I returned home from Russia nine days ago. And nine days ago I didn’t think I had anything to write about concerning my mission trip. I couldn’t find my purpose in having gone to Russia. So I said to God, “Please show me what it is I need to write about. Please show me why I even went over to Russia, because I don’t understand. I can’t really see why I went over there.” Hearing my entreaty, God was faithful to answer my prayer and, during the past five days, my thoughts have come together in a way I could never have anticipated.
If one thought could summarize my overall mission trip experience, it would be the one that has repeatedly crossed my mind – it’s not your mission. That thought, once home, overwhelmed me. It is something that flooded my mind and my spirit. It was the central message I kept being bombarded with over and over and over again.
“Not my mission,” was the most evident truth that I not only thought, but also felt while in Russia. It started with the loss of all control over my circumstances. Once I arrived in Russia, my ability to control anything was literally taken away. I couldn’t control when I ate, what I ate, who I ate with, where I slept, who I slept with, or what I was doing minute-to-minute. This might seem trivial, but if you, as a North American, even just imagine yourself in those circumstances, you’ll realize it’s alarmingly meaningful to give up the control our culture tends to prize. Compared to ours, Russian culture does not celebrate or value individual control as we do so having a lack of control is not nearly as bothersome for Russians in general.
Having been stripped of my ability to control my personal circumstances, I had only a few choices. I could complain…which I did for a very short period of time before I realized complaining was not going to change anything. That’s when I stopped and turned to God, realizing I had taken my eyes off of Him because I was so worried about my loss of control over my circumstances. Things started to change once I returned my focus to Him and said, “Okay God, I don’t understand what’s going on here. Please forgive me for forgetting that You’re really in control anyway, and know that my fake sense of self control has somewhat crumbled before my eyes and Yours. This is all on You. I accept that now. Please forgive me. I surrender to You.”
It started with me not really being affected when plans fell apart, leaving us missionaries to spend time alone with God. “Such a privilege,” I thought. When was the last time I could actually say I had time ALONE with God? It had been years, years since I was not overwhelmed by the pressures of my life, the people in my life, and the schedules I keep for myself and my loved ones. I began to see this “alone time” as a real, necessary privilege…a time where I could read the bible and actually pause to think about what I read in the simplest way possible without distraction. I actually took the time to watch things without worrying about what I needed to do in the next 10 minutes or where I needed to be - none of those familiar pressures distracted me from observing God’s creations. I even took the time to watch ants crawl along the ground as I did when I was a child! It became obvious that God had given me an opportunity to connect with Him and He was saying, “Come and let’s chat!”
Before I left for Russia, I spent quite a bit of time trying to remember how to present the Gospel using the Evangeacube, a tool designed for sharing the Gospel. I used the cube a total of 3 times while in Russia and what I said never came out of my mouth the same way any of those times. What I did share over and over again was my own personal testimony, a testimony I’ve never shared at home…a testimony I’ve always been ashamed to share because I thought it was too raw, too much for someone to hear. I had always heard that you don’t want to ever go into the details about what a mess you were before Christ. Well, that rule didn’t apply in Russia and adhering to it clearly wasn’t what God had in mind. It was in Russia that I shared the worst of who I was and the wonder of who I had become after asking Christ to be my life. The story of my personal journey to Christ was powerful and I saw its impact in the faces of the Russians who listened.
I saw what the Gospel did when it was spoken to people. One thing it always did no matter where we were, was silence people. You could always hear a pin drop when the name, “Jesus,” was mentioned. I saw a few other things, too. One was that people either scattered after that moment of silence or, alternatively, someone or something would cause a disruption when we approached individuals about their having a choice to accept or reject Jesus. I saw Satan’s interference clearer than I had ever seen it before. It started to be something that could be predicted like clockwork and I was amazed.
Once we were out in a very small village where a small crowd had gathered to listen to us. And just at that moment when the time came for the members of our audience to make their own decisions about Jesus, a man started arguing about their impending personal choices. We thought, “Well, Satan has won here,” but sure enough, we were wrong! Five children who had been listening to us intently accepted Christ as their Lord and Savior once they were separated from our audience’s argumentative adult members.
I learned not to be upset if someone didn’t get it, if someone didn’t make a decision for Christ. I remembered that it wasn’t about any one person’s decision at the moment. Instead, it was about the fact that they now had heard. The bible says that scripture is sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the marrow. It also says that God’s word never comes back void. I learned to trust and know that my job was to tell about God’s word, not to work out other people’s decisions. That part was in God’s hands.
