Sunday, April 15, 2012

He is risen, indeed!

Today (April 15) in Ukraine is Paskha (Easter, although the word literally means "Passover"). When I got up this morning, I had my usual cup of coffee and a bowl of cereal. And I briefly reviewed the traditional greeting that believers give each other in honor of this special day: "Christos voskres" ("He is risen"). The appropriate reply is: "Istinniu voskres" ("He is risen indeed').

On my way to church, I mentally rehearsed the phrase so I would be ready when greeted by my brothers and sisters at church. Of course, I stumbled on the first try (mainly because I am not a morning person), but quickly fell into the pattern, repeating the greeting or response several times. But as I was walking home, I heard the phrase again--this time very unexpectedly. You see, our church is not in the greatest neighborhood. You have to walk along a number of sidewalks or dirt paths that take you by an assortment of construction sites, run-down buildings, packs of roving dogs and...homeless people.

That was the context where I heard the phrase "Christos voskres." From a disheveled young man whose breath reeked of alcohol. The surprising greeting was followed by an unsurprising request for money. I was ready to say "No" and move on. But something prompted me to talk with him. So I said: "I won't give you money, but I can give you food." And off we went to the local convenience store. His name was Alexander. He came to Kiev from SE Ukraine to get work. But that wasn't working out. "It's really hard",  he said. I asked: "Where do you live?" He replied: "At the local train station."

"Christos voskres." I thought: What does this mean to him? Is it just a magical phrase to evoke compassion from a stranger?  We arrived at the store and got a loaf of  bread and a pound of kielbasa along with 1 1/2  liters of tomato juice. He took it to the counter. The cashier rang it up. She looked at him and stated the total. I gave her the money. Transaction completed. As we walked out of the store, I told him that this food came to him "in the name of Jesus Christ."  I briefly shared Christ's love for him. Then he hugged me.  And now I cannot get this young man off my mind.

My desire is that God would be pleased to help him see the connection between a risen Christ and his deepest needs. Please pray for Alexander that he may know the crucified and risen Christ!  And pray for our church that we will have the eyes of our Savior to see the Alexanders around us and be moved with compassion to show them a Christ who is risen, indeed!

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Good News--Bad News--GOOD NEWS

Dear Friends,

You are probably familiar with a genre of humor known as Good-News/Bad News jokes. Like the following joke:

"Good news: Recently, my friend got to go skydiving for the first time. Bad news: His parachute failed. Good news: As he was falling, he noticed a large pile of hay directly below. Bad News: There was a pitch fork in the middle of the hay. Good news: He missed the pitch fork. Bad news: He missed the pile of hay."

These past four months have been a mix of good news and bad news regarding the challenges of our residency. I won't rehearse all the details, other than to say that currently, the good news is that we are about to complete the last step necessary to receive our temporary residency in Ukraine. The bad news is that we have fallen on (yet) another pitchfork (ie. complication) in what has become an enexpectedly drawn out process.

And so we ask you to pray. Please pray for the local official with whom we meet today (around 9:00 to 10:00 AM EDT).  Solomon reminds us that "The king's heart is a stream of water in the hand of the Lord; he turns it wherever he will" (Proverbs 21:1).  With that in view, we ask you to pray that God would move in his heart to be gracious to us and allow us to complete this process without further delay or additional costs.

But we also ask you to pray for us. The drawn out nature of this process with all its ups and downs  can become emotionally draining. The temptation is to focus on getting this over with so we can just "move on."  And so, every day becomes another chance for hopes to be fulfilled--or dashed. If we are not careful, we can become emotionally trapped between the hopes for good news and the numbing disappointment of the latest bad news.

Which brings me to our specific request. Pray for us that we will focus on THE GOOD NEWS, the Gospel! This news is not impacted by daily events ("good" or "bad"). It is the good news that our Savior has already satisfied the righteous wrath of God that we deserved and altered the effects of life in a fallen world for His people. This guarantees that whatever happens ("good" or "bad"), it always works for our ultimate "good" (For a fuller explanation of this, see Romans 8:17-39).

Pray that whatever happens, our focus today (and always) will be on His Good News.

Thankful for God's Unchanging Good News,

Jerry and Kellie