Monthly Archives: November 2011

The Life We Seek

 “The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.” Luke 2:20

A couple of years ago, we had an opportunity to attend a 4-day missionary retreat and conference with 150 other missionaries serving in places all over the world.  Each of those days started with a devotion given by a pastor visiting from the U.S., all of which focused on how to serve in a culture that is different than our own.

During one of those devotions, he challenged us to make a deep search in to our definition – or our mind’s picture – of what we felt was a “good Christian life”.  For example, did we believe a “good Christian” should listen to “secular” music, or should dress modestly, or should drive extravagant cars, etc. etc.

Then he asked us to take it a step further, and to look at this question in the context of the culture in which we were serving.  He challenged us to ask the Lord to show us whether some of our “Christian life” rules were, in fact, based on the truth and authority of God and His Word, or if they were actually based on our home culture.  He then asked us to consider whether the rules we’d setup based on our culture were perhaps inhibiting our being able to better know and understand the culture into which we were called to serve.

One example that came to my mind immediately was cards.  I remembered when Charlie and I were in Brazil working and training with some Brazilian believers, that during a break a few of the American kids brought out some playing cards.  I remembered how surprised the Brazilians were that the American adults were allowing their children to play cards.  According to the Brazilian culture, Christians never play with cards.  They believe the risk is too great that a person will start to rely on some sort of chance or fate in a card game, which goes very much against faith in the one true God.

Of course, serving in Russia, one of the most obvious questions for me during this discussion was regarding my judgment of the Russian Orthodox church.  Many Protestant believers serving in Russia absolutely refuse to work at all with anyone associated with the Russian Orthodox church.  This separation exists for several reasons, actually.  But one of the primary issues that I have felt the Lord challenge in my life while living in Russia has to do with a very specific topic, and that is the Orthodox church’s use of icons and incense in their worship.

First, I want to make it clear that I am not advocating praying to or worshiping anything other than the one true God, our Creator.  In fact, in conversations with Russian Orthodox believers, it has been confirmed that there are many in that faith who have come to put their trust and belief not in God Almighty, but in the icons to which they pray.  This is, I believe, nothing short of idolatry.

This idea has brought me to a couple of other points, however, that I do want to make.  First – I don’t believe this was the original intention of these things in the Orthodox church.  When I asked her, a Russian Orthodox friend described it very well.  She said that one of the core beliefs of the Russian Orthodox church is that worshiping God should involve the entirety of our bodies, which He created to worship Him.  She explained that as our senses of smell and touch and sight were given to us by Him as well as our senses of hearing and taste, we should seek to use all of those things in our experience of Him.  Originally, the icons and incense were introduced into the Russian Orthodox church so as to assist the worshiper to more fully experience the presence of God in their lives with their whole bodies.

Over the generations, however, many have been brought up in the Russian Orthodox church and it’s customs without ever having entered into a true relationship with God through Jesus Christ.  For this reason, many in the church do seek life and joy and peace in their lives through these created objects, and are missing the real source of life in their lives, the Creator God.

Second – and what has actually brought me to think about this “cultural idolatry” in recent weeks – is not something I’ve witnessed in Russia at all, but what I realized I might be seeing among us from the U.S.

In the first week of November, I began seeing something that in all years past until now has never struck me as strange.  American advertising media and music stations and even conversations on Facebook began to focus very much on things pertaining to the celebration of Christmas.  And now that Thanksgiving is over, it’s everywhere.  Whenever I connect online with anything American, I am certain to see running through it some sort of Christmas theme.  Everywhere are Christmas lights, Christmas sales, Christmas music, Santa Claus, and on and on.

And I’ve been wondering a bit about these things this year.  Why is it that each year we in the U.S. seem to want to start the Christmas music and put up our Christmas trees earlier and leave them on later?  We all know the depression that sets in after Christmas is over and all of the lights are taken down.  Where does that come from?  We’ve just celebrated the coming of our Lord into this world to save us from our sins.  We should be entering the New Year with a renewed sense of hope and life.  So why are we so down in January?

Further, when people start talking about what excites them about Christmas, they usually mention lights, family, music, shopping.  Rarely do you hear a person say how much they love the time of gathering together to remember the birth of Jesus Christ.  In fact, Christmas morning – the very day set aside for celebration – is for many one of the saddest days of the year.  How can that be?

