News of the Cold War crackled on my huge square-shaped stereo equipped with a record player on top and eight track tape player, tape player and radio. Discussions around the dinner table often drifted to the Soviet Union and the atrocities of Communism. When God is removed from any society, the slippery path ultimately leads to self-indulgence and cruelty.
Searching the filled bookcases throughout our house I noticed a thin paperback I had never read before. Hardly breathing I devoured the fascinating and true stories in God Smuggler often picturing myself driving through Soviet checkpoints to bring God’s Word to people who couldn’t buy their own Bible. Hiding under the covers with a flashlight I visited home churches deep in the heart of Russia and I traveled miles into the heart of Romania searching for Christians who God had not forgotten.
Dreams of living in Russia one day churned in my soul as I passed through childhood. I yearned to share Jesus with children who never had the chance to know there is a God who cares about them and loves them. Forced to wear red handkerchiefs tied around their necks proclaiming their allegiance to the god of Communism children heard only that God doesn’t exist.
Making plans after my sophomore year in college for a mission trip I searched for a trip to Russia. Pouring through the Teen Missions catalogue I circled four trips heading to the Soviet Union. Knowing my passion for missions and Russia my parents willing embraced my plans. Their only stipulation being the trip must include a German-speaking portion where I could use the words learned during college German.
Living in a tent for 10 weeks I helped build a church in Austria, but every day praying about the day we would take the train into Ukraine, Moldavia and Romania. Watched by the KGB everywhere we walked we couldn’t talk with the people with sad eyes, but I embraced all of them in my heart. I saw the little girls with giant white bows tied in their hair, boys reading a newspaper with explanations from a teacher, and old women shuffling along carrying cloth bags filled with potatoes.
It was only a taste, re-enforcing the ache coursing through my soul wanting to share the hope of Jesus. He came to give life, and He desperately wants everyone to have life.
The passion slept while I graduated college, worked in the business world and received master degrees in Family and Marriage Counseling and Christian Education. Sometimes the preparation takes longer than we plan. My dreams hid while God patiently worked to rip down the Iron Curtain, and open a pathway for me to walk into Russia unhindered by Communism.
Hopes, dreams, yearnings culminating in living in Russia for two years as an English teacher in a school and orphanage. My deepest prayers finding answers in a small town in the middle of the vast country.
First year I learned the language filled with different sounds and letters, struggled to gain my footing in teaching English in a culture so different from my own, and shared Jesus with those who came into my life. People asked questions, I shared my heart and life, and yet no one wanted to accept the love Jesus wanted to give.
Having passed through a beautiful fall, unbelievably harsh winter, cool spring and sun-filled summer, it was fall again. I spent a beautiful evening with friends eating dinner, singing and talking easily with newly found words. I was home in this land so far from where I began, in the place I had prayed for since I was the young girl traveling only in my thoughts.
Pushing open the door to the one room apartment where I lived alone I hurriedly got ready for bed. Patterns of frost shimmered in the light since the city hadn’t turned on the heat again for the winter.
Loud banging and a name shouted over and over from the apartment above broke the silence. Walls in Russian apartments are thin enough to hear everything. Dismissing it quickly came easily. “I guess they’re just doing repairs. Everyone’s always doing repairs.” Ten minutes maybe a little more, and then silence. I slept deeply, comfortably on my Russian version of a futon never imagining what the morning light would bring.
The door bell ringing while I read my Bible in the early morning startled me. No one ever came to visit in the morning. “Who is it?” I called in Russian through the closed door not trusting who stood on the other side. “The police.” The rough voice forced me to open quickly.
Standing only a foot apart we stared in disbelief. I couldn’t imagine why the police was standing at my door, and he gazed in utter shock that an American woman was living in this apartment.
“Did you hear anything last night?” He finally managed to find the words he came to speak. “I heard loud banging and someone calling a name over and over.” Walking away before I could finish he called over his shoulder, “Thank you.”
Barely five minutes later the doorbell rang again. “Who is it?” “The police.” Opening the door it was the same man standing uncomfortably in the dark hallway. “What you heard last night was a murder. I need to come in and get a testimony.”
I couldn’t breathe, surely I didn’t understand him right. Silently we made our way into the kitchen to the tiny table by the window. We sat across from each other as I carefully explained what I heard. He wrote everything on the official form. “Sign here please.” Reading the words I felt grateful for the many hours I had spent studying Russian. The words were mine exactly, and I signed my name. He walked out of the apartment without another word.
