May 26, 2010

What's in Your Handbag?

2010 1515 page17 capELENA VERENCHUK LEFT HER NATIVE MOLDOVA FOR MOSCOW AFTER THE ?Soviet collapse, joining an exodus of hundreds of thousands of people headed to the Russian capital in a desperate search for work.
But unlike many job seekers, Yelena was used to jumping from job to job. It wasn’t that she was a poor worker; it’s because she’s a Seventh-day Adventist. During Soviet times Yelena had never held a steady job because the authorities refused to provide work for Christians. Unwavering in her determination to put God first, Yelena planted crops on farms, sewed clothes, and laid bricks at construction sites as she lost job after job because of her Sabbath convictions.
The collapse of the Soviet Union heralded religious freedom. But it also brought a huge shortage of work to Moldova and other former Soviet republics. So Yelena pinned her hopes on Moscow, the one city that seemed to hold opportunities.
Yelena and her husband grew fruit and vegetables and lugged them to Moscow by train to sell curbside. She and her three young sons sewed skirts. She traveled to Turkey to buy cheap shirts and socks for resale in Moscow.
2010 1515 page17The constant travel was tiring, so Yelena decided to seek construction work in Moscow, building brick ovens and fireplaces in the homes of Russia’s new rich. One fireplace she was hired to build turned out to be in the apartment of a well-connected gangster.
One day as she was working the gangster decided to do a little boasting. “Do you know how powerful I am? Look at what I have here,” he said.
He led her to a trunk and pulled out a Kalashnikov assault rifle, which he held cockily in his hands.
Yelena didn’t blink. “I have a much more powerful weapon in my handbag,” she said.
The gangster’s eyes bugged out. “What? Show me what you have in your bag,” he demanded.
Yelena took her time. Her hands grimy from working on the fireplace, she slowly made her way to the sink, where she washed and dried her hands. “Yes, my weapon is so powerful that I’m not afraid of anyone,” she said.
The gangster urged her toward the handbag.
Yelena carefully opened her handbag and pulled out her Bible with a huge cross printed on the cover. She pointed to the Book and said, “This is more powerful than any weapon in the world.”
The gangster’s mouth dropped open. For a moment he didn’t say anything. The Kalashnikov, still in his hands, now looked like a child’s plastic toy as he relaxed his grip.
“You’re right,” he said finally. His voice dropped to a whisper. “Could you, uh, get me one, too?”
As Yelena told me this story on a recent Sabbath afternoon, I realized that God always puts us in the right job at the right time. It doesn’t matter how prestigious or how menial the job might seem. It’s also irrelevant whether we work for the church or in the secular world. If we ask, God will allow us to point others to Him every single day. Then we will be able to echo Paul in joyfully declaring, “I want you to know, beloved, that what has happened to me has actually helped to spread the gospel” (Phil. 1:12, NRSV).*
My prayer is that you and I will recognize the opportunities God presents us this week, and use them to glorify Him—even if the boss doesn’t pull out a Kalashnikov. 
*Bible texts credited to NRSV are from the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible, copyright ” 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A. Used by permission.
Andrew McChesney is a journalist in Russia. This article was published May 27, 2010.