I also witnessed spiritual warfare at its highest. I witnessed believers at each other’s throats and, in my own life, experienced more than one attack. The first attack occurred on my first day in Russia when I found myself sad and crying uncontrollably for no reason. I couldn’t make sense of it and, frankly, I just wanted to go home. Months earlier, I had been told this happened to some people, but I never thought I’d be one of those people. Well, it turns out I was one of them. I think I was the only one of my group who experienced this sadness and I had to be reminded of what it was and that it would pass. And with prayer, it did.
A week into the trip, I received a call from the states saying my husband, Larry, was in the ICU. Larry was fine when I left. But for some reason in the week since I’d been gone, his breathing had practically stopped, his kidneys had stopped working and he was hanging on death’s door. It was extremely clear to me why this had happened - it was an attempt to get me to return to the states and to not finish out the second week of my trip.
But what ended up happening was not a victory for Satan, but a victory for God instead. I was renewed with a passion and strength I could not describe. I knew where it was from and I was very grateful. My tears were limited and He kept my mind on the mission at hand. It was incredible. This event inspired my family members back home, giving them all a strength they did not know they could receive. As proof, my daughter wrote the following on her Facebook wall:
“I was able to speak with my mom this morning after calling E3 Ministries emergency hotline last night. She called the hospital very early this morning and all my dad could get out was "stay in Russia". This is ALL the devils work, but we will continue to praise God for all that he has done and for sparing my father's life - my mom will continue God's work in Russia - she cried on the phone when
I talked to her but I let her know that Nicole and I are taking care of everything and what she's doing is important and that she is needed more where she's at. On the same note I found a missing bolt on my car this morning. The spiritual battle is heavy right now, but our family’s morale is incredibly high! The devil may have afflicted my father’s health, but God did not allow him to take his life. I saw my dad this morning, he's still in ICU, and does not look good but according to his nurse he's much better than he was yesterday. His O2 levels were at 52 when he arrived (which could have easily killed him) and he aspirated vomit (TMI I know sorry), he's still vomiting blood this morning but he's MUCH better. Thank you everyone for your prayers and support - keep praying because God DOES hear us!”
Isn’t what she wrote both insightful and powerful? Well, the work God did on behalf of my family didn’t stop there. My soon-to-be son-in-law received Christ as his Lord that week also! God was moving in ways I had not imagined. Isn’t that just like God, though? To work outside of our own understanding because of who He is?
My second week in Russia started off wonderfully. We headed to a smaller city called “Shebekino.” We stayed in Shebekino with a Pastor and his family; a family that truly lives for and praises Christ for everything and a pastor with a testimony as hard and difficult as mine…one that he shared with us.
Our host had killed a man many years ago accidently and never spent time in jail even after turning himself into the authorities. He attributes all of this to the Creator. A life changed. A testimony for all to see in his community. A family that survives on $250 a month. A family of four - they were happy beyond anything I had ever seen before. It wasn’t faked or forced. It was genuine and it was real. I felt it and I saw it. Our time there was well spent and I realized then why Satan had wanted me to not complete my second week…and I understood why God was determined that I did.
Something that I knew for sure throughout my trip, was that I was being prayed for. I was reminded of that daily in my spirit and I was very aware that the prayers of others were being heard by God. For instance, I knew I was starting to get a urinary tract infection, but then the symptoms would just go away. When I came home, a friend told me she had been compelled to pray that I would stay healthy.
I never experienced any sort of jet lag after I arrived or Russia or when I returned home. I later found out that a group of people had been praying specifically for our team of North American’s to be spared jet lag.
During my time overseas, I did not experience the normal arthritis pain I live with every day, but it started again once I got back home…just another example of how I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that I was being helped because of the prayers of people, of God’s children.
The Russian people that I met were lovely and wonderful. They were a joy to be around. My roommate of 18 days, Ann, was a wonderful person and if I pause to think about it, I would have to say she was a blessing to me…a new friendship created with someone who led a life very similar to mine. I remember thinking at the end of the day it was nice that she was there. It was almost as though we had been friends for years. I actually miss her now.
I have no idea if God has plans for me to return to Russia or not. But what I can say is that I’m happy and grateful that He allowed me to take part in His mission. I will not forget my time there.