Thursday, February 28, 2008

God cares for orphans, Part 4

In an example of a best-case scenario, one of my English students has found a home in a Christian family.




You may remember Lolita, 10, from earlier posts. She has now been adopted by an American woman. Lolita met her new mom through a hosting program that brings kids to the U.S. to stay in families during Christmas and summer vacation periods. This gives them a chance to get to know each other a little bit before pursuing adoption. Now that the adoption has been completed, Lolita’s mom reports that they are doing fine and that Lolita is enjoying school. Praise the Lord!

Many kids are being adopted through this program. Let’s pray that the children would receive the true Spirit of Adoption as they are being loved and given a home by families who are following the Lord.



This seems like a good opportunity to share about a dream I had a few years ago.

I was walking down a main street and came upon a rally of some sort. People were marching with banners that said “Abba.” I looked around and spotted some orphans I knew, from Lolita’s orphanage. They were cheering for “Abba” along with everyone else. I was a bit concerned, assuming that they didn’t know what they were shouting about. I approached the children and asked, “Do you know who Abba is?” “Yes,” they chorused. “He is God, our Father.”

I was surprised at their depth of knowledge. Upon waking, I wondered how much of the Truth was absorbed by the kids at summer camp when we shared the Gospel with them daily. I wonder how many of them know the Father and are able to cry out to Him as they wait for families.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

God cares for orphans, Part 3

Recently I was talking with Galina, the orphanage counselor whom I tutor in English. I update the database of kids in the orphanage who are eligible for our hosting program, so sometimes I ask Galina to clarify about certain kids. This time she told me that two more of the kids are being adopted (by Americans), along with their older brother from another orphanage.

“Soon we will have no kids and the orphanage will close!” she said sadly. I immediately thought of our prayers for the orphanages to close. It is in some ways a joyous thought, but for someone like Galina, it is a sad one. It truly takes great sacrifice to love kids who may be adopted by others or will simply graduate and go out into the world. Some are moved to other orphanages as well. Therefore, many orphanage staff members who seem harsh are simply trying to keep a little emotional distance between themselves and children they might lose.

I am constantly amazed by orphanage workers who pour their lives out for the children. The pay is not enough to keep them there. There is not much reward. And I wonder, other than faith in God, what could possibly motivate them? Not that the human race is devoid of compassion, but what could give them the strength to go on serving in the way that they do? God works in surprising ways and uses the people we’d least expect, in order to save lives.

In fact, maybe he will use some of those same people to place orphans in families. I have heard people who care for orphans say that they would adopt a child themselves, BUT… (and here are a list of factors including finances and jealousy of other children in the group). But these are the people who have the heart and experience for caring for wounded children. If they were given a chance, they could become more than a caregiver. They could give an uprooted child a second chance at having a family.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

No words to add

I finally finished "Everlasting Man" by G.K. Chesterton. I got stuck in a few sections, but in general I enjoyed it.

Here is one of my favorite quotes from the book. The quote is about the power of the Gospel. But I'm not going to add any other explanation. You'll see why.

"The tale has been retold with patronising pathos by elegant sceptics and with fluent enthusiasm by boisterous bestsellers. It will not be retold here. The grinding power of the plain words of the Gospel story is like the power of mill-stones; and those who can read them simpy enough will feel as if rocks had been rolled upon them. Criticism is only words about words; and of what use are words about such words as these? What is the use of word-painting about the dark garden filled suddenly with torchlight and furious faces? 'Are you come out with swords and staves as against a robber? All day I sat in your temple teaching, and you took me not.' Can anything be added to the massive and gathered restraint of that irony; like a great wave lifted to the sky and refusing to fall? ' Daughters of Jerusalem, weep not for me but weep for yourselves and for your children.' As the High Priest asked what further need he had of witnesses, we might well ask what further need we have of words. Peter in a panic repudiated him: 'and immediately the cock crew; and Jesus looked upon Peter, and Peter went out and wept bitterly.' Has anyone any further remarks to offer? Just before the murder he prayed for all the murderous race of men, saying, 'They know not what they do;' is there anything to say to that, except that we know as little what we say? Is there any need to repeat and spin out the story of how the tragedy trailed up the Via Dolorosa and how they threw him in haphazard with two thieves in one of the ordinary batches of execution; and how in all that horror and howling wilderness of desertion one voice spoke in homage, a startling voice from the very last place where it was looked for, the gibbet of the criminal; and he said to that nameless ruffian, 'This night shalt thou be with me in Paradise?' Is there anything to put after that but a full-stop? "

