Monthly Archives: October 2011

Face of Hopelessness

“Then the disciples went back to their homes, but Mary stood outside the tomb crying.” John 20:10

My kids were given a Russian toy a few years ago, which is made of wood and string.  There are actually 5 pieces of string, each attached to one of the necks of 5 wooden chickens.  When you spin the toy, the wooden peg at the bottom of the strings moves, causing the strings to pull on the chickens’ necks, making it look as though the chickens are pecking the ground for food.

The fascinating thing about this toy – besides it’s simple ingenuity – is the fact that after all of the times it has been thrown around and packed and moved and unpacked, it still works perfectly.  I was looking closely at it recently and noticed that actually, one of the 5 strings had been broken.  But when I spun the toy around, all 5 chickens started pecking just as always.  “How is it still working?” I thought.

Then I noticed that just below the chickens’ necks, and just above the break in the string, all 5 strings had been tied together.  So, while the one string no longer had a direct connection with the wooden peg to move it up and down, it was still tightly bound to the other strings.  When the other strings were moved by the peg, therefore, the broken string got it’s momentum from them.

I honestly can not tell you how many times since moving to Russia that I have wanted to give up and go home.  It’s been many.  It was early this year the first time Charlie told me that he was concerned I had taken on too much the sense of hopelessness that can often be felt in Russia.  It was late in June and through July that I think this became the most apparent in my life.

Many may know that this summer there were a number of opportunities for me to be involved in prayer ministry in St. Petersburg.  On one such occasion in June, I was able to spend a day with several pastors discussing biblical principles and practices in healing prayer ministry.

Early in the day, after we’d spent time catching up with tea and snacks, I asked if anyone wanted to share the reasons that they felt a desire to gain a deeper understanding of the ministry of healing prayer.  Some of the responses I received were unexpected – even overwhelming for me, as it turned out.

One lady stood up and told of her calling to volunteer as a prayer counselor in local hospitals.  She said that since she’d answered the call years earlier, she’d felt constant attacks by the enemy in her life.  She said she knew that she must continue to answer the call of God in her life, but she felt defenseless against the enemy.  “When I tell him to leave in the name of Jesus,” she said crying, “it seems sometimes like he just doesn’t leave.”

She then began to express frustration that more of the people for whom she prayed in the hospital weren’t healed.  “I see family after family hoping that something will come of the prayers I offer.  But so often it seems that nothing happens.  They receive no relief from their suffering at all.”

One man said, “We kept thinking in the nineties that there was coming some great revival and time of healing for this city.  But it just hasn’t come.  We’re just not seeing healing in our churches like we thought we would.”

And this was the general theme by most who stood up in the room – The enemy is constantly coming against us.  We are experiencing great trials by our decisions to follow the call of the Lord in our lives.  But the healing is just not coming.

And of course the big question – asked with some hesitation, but with great conviction – was “Why?”

We spent the most of the rest of the day discussing biblical principles in prayer ministry, and the reasons for some of the practices often used, such a anointing oil or laying our hands on those for whom we pray.  Then we had a time of praying with each other, shared communion with each other, and ended the day a bit spontaneously as a couple of pastors started singing an old, Russian hymn, and the rest of us joined in through several verses and a couple more hymns.  It really was an amazing day together.

But as I left that place that day, I knew that I was in over my head.  “God, I cannot help these people,” I thought to myself.  That day, and the few prayer meetings that happened later that month, left me feeling hopeless, and alone, and a bit angry with God.  It started several weeks of crying out to God that same question I’d been hearing from my brothers and sisters – “Why?  Why?  Why aren’t You healing Your people here?”

Well, in time, answers have come – often in very intimate ways in my life. But, that’s for another post.

It took some time for me to get through it, but eventually it did dawn on me one very obvious point that God was trying to teach me through those pastors and all of those meetings in those weeks that I’d initially completely missed.

Everyone of them had made great sacrifices to follow the call of the Lord in their lives.  Everyone of them was experiencing great trial and suffering – often as a result of their decision to follow the call of God.  Everyone of them was struggling to see any real, tangible results in their ministries.

