In Tsibanobalka, we had one man who was going through a divorce unwillingly. John tried to explain how the process works in Russia, but I could not wrap my head around it. In a convoluted or twisted approach to “no child left behind,” each member of the family is granted equal ownership in the house. In this case, the man, his wife, and three children under the age of 12 all own 20% of the house. Since the wife has custody of the children, she controls 80% of the house, and their joint business venture as well. Who can sell 20% of a house? is his dilemma. If he wanted to be vindictive, he could sell his 20% to a drunken person who could make life hell for the rest of his family. In situations like this, you need the wisdom of Solomon to sort out what to do.
When Julia asked if children who die young go to heaven, it was not a theoretical question. Naomi explained that Badma and Julia lost a child before the age of one, and Badma was not able to give her a satisfying answer as to the child’s eternal destiny. It was a question she was deeply concerned about.
On the way home from dinner at Sandzhik’s home last night, a comment was made about speed bumps. (Elista has more speed bumps than any city in the country. John counted 23 behind City Chess and Sandzhik’s home.) I thought Sandzhik said speed bumps were the only honest policeman, one who didn’t ask for a bribe. Turns out he said a policeman laying on the road was the only honest one. Sandzhik went on to explain that jokes and stories making fun of government is part of their culture since they cannot organize groups to protest or speak out against government. He said that in America, you pay bribes to do things illegally. In Russia, they pay bribes to get legal things done. People don’t pay taxes because it just lines the pocket of a bureaucrat. If taxes actually were used for repairing roads, improving electricity or other basic services, people would be happy to pay taxes. Withholding taxes is their only form of protest. Should lead to an interesting discussion of Romans 13.
Jordick, or George as they nicknamed him, asked about people who have never heard the gospel. I referred him back to Romans 1 where Paul said that the truth about God is evident in nature, but people suppress the truth. Therefore, we are all without excuse. If people desire to know God, God can send them a witness. I said there were stories of missionaries who went to remote jungles and found tribes expectantly waiting for the gospel. They were aware of a movie, The End of the Spear, which tells of the five missionaries martyred by the Auca Indians.
On Wednesday, the group gathered again at 10AM and we tackled Romans 12. I ended Tuesday by explaining verse 1-2. I began Wednesday by asking what challenges they face in applying these verses. We talked about the nature of commitment and the need to be diligent and constant in maintaining it. One person wanted to know how to raise her teenage son. Another asked how to gain victory over superstitions.
12:3-8 talks about spiritual gifts and 12:9-13 give several “one another” commands. As part of their assignment, I asked about the relationship between the two. I gave them a copy of the many one another commands in the New Testament. I also gave them a chart I made comparing the list of spiritual gifts with the commands of Scripture. All of the gifts except for the more miraculous ones (apostleship, healing, tongues, interpretation) have a corresponding command. Just because I don’t the gift of ______, I still have a responsibility to serve in that area.
After enjoying lunch from 12-1PM, we tackled chapter 13. We wrestled with the challenge of obeying a government you don’t agree with. One shared that the government issued a tax bill that was 2-3 times normal. They were told to pay the bill and then sue the government to receive a refund. Her husband didn’t want to pay the bill. Her dilemma was whom she should obey—the government or her husband.
In our discussion of chapter 14 and the weak and the strong, one asked about the issue of alcohol. Should we drink or not drink? What if it causes a friend to sin? I told of a church in Spain that changed their observance of communion from wine to grape juice because they recognized there were some alcoholics in the church and they didn’t want to cause them to stumble and fall back into alcoholism.
After our discussion of chapter 15, I ended the class early at 5PM. I gave them an assignment to read chapter 16 and look for three things—what did Paul praise the individuals listed for, what did Paul warn the church about, and how did Paul praise God at the end?
At 7PM, Sandzhik brought a group of 7 African students to our flat for dinner and fellowship. They come from Congo and Zambia and are students at the local university, Sandzhik has befriended and is ministering to the group. It was a unique Acts 2 moment to hear songs of praise in Russian, French, English, and other native languages. The men asked Sandzhik to share his testimony and he told of being a committed Buddhist and discovering the gospel by reading through the New Testament. Elza shared how the gospel delivered her from the many superstitions that had kept her in bondage. It was a wonderful evening of fellowship.
Thanks for praying. I’m in your debt.