starting to pick up steam.  We’re finishing up our language classes for this year, and our work with Love Russia USA is becoming more concrete day by day.

I’ve just returned from Moscow, where I spent a week visiting some of Love Russia UK’s nearby projects.  The goal was to find programs that we could possibly mirror in St. Petersburg, and to connect with the regional government officials with the hope that they would be advocates for us in St. Petersburg as we begin to build our programs there.

My time in the Moscow area revealed a lot to me. I saw the fruits of collaboration with local government and the impact that it can make in the lives of orphans- from purchasing shoes for 30 kids to renovating facilities that fell into disrepair during Russia’s economic turbulence over the last 2 decades.  I witnessed the impact of international collaboration between doctors and physical therapists:  Children who would be sedated an bed-bound in the St. Petersburg facilities in which we work are moving freely (and happily) throughout the halls of an disabled orphanage in Yerlatma. British health care providers have worked with this orphanage for years to implement programs to help these kids get out of their beds, increase their movement and developmental capacity- so much that Love Russia is considering adding on to the orphanage so the kids have somewhere to move about!  Reflecting on Love Russia UK’s work:  I’ve seen physical needs met, conditions improved, lives changed, hearts opened and more possibilities to come.  This is why Miki and I felt God was telling us to say “yes” when Love Russia asked us to join their US team.

But upon arrival back in St. Petersburg after my week in Moscow, I was surprised by my low spirit. Looking back on almost 10 years of work here, I remember thinking at various times, “if we only had the resources” or “I know how to fix this issue”.  You would think, now that we’re working with a group that does have the resources and a track record of improving the situation for orphans, that I’d be joyful.  I thought that’s the way I’d be as well.

But all I could see that entire week was the faces of God’s children.  Children built to be loved and adored by parents.  Children created to reveal the majesty of God in public- not behind closed doors in rural facilities in Russia.  Though their lives have experienced a vast improvement in many ways- they’re still lacking some of the most vital things that make us whole.  Things that Love Russia (or any other charity) can’t provide.  The kids are still looking at me with longing- wondering if I’m the one who’ll take them home.  I haven’t felt such a desire to run away and try to forget what I’ve seen since my first visit long ago.  But this time it was not because I was unprepared, but for a different reason-  all the things that I thought were needed to “fix” the tragedy of orphanhood are in front of me and at my disposal and I now know its only the beginning of what needs to be done.

Quite a gut-check moment for me.  Forgive me Lord for once again trying to do things on my own.  You are the only answer.

This is not to say that Love Russia’s projects aren’t done with the love of Jesus intertwined throughout- because they are and for that I’m truly excited.  It’s just that we don’t have the ability to pull these children out of facilities and deliver them to loving families.  We haven’t figured out how to engage our Russian brothers and sisters into opening their hearts and homes to children longing for their affection.  We haven’t figured out how to encourage young mothers to keep their children in the first place.  We haven’t figured out how to convince some of you out there to trade in your monthly giving for a plane ticket here to let your heart be broken so that you can advocate for them as well.  We haven’t figured out how to truly be Jesus for these kids.  The resources are the easy part!  It’s the prayer and time and sacrifice and heartache and engagement and awareness that must increase.

As our first year in Russia is coming to a close, these are just a few of the things that I feel like God is pressing on me at the moment.

I wish I could say to all of you that our presence here makes all the difference to at-risk children in Russia, but I can’t.  I understand that we are just one small drop in a bucket of unanswered questions.  We’ve chosen to continue to follow Jesus as He commands to help these kids here, but now with a better understanding of our place in the whole picture.  In the next few newsletters and blogs we’ll be introducing you to some new projects we’ve started in the last 2 months.  I hope you’ll see these projects as opportunities to consider where God may be leading you in regards to your drop in the bucket of Russia.

Every Blessing!
Charlie, Miki, Isabel & Jasper

News:

We’re coming to the States!!!

In mid-August 2010, We have to come to the U.S.A. to renew our Russian visas.  We will return to Russia January 2011 on Miki’s work visa!

During our 4 months home, we want to see as many of you as possible.  Please contact us soon to set up dates for the Chastains to visit your church.  We’re looking foward to seeing you again!

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.

TO MAKE A SPECIFIC CONTRIBUTION FOR THE VAN PURCHASE, PLEASE SPECIFY “CHASTAIN VEHICLE” ON YOUR CHECK NOTE OR ONLINE DONATION.

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Whose Oil?

“The foolish ones said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil; our lamps are going out.'” Matthew 25:8


Recently I read the parable of the 10 virgins in Matthew 25. This was the story of the virgins who went out with their lamps to wait on the coming bridegroom.  The bridegroom was a long time coming, and the virgins actually fell asleep while they waited.  When the call came out that the bridegroom was approaching, they woke up and trimmed their lamps so that they would burn brighter.  However, 5 of the virgins were called “foolish”, because they’d brought no extra oil for their lamps.  When their lamps began to burn out, they asked the other 5 “wise” virgins for some of their oil, but the wise virgins refused and told them they needed to go and get their own oil.  While the foolish virgins were gone, the bridegroom arrived and went with the 5 wise virgins into the banquet and shut the door.  When the foolish virgins returned with their oil, the bridegroom told them that he did not know them, and did not let them into the banquet.

Basically I’ve always taken this parable to mean, pretty simply, that I should always be prepared because no one knows at what time our Lord will return for us.  However, as I read it this time, I noticed so many details that I really just didn’t understand.

For example, why did these virgins each need a lamp anyway?  Couldn’t they just share?  One lamp didn’t give enough light for 2 virgins?  And why didn’t the  “wise” virgins just give the “foolish” ones some of their oil?  I mean, they’d just heard that the bridegroom had arrived – they had to know that they wouldn’t really need that much, right?

