Lessons Learned

A friend, Shannon Taylor, recently posted an item that is a great encouragement to people who are leaving their home country to serve in Christian ministry:

Seven Years Later…

Today marks seven years from August 1, 2006, the day I boarded a plane and moved to Asia. What a ride it’s been – full of growth, challenges, adventures, tears and joys I never would have imagined! Recently I was asked for some advice by a young woman considering going into full-time missions. That got me thinking. So to commemorate seven years, here are 10 important lessons I’ve learned along the way.

1. BE FLEXIBLE. One can’t say enough about this when living cross-culturally in places where the western values of planning and preparedness don’t always reign. And it’s especially important in a developing country where politics is crazy, city-wide strikes are common, and you may or may not have electricity or water (which isn’t clean even when you do have it) at any given time.

2. LAUGH EASILY & OFTEN – ESPECIALLY AT YOURSELF. If you can’t do this, you’re gonna end up crying far too often… like when you accidentally say something really embarrassing when trying to speak in a foreign language, or when you have absolutely no idea what people around you are talking about, or when there’s no room on the bus and the driver tells you unkindly to climb on the roof, or when you’ve forgotten to bring your own toilet paper into the asphyxiatingly stinky squatty potty during a power outage (keep in mind frequent GI issues in such countries), and the candle inside goes out and it’s pitch black and there’s no water to flush or wash your hands (true story). Continue reading

The Purpose of Scripture

Recently sent by a friend —

Our deeply held conviction is that everything in Scripture is for the purpose of bringing us into a deeper and closer relationship with the Lord, so that we may truly know Him and be conformed to His image and that He may truly know us, as He indicates to be so essential in Matthew 7 and as Paul says in Galatians.

The goal on every level is to surrender completely to Him, so that His lordship may be complete.

This is the purpose of all the truths of God’s Word.

The problem for many Christians over the ages has often been that Scripture has been interpreted in a way that nullifies the purpose of our obedience to Him and to His Word. Continue reading

God’s Love in Action

Olga and I have three young ladies from our church staying with us, Zhenya, Anna and Natasha.  I’ll post some pictures of our ‘new family’ soon.  Natasha works at Crimson Sails, a Christian children’s shelter.  Here’s one story of the way the Lord uses His people to save the lost. This is from Street Cry’s update

Dasha (in the photo at left) was sent to this Christian shelter by her district police station officer.

Her alcoholic mom’s alcoholic boyfriend attacked Dasha with a knife.  She managed to escape almost without injuries with her grandmother’s assistance. With no time to even get dressed properly, and without a coat or boots, this young child ran through the snow and frost to the police for help.

As the police inspected Dasha’s home, they found a destroyed apartment, with almost everything sold in order to buy alcohol.  There was no food and not only Dasha did not have a desk to do her school homework but she did not even have a bed where she could sleep.  The court case began by denying Dasha’s mom parental rights.  While the case proceeded, Dasha was placed in the Christian shelter.

Very soon, she received Jesus and began attending Sunday school at our church.

Continue reading

The Face in the Mirror

More from Liz Hulley

Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like.

James 1:23, 24 (NIV)

This verse came to shouted at me one morning recently as I finished up my Bible reading.  The cares of the world were already infiltrating my thoughts, and I felt as though I had been studying the Word in vain.  I had to approach the Lord all over again and ask for forgiveness.

What does it mean to forget what one looks like?

It’s absurd.  The only time I didn’t recognize myself was after I got contacts and looked at myself in the mirror the first time.  I had only seen myself in glasses for most of my life.  I think one would have to be literally blind to not know oneself.

It’s sad.  Being uncertain about one’s identity can be heart-wrenching.

It’s careless.  I am not promoting vanity here, but not being familiar with one’s appearance may say something about character.  Maybe it’s a lack of organization, lack of attention, or lack of purpose.

I believe that the Living Word often works in our hearts undetected.  We don’t always experience an emotional or otherwise conscious reaction.  Yet when we test our hearts, I believe we will find evidence as to whether or not the Word has taken hold.

The passage in James is talking about action.  Good deeds testify about one’s faith.  We could also talk about bearing fruit.  But there are also simple commands in the Bible such as casting all our cares upon Him.  Surely this also is an act of obedience, and a starting point for other acts of faith.  If I can’t emerge from my prayer closet with an attitude of trust, perhaps I haven’t paid attention very well to what I’ve just read in the Bible.

