Yesterday (Friday, December 18) marked a milestone of sorts for us. It was the end of our first semester of Russian language school. Slava Bogu! (Praise the Lord!) Kellie and I along with several other students were able to present our testimonies in Russian and actually be understood by the Russian teachers and language helpers who have labored with us so faithfully--and patiently! While we still have quite a ways to go, we can now engage in conversations with our Russian-speaking friends, neighbors, and people on the street or in the marketplace. Maybe in a future blog, we will give you some examples of our attempts at conversations. Some of them may remind you of Abbot and Costello's "Who's on first?" skit.
One of the methods that Russian teachers use to help their students to acquire the language involves learning several interrogatives (where? what? when? who? how? what sort of? etc) which help the students to learn, recognize, and hopefully use the appropriate grammatical structure when forming phrases and sentences. You must know which grammatical structure corresponds to which question. Failure to do so hinders clarity and possibly credibility in your communication. As I have thought about that, it occurred to me that the same is true with God's communication with us.
In revealing His life-giving Word to us, He couches His revelation in very specific questions. The three big questions utilize the words what, how, and why. Problems arise when either we fail to ask the right questions or fail to do so at the right time. For example, Israel during the time of the major and minor prophets was pretty good at asking "what" questions when it came to worship. They maintained the sacrifical system with regularity and precision, yet they ignored the "how" of worship and so earned God's severe rebuke: "Your lips are near but your hearts are far" (Isaiah 29:12); "Take away the noise of your (worship) songs" (Amos 5:23). Upon closer examination, you begin to see that they missed the "how" of worship because they failed to grasp the "why" of the character of God. Only a few, like Isaiah, saw the "why" of worship (Isaiah 6:1-4).
We are no different today. Many American believers (and Ukrainians too) are pretty attuned to what the Bible teaches. There is much information (that answers "what" sorts of questions) being dispensed. But few give sufficient attention to how God wants our lives to be lived outside of the building where we meet weekly to learn yet more information. Even when some preachers and authors try to address how kinds of issues (which is important), they fail to connect their how teaching with God's why. And so we end up with a pragmatic, self-help approach to life that misses the glory of God and the glory of a Gospel that transforms sinners like you and me (I Timothy 1:15).
That is our passion for coming to Ukraine. To train present and future church leaders in the Russian-speaking world to promote not only the what of the Christian life, but the pursuit of the what in a way that is concerned with how and why. So as you pray for us, pray that we will learn to ask and answer with the right grammatical constructions. Moreover, pray that we will live and teach in ways that God uses to challenge leaders and churches to ask the right questions at the right time. In Ukraine, the Gospel is no longer the novelty that it was after the dissolution of the Soviet Union. There is much spiritual complacency. What is needed are churches with leaders who are raising the right questions, questions that point not only to an answer, but to a Person--the One whose birthday we celebrate this week.
One final note. We praise the Lord that our daughter is with us here in Kiev to help us celebrate our first Christmas far from our former home in America!
Have a truly Merry Christmas!
Jerry, Kellie, and Karissa Benge
PS You can check out some recent pictures in our photo album!