Locking the door behind him I could no longer stand. I lay on the floor sobbing. “God, how could you let this happen? My dreams of living in Russia and sharing your love has turned into a nightmare.” Crying until there were no more tears, I lay exhausted on the hard floor.
“I can’t stay here anymore. I’ve got to call my dad, and he will come to pack me up. I’m too scared to live in Russia.” Thoughts pounded through my mind while fear encapsulated my heart.
Out of the silence came the still, small voice I had heard so many times during my life. The God who I have walked with since I accepted Jesus as my Savior as an eight year old girl was speaking to me. “Jane, I’m your Father. I love you. If you will take my hand, I will lead you through this. I will use this disaster in ways you can’t even imagine.”
Paralyzing fear glued me to the ground. I couldn’t move. I couldn’t think. “I trust you, Father. I’m willing to stay if you carry me. I’ll continue to tell the Russians you love them if you help me. I’m afraid, God, but I believe that somehow you will bring good out of this. I just can’t see it right now.”
Grabbing my Bible from the table I consumed the words as if they were my very life. Noah built an ark trusting that somehow he wouldn’t drown. David had felt fear and yet stood before Goliath. Daniel walked to the lion’s den not knowing the outcome. Paul sang in jail and God sent an earthquake. “Father, if you can do all of this, then I know you can show up in my life.”
Slowly I began sharing my story to my Russian friends. They waited, wondering when I was going to leave. “Why aren’t you angry? Don’t you just want to go back to America?”
“I’ve waited my entire life to come to Russia. God isn’t surprised this happened to me. He knew even before I came what every day would hold. He will somehow use it in my life.”
Questions led to searching, and then a group of women begged to study the Bible. If my God can give me the strength to walk through such a tragedy, then maybe there really is a God. Some asked Jesus to be their Savior and Lord. God was using pain for good.
Every night I slept holding God’s Word. I clutched to the promises knowing I couldn’t close my eyes without knowing the Maker of heaven and earth was not sleeping and was watching over me. I came to understand that living with courage is not living without fear, but trusting God in the middle of the fear.
Students noticed a softness, perhaps an empathy lacking before. Coming after school to my apartment they asked deep questions. “Is there a God? Why did you come to Russia anyway? Aren’t there schools in America where you can teach?”
“Yes, there’s a God. He loves you so much that He sent me all the way from America to tell you. You see Jesus died on the cross because your sin makes it impossible for God to have a relationship with you. Jesus took all of your sin, and now you can live in freedom.” Girls bowed their heads asking for forgiveness, trusting a God they didn’t even know existed.
Months passed as I watched God use what I thought would destroy me into the only path to reach the Russian people. Theyve experiened intense pain and until they watched me walk through searing heat, they couldn’t relate to my God. They needed to see God cares about their tears and incredible heartaches before they could accept Him. They longed to know He is a God close by rather than one far away.
One afternoon after school I found a small piece of paper taped to my door. It was a summons to come before the court to give my testimony. “God, this is too much. I thought you had already brought me through this. Why do I have to go through this?”
“I’m with you. I’ll never leave you. You can trust me.” His tender voice reassuring my fearful heart that I wasn’t alone.
The day of the trial arrived and I walked through the cold hallways to the courtroom. The room was empty with wooden benches filling most of the room. In front were three large chairs up on a platform. “God, show me what you are seeing. Please give me your eyes. I know you can see beyond what is in front of me.”
“This is the courtroom of heaven. There are three chairs for the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Someday everyone will have to walk before us, and only if a person has accepted Christ can we invite them into heaven. Jane, there will be Russians who will be there. You were willing to tell them about my love and not leave when you felt so afraid. People who I deeply love accepted Jesus as their Savior.”
Tears trickled down the side of my face. I finally understood. God didn’t plan the tragedy, but He allowed it knowing the pain would have eternal consequences. He hadn’t made a mistake by turning my lifelong hope into a tragedy. “Thank you, Father. Thank you for helping me stay in spite of my fear.”
Fear in life is real and painful and feels overwhelming. Courage to push through it doesn’t mean relying on my own strength, but instead knowing the God who is big enough to carry me through when I can’t walk. Courage is being willing to not run away from the hurt and pain because I trust God is still in control and believe He has a greater purpose than what I can see with my eyes.
I’m standing, trusting, believing because I know my Father. I can trust Him.
Copyright © words and photographs by Jane Carole Stein