But what is amazing to me now, is that these pastors are all still doing it.  They are still getting up every morning and getting out of bed and getting dressed to go out and fight these battles that they’ve been unable to win for years.  After years of receiving barely a whisper from the Lord, they are still going each week to their hospitals or to their church services and are crying out to God, “Come, Lord, come.”  Feeling almost like victims in their own homes as the enemy comes against them and their families again and again and again, they still get on their knees and pray to God, “Yet not my will, Lord, but Thine be done.”  This is a level of faith and obedience that I do not comprehend.

I think we see this also in Mary, on that day when they went to the tomb to find that Jesus’ body had been – so they thought – taken.  How hopeless that must have felt.  That individuals would go so far to cover up the life of Jesus as to actually steal His body from a tomb.  What did that mean for those who were known associates – eyewitnesses – to the work of Jesus Christ?  What steps would they take to silence them?  John says that upon this discovery, the disciples left the tomb, and went back to their homes.

But not Mary.  John says Mary stood there and wept.  She’d gone there to find Jesus.  No matter the pain of being there, the risk of punishment, the condemnation from her neighbors and others who knew her – she was not leaving.

Of course, we know the story.  Mary does find Jesus that day.  She recognizes Him when He speaks her name.

Starting a couple of months after those first meetings in June, I began hearing testimony, first and second-hand, of people who have experienced healing in their lives – spiritual, emotional, and physical.  Some people have said that the words I spoke in prayer with them were clearly from the Lord.  While it has not always been beautiful, the Lord has made it clear that He has not forgotten His people there, and some mighty works have been done.

We submitted requests for our new visas to Russia today.  These are not work visas, so we will not be able to live there on these visas.  But I do hope to have at least a few visits over, and to spend time with these pastors in worship and prayer before the baby comes in January.  Several of these pastors are either already involved in ministry with orphans or are considering starting an orphan-support ministry in their church.  This is a huge opportunity towards addressing the orphan crisis in St. Petersburg, and could easily spring to other regions as many of these pastors work closely with churches all over Russia.

There have been many successes, but there have also been many, many losses in our few years of seeking to answer God’s call into Russia.  Please don’t give up.  Please help us and our amazing brothers and sisters in Russia to not give up.  Let us not flee from God’s call in fear or doubt, but let us stand weeping at the tomb – even as we look into the face of all hopelessness.

Love and peace be abundant in your lives in Christ Jesus –






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Whose Glory?

“In the Lord I take refuge.  How then can you say to me: ‘Flee like a bird to your mountain.  For look, the wicked bend their bows…When the foundations are being destroyed, what can the righteous do?‘  The Lord is in his holy temple; the Lord is on his heavenly throne.”  Psalm 11: 1-4

Several months ago, a friend in Russia lent me her copy of a book written by a Chinese pastor who’d become a Christian in China during the 1970’s.  In one of his stories, the pastor describes the importance of the work done in China in the 70’s by missionaries who went there despite the extensive resistance that was coming against Christians from the Chinese government.

One day, years later, the pastor writes that he had an opportunity to visit the grave of one of those missionaries, who’d come to China from her home in England.  He explained to the church he was visiting in England about the importance of the work this missionary had done in China years earlier, and that he felt quite compelled to visit her grave in order to pay his respects.

When the day came for visiting the grave site, however, the English church leaders were unable to find the missionary’s grave at the cemetery where records had shown her buried.  After further research, they were able to find the woman’s grave site, in a simple numbered plot with no other marking or headstone whatsoever.

Now, my initial reaction to this story is one of grief – almost pity – for this woman who had given her life serving in dangerous, oppressive circumstances in order that the gospel might be available to people living on the other side of the world.  How could it be that such a woman could die and receive what appears to be no recognition from anyone in the world at all?

This summer I had the wonderful opportunity to meet another amazing lady who has given her life to serving and sharing the truth of God’s love with orphans in Russia.  This lady has spent most of her life working in the Russian orphanage system, for several years as an orphanage director.  In her last years as director – despite resistance from authorities – she followed the Lord’s leading in making her orphanage a “Christian” facility.  She implemented new programs aimed at assisting orphans who were leaving the orphanage system and transitioning into society – an approach that is to this day not supported by the federal orphanage system.

