Outline of a talk recently given at a church not for a concert but Sunday School
(with 1/2 hour of questions following):

 "And the leaves of that tree are for the healing of the nations."

Do you ever wonder, as I do, at the depth and mystery of those words of Scripture?  Nations need to be healed, as individuals do, both internally and externally.  There is a sense in which a nation which has suffered as Russia has for many, many years needs deep physical, psychological, and spiritual healing.  And certainly the relationship between our two great nations needs that promised balm, the touch of the leaves of the Tree of Life so tenderly promised in the Book of Revelation.  We deeply need the healing touch of Christ in order to healthfully relate to one another, after so many years of suspicion and intimidation.

A report on the psychological and physical illnesses of the Russian children, given at an international conference in Moscow fills us with foreboding about the future of Russia.  It seems that close to 90% of Moscow schoolchildren have serious physical or mental aberrations as of 1995, including the effects of malnutrition (mental retardation, inability to concentrate, and so on), psychological intimidation (manifested in childhood schizophrenia) and actual physical damage as the result of polluted water and food, the pollutants including nuclear waste. 

These children reflect a very sick society.  Their parents are harassed almost to the point of nervous breakdowns by the uncertainties of life.  Salaries are meager by third-world standards.  The unstable government is oppressed by a ruling mafia class and threatened by political extremists on right and left.

And there is the concern of every parent:  What will happen to the next generation?  Conflicts, still unsettled,  such as that in Chechnya must give serious concern to every parent who hopes that his or her son will live to at least attain adulthood.

Now, add to the mix of uncertainty, poverty, and despair the realization that the Russian nation, as a whole, no longer commands the respect of the worldwide community; indeed, that a part of the worldwide community is openly gloating over the downfall of the "evil empire" and that many of those who were quick to congratulate the courageous leaders of the peaceful revolution are now bored by the very subject of Russia.  Example:  The West could care less about Russia's feeling of solidarity with Serbia, even though Serbia (unlike Croatia) threw itself into the battle against Hitler on the side of the Allies.  (That is not to gloss over the outrageous treatment of Muslims and Croats by Serbs.  That complex subject is not the theme of this paper.)  News reporters here in America are openly saying that Russia's fall from superpower status makes the rhetoric coming out of Moscow on the subject of Serbia (as on any other subject just now) too trivial to consider.  Can you imagine how such talk contributes not only to the depression but to the feelings of rage and helplessness now palpable in Moscow, where the United States Embassy was just damaged by grenades?

As we have shared our experiences in mission work, we have actually heard pastors say, "I'm glad you've been to Albania.  We're sick of hearing about Russia.  We know how things are there."  This is said in response to stories we share about Albania--another small but significant "hot spot" in the world, where at this time the Moslems, Orthodox, and Catholics are coexisting peacefully, as they once did in the former Yugoslavia.  Yes, I'm glad we've been to Albania.  You would be amazed how many Russians, in their poverty, want to go with us on a possible future trip to Albania.

But our responsibility as Christians to Russia is being glossed over in a stupid, euphoric fashion.  The world (and the Christian world in particular) is responding less and less to Russian concerns.  Why?  Glowing, exaggerated reports of success in the mission field are one problem.  The response to "crusades" in Russia has tapered out very quickly.  Frankly, now is when the real work begins.  It is not enough to hand out New Testament Bibles to Russia and imagine that our work is done.  One Minister of Education said to us, "Many of the students who receive the New Testaments think of them as souvenirs from America, and that's all."  In general, young Muscovites have an unhealthy  (and well-documented) interest in drugs, prostitution, and sexual adventurism, many of which they believe are "trendy" in the West.

America needs to be perceived not just as a cultural wasteland but as a nation of concerned brothers and sisters who come to Russia with humility and godly love.  And by some people, America is so perceived.  But the temptation to believe otherwise is fierce indeed.

On the dark horizon, however, there are lights which can enlighten all of us, and can change our ancient way of perceiving one another.  One example is found in the deep love and desire for unity expressed by an international and interconfessional Christian conference in the honor of our martyred brother Alexander Men.  In the person of Alexander Men we have a model of Christian service which overarches confessional differences and deep psychological divisions.  Alexander, a Jewish convert to Christianity and a brilliant scholar and intellect, is a very popular figure in Russia, not only among the Orthodox but among both Catholics and Protestants who are concerned about a united witness for Christ (as opposed to mere "ecumenical" niceties and watered-down joint confessions).  He is respected also by his fellow Jews, many of whom he brought to faith in Christ.

