russia

What is a rubber dummy?

“What in the world is a rubber dummy?”

 Jen is a computer programmer. She had been describing the process of developing a new commercial program. “Then,” she had explained, “when I think I’m all finished, I have to use a rubber dummy.” That’s when I interrupted her. “What in the world is a rubber dummy?”

 “When I think I’m finished with the whole program, I have to make sure other people know what it’s all about and how to use it. I look for the least computer literate person. He or she becomes my rubber dummy. If I can explain things so that person understands, I can consider my job complete.”

 It seems to me there are many times when God works like this. He brings us into what he is doing, not because he needs us, but because he wants us to see and understand what is happening. We become God’s rubber dummies. For example:

 I was at Lighthouse of Hope camp in Russia’s Central Black Soil Region as part of the discipleship process for a group of teenagers who had recently given their lives to Jesus Christ. In our first meeting together, I wanted to give some of them the opportunity to verbalize the commitment they had made.

 “Who wants to come up here and tell . . .” I hadn’t even completed the sentence before the figure jumped from the front row of seats and bounded onto the platform next to me. Not saying a word, she stood there looking at me with a knowing smile. I recognized her from photos of previous camps, but must have looked confused because she said, “Don’t you remember?”

 

I was still confused. Remember what? “The picnic table.” The picnic table! It came flooding back to me.

 Two years before this, while visiting the same camp, I had been called off a construction project to fill in for another speaker who had been delayed. Since that had been an evangelistic camp, I probably challenged the kids to talk to their counselors about what it meant to follow Christ. I had finished up, spent a few minutes talking to people around the campfire, then headed back to my room at the Center.

 Suddenly Irina, one of our interpreters, came running to me. “David, you have to come with me. Right now!” After a long and hard day, I was ready for bed, but had learned to trust Irina ‘s judgment. I followed her back toward the campground where she led me to a group of girls sitting around a picnic table.

 Irina looked at the girls, who all seemed to be studying their hands in their laps or the top of the table. “Tell him,” she demanded in the Russian way. Hesitantly, one by one, six teenage girls told me that they had just invited Jesus Christ into their lives.

 Wow! I didn’t quite know what to do. I asked them each to tell me about the experience, then sat with them for the next couple of hours, no longer concerned about getting to bed early. We talked about the decisions they had made, and what they meant in practical terms. I encouraged them. We prayed together.

 Jump ahead two years and I was back at the discipleship camp, looking at this young lady, Masha, and picturing her sitting at that picnic table. “You.” I said in English. Masha understood and nodded at me. And before I knew it, she had turned to the whole group and began telling them what happened to her and how she had grown in Christ in the two years between that picnic table in this platform. What an amazing start to a week of helping these new believers walk with their Savior.

 I was God’s rubber dummy! He certainly didn’t need me there, either when Masha came to know him or when she gave her testimony to the other campers. In both cases, he arranged the circumstances and actions to extend his kingdom and to bring glory to himself. He further arranged things to make sure that I would understand what he had done and how he had done it.

 I guess I don’t mind being a rubber dummy in circumstances like this. I’m also somewhat of a storyteller. And what happens when you combine a rubber dummy and a storyteller? Well. . . You get something like what you’ve just read.

A girl named Inna

You’ve heard it said “a picture is worth a thousand words.” I like to think a good picture should not only be worth a thousand words, but should tell a story. Some pictures can go beyond that to tell multiple stories.

 I’m looking at a photograph I ‘ve carried with me for over a decade. In some ways, it is self-explanatory. This is obviously a baptism, probably in Russia. The man in the blue robe seems to be the pastor. The three younger people with him, the baptismal candidates. Just that makes a good picture. But there’s more.

 My attention was caught by the girl at the end of the line. With her head bowed, it’s difficult to see much about her, other than she is a young woman. Something about her caught my heart, and I made an inner commitment to pray for her. I prayed regularly that she had indeed found Christ. I prayed that she would grow in Christ. I prayed that God would bring a support group around her.

