It Is a Twelve-Round Bout And We Have Just Entered the First Round
Constantin V. Lysakov
Saul Alinksky in his famous book, Rule for Radicals, writes: "The basic requirement for the understanding of the politics of change is to recognize the world as it is. We must work with it on its terms if we are to change it." In Russia these days, the evangelical church belongs to the great world of "have-nots," and thus finds itself in a very similar place with the first century church. Now I do not want to mislead you and hint that the church is going through persecution in Russia today. It does not face any major threats and, quite frankly, I do not believe it will in the near future. However, the Evangelical church does not have the opportunity to just walk into any government building and be presented with a chance to share the Gospel. That kind of freedom is long gone and it is a good thing! It is a good thing because, for one, the church has to adjust its strategies in order to meet the felt needs of individuals and institutions.
Athletes in Action director Carl Dambman and current college student Valeriy Vihor (a three-time intercontinental champion in professional boxing) were asked to give out awards to weight lifters and boxers from the Moscow Institute of Steel and Alloys. Prior to giving out the awards, Valeriy was given a chance to address over 400 students who gathered at this special event. He was strongly encouraged not to say anything about God or Christianity because that could ruin future opportunities to work at the school. But God gifted Valeriy as an evangelist and I nervously watched how upset the head of the physical education department was when Valeriy encouraged students to be winners not just on a field, but also off the field, while placing special emphasis on the importance of finding the right relationship with God. I must admit I assumed the door would be shut in our faces after Valeriy's address. But during the ceremony he did something that redeemed the situation: he hugged every athlete who came up to receive his award. Thus, he showed he really cared about these young men. After the ceremony Valeriy and Carl had a chance to get to know some of the instructors better at the special banquet where they gave out Sports New Testaments. As a result of this special occasion, we are now in charge of sports activities at the Steel and Alloys Institute during the winter break. It means that we get to use sports facilities free of charge for almost six hours a day. What is even more important, this gives us a chance to serve the school in a very real way and to share the Gospel with students in a personal setting.
Acts, Chapter 14, contains a passage that troubled me for years. It is one of those passages that fits the category of "What in the world do you mean?" This chapter contains a brief report about a portion of Paul's first missionary journey, namely, his ministry in Iconium. It was so "successful" that we read that the angry mob was about to stone Paul and Barnabas (verse 5). After this incident, Paul and Barnabas fled to Lystra and Derbe where once again the Lord "blessed" their ministry so much that Paul was stoned and dragged out of the city because he was presumed dead (verse 19). One could say, "Another day on the job, just punching in the clock." But here is what really astonished me; in verse 27 we read, "When they had arrived and gathered the church together, they began to report all things that God had done with them and how He had opened a door of faith to the Gentiles."
The church in the first century belonged to the world of "have-nots," as is the case in ministry in Russia today. They defined the open door as the openness of people to hear the Gospel, their openness to be honest with themselves, and ultimately, their openness to repent of their ways. It is a dramatically different understanding from what we have today when we often define the open door as the public opportunity to say what we want to say "up front." Let us remember that it is a 12-round bout and we have just entered the first round!
Constantin V. Lysakov is a staff member with New Life Bible College, an International Leadership Academy of Campus Crusade for Christ, located in Moscow, Russia
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