I went back to this passage several times this past week, thinking, “God, I know You don’t waste words.  Show me what I’m missing in this.”

Then a thought occurred to me – Perhaps the reason those lamps were so important to the virgins was because the burning lamp was their way of indicating to the bridegroom – and to everyone else who passed by – that they were there waiting for HIM.

Now, I know that MY lamp is burning.  I mean, I go to church, I hang out with other christians, I listen to “christian” music.  I even moved to Russia with my family as a “missionary”!  Certainly my lamp is burning, right?  I mean, everyone who knows me knows that I am waiting on Him to return, right?

But then I had to ask myself: when He returns, will HE know that I’m waiting on Him?

Well, that takes me to this “oil” Jesus kept referring to in the parable.  All of the “wise” virgins also brought oil with them while they waited on the bridegroom’s return.

Throughout scripture, oil is used by the children of God as an indication of the Lord’s anointing on a life.  In 1 Samuel 10, Samuel poured a flask of oil on Saul’s head to indicate his anointing as the leader of God’s people.  In the 23rd Psalm, the author says that the Lord “anoints his head with oil”.

The oil, it seems, is pretty significant.  The oil is the anointing of the Holy Spirit of God on my life.  Why didn’t the “wise” virgins give the “foolish” virgins any of their oil?  Because it simply was not theirs to give.

The only source of this oil is Jesus Christ.  His anointing MUST be on our lives or our lamps will simply burn out.  No matter how hard we work to prove to ourselves and others that we are waiting on Him, nothing we do will stand at the time of His coming unless we have gone to Him and asked and allowed Him to anoint us with His Spirit.

Now, for anyone who has found any comfort in their life at all, the idea of allowing the Lord to anoint us with His presence is pretty scary:

What if it makes me look silly in front of the people at my church?

What if it embarrasses my parents or my spouse?

Or even worse, what if He tells me that He wants to make changes in my life?  What if He asks me to give up my social habits, or to give more of “my” money to the poor?  What if He tells me He wants me to change my career, or my lifestyle?  What would I do then?

But then I remember all of those times sitting in the pew at church, singing the hymns or listening to the great rock band playing a praise song, giving my 10 percent, listening to the sermon, shaking hands with and hugging all the people I know, giving a pleasant “hello” to the new person, and then getting in my car and driving to my job the next morning and thinking – there must be more to life than this.

Any time a person from the West visits Russia for the first time, one of the first things they say is, “It seems so dark here.”  Those of us who are not used to it can sense pretty quickly the presence of the evil one in this society through spirits of depression and shame, just to name a few.

However, I have to say that having been out of the USA for about a year now, I’ve also become keenly aware of an area of darkness plaguing our homeland – the spirit of fear.

We’re holding our lamps.  We’ve heard about Christ and have decided that we’re going to be a part of that crowd of people who are waiting on Him.  We know the desire that He has put in our hearts for more of Him.  But we have flat allowed the enemy to use fear to keep us from falling on our face, giving our lives to Him, and letting Him use us to set His people free and usher in His kingdom.

So, the foolish ones said to the wise, “Give us some of your oil; our lamps are going out.”  All day today I’ve been asking myself the same question:  On whose oil am I depending to light my lamp?  My pastor’s?  My parents’?  My spouse’s?  The missionary’s that I support?

In the name of Jesus, I rebuke the Spirit of Fear that plagues the homes of those in whom You’ve placed Your desire for the freedom, truth, and power that only come through You.  I pray, Father that you will send Your Holy Spirit upon each of us in these days, that we will know You and that You will be glorified in us.  Oh, how we love You, our Lord.  Amen.

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Michael Spencer, 1956-2010

In November 2000, a pastor in Southeastern Kentucky began writing his thoughts down in a “web-log” (a concept still foreign to most internet visitors at that time).  Over the next 9 years, Michael Spencer, aka The Internet Monk, tackled questions about faith that most of don’t want to deal with.  Michael’s blog became a place for people who longed for more of Jesus, but felt disillusioned by the Church.  He described it as “Dispatches from the post evangelical wilderness”.   In the truest sense of the word, for many Christians throughout the world internetmonk.com became a community.  People found themselves daily visiting the site to hear from Michael and a diverse group of guest writers, to express their hopes and fears (and confusion about God), and yes- even sometimes just to plain’ ol argue.

A colleague of mine in mission told me to check out Michael’s blog in early 2006, and I was immediately drawn by the bold, uncomprimising pursuit of Jesus from not only Michael and his guests, but the readers and commenters as well.  I’ve never once participated in the conversation- I felt priveledged just to be a witness.  Besides the Bible, Michael Spencer and his blog has challenged me and my walk like nothing else.  For that I give thanks to God.

Last night Michael went to be with our Lord after a 6-month battle with cancer.  I’m surprised at how much my heart can hurt for someone I’ve never even met.  I look forward to the time (hopefully in a very distant future) where I’ll get to shake his hand and thank him for the encouragement, love and grace he showed me and thousands of others through his website.

I’ve posed the announcement from internetmonk.com below.  If you get a chance, visit the site and have a look around.

I received word tonight that Michael Spencer, the Internet Monk, our friend, passed away in his home in Oneida, KY, in the presence of his family.

With them, we mourn his passing.

With them, our tears fall.

With them, we express gratitude that Michael is at peace and no longer suffering.

With them, we cry out to God in pain because our suffering has just increased.

With them and with all creation, we groan, awaiting the day when this sad world will be put to rights.

With them and with all the saints, we put our trust in Christ alone, crucified, buried, risen, ascended, and coming again.

Words are hard to come by at this moment. At a more appropriate time tomorrow, I will say more.

Thank you for praying.

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