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November 17, 2014
Back in January of this year, a visitor came to church. She was a 78 year old little lady named Valentina. She had lived most of her life in the Russian city of Khabarovsk, which is in the far east, not far from Japan. Her husband had recently died, so she came to Oryol to live with her son and his wife. I had put tracts in all the mailboxes of her part of town not long before this, and she was interested enough to come and see what we were doing. She started coming almost every Sunday, and soon she was a regular part of our group. The people made her feel right at home, and she loved having someone to talk to. She walks much of the way to church and she is always the first one to arrive.
She is a very kind hearted, soft spoken lady, and it is obvious that she is lonely and doesn't have anybody to talk to very much. If you just give her a chance, she will talk as long as anybody will listen to her. She tells stories about her life with her husband and her two sons. She says that they always got along and never argued very much, but always worked together and helped each other. She misses him very much and says that she wishes he hadn't left her so soon. She told me a story recently about how they would take their sons for walks in the woods in the mornings when they were little boys. Sometimes her husband would go out early before the others woke up, and he would tie a few little candies to strings hanging from the tree branches. Later, when they went for their walk, the boys would find the candies with amazement. "Who put these here?", they would ask. The father said, "The master of the forest put them there. He is kind to you, so you must always be kind to his forest. Never hurt the trees, and never leave trash here." Valentina said that when she got home, she would ask him, "Who do you suppose really put those candies there?", and he told her, "Oh, I did that just for fun."
Valentina is not simple minded, but she has had a hard time understanding the truth of the Gospel. Her grandfather had been an Orthodox priest, and even in the Soviet days, her mother secretly told her things about God. Sometimes they even went to the Orthodox church to light candles and pray to the icons of the saints. Whenever I would witness to her, she listened carefully, but she never seemed to really get the point of the plan of salvation. I kept giving her different Bible verses, especially the ones that prove that works and religion cannot save you. She likes to read, so I gave her different tracts and books about salvation. I kept praying for her, and wondered if she would ever "get it". I know that there were any number of times that I could easily have led her to pray a prayer, and she would have done it because I told her to, but I was convinced that she did not yet really understand.
Recently, she came to church early, as usual, and I asked her, "Tell me about your spiritual condition." She said, "I know that the sisters here have something that I don't have yet. I am trying to understand, because I know that I need it." I went through the plan of salvation again, and encouraged her to ask the Lord to help her to understand. It was obvious from her answers that her thinking was still muddled by false religion.
Yesterday, I preached about Samson. We spent about a year and a half going through 1 Corinthians, and then I decided to start with Adam and go through Bible characters. We are finishing Judges now, so Samson was the sermon of the day. I have never looked at Samson as much of a Bible hero. He was selfish, immature, and carnal, yet Hebrews tells us that he was a man of faith. I told his story, emphasizing that he was not a man of strength, but a man of weakness. Our memory verse this month is 2 Corinthians 12:9, where God says, "My strength is made perfect in weakness." Most of the characters in Judges are very flawed men with different kinds of weaknesses, but God used each of them to perform mighty deeds. God does not seek for human strength or wisdom, He looks for those who realize their weakness and trust in Him. In the last part of the sermon, I talked about the Holy Spirit, and how He came upon believers temporarily in the Old Testament, but in the New Testament, He dwells permanently in saved people. I made a special point to give the plan of salvation, because we had a new visitor.
Right after the service, Valentina came up to me and said, "I have a question about the Holy Spirit living inside. How does that happen?" I told her that He lives in saved people, but not in unsaved people. I went through the plan of salvation again, and told her, "I don't think you have taken that step of faith yet." She thought about it for a bit, and said, "You know, about two months ago, I was at home reading through those booklets that you gave me, and I was thinking about all that you have told us. I understood that I could only get saved by going directly to Jesus. I got down on my knees by my bed, and I prayed a prayer like the one in the tract, but I made sure to use my own words from my own heart, because you told us that those are the only prayers that really count." I asked her if Jesus heard that prayer, and she said yes. I asked her if, according to the Bible, was she one of the saved people or one of the unsaved people. I could see the light bulb go on. She said, "I'm one of the saved!" I took a while to explain about the many things that are included in salvation, like forgiveness of sins, eternal life in heaven, eternal security, and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. I showed her that she was a child of God and a sister in Christ. The confusion seemed to be gone, and we were both very happy.
I took just a moment to introduce the idea of baptism, being careful to make clear that it had nothing to do with salvation. She told how she had been baptized once in the Orthodox church. I explained about how baptism comes after salvation, and I would be glad to baptize her for free if ever she wanted to. I told her not to be in a hurry about it, but to study on it until she understood it. She told me how the Orthodox priest had charged money for her baptism, and how she had to confess her sins to him before the baptism. She rambles a bit when she tells stories, and before I knew it, she was telling me a story about when her two boys were just babies. She found that she was expecting a third child, and a close relative advised her to have an abortion, because her husband was still in college, and a third child would hinder his studies. I realized that she was starting to confess her sins to me! I stopped her and told her that she did not need to tell me or anyone else about her sins, but only confess them directly to God. I told her that it is very important to remember that everything is forgiven; that Jesus paid the price for those sins when He died on the cross.
She must have had this abortion almost 50 years ago, yet the guilt of it was still fresh in her mind, even though society told her it was completely normal and ok. It was the first thing that came to her mind when she though about confessing her sins. She said, "Afterwards, I asked the doctor if it was a boy or a girl. It was a boy."
I wish I could tell stories like this more often, but this is Russia, and the fruit doesn't seem to fall off the trees like maybe it does in some other countries. I have been trying not to get depressed for most of this year with all the news about the political and financial disaster that is taking place here. When the Deckers (missionaries in a nearby town) decided to leave, it was pretty hard on me. I think I am still grieving about that. I have thought long and hard about whether or not we should get out, too, but I decided that as long as they let me stay, and we feel safe, and we still have somebody coming to listen, then we have a reason to stay here. I'm so glad Valentina got saved. I feel like a prospector that has spent years digging in a dark mine, but finally found a precious jewel. I think there are a few more of them in here, so I'll keep digging for a while longer. Pray for Vladimir and Dennis. They are both in their late 20s, and they come off and on for most of the past two years. Recently they are coming more regularly, and they show more spiritual interest. I think they might be getting close to salvation.
In the service of the King,