Feature

A Crack in the Door

God let me see His purpose

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The bus jerked to a stop. Maneuvering through the congested Yekaterinburg traffic had taken its toll on me. I turned to my left, wondering how my fellow passengers were handling the situation. One boy, oblivious to the snarled traffic, fiddled with his iPod. The young lady in front of me appeared to be sleeping. A few others sat silently, statuesque in their poses. I reclined in my seat and closed my eyes, hoping to reach the campground as quickly as possible.

Before this trip to Russia, I would not have described myself as adventurous. I had never been out of the United States (save for two short trips to Toronto), never been in an airport, never been on a plane and never foresaw myself as a short-term missionary. Before I learned of this opportunity in early May 2008, I had not even considered participating in any missions trip. Now, just three months later, I disembarked from the bus and walked behind the rest of the Russian students toward the lodge where the English Camp would be held. I wondered why God had taken me from my secure place of inaction to halfway around the world, and I was curious about what He wanted me to do.

Karina, Karina

Once all of the camp attendees had unpacked their belongings, I strolled around the picturesque campground with Alliance workers in Yekaterinburg who had invited me to their first-ever English Camp. As we neared the path that led to the lake, one of them pointed to a figure nearly concealed by the thick foliage. “That’s Karina. She’s never attended one of our English Cafés, yet she is someone my wife and I would like to get to know better.”

The worker turned back toward the lodge to prepare for the opening night’s festivities, and I stood alone on the path. I turned to follow him, but for some inexplicable reason I stopped. Instead, I peered into the woods, but Karina could no longer be seen. Without knowing what to say or how I would communicate with her, I followed Karina toward the lake.

In his epistle to the church in Colosse, Paul stated, “And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message . . .” (4:3). Karina stood at the edge of a wooden deck overlooking the lake, and from the moment our conversation began, I realized God had opened a crack in the door for me. An hour later, Karina and I returned to the lodge, discussing the merits of American rock-and-roll bands and how much she enjoyed practicing her English skills. When Karina returned to her room to prepare for dinner, the Alliance worker nudged me and smiled. “Looks like you made yourself a friend.” The intimacy I established with Karina in such a short time erased any doubts I had for why God had led me to Russia.

New Friends

Later that evening, the workers introduced me to several other English Café visitors who had made the trek to the camp: Maxine, who challenged me to a one-versus-one game of soccer that continued until nearly midnight; Grecia, who responded to my limited use of Russian by saying, “You sound just like an American spy!”; and Sasha, the class clown, who loved singing American songs and role-playing whatever scenarios the workers concocted.

Yet what inspired me the most was how effortlessly the Alliance workers served the needs of their Russian students and nurtured relationships that would last well after I returned to the United States. Throughout the weekend, they led their eager students in songs, skits and games, all the while engaging them in conversations that paved the way for future relationships.

Late into the last evening of camp, after all the other students had retired, the Alliance worker pointed toward the corner of the room. His wife and Karina had slipped away for a deeper conversation. As the two continued their discussion, he whispered, “Thanks. The two of you really hit if off. That’s opened the door for my wife to get to know Karina better.” I smiled and remembered how inadequate I felt when I stepped on the bus departing from Yekaterinburg. As Philippians 4:13 states, “I can do everything through him who gives me strength.”

Another Strong Relationship

On the plane trip from Yekaterinburg to Moscow before I returned to the United States, I reflected upon my experiences with the students at English Camp. Before I came, I could not articulate why God moved me to accept the invitation to join their ministry. The excuses why I should not have gone were strong and should have dissuaded me: I have three small children at home. I have professional responsibilities. I have never done this before. However, as soon as the announcement was made in church about the short-term opportunity at the English Camp, I knew I would go. As my wife, Barb, and I left church that day, the question was never, Should I go? The only question asked was, What do I need to do first to make this trip possible?

On the way back to Moscow, I finally realized God’s purpose for my trip. The worker thanked me for opening a crack in the door for their relationship with Karina, but God opened a door for me as well, one I never thought I would enter. Now a passion for missions has been ignited within me, and God has provided opportunities for me to share with others my new desire to support future English Camps in Russia. The Alliance workers’ future plans include a permanent English Café in Yekaterinburg. This site will offer outreach programs—scrapbooking, fitness and business classes—and will serve as a comfortable environment to introduce Christ to the attendees. The workers need a voice, an advocate, to speak for their plans and increase the awareness of their Russian ministry.

With this goal in mind, my home church, Bellevue (Ohio) Alliance, is in the final stages of developing a formal partnership to support this ministry spiritually and financially. Also, since the first English Camp in Yekaterinburg was a success, the Alliance workers are considering a winter camp in addition to the summer one. This means more Russian students will attend the camps, and more workers will be needed. I hope to lead a future contingent of Bellevue Alliance workers to Yekaterinburg to share the joys of serving Christ in Russia.

“‘The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field. Go!’” (Luke 10:2–3).

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