For 17 years I had been raised in the church and could tell you everything about doctrine, faith and church teachings about alcohol and pre-marital sex. I had even trusted God for salvation knowing that I was a sinner and Jesus had paid for my sins. But I didn’t know God … I knew about Him.
Then the week of my high school graduation, I boarded a plane for Russia where I would spend the summer sharing the gospel with people who had never heard of Christ’s love. The irony is not lost on me that I thought I could share the gospel in a cross-culture setting when I could not have articulated it to my next door neighbor, but at the time I thought I was sufficiently equipped to witness to others.
This trip marked the first time I was forced to make decisions for myself and learn to live out my faith. Our group was required to study the Bible each morning, so for the first time I had a daily commune with God during which I read the Scriptures for myself and learned about this God I served.
Toward the end of my time in Russia, I began to struggle with the idea that the trip had been a waste. After nearly a month in country, I honestly couldn’t say a single person had decided to follow Jesus. I felt like I had failed, and grieved at the thought that I had not done enough to save the people I encountered. I also was becoming frustrated in my relationship with God. So many other students excitedly shared about what God told them during their quiet time but I couldn’t recount a single message from Him. I studied just like they did but my study seemed to be an exercise in learning – just as if I was reading a text book about God. There was no communication or revelation from God during my studies, and I felt like the whole practice was pointless.
During one morning study I halfheartedly let my Bible flop open to a random chapter and verse, wondering if there was a point to studying any more. I began reading Hebrews 11 where the writer describes the faithfulness of previous followers of God who obeyed God even in seemingly impossible situations. Nestled within the stories of these faithful predecessors was this passage:
These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off were assured of them.. (v. 13)
I emerged from my quiet time with a look of wonder that even my roommate noticed. For the first time, I felt as though God answered my concern through the Bible. I felt as though God was encouraging me by reminding me of the faithfulness of others who also never saw the result of their obedience. Through this, God encouraged me that even if I did not see lives changed in Russia I could still say I had done well by coming because that was all God had required of me.
My time in Russia marked me. I had left for Russia as a baby Christian who couldn’t give anything to God or others because I was so needy and helpless in my faith. I returned, though, as a child who finally experienced the joy of communicating with God and understanding that I can have a relationship with my heavenly Father. I still had much to learn and was still very immature in my faith, but I at least was taking steps toward spiritual maturity.