Fruit-Bearing Fruit, Multi-Gen Discipleship

grapes

Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me.  I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.”  (John 15:4-5)

Fruit-bearing fruit is the best kind.  In fact, fruit that doesn’t bear fruit maybe shouldn’t be classified as fruit at all.  In the passage on The Vine from John 15, excerpted above, Jesus said, “By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.”

As you know, the purpose of the You Are Not Alone club ministry is to help orphanage graduates find a healthy network of support as they integrate into the Voronezh culture after leaving their orphanage.  Thus, the team is charged with the task of seeking out those graduates and coming alongside them in supportive relationships.  The kind of relationships in which disciples are made.

Ann and I were privileged to partner in this activity with several of our team members last summer, as we celebrated the birthday of Katya.  She had just graduated from her orphanage in a city four hours away and had arrived, virtually alone in the big city.  Some of our team members were aware of her situation because they had come to know her while ministering in the camp ministry.  Part of what they’d learned was that Katya had a passion for art, and dreamed of attending art college in Voronezh, but typical of the orphanage system, her course of college study was chosen for her, and she had been assigned to study in a trade school 500 kilometers away.  More on that later.

But, on Katya’s birthday, on a warm summer evening in July, a group of us gathered in a park for a surprise party organized by some of the team members.  With a pile of gifts, and a birthday banquet spread on a blanket on the ground, we all hid in the bushes and waited for Vova to escort her to our location under false pretenses.  She thought she was going to see an artist painting portraits in the park.

The surprise was a big success, as you can see in the video.  I don't know who was more thrilled by it, Katya, or the team members who were celebrating her life.  The evening was a huge success, doing exactly as was intended, to honor, affirm, and celebrate the life of a young lady, whose first 17 years were marked by rejection and heartbreak. 

Ann and I don’t do well sitting on the ground, so we brought our lawn chairs where we sat taking in the sights and celebration, immersed in the laughter of the kids surrounding us, posing with kids for more “selfies” than I would have thought possible.  By the way, do you know how to say “selfie” in Russian?  “Selfie.”  But it’s usually said in rapid succession with exuberant shouts, “Selfie-selfie-selfie!”  It’s become a world-wide phenomenon with a universal moniker.

party-group

Ann and I were weary from what had been a long day of meetings, and tacking this party onto this day, well honestly, we were somewhat reluctant participants.  But, we knew how important it was, not only to an orphan girl, desperately trying to decide if she mattered, but also to our fellow team members who were passionately committed to demonstrating to her that she does.

To understand the depths of how this evening ministered to my soul, you need to know the context of where we found ourselves, mid-summer 2014.

We were midway through our summer visit to Voronezh.  Three intensive months of ministry, crammed in between my second PET scan and the resultant follow-ups, and my third PET scan scheduled for October first.  The days were filled with meetings with team leaders, as we worked toward launching our ninth year of Hope House, and our eleventh year of the You Are Not Alone club ministry.  But, the days were also filled with a sense of angst about the future of all we’d invested ourselves in over the decade of ministry that had just concluded.  The past couple of years were challenging, trying to transfer more responsibility into the hands of the Russians, turning over the parental role at Hope House to Russians, and large questions were looming.  Would team leaders step up and passionately take the reigns of the club ministry in the fall?  Would the team eagerly rally around them to engage the work of making new disciples?  We had just lost the Pozmogov family who were serving in Hope House to return home to Kirov.  Would we have house parents as Hope House entered its ninth term? 

The answer to all these questions turned out to be a resounding YES!  Praise God!  But, on this particular mid-summer evening on the banks of the lake overlooking our city of Voronezh, our souls were in need of care.  Fortunately, the Spirit is an attentive student of our souls, as any good Helper must be, and He knew just what we needed.  We needed to train our eyes for a moment on the fruit of our labors, and that’s what that evening became for us.

Luda-with-Katya

One of the team members organizing the party that evening was Luda.  She graduated from the same orphanage as Katya, but more than a decade ahead of her.  Luda is now in her late twenties, and just recently joined the team, but she was the first person to trust in Christ through the ministry of the You Are Not Alone club when we launched the club in 2004.  That evening we were introduced to Vera, a friend of Luda who graduated ahead of her.  We learned that she was a co-worker of Luda’s who had come to Christ through her witness.  She has since become a committed servant on the orphan ministry team as well.

One of the partyers that night was Lesiya.  She had faithfully participated in the You Are Not Alone club all last year, and this summer, just a few weeks before the party, prayed to put her trust in Christ, and shortly after the party she was baptized.  Lesiya was so excited when the gift-giving began as she waited in line to present her gift to Katya.  It was a brand new purse-size New Testament, and Lesiya was beaming as Katya opened it.  When all the gifts were opened, and Katya began to collect them from the blanket, she commented as she picked up the Bible, “This was the most valuable gift of all!”  And she in no way was referencing the price, as team members had lavished some really nice gifts on her as well.

Leciya Lesiya's homemade badge says, "I know God!!! How about you??"

By the way, Lesiya continues to be on fire about her newfound joy in Christ, and can’t stop herself from sharing with everyone she encounters.

Ann and I sat in those lawn chairs that evening, like the grandparents we’ve become, and watched our spiritual grandchildren and great-grandchildren giving prenatal care to Katya, a great-great-granddaughter soon to be born.  And our souls were buoyed by waves of joy and confidence, “being confident of this, that he who began a good work in us will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”  (Phil 1:6)

The evening ended with us cramming the last eight partygoers into our little Honda and making my bus rounds to their various neighborhoods scattered around the city. 

And, the ministry to Katya is bearing fruit already.  As I mentioned earlier, Katya’s dream was to attend art college.  Knowing this, several girls on the team secretly went to work behind the scenes and secured Katya an entrance jury with the art college.  But, that wasn’t enough.  Until her dormitory opened for fall classes Katya was homeless, so a couple of single girls on the team had her live with them for the remainder of the summer.  Katya was petrified about the entrance jury, not knowing what to expect, so a team member who recently graduated from the same art college invested much of the last half of her summer in helping prep Katya for the jury.  She would come to our house often to use the internet and study for her jury, but I think she mainly just liked hanging out with Ann.  We often had her stay for dinner, and Ann made sure she had plenty of protein-rich “brain food”, as she calls it, before her jury. 

At the end of the summer, Katya headed off to her jury, bathed in prayer and with a team member at her side for moral support.  When she got the word she was accepted, we all got text messages, celebrating and praising God for the miraculous accomplishment of her dream.

Team members helped Katya decorate her dorm room and she has been a fixture this fall at You Are Not Alone club functions, other ministry outings, and at church meetings with team members. 

Please pray with us for Katya as she continues the spiritual journey she’s begun.  We’re praying that soon she’ll place her complete trust in Christ, and once again fruit will be bearing more fruit.

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.”  (Hebrews 12:1-2)