Arkady Ledkov

Here is some news from our church, Street Cry, about one of our members —

Arkady Ledkov (photo on left) has been part of our church, ministry and staff for a number of years.  Several months ago we sent him out with the laying on of hands to reach the people of his ancestry.

Arkady was born in a small Nenets (a national minority) village of Karataika in the Arkhangelsk region – the far North of Russia beyond the Polar circle.  His people are nomads, their main trades are still reindeer herding and fishing.

Nothing edible grows up there except for wild berries and mushrooms.  The villages are isolated from civilization – there are no roads to reach them. Continue reading

Words of Truth

Olga and I have been considering new opportunities in Estonia, and a friend in the US, who will move to Russia soon with her family, sent the following note.  We are blessed to have friends who consider so deeply the things of God and share them so freely to encourage us.

I’m not sure these thoughts will be of relevance for you guys, but it’s what I have to offer!   Continue reading

Kostya Protasov

Our church in St. Petersburg started (and continues) as a ministry to drug addicts and prostitutes.  In addition to street evangelism, city-wide worship services and other ministries, StreetCry has a two year School of Ministry.  Kostya is 26, currently in the second year of the program and is one of the leading evangelists in our church.

Here is his story:

My name is Kostya and I was typical of my generation.  Drug user, consumer, egoist – “mine, me, myself and I”  were the words describing my life credo.

Since I turned 13, my motto was “Take from life everything that it has to offer!”  Together with my friends I partied, went to discos, drank, smoked, used hash, etc… every day purposed to discover and experience something new.

I fell in love with the most beautiful girl in our class and – like in a fairy tale – she became mine.  We modeled our lives according to the latest Hollywood movies, only we were the main characters.

In the summer of 1997, I went to visit my friend in Voronezh region (south of Russia).  All summer we used hash and poppy that grew everywhere – we smoked, boiled and whatever. . . Continue reading

How I Got to Russia

Here’s a quick recap of what got me started on this path:  For several years I was the administrator of South Shore Church (now Red River Church) in Austin, Texas.

I loved my job and thought I’d be there for a long time to come.

Mark Browne, then executive director of Mission Global Outreach (MGO) spoke at church in the fall of 1999, and some friends felt in their hearts that I should go to Russia and get to know Mark better. So, my friends surprised me by paying for my trip to Russia with MGO in January of 2000. I thought, ‘well, this will be great, a free trip to Russia. Should be interesting.” This was the beginning of an unexpected change in my life.

Well, after the trip I felt, through prayer, that I should return to Russia but I wasn’t sure in what capacity. While in Russia on that first trip, I had felt a call to “see the seasons change in St. Petersburg.”

The elders at church had been praying about my situation, and we all agreed that it was time for me to step off staff and move on to new things–that was a scary step of faith. But God has been teaching me that it’s quite alright to trust Him in difficult or confusing situations. Let me give a little background on that:

As I was praying in the summer of 1999, I sensed that the Lord wanted me to go on a fast–I hadn’t been planning to fast at all. (I was quite overweight, and that was an indicator of a lack of discipline which spilled over into other areas of my life.)

So, I prayed “how long should this fast be?” I felt that it should be 40 days. Then I asked “what kind of fast should it be?” I was thinking maybe one meal a day, or no TV/movies/radio/newspapers, something like that. The fast I felt prompted to do, however, was the following: no solid food, and nothing that had any flavor. Well, that kinda left me with water.

So, I started the fast in early July 1999. It was a long 40 days. As a matter of fact, at the time I said it should be called a “slow.” It was very difficult, but the benefits far outweighed (pardon the pun) the cost. I’ll tell you, if the Lord calls you to something, He will give you the strength to complete it, and the result will be very good. If you’d like to know more about the lessons I learned in the fast, please feel free to write me.

I will give God the glory, because I certainly didn’t have it in me to do something like that. This was a very big lesson in learning to discern the will of the Lord, and trust Him to guide my steps as He gave me strength.

So, back to Russia: Originally I thought I would probably return to Russia as a member of a team from Austin. As I was stepping off staff at the church, Mark Browne asked me to work as a staff member with MGO in the summer of 2000, serving the teams that work in the summer camps.