Saturday, February 16, 2008

God cares for orphans, Part 2

The other day I was at a prayer meeting for people with a heart for orphans. The crowd of about 14 included missionaries from different countries (Germany, the U.S., Great Britain) as well as Russians. There was a young Russian lady present whom I hadn't met before, although she was accompanied by some ladies I do know who work in transitional homes for orphanage graduates.

After the prayer had ended, I approached the young lady to introduce myself. She was sitting by herself as the others talked amongst themselves. "I'm an orphanage graduate!" she announced, partway into the conversation. My heart was immediately touched that she had risen out of her circumstances and joined a body of believers who wanted to help others in her situation. "I want to help orphans too," she said. She also shared with me that she had lived in Kazakstan for four years, as a missionary to the Muslims. "I liked my years from 20-25 the best," she said almost wistfully. "I was active, doing ministry. But now I will be doing ministry too, helping orphans." She was around my age. And what a life! She would be an example to others. I was encouraged.

When I got up to leave, the missionaries continued to chat jovially, but my new friend came over and gave me a hug and a little kiss on the cheek. It is sometimes surprising how easily God can unite believers in love.

God cares for orphans, Part 1

Do not take advantage of a widow or an orphan. If you do and they cry out to me, I will certainly hear their cry. My anger will be aroused, and I will kill you with the sword; your wives will become widows and your children fatherless. Exodus 22: 22-24



I am so thankful that God in Heaven recognizes the needs of orphans and does not forget them. They are one of the special groups of people to whom he has given attention since the beginning. He hears their cry. It can be perplexing to understand how to help, but God's stance on orphans is clear: He loves them, and it's an abomination to Him when they are mistreated.



Thursday, February 14, 2008

What elections?

Elections for the next president of the Russian Federation will be held on March 2nd. But in St.Petersburg at least, things are quiet. I haven't been watching tv, but I checked the Internet news sites and there are no headlines about the Russian elections. There is a little information on Russian news sites, but it is eclipsed by an announcement about Putin's last presidential speech. In St.Petersburg, there are a few billboards reminding people to vote. But unlike during the parliamentary campaigns in the fall, there are no flashy messages urging people to lend their voice. Apparently, it doesn't matter whether they vote or not. Everything is already decided.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Heaven

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. -Rev.21:1



I was pleased to see this article from Time posted online. It is an interview of Bishop Tom Wright of the Church of England, as he dispels some of the myths in Western culture about what Heaven is supposed to be like. As explained in the interview, some of those myths come from a non-Biblical view of the afterlife, some from literature, and some from the Bible being quoted out of context. I don't agree with everything in the interview, but I like seeing the myths being questioned.

Four Continents

Later this year, my brother Nathan will marry Hortense, a native of Congo-Zaire.


This means that our family will include members from North America, South America, Europe, and Africa. We just need to get Asia and Australia to join us. Antarctica might be a little tough.

Praise the Lord, who brings different cultures together for His glory.


Psalm 117
1 Praise the LORD, all you nations; extol him, all you peoples.
2 For great is his love toward us, and the faithfulness of the LORD endures forever. Praise the LORD.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Emotional

Recently I was struck by the story of Joseph in the Old Testament. I had read it sometime last year, but I don’t remember noticing how highly emotional it is. In nearly 10 instances, Joseph or one of his family members is described as weeping.

Joseph had experienced trauma on a variety of levels. The pain of a youth being betrayed by one’s family, in a culture where family was extremely important. The pain of separation from that family. The terror of finding oneself in a strange land. Spending time in jail. Not knowing whether he would be executed along with inmates.

But we are given no insight into Joseph’s emotions until the reunion. When he’s sold into slavery, the impression of him is the beloved yet spoiled son who pestered his brothers. And then suddenly he’s in Egypt, doing just fine. What did he experience?

