From Russia, With Love

by Lisa Hoffman

The Holy Spirit uses our weaknesses to bring glory to God. This truth was never more evident as a team of APU alumni ventured this summer into what was once enemy territory. The team arrived in Russia, unable to speak the native language and unsure of the adventure that awaited. Led by Rick Givens ’83, associate director of the Office of Alumni Relations, and Valery Zhakevich ’96, Media Center coordinator, the team included Jennie Larsen ’00, Rebecca Brannon ’98, Katie Colonna ’00, Jodi Visser ’03, Bruce Baloian, Ph.D., professor of religion, and myself.

Equipped with hearts ready to serve and minds open to the journey ahead, we were dependent on God for so much. Only through His provision would we make an impact on the lives of our Russian brothers and sisters. While on the plane heading for Moscow, there was an unspoken realization that we were completely in the hands of our Maker.

In the weeks that followed, we were treated with a grace and kindness that can only come from God. Church members took us into their homes and served us with their very best. Vladimir and his family hosted us for lunch the day we arrived in Bryansk. Their eight daughters, Alena, Lena, Olya, Ina, Yana, Dina, Marina, and Natasha, greeted us at the door and led us upstairs to a makeshift dinner table. On the table was a grand feast. As we stood to pray for our meal, we realized the table was set only for us, their honored guests. The daughters, ranging in age from 6 to 18, would hurry about, serving plate after plate of fabulous food. We depended on them for food, shelter, and safety, and they became God’s servants to us. We witnessed His infinite love and longing to provide for His children in the way we were treated.

"We witnessed His infinite love and longing to provide for His children in the way we were treated."

We spent our days encouraging the churches in the cities of Smolensk, Disnagorsk, Orel, Igorifskaya, and Bryansk. This encouragement took the form of children’s ministry, preaching, singing, and talking. More importantly though, was the ministry of our presence. As St. Francis of Assisi is noted, “Preach without ceasing. If you must, use words.”

Sometimes as we traveled from city to city, we would stop in small villages along the way. On our journey back from Igorifskaya, we stopped to visit a family in the village home. This family came to know Christ at the church in Igorifskaya and now are the only Christians in their entire village. They wanted to share with us their vision for reaching their neighbors. With witchcraft as the prevailing “religion” in their village, the people see them as traitors because of their belief in God. They asked us to pray for the persecution they face everyday.

As we sat around the dining room table, listening to their stories and prayer requests, God was real and present at that moment. We were in the midst of a spiritual battle. How honored we felt to be asked to share in their struggle and pray to God on their behalf. We gave testimony to God through every smile, gesture, and hug offered to strangers who began to feel like family. Our lives became sermons to God’s unique work in us, a team of individuals whose common bond was Christ and the Azusa Pacific University community.

Lisa Hoffman is the events coordinator in the Office of Alumni Relations. lhoffman@apu.edu