A changed life greatly encouraged us in our second year of language study. It is the story of an elderly lady named Elena Feodorevna, the mother of a young couple in our home group. Our group was meeting at Elena’s home, and one day Perry forgot his English/Russian New Testament at their apartment. Some weeks later, Elena had a great desire to share about something she had experienced. She asked if we remembered the day Perry forgot his Bible at her house. We did. Then she went on to tell how this particular version was interesting to her, especially the Four Spiritual Laws at the back of the Bible.
Coming across the prayer for salvation, she felt as if it exactly expressed her heart’s desire. Elena prayed the prayer for salvation, and in the same moment, she accepted the Lord as her Saviour. She thanked Perry for forgetting his Bible! Who could imagine forgetting a Bible could have such a redemptive impact? We did not play a vital role in bringing Elena to Christ. It was God doing the work. He was working through His powerful Word to bring people to Himself. We can testify to the truth of Isaiah 55:11, “… so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.”
I will never forget one evangelistic outreach we held on a local school campus near Hope Church, the church we were connected to. The last activity of the outreach was a race to the church, and the winners got prizes. It would have been an amazing picture to capture as a couple hundred young people raced to church. Unfortunately, following close behind was the vice principal of the school. She threatened many of the students from her school with expulsion if they did not leave. When youth leaders confronted her on the private property of the church, she said, “I’d rather that my kids were drug addicts than to attend your church.” Her sentiment highlights the challenging environment of growing an evangelical church in the area.
One youth who came to Christ in those days was Vitya Trushov. He became an active part of the youth group and a worship leader. Years later, Vitya admitted that he first attended the youth group at Hope Church because he was so hungry. His family literally had no food, so he attended youth fellowship nights because they served snacks. If we had known how desperate the poverty really was, we would have fed many more people.
Lynda was a key organizer of the first summer day camp for children of Hope Church; sixty children attended, and four repented and came to Christ. Lynda also led an Alpha group for ladies. One came to Christ on the first night, and almost all who attended more than once repented.
Lynda was one of the first Canadian C&MA teachers to trial run homeschooling. She was an excellent teacher, and homeschooling is now a viable option for Canadian C&MA mission workers.
Russia had some of the highest abortion rates in the world. In 2004 there were 1,500,000 children born and 1,800,000 abortions. One out of four Russians lived below the poverty line, and substance abuse was prevalent. More than three out of four teenagers between fourteen and nineteen use alcohol regularly. About half of adult women and two-thirds of the men smoke. The devil comes to steal, kill, and destroy, but Jesus came so we might have abundant life (see John 10:10).
When doing ministry in a large megacity, it is essential to keep the faith perspective of Caleb and Joshua when they entered the Promised Land. Yes, the cities are big and fortified, but our God is bigger and stronger. Yes, large enemies live there, but we are God’s children. So problems became opportunities to see God at work.
Alyona lived in the same apartment building where Perry and I lived for four years in St. Petersburg. One day she and her boyfriend, Zhenya, found a crumpled-up piece of paper in the elevator. They picked it up and discovered it was an invitation to view The Passion of the Christ. Alyona had heard of this film and really wanted to see it. Zhenya agreed, and they came to the film sponsored by our church. They were deeply moved by it, and shortly after, they both gave their lives to Christ. It was a fulfillment of God’s promise to Israel in Joshua 1:3, “I will give you every place where you set your foot, as I promised Moses.”
It was so much fun discipling Alyona. Everything about the Bible and Christianity was so new and interesting to her. For example, when we first discussed the concept of tithing, Alyona was shocked.
“You don’t really expect me to believe that God wants me to live on only 90% of my income and give 10% to the church, do you? That doesn’t make sense. I can barely live on what I make now.”
I agreed with her; by human logic, it does not make sense, but in God’s economy, not only does it make sense, it works. So, with some reluctance, she agreed to try it. Her hand was shaking when she gave her first tithe. The following Sunday, Alyona got up in church and testified that the day after she gave her money, she had received a bonus from her boss that exceeded her tithe! God is so faithful. After her experience, Alyona was definitely convinced she needed to tithe. She inspired many of our other new believers to tithe, and they started giving testimonies of how God had blessed them.
Although Alyona saw many answers to prayer, she went through some challenging trials. She and Zhenya got engaged, and the wedding was scheduled for May 2006. Only a month before the wedding, Zhenya died of a heroin overdose. It was terrible since Zhenya was a prospective leader in our church plant, and we thought he had overcome his addiction. As you can imagine, Alyona was devastated. I was apprehensive she would turn her back on God and walk away from the church. But, praise God, she leaned in closer to the Lord and experienced the incredible comfort of the Holy Spirit. Then, only a few short months later, her alcoholic father committed suicide. It was another devastating blow for Alyona. Again, the church family rallied around her, prayed for her, and supported her the best we could. God proved Himself faithful, and Alyona’s faith grew even stronger and deeper. She shared her testimony in church shortly before we came back to Canada on home assignment. It was powerful; God refined her through suffering. She said, “God isn’t a pill we take that erases all our problems. But He is there to comfort us when we go through hard times.”
This is an excerpt from the book, On Mission Volume 3. Download your free copy today.