And then the brothers come and Joseph struggles to control his emotions and to hide them, upon seeing his brothers again and hearing them remembering their sin against him.

24 And he turned himself about from them, and wept; and returned to them again, and communed with them, and took from them Simeon, and bound him before their eyes.
(Ge.42:24)

I honestly don’t understand all of Joseph’s actions in dealing with his brothers, why he disguised himself and waited so long, why he brought Benjamin into it. It seems like he is manipulating them a bit unfairly, but when we read about his deep emotions, it makes sense that he would act strangely after having been wounded in the past.

When Joseph sees Benjamin, this is what it says in the King James Version:

30 And Joseph made haste; for his bowels did yearn upon his brother: and he sought [where] to weep; and he entered into [his] chamber, and wept there.
31 And he washed his face, and went out, and refrained himself, and said, Set on bread.
(Ge.43:30,31)


You can practically feel the tension of his struggle not to show his tears.

And here’s the NIV: 30 Deeply moved at the sight of his brother, Joseph hurried out and looked for a place to weep. He went into his private room and wept there. 31 After he had washed his face, he came out and, controlling himself, said, "Serve the food."

Here is another powerful instance in which Joseph cries:

And he wept aloud: and the Egyptians and the house of Pharaoh heard. –Ge.45:2

More weeping:

And he fell upon his brother Benjamin's neck, and wept; and Benjamin wept upon his neck. Ge. 45:14

And again:

Moreover he kissed all his brethren, and wept upon them: and after that his brethren talked with him. Ge.45:15

And another…tears of joy:

And Joseph made ready his chariot, and went up to meet Israel his father, to Goshen, and presented himself unto him; and he fell on his neck, and wept on his neck a good while. Ge.46:29

Tears upon the occasion of death:

And Joseph fell upon his father's face, and wept upon him, and kissed him. Ge. 50:1

And finally:

16 And they sent a messenger unto Joseph, saying, Thy father did command before he died, saying, 17 So shall ye say unto Joseph, Forgive, I pray thee now, the trespass of thy brethren, and their sin; for they did unto thee evil: and now, we pray thee, forgive the trespass of the servants of the God of thy father. And Joseph wept when they spake unto him. 18 And his brethren also went and fell down before his face; and they said, Behold, we [be] thy servants. 19 And Joseph said unto them, Fear not: for [am] I in the place of God? 20 But as for you, ye thought evil against me; [but] God meant it unto good, to bring to pass, as [it is] this day, to save much people alive. 21 Now therefore fear ye not: I will nourish you, and your little ones. And he comforted them, and spake kindly unto them. (Ge.50:16-21)

I find this to be a very encouraging story of redemption. The Lord redeems many lives and family ties in the Old Testament, but often he redeems them through another source and we don’t see the original offenders being forgiven within their lifetime. It is a story of hope.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Street-smart

Today I was waiting on the metro platform and along came a stray dog. Somehow he had gotten through the turnstile and down the escalator. When the train approached, the dog began to bark, and I thought, "Surely he doesn't know how to ride the metro." But the doors opened, and he entered the same wagon as me! Then he settled down and took a nap. It was fun watching people trying to look stern, yet smiling anyway.

I took a picture with my mobile phone.



Here is a closer view, but blurry.

By the way, this scene with empty seats is not typical. But I guess not too many people are out and about on a Sunday morning. Except for those going to church, heading to work, or returning from a night-shift.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

The Future of Missionaries in Russia-Part III

I will continue my thoughts by going more into detail about the different lifestyle options for missionaries. A common strategy for missionaries is tent-making. For example, one main area of tent-making for missionaries to Russia is in education, namely teaching English. This continues to be an area in which foreigners can serve.

I've noticed that a lot of missionaries or other visitors upon arrival in Russia have either: 1) a profession acquired in their home country, but minimal Russian, or 2) Russian language training, but little professional skills.

