We were tired!
Our team had spent the last week at Transformation Christian Center in Lipetsk, Russia, doing building and maintenance work. On this last full day, we were too tired to accomplish any real work. I decided to chop and dig a tree stump out of the ground. That sounds like work, but I planned to take my time and make that one task last the entire afternoon. Of course, I could not do this on my own, so the rest the team had gathered around to watch me and socialize.
Some way into this chore, we heard shouts coming from the village next to the campground. Looking toward the source of the noise, we saw a man staggering towards us from the road. As he came closer we could see he was waving a hatchet above his head and screaming in slurred Russian.
Just as suddenly, I was alone with my tree stump. Everyone had run for cover. Looking back to the Russian, I realized he was heading directly toward me. I like to think I’m brave, but courage had nothing to do with this. I was so tired, I couldn’t have run away if I tried. I stood, holding my own ax, watching the guy get closer and closer.
Finally, something clicked in my brain. I had to do something. I summoned my little bit of Russian language and yelled out “ya ni panimayu pa ruski”, or “I don’t speak Russian!” The man stopped abruptly about 15 feet from me. He stared in wonder as if to say “who is this fool who thinks I will not kill him just because he doesn’t speak my language?”
Just then Dima, the director of the rehab center, burst from a building and stood between us. Very calmly, Dima approached the man, put his arm around his shoulder, and led him to a nearby bench. Gradually my teammates returned. We watched for the next 10 or so minutes as Dima talked to the man, then walked him back to the village as if nothing it happened.
Later, I asked Dima, “what was that all about?” His reply, “you don’t need to know.” I just shrugged, because so much of the Russian mind was still a mystery to me.
The next day, we were packed up and ready to start our journey toward home. On our way to board the train back to Moscow, we had one last speaking assignment at Holy Trinity Church. That completed, I was rushing toward the door when somebody grabbed my arm.
The man who now held onto my arm was Sergei. No ordinary Sergei, we had nicknamed him Inna’s Sergei. Yes, the same Inna as in the baptismal picture. This was her husband. I had met Inna on my second day in camp and Sergei shortly after that. We knew each other to nod to, and I’m sure Inna had told him about the conversation she and I had a week before this.
I really didn’t have time for this, but didn’t want to offend Sergei. As he pulled me from the doorway of the church toward an open space outside, he also reached out and grabbed hold of one of our interpreters, indicating he had something he wanted to communicate before we left.
We had barely found a quiet place to talk, before he plunged into rapid-fire Russian. “I know who you are, David,” he began. “Inna and I have watched you this week. We saw your team at work and play. We have heard you speak to the campers.
“You know we are still new Christians. We watch the people who come here to help us so that we can see how other Christians live.” I wondered where he was going with this. “We were watching yesterday.”
Yesterday, I wondered? Then I remembered. Yesterday! I waited for him to continue.
“You and others have set a good example for us. We’ve learned a lot, but there is more. We have seen how you all are serving the Lord by serving us.” With a smile he continued, “I don’t think you planned yesterday’s encounter as part of your work, but God wanted me to see that so I could know to trust you.
“I know the people in your team are doing this for just a week or so and then will go back to their lives in the United States. But you are a missionary. This is your job, you do it all the time, and you seem to enjoy it. Inna and I want to be like you. We want to be missionaries. Tell us what to do.”
What a moment! There have been few times in my life when I found myself speechless. This was one. I knew our team had not been the only instrument God used in bringing Sergei and Inna to this point. I thought of Paul’s words in 1Corinthians that one Christian worker might sow the seed, another might water and care for the seed, but God brings the seed to full fruit. God had used many people in the process of turning Sergei and Inna to himself and leading them this far. I was overwhelmed to think that we had been given the privilege of being here at the moment in time when God was putting new direction into their lives.
As all that flashed through my mind, I realized we were out of time. We had to leave immediately for the train station. The best I could do was pray with Sergei, assure him I would continue praying and be available for guidance via letter and email. Later I would tell some of the local workers what it happened so that they, too, could share the joy and could follow up in a more practical way.
As I boarded the train to Moscow just a few minutes later, I had no idea if I would ever be back in that place, no idea if I would ever see Sergei and Inna again.
But there is another part of the story, so come back next week.