“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 –