Alexander Men's ministry included the whole person.  He started a children's hospital for desperately-ill children, which has been one of the most successful not just in Russia but in the world.  He urged the consistent study of God's Word as an intregal part of life in Christ, along with the participation in the services of the church.  His example has created numerous charitable concerns, Sunday schools and Bible studies throughout Russia, inspiring genuinely creative thinking about what it means to be to express the Christian faith in our times.    

His close friends and followers (and he could certainly say with the Apostle Paul "Be imitators of me as I am of Christ") are living out the extension of his ministry, cut short by the stroke of an axe in September, 1990.  People from around the world gathered at the Library of Foreign Literature in Moscow to acclaim what this man stood for and to reaffirm our absolute solidarity in his Lord and ours.  

At the Men conference, there were papers on Biblical literacy, church renewal, interconfessional relations, children's ministry, contemplative life, and mission by those who participated in the conference.  Two new books on the life of Alexander Men were presented, one in Russian and one in English (previously published

in several other languages).  The English version of Yves Hamant's book, Alexander Men, is now available in America from Oakwood Publications.  For those who would minister in Russia, it is essential reading.  We will love Alexander Men as we now love C. S. Lewis, G. K. Chesterton, or any of the other great servants of God who have been used to speak to Christians about Biblical truths.  

A young couple arranged for our recent trip to Russia.  They are not wealthy; the husband was fired from his very prestigious job three months after he found faith in Christ, and has been living on faith (and little else) as a Christian worker since.  What these two have accomplished with no financial resources puts many of us wealthier Americans to shame.  But, like other friends of Alexander Men, they have learned that "nothing is impossible with God."    

Frankly, the situation with Russia looks impossible right now.  Many prophets (dating back to Seraphim of Sarov in the eighteenth century) have felt that the blossoming of Christianity after the Russian Revolution spent itself would be brief but very ardent.

That blossoming is not over--indeed, it possibly has just begun-- and this is no time to be "weary in well-doing" as far as Russia is concerned.  God's time is not ours.    

What can we do?  We must continue to support responsible Russian ministries, ones with a history of understanding and experience of Russia.  Ones with respect for diverse confessions of the Christian faith present in that nation, including respect for the majority Orthodox Church.  For it is from that Church that people like Alexander Men have arisen to renew and refresh Christianity as a whole.  It is that Church that stands to influence the greatest number of Russians, both because of Russia's long Orthodox history and because of Orthodox-inspired Russian literature, which has pointed like a beacon to Christ throughout Russian history.  In supporting Orthodox we must not be blind, however.  With discernment, we can support those who genuinely preach the ongoing life in Christ, as opposed to what one American Orthodox leader called "Orthodoxy without Christianity."  Such people are to be found and should be sought prayerfully by all who minister in Russia.  

Secondly, we must put ourselves in the place of Russia as we offer intercessory prayer on her behalf.  A day of fasting in the week might remind us of our solidarity with those throughout the world who have so little, especially those who will soon be suffering through the long Russian winter.  We have seen elderly people, driven from their homes by the Russian Mafia, collapse from hunger in the Moscow metro.  And we must remember how defeated we would feel if we were in the place of the Russian nation--and we must not let Russia give up hope.  For many believe that their current difficulties are the result of the current "democracy" and "free market"--which in reality they have yet to experience.    

Perhaps above all, we must especially pray for those Russians who persecute us and think ill of us and consider themselves Christians, some of whom are even afraid to read the Bible.  Thosewill not be convinced by denunciation, but only by the Spirit of God through prayer.  Whatever some of these have to say to us, we must be humble enough to hear, because no matter how understanding we may feel, we do not stand in their shoes.  One religious leader expressed his sincere feeling when he said, "Those American missionaries must be CIA agents who have come to Russia to confuse our people."  With the variety of denominational ministries now in Russia, some of whom have expressed mistrust of one another, it is no wonder that he expressed this opinion.  Pluralism has been a foreign concept to Russia throughout her history. 

Fortunately, the future of Russia's children does not depend upon us, but upon God.  Yet He has allowed us to muddle about in His work.  The political, psychological, and spiritual difficulties in Russian ministry today challenge the best creative efforts and spiritual resources of all who labor there.  At this critical stage, we must not lose interest in one another.  In spite of our previous animosities, we who call upon His Name in two great nations--America and Russia--must regard one another as brothers in Christ.  Our effort will be richly rewarded, now and in eternity.

 

Father Men Visiting a Home At The Beginning of his ministry