January 14, 2009

Responding to an Impression

2009 1502 page27 capN MY DESK LAY AN INVITATION TO THE U.S. AMBASSADOR’S RESIDENCE, Spaso House, for a farewell reception for Ambassador William Burns.
In my closet hung a variety of slacks and suits, and I stood at the open door wondering how formal the soiree would be that evening.
Then a thought popped into mind. Why not take a Christian book with me and give it to the ambassador? Just as quickly, a dozen excuses came for not taking a book. What would the ambassador think? What would the other guests think? How would I give it to the ambassador without creating a scene?
Then I thought, Who gave me the idea to take a book to the ambassador in the first place? I prayed and took a look in the bookcase. My eyes immediately fell on several brand-new copies of Doug Batchelor’s great witnessing book Broken Chains. I prayed, “OK, God, I’ll take a copy of Broken Chains with me to the reception. But I’ll give it to the ambassador only if it’s Your will. Please provide an opportunity to give the ambassador the book if it’s Your will. I want to glorify You; yet I don’t want to embarrass myself.”
2009 1502 page27Leaving the issue in God’s hands, I picked out a dark-blue suit, slipped the book into the pocket of my overcoat, and rushed off to work.
During the car ride to Spaso House that evening, I began to wonder if I was following God’s will. Months of emotional distress had followed my previous—and only—attempt to share a Christian book at work. I had privately given the book to a colleague on his last day in the office. But another colleague had found out and brutally mocked my faith by, among other things, sending me threatening e-mails. One e-mail concluded ominously, “You can just imagine how our [employer] would react to the news that one of his editors had imposed his religious views on a subordinate in this manner.”
Arriving at Spaso House, I took off my overcoat and moved the book to the inner pocket of my suit jacket. Then I strode up the stairs into the main room, copiously furnished with ornate furniture and oil paintings on loan from Tretyakov Gallery.
I was early, and the other guests were just beginning to trickle in. I looked around for the ambassador and thought, Let’s see how God handles this.
The ambassador and his wife soon emerged, and they took a place near the top of the stairs. A line of people quickly formed in front of them—diplomats and businesspeople who wanted to shake the ambassador’s hand and wish him well. First in line stood a stout, gray-haired man with a package in one hand. The man carefully opened the package to reveal a large photo book of Russia. He shook the ambassador’s hand and handed him the book. The next man held a book under one arm. He also handed it to the ambassador. I sucked in my breath. The Russian guests were giving books to the ambassador as goodbye gifts. I didn’t need to be told twice: this was my cue. Marveling at God’s perfect timing, I got in line and prayed for the right words.
When my turn came, the ambassador and I spoke for a few minutes about his departure, then I pulled the book out of my pocket.
“I see other people are giving you books as farewell presents, and I have a book of my own,” I said.
The ambassador smiled and glanced at the cover with curiosity.
“It’s a survival guide to Washington,” I said.
The ambassador laughed and showed it to his wife. “We’ll need that,” he said, shaking my hand.
God needs faithful human messengers who are ready to put aside their fears and allow Him to lead. The apostle Peter wrote: “So then, those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good” (1 Peter 4:19). For those of us with baby faith, God even does the hard work. 
Andrew McChesney is a journalist who lives in Russia.