Subjected to futility, or reflecting His glory?

Robert Fuqua, Voronezh, Russia, 2010, and... on March 30, 2018

(This is the second of a two-part article.  The first part entitled, “Why Orphans, why us?” started as an intro to this story, but quickly took on a life of its own.  Their main common denominators are that they are written, both in the light of the cross and in the shadow of the statement mentioned in part one, “Don’t waste your time on those kids from the orphanages, they’ll never amount to anything in life anyway!”  It’s our prayer that both stories will cause you to worship our God.)

Click the photos to enlarge, so you can read the captions.

Easter is a time we reflect on the cross of Christ and focus on its significance in our lives.  This year my awareness of its significance was heightened by several personal experiences that occurred for us here on or around Easter. 

The first of these experiences occurred the week before Easter, 2010, when three of our guys were recruited to serve on a new ministry team for a Spring Break Orphan Camp, organized by Gennadiy Petrov for twenty-five kids from a remote orphanage in our region.  Ten of these kids will be leaving the orphanage this summer and moving into Voronezh to begin their college studies here, so they will be an integral part of our ministry focus come September.

Gennadiy was able to see our three guys, Sasha, Zhenya T, and Kolya, ministering during the camp, and highly encouraged Ann and I to come out for the final night's program to see them in action. 

Each of them played multiple roles on the team, from directing the sports and games during the day, to various roles in the evening meetings, helping with skits and engaging the kids in the program, running the sound and AV projection for the meetings, to helping lead worship songs.

They also did a camp video during the week that was shown on closing night.  The kids loved it.  (This video is featured on our video playlist page of this website.  For an interesting contrast, you might want to watch it along with the video entitled "Camp Joy" that features these same guys as campers nine years earlier.)

Ann and I sat with tears in our eyes as we watched these guys give back, ministering to these young orphans, as visions of these same guys being ministered to by the teams we brought from America, to help minister at Camp Joy eight to ten years earlier, were juxtaposed in our minds eye.  Ann commented, "It doesn't get much better than this!"

Watching our guys serve their Lord by serving the younger orphans was such a joy for us, but how God added to our joy, when we discovered that one of the counselors working with a group of teenage orphan girls that week, was Luda, a young lady who came to the You Are Not Alone club during its first year of ministry in 2004 and there put her trust in Christ.  We had lost touch with her over the years, but learned that night that she has become active in another church in our city and was recently baptized and is now serving on the orphan ministry team with Gennadiy Petrov.  What a joy it was to watch Luda with the teenage orphan girls and watch how they looked up to her as a role model.

The next event we experienced Easter week involved Sergei, one of our first residents of Hope House, whom we've known for over ten years.  Sergei was among the first from the You Are Not Alone club to be baptized.  We posted a story on that back in 2005 that is still archived on this site.  He is now in his third year of college, studying construction technology.  Next year is his final year of college, and I asked him yesterday at breakfast what he dreamed of doing after college, and he listed two options.  One, would be to attend a Bible college somewhere, and the other would be to work in the construction industry.  He had told me of his dream to go to Bible college over a year ago, and I loved hearing that he is still dreaming about it.  Fact is, we're always so encouraged just to see they're dreaming.  We consider it one of our primary jobs here to encourage these guys to dream.  Looking ahead has never been easy for them.  We pray God will empower us to help empower them to realize their dreams.

Sergei is the first of our guys to start driving and last summer bought his own car.  This in itself says a lot about the guy.  His income consists of a modest stipend for his college studies, but though he is generous, he is also probably the most frugal and responsible about budgeting.  The fact that he could save enough money to buy a car, even a cheap Russian car, is not only a testimony to his frugality, but also to his drive, motivation, and desire to rise above his circumstances.  As for the reason I'm mentioning him in this story, Sergei has used his car to assist the ministry in various ways, from picking up supplies and groceries for club events, to driving out to a remote trade school to pick up kids he had invited to the You Are Not Alone club.  (He reminds us so much of our own son Ben, who always had his own "You Are Not Alone" club, wherever he went, whether it was school or church youth groups, or Young Life camps.  He always had a way of finding the kids on the fringe and welcoming them into the circle.  It's no wonder God has called him into youth ministry.  Sergei is our younger, Russian Benjamin.)  

Very recently, we learned that since Sergei got his car, he's begun to visit the orphanage here in Voronezh where he grew up, where he's being powerfully used in what we tend to call, "the ministry of hanging out".  We've seen it happen time and time again, when men show up in these guys lives, they are like a magnet.  And for godly men like Sergei to show up and sacrificially make themselves available to them, is a powerful tool in the hands of the One who calls Himself their Father.

The last of these events, happened on Easter itself and involved one of the guys you've heard much about from us through the years, the guy we call Max O.  He also grew up in the same orphanage as Sergei.  He is the same Max, reported in the story from 2005, who was baptized along with Sergei and two other guys from the club ministry.  And, then two years ago, he married Natasha Reshetnekova, the program coordinator for the club ministry at that time, and since then, the two of them have been leading the You Are Not Alone club ministry team.  Max has been very active in our church for the past few years, singing in the choir, using his poetry gifts, and rich vocal talents.  Additionally, Max has recently been sharing the pulpit duties quite regularly.  We have three pastors, as well as four to five more preaching deacons, but we also have three sermons in every service, so there are usually plenty of pulpit opportunities to go around.

