It’s not every day you run into a group of 11 Russian-speaking kids at a skating rink in Clinton, Mississippi, but if you had visited Funtime Skating on January 2nd about 1PM that’s exactly what would have happened.
It’s strange and wonderful how God providentially opens doors where you never expect them. It’s been just over 4 months now since we made the move back to the United States from Russia. Believe me, we’ve been busy with lots to do, but four months living outside of the Russian context begins to take its toll. Cristy and I have noted during this period of transition, our ministry filled with lots of phone calls, meetings, paperwork, translation, and problem solving, that we felt “on the sidelines” as it were. I don’t mind administrative work, and am thankful God has given me a way to still be involved in the ministry from a distance, but I’ll confess, sometimes I feel like a water boy. But for a few days in January here I was able to “get back in the game” as it were, and I jumped in with all of the enthusiasm as Rudy did in the movie by the same name.
It all began over the Christmas holidays when we were visiting with my family in Baton Rouge. My sister and brother-in-law informed me of a ministry in Hattiesburg, Mississippi that was connected with their church Temple Baptist. An organization called “Promise 139” has been active in ministering to Orphans in Ukraine for some time now. For several years, they’ve been bringing over small groups of orphans from a particular orphanage to Mississippi for two weeks once a year. These are mostly older orphans who have been in orphanages for many years, and statistically most will never get adopted. The trips are a way to love them, let them experience loving family life for a short time, and ultimately show them the love of Christ. It took several phone calls, but I finally connected with the ministry and was able to volunteer to help with translation during their time here.
The group came over with two translators from Ukraine, but with 11 kids, and with one of the main goals being that the kids would interact with American families, more translators only helped. On January 2nd, the group came up to Jackson for the day and was hosted by Pinelake Baptist Church.
Immediately, the kids were very open, and a little taken back by this strange guy who spoke Russian with a funny accent. Families from Pinelake Baptist joined us for the day as we skated, bowled and finally introduced the whole group to catfish and fried dill pickles. At dinner that evening I ended up at a table with two buddies by the name of Kostia and Maxim, 10 and 11 respectively. Sitting at the table were two young couples from Pinelake. It was exciting to help them be able to talk to these two young boys and better communicate. Conversations ranged from favorite activities (race cars), what they wanted to be when they grew up (race car drivers), and favorite colors (black and red, because these were the colors of their favorite race cars of course). But the two families also had the opportunity to talk about the gospel and God’s Word with Kostia and Maxim. Seeds were planted.
On the following Wednesday, January 4th, I drove with the group from Hattiesburg over to my old stomping grounds in New Orleans. The day began at the Aquarium of the Americas. This time I grouped up with two older boys, Ruslan and Andrey, 13 and 16. It was fun to watch the kids racing around wanting their pictures taken with everything they saw. Andrey also helped me learn a few new words as I had never once during our four years in Russia ever had to use the word “sea otter” in a sentence.
We briefly walked down to the French Quarter where the kids were introduced to beignets (French Donuts) from Cafe du Mond. I think they went over pretty well as Ruslan downed at least 9 of them. Later at lunch he seemed to strangely have no appetite and opted only for grapes. I couldn’t imagine why.
Later that afternoon we visited New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary where they met with one of the classes. There were at least 50 or 60 ministry students in the class, and the group practiced some games and non-verbal communications skills with the kids. It went over very well. Later, over pizza I got to be the translator again for one of the seminary students and Maxim as they talked and he shared the gospel with Maxim. Again, seeds were planted, and by God’s grace I was thankful to be able to have opportunities to personally reinforce in conversations what the kids had heard from others about Jesus Christ. The whole scenario reminded me how important non-verbal communication is to opening doors for the gospel. Through it one can show love and friendship and even earn trust, trust that becomes crucial when one wants to share the Good News.
At the end of the day it was hard to leave. It’s extremely easy to become attached to kids. When they’re young there’s a simpleness, and naiveté that is, in many ways, refreshing. They’re open, friendly and very trusting. But as a believer I know that unless their hearts are opened to the gospel and ultimately changed that their trials and temptations will only grow with age. So in parting my heart cried out a simple prayer, “God save them.”
It is good to know that Promise 139 is continuing to minister to this particular orphanage, and that this will not be the last time these kids will hear the gospel. Many seeds were planted, seeds that I hope will be watered through further ministry. I hope by God’s grace to be involved again at some point in the near future.
So for a few days I was encouraged and refreshed to, in a small way, be part of this ministry. We couldn’t go to Russia, so the Lord brought Russia to Mississippi it seems.