I spent three months living in a camp and an orphanage, serving kids and helping coordinate the various teams that came from the States. In the fall of 2000 I was elected to the board of MGO and was commissioned to go to Russia and start a Russian charity (now named MIR).

In less than twelve months I went from my first visit to Russia to living in Russia. It was quite a ride! And the ride continues . . . .

My readings in the Bible took me back to Psalm 23, and I know that the Lord is a good shepherd; He will lead us beside still waters, He will make us lie down in green pastures, and He will be with us in the valley of the shadow of death. His rod and staff (discipline, leadership, salvation) are comforting. So, we have nothing to be anxious about as we walk with Him.

I encourage you, whatever your situation, to seek after the righteousness of God and trust that everything you need will be provided. Put your faith in Christ. Very few will be in the situation in which I find myself, but we are all called to love God with all our being, and to love others as we love ourselves.

God is a loving Father, He is worthy of our praise; Jesus sets the perfect example for us all to be selfless servants, speaking the truth in love, walking by faith, and looking out for the needs of others; the Holy Spirit gives us the life of God as a river of living water, of blessing and truth and mercy, to flow through us to the people in our lives who God loves more than we can imagine.


While in America, soon after our marriage in Russia, we wanted to obtain an American marriage certificate in addition to a Russian one. Kent Reynolds, the pastor of St. James UMC in Athens, signed our marriage license. Talking with him and his wife, Sandy, was one the highlights of that trip for me.

We talked about a lot of things concerning service and being a disciple of the Lord. One thing we touched on was that God has a plan for each life. And we need to seek His face and ask Him what it is that He would have us do.

There are so many good things we could do on this earth, but the most important is to do the things God wants us to do. And it may be as small as going to your neighbor and offering a kind word. In God’s eyes there no small or big things, as long as this is what He told you to do.

The Lord may want you to be put aside for Him or used by Him. Whatever it is God is laying on your heart, trust Him and don’t be afraid to make a step. He will be there for you.

The Cost of Being a Disciple

There is so much that can be said (and has been said) about Luke 14:28ff, but there have been new insights for me as I’ve meditated on the text over several days’ time. Jesus is speaking of the cost of discipleship. Here is found the well-known teaching that one must hate his own life and take up his own cross in order to be a disciple. By way of illustration, Jesus uses two figures: 1) building a tower, and 2) suing for peace with a superior adversary.

It is this second metaphor that has caught my attention recently. “What king, if he sets out to meet another king in battle, will not first sit down to take counsel whether he is strong enough with ten thousand men to encounter the one coming against him with twenty thousand?” Jesus then says that the weaker king will go out to the stronger king and sue for peace before the battle’s begun.

God is the superior King. Who am I to come against Him with the miserable little force at my command? How can I stand against His demand that the whole earth submit to Him? My “army” includes my will, my body, my intellect, my talents, my stamina, my length of days, my wisdom, my creative force. In every area I am at such a disadvantage that I should immediately go to God, while He is a long way off, and ask for His terms of peace. It’s clear that He will be victorious, and if I were to engage Him in this battle for sovereignty, all my energies would be expended, and I would be completely defeated.

So, it’s wisdom to submit myself to Him before the battle rages, before all that I have and all that I am is used up in my futile attempt to win a war against God. Jesus then says, “So therefore, no one of you can be my disciple who does not give up all his own possessions.” Just as a weaker king must completely bow to the will of the victor, and place all his holdings in the other King’s control, so must I ask for terms of peace with God, and give Him complete control over my “army” and holdings–my life. These are His terms of peace: surrender all, everything you have that is valuable to you–wife, children, father, mother, land, even your own soul.

But there is good news, Jesus said that if we leave these things for his sake, we will get back much more in this life and in the life to come. So, in the process of surrendering my holdings to the Lord, I receive more than I surrender. This also happens in wars; the greater king may give authority to the weaker king because of his submission. It shows wisdom, character and understanding to submit in such a situation.

But, and this is very important, I must truly surrender all to Him. I must take up my own cross and die to myself, receiving God’s will for my life. I cannot play a game with God, withholding from Him what I most want to keep to myself; the Lord will not let it stand. He is the one true God. There is no other before Him–not even me. I must surrender all, just as the weaker king must fall before the superior king and be dependent on his will.

God is much smarter than I am. He is much wiser, loving, patient, stronger, and more joyful. It’s good to surrender to such a King.