“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 –