Friday, July 1, 2011
Reaching to Russia - Celebrating the Stories
If you know me well, you know I see the world through the lens of narrative. I do not see graphs, lists, charts or outlines. I see people, value relationships and celebrate events. I see those things both as individual and as parts of a greater story. At times this perspective is maddening. Ever try to put a bike together by reading a story? Don’t! The last three weeks though this perspective has been a blessing indeed. I’ll try to explain why.
We finished the Novosibirsk portion of our outreach this summer on June 26 with our Mentor Mini Boot Camp. That was a record as far as early conclusions are concerned. This schedule was more forced upon us than outright chosen by us but we survived nonetheless. From June 5 to June 26 we went non-stop. That made June 27 a day we had circled on our calendars for a long time. The “story” that unfolded during those 21 non-stop days was that NOTHING which took place during that time is unable to take place tomorrow, next month or in the dead of the coming Siberian winter. I think that is important. While eating dinner with some friends last night whose children have been a part of our camps and mentoring programs, I asked one of our mentors who was present if anything we did the last 3 weeks depends on me/Americans being present in the future to do again. She said no. She said that all we did was easily repeatable anytime as long as we have access to children. Good news - we have plenty of access. The story here is that all we have done this summer thus far need not be the final chapter of a larger story in any way at all. Instead, they are chapters in an ongoing adventure that our mentors will continue to write, star in and tell long after we are gone.
With that said, I cannot praise enough the preparation, work and heart of Andy, Denny, Olivia, Nathan, Paul, Dante, Dan, Toby, Todd, Tim, Sheila, James, Anita and Victoria as well as Traci, Benjamin, Nate, Aidan and Anna. From the onset they all understood their role was to model behavior and faith that others, our mentors, would want to emulate after we all departed at summer’s end. Understanding roles and responsibilities is a major task of our short term team members and this year’s group “got it” better than ever before. That again makes the story that is unfolding here unique in that our Americans who come serve in a supplemental role to those of the mentors. Their resources, their faith, their commitment is what makes this ministry great and is what will keep churning out chapter after chapter of this ongoing story.
Below is a picture of Lilya giving a haircut yesterday to a beastly looking fellow. I wrote about her a few
months ago saying that she’s progressing in her career as a hair stylist and showing more responsibility and willingness to be independent. I also asked at that time that you pray for her to show the same kind of willingness and desire for spiritual matters. Me thinks you did just that. A week or so ago we invited Lilya and her mentor, Nastia, to come over for lunch on June 30. As we sat down to eat lunch, Nastia told me that Lilya would like to pray before our meal. As I told Nastia a few hours later, “that moment was the ministry moment of the summer for me. I’ll never forget that.” Here is why. In the time since February when Lilya last cut my hair and I asked you to pray, she has literally experienced a spiritual awakening. She has taken a strong moral stand in her life as it relates to where and with whom she will live. This is not easy when you are an orphan that cannot live at the orphanage but cannot yet afford your own housing. She has finished her vocational training and is now apprenticing as a young (only 20), overworked (9 a.m. to 9 p.m. 5-6 days a week), underpaid (you would not believe me if I told you) hair stylist. She has also started to regularly pray with Nastia testing the claims of this Christianity that she sees Nastia holding so unswervingly to. A step beyond that is that she willingly voiced her thanks and praises to God in the home of a Christian father, mother, 4 children, 2 grandparents, an American peer and her Russian Mentor all of whom have heard more pre-meal prayers in the last 4 weeks than she’s heard in her whole 20 years on earth.
The story is that the 12-3-1 Mentors that volunteer with YouthReach “get” what we are asking them to do and they are doing it. Below is a grid that shows how a 12-3-1 Mentor relates to different children in different ways.
“But you said you don’t see charts!” True. I did not create it since it is a chart so I’m telling you that I see here a story of Nastia befriending and doing life with Lilya the last 4 plus years as Lilya moved from a 12 to 3 to 1 kind of relationship with Nastia. I believe in faith and ask you to pray fervently that Lilya finish her story as a seeker of Christ and very soon begin her story as a daughter in Christ. If this much has happened since February then I have to believe that a rallied prayer movement on her behalf will bring about her salvation very soon.
One more story to share with you. It began long before I actually am aware of it beginning with prayers being prayed of which I knew nothing about. I became an active participant in the story 16 years ago today when the prayers of my parents were answered with Traci Dunn becoming my wife. This is a story too long, deep, rich and detailed for a newsletter so I will give you the short version and tell you why it matters. For 16 years now, God has shown himself to me through Traci. Her words, her heart, her values and her standards all reflect those of her Heavenly Father. Her commitment to her family is unrivaled. Her kindness is other worldly. Her capacity to love is as pure and deep as anyone I have ever known. Those of you who know her are nodding your head right now. But this is why it matters -her awareness of her brokenness and desperate need for God might surprise you and I assure you it still humbles me. As wonderful as she is to you and me, she knows she’s lost, hopeless and dead without Christ. I live daily with a woman who unintentionally forces me to ask myself, “am I as aware of my need for Jesus as she is?” Too often I answer no to that question.
A few of the 16 chapters of the story of Rob and Traci have indeed been exciting. None rival the most recent chapter though. From a healthy eating, full time homemaker/home school mom who loves
working out to cancer patient/cancer survivor all in 10 months is a chapter we do not care to relive again. The challenge of the last year though made the celebration last night all the more sweeter. A 24 hour reprieve from our family (thank you Tim and Sheila for watching our kids in Lilburn, GA, and in Novosibirsk, Russia, so we can steal moments away with each other), ministry (we leave tomorrow to train 18 hours to live in a village for 9 days) and life in Russia (no oven for a week and only the broken promises of an inattentive repairman to bait us along) was made possible by two very kind people with a whole lot of Hilton Honors Award Points. One night alone together in Novosibirsk’s nicest hotel (The Doubletree by Hilton) was ours. As you can tell from the pictures below, I was accompanied by one of the most dashing women that hotel had ever seen. Dinner was simply perfect and the “Blessed by 16 Years” dessert touch provided by a friend in the kitchen made it all the more special.
This story is far from over but worthy of keeping you updated on as well. Thank you for sharing in it the way you do.
Please pray for the 13 of us as we leave tomorrow at 6 a.m. on a train to a village to work with a new ministry partner we are so excited to partner with. Specifically, please pray for rain…literally. Rain allows for showers and washing cloths and a level of “creature comforts” some might call a necessity.
No wifi or coffee houses in the village so expect us to be off the grid till July 12 or so. Till then, thank you again for helping us be here this summer and covering us in prayer the way you do.
Rob, Traci, Benjamin, Nate, Aidan and Anna (as well as Tim, Sheila and Victoria)