As time went on, I learned her name was Inna. She had been a addicted to drugs and alcohol, and was then in a rehab program at Transformation Christian Center. I was told she had met a young man at the center and they planned to be married. All of this information fueled my prayers as I held her before the Lord.

 A couple of years later I had the opportunity to visit this center in Russia. I was very excited about the possibility of actually meeting Inna. To me she was the both a real Christian sister as well as a living representation of the work being done through that ministry.

 At my first chance on site, I began wandering around the complex, looking for someone who might be Inna. After walking around fruitlessly for a time, I spied a small figure sitting on a step. Going by the only photograph I had, it would be difficult to identify her, but I would give it a try. Walking up to her, I pulled out half of my Russian language knowledge and said “Menya zavut David” -- my name is David. She responded “Menya zavut Inna.”

 It was her! Now what? I didn’t know any more Russian, and it was obvious she knew even less English. We smiled at each other, became mutually embarrassed, and I finally waved my hand, mumbled “da svedanya” or good-bye, and walked away.

 The next day I was standing with a bilingual missionary when I saw Inna walking past. Calling to her I asked Rick to translate for us. I began by telling her about the photograph. Yes, she smiled as she remembered the day she was baptized. “Inna,” I said. “Ever since I saw that photograph of your baptism, I’ve been praying for you.”

 Inna looked confused for a moment, then looked up at Rick and began to say, “why would anyone pray for someone that they did not know?”

 Before she had even finished that question, I saw something new come into her eyes – an answer to her own question. This was something she had never thought of before. As she looked to me, it was as if a bright light came on behind her eyes. For possibly the first time in her life, Inna realized she had a larger family beyond her new husband, beyond her fellow residents in rehab, even beyond the missionary community. In a new burst of understanding she realized she was part of a worldwide family – – God’s church, where people knew who she was, prayed for her, and loved her unconditionally.

 On that day Inna learned something new. So did I. I saw the power of a simple photograph and understood anew the power of prayer and encouragement within the family of God.

 Maybe the best thing about this story is that this is only part one. Stay tuned.

Pray for Russia

Lord, thank you for our brothers and sisters across Russia. Thank you for their faith in you. Thank You that there is a time of freedom for people to share their faith. Strengthen them so that they will be ready to stand strong and share Your love no matter what hardships they face and no matter where they go. Please continue to grow in Your saints in Russia this faith in You as well as their love for one another. Lord, we pray for this faith in you not only from the Russian majority, but also from the many minority groups native to this vast land as well as the millions of immigrants from central Asia and other parts of the world barely touched with the good news of Jesus. Show Yourself through the love that the saints from these various people groups have for one another.

May Russians find Your glory not only in the natural beauty across this vast land, but even more so in the work of Your Spirit in the hearts of all who believe in You. Lord, we realize that this will only happen if you pour out Your Spirit, Your wisdom and Your revelation so that they will know You. Lord free them from the various strongholds that linger from the system wide atheism behind the Iron Curtain, from alcoholism that entangles so many, and from the large pockets of Islam, Animism, Buddhism and other folk religions that keep people from putting their trust in You. Lord, free all the peoples of Russia from hopelessness or fear that keep them from Your peace and freedom. Let them press forward in finding what is true and right and may they find that the truth is only ultimately found in You. Bring light and joy to their hearts, as they understand the great inheritance that You offer by Your grace. May they see that true greatness will happen as they participate in growing Your Kingdom within Russia and across the boarders to their neighbors. Help them to see the righteousness, honor, and peace that You give to each of Your children. May they see that You and You alone are the ultimate authority and power no matter what difficulties they are facing. And help them to hold on to the hope of heaven.

Lord, build Your church in Russia and fill the church with Your fullness. Raise up men and women from Russia who will be disciple-makers of the nations. Raise up a movement of disciple-makers. Give them your perfect grace so that they will fulfill their role in bringing Your perfect good news to every people group and every person not only within their borders, but to all the ends of the earth. May we talk of Russia as a nation that is forever changed by Your glory and grace!