- On our feet to pray! It was a little startling at first that whenever we said, “Let’s pray” to begin or end a teaching session, everyone stood up as one. We stood around tables to pray before every meal. This may be a borrowed habit from their Orthodox friends in a heavily Orthodox land. I loved the attentiveness, reverence, and zeal that it showed. I think we Californians especially can be a little casual about ‘hanging out with our buddy Jesus,’ and we could stand to borrow a page from our Belarusian brothers and sisters who rise in the presence of a Holy God.
- They said yes to Nigerians: While Belarusians have a range of complexions, some do tend to be quite fair, and that was my expectation…so it was a wonderful surprise to meet about ten Nigerians at this retreat. It turns out that Belarus has actively marketed itself as a destination for international students from Africa, and Nigerians in particular have come, by the thousands. Katya, who focuses on international student outreach in Minsk, spoke to us with great passion and insight about the struggles they face as soon as they arrive. While many come as at least nominally Christian, they can easily fall prey to the temptations in this land—a country that tops the charts in per capita alcohol consumption, etc. They are in no way prepared for the winter weather. And, sadly, they currently are even greeted with fear by some on the metro who worry about Ebola. It has not been entirely smooth or easy for the campus fellowships around Belarus to welcome and integrate the Nigerians. Their cultures are so different. They could easily have said, “Well, that’s probably too hard a bridge for us to cross. We’ll let them muddle along on their own.” But they said yes, and their fellowships are richer for it, and the Nigerians are thriving in their faith even in a distant land—even becoming leaders and attending the leadership training retreat where we just taught. I’m so glad they said yes.
As we came back together a woman burst out, “I am normally shy but I need to tell you about a day recently where I was out in the forest, roaming around like usual, when suddenly all my friends started going wild. It was as if we’d been attacked, but I couldn’t see our attacker! The others all started rushing for the cliff, and something in me really wanted to join them….” She went on to tell the story of the Gerasene Demoniac, from the perspective of one of the pigs. She shared that she had been a drug addict and had seen friends go over the cliff of suicide. It was incredibly moving, and a great privilege to learn her story. I could have sat in a room with her for hours and taught principles and points, and never learned this part of her life. But such is the power of story. I am eager to develop this session and shape it for use in other settings along our journey this year.
That’s it for now—much more to share but we are off to Latvia. We ask your prayers as we gather with graduates of the student ministry there for a retreat on post-college issues: money, relationships, calling and career, parenting, etc. We have no down day between these two—we’ll be glad to have that before the next event. But this time that just wasn’t in the cards, so do pray for stamina in this quick turnaround. We are so grateful for your friendship and prayers!