Easter Sunday, Max was formally ordained by our church as a deacon.  And this week, the first Sunday after Easter, in one of his first official duties as deacon, Ann and I had the incredible privilege of having Max serve us communion.  As I contemplated the cross, holding a broken piece of bread in my hand, I couldn't help but reflect on the fact that it had been given me by a young man, about whom it's been said, "...he's not worth your time..."  Yet, I know that it's because of the broken body of Christ, which that bread represents, that Max, or myself, or any of us for that matter, can ever find true transformation. 

What kind of transformation can cause one, about whom their world says they are worthless and going nowhere, to sacrificially give of their own time and resources to minister to younger orphans, encouraging them, not only to believe in themselves when no one else does, but to believe in the One whose body was broken, so their lives could be made whole?

The apostle Paul said it well in his second letter to the Corinthian church, the fifth chapter, verses 15-17.

15 "and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised16  From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer.  17  Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come."

 

Driving to church on Easter morning, Sasha and I were reflecting on the "Passion of the Christ" movie we had watched on Good Friday evening at club.  It was his first time to see the film, and as we discussed it he asked, "Do you know what was my favorite part of the film?"  Then he described the scene where Jesus, after stumbling to the ground under the weight of carrying the cross, completely covered in blood from the severe scourging he'd just endured, picked himself up from the blood-soaked dirt and told His mother, "Look, I'm making all things new!"

I guess this is a place where the filmmakers took some creative license, since I don't actually remember that scene playing out that way in any of the gospel accounts.  But, Christ did indeed make that very claim, after the resurrection and ascension, when He appeared to John in a vision on the isle of Patmos, as John records in the book of Revelation.  (Rev. 21:5)

But why would a young man be so moved by this line in a film – by this claim of Christ?  Maybe because that young man, one whom the world has told would never amount to anything, and had no chance to make something of his life, has seen his life made new, and is beginning to realize that his life is a living contradiction to the naysayers.  Because he is in Christ, the One whose suffering purchased his redemption, he is now a new creation.

So, what is the basis for people making such disturbing statements as the man I spoke with last week?  "Don't waste your time on those kids from the orphanages, they'll never amount to anything in life anyway!"  As I said in the first part of this two-part article, I'm afraid the basis is at least in part, one of true experience.  But, experience with what?  I think it's experience with what the apostle Paul referred to in Romans 8 as futility.  Experience with what Paul calls, "...bondage to corruption..." 

Where most people live, in a world which refuses to acknowledge the redemptive power of our Creator God, and rejects the provision He made through His Son for our redemption, life is indeed futile and under bondage to corruption.  For the man I spoke with last week, that is definitely his world.  Though I try to carefully guard my words when speaking of our adoptive "homeland", where we currently reside, it's really hard for anyone who knows much about Russia to avoid seeing that futility and bondage to corruption are trademarks of this culture. 

I think it's worth mentioning here the irony of how the particular conversation with this man in our neighborhood began last week.  Though I'd seen him around from time to time, the circumstances under which we finally met are really another part of this story.  He happened to accidently leave some of his power tools in the street beside his car one day as he was loading his car to leave.  One of our guys noticed what happened, and suggested to me that we secure the tools inside our courtyard until the man returned, otherwise they'd no doubt be stolen.  When the man returned looking for his tools, we were able to return them to him, to his great surprise.  Knowing I was a foreigner, he commented on what an alien concept it was in his country, that such an act of kindness would occur.  (I must add here that I argued the point, stating that he exaggerated the case against his own culture, because I've personally seen many Russians contradict this cultural stigma with their kind actions.)  Not knowing of course, that the doer of the kind deed in this case, was none other than one of the same young men that he claimed would never amount to anything in life, due in great part to the fact that those young men not only come from an institutionalized childhood, where they were conditioned to believe the world owes them a free-ride (his words loosely translated).  But also, emerging from that institutional culture into a culture he just described, essentially borrowing from Paul's words, "in bondage to corruption".

 With this as a backdrop, I read again Romans 8, my favorite chapter in the Bible, and what I found there this time was both the reason my neighborhood friend has no hope for these guys, as well as the reason that we have all the hope in the world for them.  Read it for yourself.  I can't improve on the way Paul puts it.

Rom 8:20-24

  For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.  22 For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.  23 And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.  24 For in this hope we were saved.

 

The way I read this, the futility and bondage to corruption are themselves part of God's design.  In order that, those whom He sets free from this bondage will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.  The Father to the fatherless offers to all of us, adoption as sons, that the world will know there is a God who redeems and transforms, and He will be worshipped and glorified.

Rom 8:14-17 

For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.  15  For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, "Abba! Father!"  16  The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God,  17  and if children, then heirs--heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.