She had begun doing this work well before Charlie or I many of the others we know ever showed up in St. Petersburg – and long before the concept of transitional programs were proposed by missionaries from the west.

Now, some years after retiring from her work in the orphanage, this lady has founded a non-profit organization in St. Petersburg that has been working for several years with orphanages in the region in order to assist orphan graduates transitioning into society.  On the day I met this lady, I was also able to meet one of the orphan grads, a girl in her early 20’s, who’s life has been impacted by this ministry.

Two years ago, this girl was standing on the street, 6 months pregnant, with no where to go when she decided to call this ministry she’d heard of through the director of the orphanage where she’d grown up.  Within an hour, this lady, the director of this ministry, had an assistant go meet the young lady at a local McDonald’s, then bring her to meet the director at one of the transitional residences the ministry uses.  Today that girl and her 20 month old son are living in one of those residences, and will be moving out on their own this spring in to their own room – which they acquired also with assistance from this ministry.

Today, almost 10 years after “retiring” as orphanage director, this lady is still working as director of this ministry, is very involved in her church in St. Petersburg, and currently has 2 teenage foster girls living with her in her tiny one-room flat (what we in the US would call a “studio” apartment).

I was so encouraged to be able to spend time with her, and I pray that in years to come I will continue to be able to know her and to learn from her – particularly to learn about the incredibly committed and self-sacrificing nature she displays in her service and efforts to follow the call of God in her life.

More recently, however, has come up a rather difficult realization regarding my coming to know this lady this past summer.  I’ve found myself wondering: what if I’d met her 10, or 5, or even 3 years ago, before I’d actually moved to Russia and begun to have a true understanding of the culture and people there?  What if I’d met this amazing lady while I’d been there on one of our several short-term trips over the years?  Would I have felt for her the same respect and admiration that I do today?  Would I have been able to see the great sacrifice that she’s obviously given in order to fulfill the calling on her life?  Would I have desired to know her more and to learn from her and the experiences she has had in her life of seeking to follow the Lord?

Or, would I have seen my meeting with her as simply another tick off of my to-do list – something I could use to justify my time there?  Would I have sized her up only in regard to how she could fulfill my agenda there?  Would I have seen her as anything other than another Russian face, another meeting over tea and sweets, another lost Russian soul who obviously didn’t have a clue about how things were supposed to be done in this thing we in the west call “kingdom work”?

One of the struggles with our move out of St. Petersburg these past months has been the realization that parts of our original agenda there have not been met.  There were things that we’d planned to do, things we’d wanted to write home about, that had not been accomplished as we crossed that border into Estonia last week.  Now I know what you’re thinking – Charlie and I are still working in Russia.  We are still close and still have time to see those goals through.

But it is times like these when you must stop and ask yourself – as honestly as possible – were my goals the same as God’s goals?  Even further, if my goals were not in line with God’s will, then WHY am I still holding onto them so desperately?

I think there are several answers to these questions.  But one significant possibility that has been resounding lately has been the reality that I am unable to let go of a very strong desire to share in God’s glory.  When I die, I do not want to be forgotten.  I want people around me to honor me and the work that has been done through my life.  When I go to the states, I want people to think I am valuable, and important in the Kingdom.  The bottom line is that I still very much seek the honor of man in my life and my work.  And for that I am sorry.

So in this note I ask you for your prayers.  I ask for your prayers for the countless individuals who are like that amazing lady I met this summer, living all across Russia, mostly in villages with names you and I will never know.  All of those men and women who are quietly giving everything in their lives to serving orphans, street kids, and all in their communities in the name of Jesus.  All of whom will likely die with little or no recognition what so ever for their sacrifice. Let the Lord hear our prayers for these diligent warriors, as they are our brothers and sisters giving from poverty and fighting battles you and I can not even imagine.

Love and blessings in Christ Jesus –


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