Then I think back to what I’ve learned from the Russian Orthodox church.  How I’ve seen people seek to find life and joy not in the God we’ve come to celebrate, but in the created things with which He’s blessed us.  I wonder if the Christmas tradition according to our culture in the U.S. has not become more about finding a sense of life or hope in our lives by doing lots of shopping and parties, and by hanging pretty lights around our houses, and by listening to music that made us so happy when we were children.

I wonder if we’ve not shifted our focus and our trust and our worship away from the God we are seeking to celebrate this season, and onto the things originally created to help us experience Him more fully.  I wonder how I would feel if all of those things were taken away – the lights, the food, the gifts under the tree, the music – and all I had was a quiet night with a baby lying in a smelly manger, born of a virgin, who’d come into the world to save me and my children and all of us from death.  Where would my hope lie?  Would it be enough?

Dear God, I pray that this season you will show us those gifts you’ve given that we have put in front of you.  I pray you will show us those things we rely on to bring us joy and peace that are not you.  And I pray that in your mercy you will forgive us and grant us grace in the inevitable fall we will experience as these things are taken away.  These things are not you – they will fail us.  I pray that you will fill us afresh in the empty places that remain with your ever-healing and almighty presence, in Christ Jesus.  Thank you, God, for sending your son in this world to die for us.  Thank you for this time that we can come together and celebrate his coming again.  In Christ Jesus’ name.  Amen.

 

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Text from The Chastain’s November 2011 Newsletter

(Click this  11-11 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 Eastern Europe)

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Greetings (finally!) from Tallinn, Estonia this gorgeous November! It’s been so good to keep up with several of you through Facebook and email – and to hear of great plans to gather together to give thanks this week to our God. We have much to be thankful for. We’d like to share some of those things with you this month.

Opening Doors

I have to admit that when we moved to Tallinn, Charlie and I were curious about the kinds of ministry opportunities that God would show us here, and whether we would be able to hear and follow the direction of His will. It has surprised us how quickly and clearly His direction has come to us in recent weeks.

Our first week living in Tallinn, we were invited by friends to visit the Vineyard Church of Tallinn. In the days since that first visit, we have felt so clearly God’s leading us to become more involved in this community of believers.

Orphanage Ministry – We have seen doors open very quickly for Estonian orphan ministry in collaboration with the Vineyard Church since moving to Tallinn. In October, I was invited by a member of the church to join a group from her organization called the Friends Club. This organization was set up to support orphans living in Estonia. As indicated by it’s name, this group seeks to develop relationships with orphans living here, and to nurture those relationships through various means – including regular visits, special events, and, for one facility, a summer camp hosted each August by the organization.

I am excited to learn more about some of the methods of the Friends Club, and to glean ideas from them that may possibly be introduced to some of the workers we know in Russia. Of course, there are many conditions and restrictions in Russia that would make some of these ideas very difficult to implement there – but I do feel a call to spend time working with, learning from, and supporting this local group in Estonia according to God’s leading.

Music Ministry – Charlie’s music ministry in the region has continued to grow since we first mentioned some opportunities in July. In addition to assisting the A/V ministry at Vineyard, Charlie has also been invited to use some of their office space as a studio for the work he is doing with christian musicians. The timing has proven to be excellent, as Charlie has been contacted by several groups – both out of Tallinn and St. Petersburg – to work on various projects in these weeks since living in Estonia. In fact, he is currently working to complete an album with a christian group of out St. Petersburg, “Sup-Cultura”, hopefully by mid-December, so that he can move forward in these other projects in future months.

Charlie has also been invited by a few Estonian producers to hold audio engineering seminars at a local school for christian musicians in the area. Charlie has seen that in both Russia and Estonia, there are several believing musicians who feel a true call to produce music that expresses their love and praise of Jesus Christ. However, almost none of them have any training in music production – which is absolutely vital in truly capturing the message the artist desires to express. Charlie’s being here at this time seems to have brought a sense of excitement among these musicians, who have expressed a great deal of frustration at being unable to really achieve the sound they want in their efforts to produce the music to which they feel called.

Prayer Ministry – A few weeks ago I was contacted by a Russian pastor and his wife serving just outside of St. Petersburg, who were seeking intensive healing prayer ministry for themselves. I agreed to meet with them, but told them I would not be able to come to Russia until after we’d received our visas – hopefully by the end of November. They then decided to apply for visas to Estonia, which only took a couple of weeks. Last week they took a 6 hour bus ride from their home to Tallinn, and I was very honored to spend 2 days in intensive prayer with them, and to see God do great works in their lives in that time.

