In Siberia you walk, or take public transportation everywhere you go. After serving a year in Novosibirsk, Russia as a church planter I began noticing a numb tingling feeling in my left arm after walking a mile across town in -30 temps. A month later the numbness in my left arm came after walking six blocks. Eventually the numbness was developing by simply climbing the stairs to our apartment. I went online and researched my symptoms and it said I should call 911 (Russia does not have that #) or I should be dead. So my wife Amy said to call the IMB and ask them what the protocol is for this kind of scenario. I called and they said, “We want you on a plane to Budapest Hungary in 3 hours.” I can remember saying to myself “what in the world is going on God.” Little did I know that getting on that plane would be my last time in Novosibirsk for a very long time.
I remember very vividly boarding the plane. I wanted to be alone and not talk to anyone. As I took my seat just over the wing, I thought selfishly, “Great, empty seats on my row, I can stretch out, and just have some alone time to ponder life, family, the Lord, etc.” But about that time two young, Russian men (about 24 yrs. old) walked down the aisle with three bottles of vodka in a plastic bag looking for their seats. At first they went past me and I sighed with relief that they didn’t sit by me—have you ever done that?—but, as you guessed, back they came and sat by me.
God began to speak to me. “Victor, here is a challenge for you. Will you think about your poor little heart on this 3.5 hr. trip to Budapest or about the hearts of these two young men? After some greetings and practicing my Russian on them we were at about 29,000 feet having a great time talking about life in Russia. Their names were Sasha and Dima. I spoke as much Russian as I could and they spoke as much English as they could. I asked what they did and Dima said he was in the Arts and had just completed a new Russian Movie called “First Love.” He asked me if I had seen it in the theater. I said no, what is the name of this new movie? He pulled an airline magazine from the back of the seat and opened it to the movie section and there on page 28 was a picture of Dima advertising the new movie. He was the main actor. We talked for some time about this and I learned that Sasha was an incredible Russian singer in the movie. He sang a few songs for me (part of his singing was the alcohol as he opened one of the bottles and began drinking). He sounded like Josh Groban—seriously! Me, (Victor, nobody Missouri farm boy) was seated by two of the top Russian rising movie stars talking in broken Russian. Does God have a sense of humor or what!
Then God opened wide the witnessing door I was looking for when Dima asked me, “What do you do.” I said, “I get to tell people about the greatest need of their life.” Well, that made them both put down their vodka bottle and ask, “What would that be?” So, I said, “I get to tell people that God loves them and sent Jesus Christ into this world to take away our sin. I get to tell people about God’s love so they can have total forgiveness and friendship with God.” This began a two-hour dialogue that really opened up some neat scriptures from the Bible for them to hear. I told Dima that it sounded like he had everything horizontal in his life going for him—his acting career, fame, posters all over Russia with his picture on it, new girlfriend, health, etc., but he was missing a very important dimension to his life, the vertical! Where is your vertical relationship with God?
We talked a long time about this and then Dima said, “This is so good that I have sat by you today! I have wanted to talk to someone about this very subject for a long time. May I have your email so I can continue these talks?” I said of course, and gave him my card. I got Dima’s autograph, but Sasha, by this time was plastered with his nose up against the window singing his slurred songs to the clouds. Dima did not accept Jesus that day on the plane but I was obedient to share the Gospel and leave him with a challenge.
Well, the story doesn’t end there. After I got off the plane I went to the baggage claim area. A young married couple came up to me and said, “We sat in the seat in front of you and heard you sharing Jesus with those two Russian men. Thank you for everything you said, it was so amazing to hear how you took them through all the Scriptures to tell them about God’s love/purpose for their lives.” They told me that they were missionaries in Siberia and have been praying for God to send more harvesters to this area of Siberia and how my sharing with those two men was really a confirmation of their prayers. They were a really sweet couple and have been in Russia for about eight years ministering in a very difficult city.
So, how does the Lord use an ailing heart, a selfish mind that wanted to sit by myself on that old cramped up airplane, and a hungry stomach that had not eaten in 12 hours because of a soon coming stress test at the doctor’s office? The Lord allowed me to experience the energizing truth of John 4:34-38 and forget about all these physical discomforts: “But Jesus said to them, ‘I have food to eat that you do not know about. So the disciples said to one another, ‘Surely no one has brought him something to eat?’ Jesus said to them, ‘My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to complete his work. Do you not say, “Four months more, then comes the harvest”? But I tell you, look around you, and see how the fields are ripe for harvesting. The reaper is already receiving* wages and is gathering fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together. For here the saying holds true, “One sows and another reaps.” I sent you to reap that for which you did not labor. Others have labored, and you have entered into their labor.”
God never wastes a hurt. C.S. Lewis says, God has promised to always be with us through our difficulties. Hardship often prepares ordinary people for an extraordinary destiny.
Victor W. Boll is associate to the senior pastor at Calvary Baptist Church in Clearwater. He is a former International Mission Board missionary to Russia and the former pastor of missions at Hillcrest Baptist Church in Pensacola. Boll is a graduate of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and Missouri Southern State University. He and his wife, Amy, have four daughters.
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