Does there exist, or will there ever be a third group of people, who have an excellent command of the Russian language and also are highly skilled in a specific profession? People who could live like ordinary Russian citizens? It takes a long time to learn a language to the point of being able to work and communicate in a professional manner. Should living like native citizens be a goal? Certainly it makes sense to try to adapt to their lifestyle, but nevertheless, Christians are called to live apart, and conflicts will arise between these values and the values of a surrounding culture, be it one's native culture or a new one. Sometimes I want to blend in completely and lose my accent. But then I think, what’s the point of being a missionary if you are just like everyone else? In that case we could just drop Bibles from the air and forget about living among the people. No, we don't have to force our lifestyle on others, but those points at which two cultures collide are always opportunities for God's grace to come in and work in hearts.

I wonder if the prevalence of English language usage in major Russian cities is a disadvantage to being able to assimilate. In the U.S. we take it for granted that immigrants will learn English. Some families may retain their native language in the home environment, but for work and education, English is a must. Abroad, however, native English speakers are often able to work and study in their native language and spend free time with fellow ex-pats.

Getting back to the subject, missionaries to Russia now basically have two choices: 1) Work full-time in a profession, or study somewhere full-time and then figure out what to do next. 2) Work in “ministry,” but come and go all the time. In some ways, this seems a little backward to me. Ministries which serve people are very relationship-oriented. Coming and going could have an adverse effect. Work and study, however, while also having relational aspects, can normally be broken into tasks that allow for breaks. Some office work could be done abroad and the meetings conducted via Internet or during the time when the workers are all present. Study programs have breaks in the summer and between semesters. There are also distance- learning courses. So being able to stay an indefinite amount of time is not critical in those cases.

To be fair, I do think that one’s presence in another country should be legitimized. A long-term missionary is, essentially, an immigrant. He is building a new life, and that includes finding a job, housing, etc. But, I do find it frustrating that non-profit work does not currently seem to be accepted as a valid form of work for foreigners.

Let’s say a person feels called to church-planting in Russia. He plants a church and is pastoring a small flock. Suddenly, he no longer has a right to live there full-time. He might have to leave, abandoning his ministry. He might have to come and go constantly, using precious resources for travel, and missing out on certain aspects of life while he is absent. He might have to find a job working 30-40 hours outside of church, which would leave him little time for performing all his church functions as usual. What is the right thing to do?

Where does one’s calling come from ? In what format do we receive our calling? In a title? In a spiritual gift? Is a person called to be a missionary to a certain country, later deciding in what capacity? Or is a person called to work in a certain profession, later deciding where? Is a Christian "called" to work with certain members of society, such as the homeless? Or should he keep his options open and be ready to serve the needy of all ages and groups?

Paul had practical skills as a tentmaker. In the spiritual realm he was gifted to preach, evangelize, and prophesy. Sometimes he used these gifts while working his regular job, sometimes he ministered at night while working during the day, and sometimes he received support from churches in order to devote time strictly to ministry. He sometimes spent several years with one congregation and at other times traveled constantly. We see that he formed deep relationships with fellow believers, even those he encountered for only a short time. He didn’t have a family. He did have spiritual children. Reading about all this in Acts, much of it is inspiring, but it is also difficult to pinpoint general guidelines for missionaries. Part of this difficulty comes from confusion over the word “missionary,” for we are all called to live in this world and make living the Gospel our mission. Many “missionaries” seek to bring the Gospel to unreached people groups, but just as many "missionaries" are serving among Christianized nations. And those different situations call for different kinds of behavior. We are not all supposed to remain unmarried, like Paul. As for working, if missionaries all did “tentmaking,” how would they reach communities who are too poor to offer them a job?

What am I trying to say is that I think it takes a special sensitivity on the part of missionaries to know how they can touch a specific community during a certain season.

The paradox that we face now in Russia is that, on the one hand, God will make a way for missionaries to stay, if it is His will for them to be there. On the other hand, if they are to stay, the majority of missionaries will have to be open to changing what it is they do while in Russia. So, God makes it possible to stay…but for the sake of what are they staying? If a person is called to minister in a certain way, and that option is no longer available, does that mean it’s time to leave? It is going to require a lot of soul-searching on the part of missionaries and their sending committees in order to sort this out. Missions that are founded on the Word of God will stand. Missions that are founded on programs will not. While it’s good to have practical goals and missions “statements,” the lesson is that those goals that we set by human logic are subject to change or become impossible at any given moment.