“I’ll come to church,” Ivan (name changed) told me, “BUT I’m going to be really busy next month with my studies, so I probably won’t be able to come again.” I’ve gotten used to the gentle rejection that Russians give to avoid exposing themselves to evangelical Christianity. Church remains a mystery to most Russians, one they have no interest in uncovering. Years of Soviet propaganda portrayed churches as deceptive and dangerous to society. And to this day people avoid associating themselves with evangelical “sektanty” (sectarians).
This young man Ivan had been my friend for a few years and had become close with my family. I had shared the gospel message with him many times, but he was never interested. However, a few months ago, in His perfect timing, God orchestrated a series of events that drew Ivan into close contact with the church and the body of believers.
First, God got him to church. There happened to be an American visiting Krasnoyarsk who wanted to attend our service. Ivan offered to help him navigate the public transportation system to get him there. The next Sunday he came again after he heard that our kids would be performing a song – although he warned me on the way there that he wouldn’t be able to come again!
Second, God provided the perfect chance for Ivan to interact with church members in a less formal setting. After that second visit, the church decided to throw together a picnic in the nearby forest, and Ivan came along. We played volleyball, ate some good Russian BBQ and had a great time.
As I was driving Ivan home after the picnic, he did a 180 and said to me, “Those are great people. I think I want to come back to church next week.” The picnic had been the perfect context to show him that believers are not only normal and fun people like anyone else, but also filled with a hope and joy that are not common in Russia.
A month later, Ivan passed on some good news– “I’ve repented and accepted Christ!” A couple months later, Ivan’s childhood friend, a well-read atheist, accepted Christ, too, and has become active in the church. To see these two young men pursuing God is such a pleasure!