When I mentioned this opportunity to the pastor at the Vineyard Church, he welcomed me to use one of their rooms for our prayer meetings, which we agreed to do. Early on the first day of our time praying together, the pastor’s wife quickly felt very strongly the presence of God with her, and she became quite emotional. I suggested that she lie down on some pillows and just rest and receive His anointing in that time. For several minutes she laid face down and wept as the spirit of God washed over her and began to bring up wounds and issues that He desired to cleanse in her life. After a time, she lifted her head, and looked up to see the large, wooden cross that was leaning on the wall in front of her – and she just smiled.

“In these past weeks planning our trip here, I had a vision of coming to a church and just falling down before the cross,” she said. “I had no idea that my vision was to be literally fulfilled!” It was such a beautiful beginning to the two days of being washed – soaked – in the presence of her Maker. She said she’d never experienced such a time with Him as that, and I praise God for His faithfulness in waiting for us there at that place, and for the healing He began in their lives as they traveled so far just to spend uninterrupted time with Him.

Assuming our Russian visas are prepared, I am planning a trip in the 2nd week of December to Kaliningrad, Russia to hold a prayer retreat for a women’s group there, and also a trip in the 3rd week of December to St. Petersburg for a follow-up prayer conference with a group of pastors there. It has been amazing to me to see God open doors for intensive prayer ministry with Russians since our moving to Estonia. At first, this did not make a lot of sense to me. However, after praying for some of the very dark and difficult wounds that were revealed this past week, I realized 2 things:

First:  I know that the very dark and painful things this pastor and his wife have experienced growing up and living in Russia are actually very common experiences among Russians. It seems that the history and spiritual climate of that place lends itself to such things. I am particularly open to seeing God using this as a great ministry for mothers in Russia. I believe that many mothers choose to give up their children to the orphanage system as a result of deep emotional and spiritual struggles in their own lives. I believe God wants to bring healing and wholeness to the lives of the mothers there, and to mold them into the mothers He designed them to be.

Second:  I now can see clearly that if we were still living full- time in the spiritual climate of Russia, I would not be able to work so intensively in this ministry. I can see that our living there and gaining a more intimate understanding of Russia was absolutely necessary for the work we’re called to do. But I am also amazed to see how following God’s desire for us to live in Estonia may actually expand the ministry to which we are called in Russia.

While in St. Petersburg, I also will be visiting with some of the individuals and groups we know who are working to serve orphans in that place. I have truly missed seeing these brothers and sisters these past weeks, and am very much looking forward to spending time with them.

Finally, Charlie will be traveling to St. Petersburg at the end of December to check in on a couple of music projects, visit an orphanage in Tikhvin where some roof work was completed this fall, and to host a team coming from Norcross UMC to work with an orphan intake hospital and with a vocational training center for orphan grads in St. Petersburg. We lift these travel plans up to you for prayer that God will be obeyed and glorified. We also ask for covering in these weeks as our baby girl is due to be born at the end of January. We ask for God’s protection and guidance in these weeks as we finish these travels and settle back in Tallinn in early January to prepare for her arrival!

Support Update – As a result of our move to Estonia, there have been a few who have felt called to stop their financial support at the beginning of 2012. While we know this has been a difficult decision, we also trust that God is faithful to open doors where others have been closed! In December we will be sending out a specific appeal for individuals and churches to consider whether God is calling you to begin supporting the expanding work we are doing here in Eastern Europe. In these weeks we ask that you begin to pray for us regarding this issue. Our God knows all things. We are seeking to keep our minds open to whatever roads He provides toward our being able to live and work here on a full-time basis! We can offer Him nothing of any true worth that did not originally come from Him, and in that truth we find our peace!!

Love and blessings to each of you this Thanksgiving! Thank you, thank you, thank you for your continued, steadfast love and support of us in whichever way God leads!

Warmest love, Miki, Charlie, Isabel, and Jasper

WE STILL NEED YOUR HELP!

Our monthly support is still under our current ministry needs. We invite you (or your Sunday school class, your Church, etc.) to consider partnering with us through The Mission Society by pledging $25, $50, $100 or more a month.

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 electronic debit: – go to our website: http://www.actsofadvocacy.org and click on “Give” to go to the TMS “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 clickon “Give” to go to the TMS “donations” page.

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