June 17, 2009

Do They Know?

2009 1517 page27 capITH SUITCASE IN HAND, ALEXANDER GOT OFF THE TRAIN AT THE ODESSA station one evening. He looked past the platform at a row of women of all shapes and ages, all with handwritten signs hung around their necks reading “Room.”

Alexander, a small-time Moscow entrepreneur, was in the Ukrainian Black Sea city on a business trip. Hotel rooms cost too much, so he planned to rent a room in the apartment of one of the waiting women. But the prices for the rooms also went beyond Alexander’s budget. With a sinking feeling, he trudged toward the exit, debating whether to spend the night on a train station bench or in a city park.
A woman abruptly charged up behind Alexander, ramming into his shoulder as she passed by. The force of the impact sent her sprawling. The woman—tall, lanky, and about 65—picked herself up, adjusting thick eyeglasses with one hand. “Another night and my room isn’t rented out,” she muttered.
“You have a room to rent?” Alexander asked. “How much?”
2009 1517 page27The room turned out to cost less than the others, and the woman also offered to share her meals. Alexander gratefully followed her home. With a place to stay, Alexander’s thoughts turned to his next problem: finding a place to worship on Sabbath. Few churches have their own Web sites in this part of the world. Moreover, telephone directories are nonexistent.
The next day dawned hot and sticky, and Alexander set out to find an Adventist church. First stop: an onion-domed edifice belonging to the dominant Russian Orthodox Church. Alexander felt certain that a church known for its fierce opposition to Protestant faiths would know where the Adventists met. But people at the church shook their heads. Alexander asked the police. He walked up and down streets, stopping passersby.
As the sun crept toward the horizon, Alexander made his way back to his room. Falling on his knees by his bed, he wept. “Dear God,” he prayed, “let me find a church where I can worship.”
Soon the apartment owner announced supper. Alexander sat in the cramped kitchen and looked across the wooden table into twinkling eyes peering through thick lenses. He wondered whether she might know something about Adventists. He decided to hope for the impossible.
“Do you know if there are any churches in Odessa for Baptists, Pentecostals, or Seventh-day Adventists?” he said.
The woman looked at him sharply. “Which one are you?” she asked.
He paused. “Adventist.”
“So am I!” the woman exclaimed. “We can attend church together.”
A testament to God’s impeccable timing.
But Alexander told me the story for another reason. You see, he and the owner of the apartment got to talking about why it had taken so long to figure out they shared the same faith. Alexander said he had wondered the first night whether she was Adventist because she was dressed modestly and had no Orthodox icons lying around the apartment. But he had held back because the woman, noticing that he was worried, had asked whether he wanted to stop by an Orthodox church to light a candle and pray.
Her question had led him to conclude that she was Orthodox. But she said to him later, “I thought you were Orthodox and was trying to make you feel comfortable.”
Alexander told me that even though he found the Adventist church in the end, he could not stop thinking about the time he would have saved and the stress he could have avoided by being up front about his love for God.
I wonder how many times I bring unnecessary stress on myself because I veil my feelings toward God. I wonder how often God has to go the extra mile to answer my prayers because my words or actions show only a reluctant love for Him.
The apostle wrote: “And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus” (Col. 3:17). 
Andrew McChesney is a journalist in Russia.