July 25, 2012

A Pastor's Big Mistake

Pavel* reclined on the sofa after Sabbath lunch and confided that if he could turn back the clock, he would never have skipped a year of classes at Zaoksky Adventist University. That decision changed his life.

Pavel moved to Moscow after being dismissed as the pastor of five rural churches. Divorced, he could not make court-ordered child support payments to his 12-year-old son and young daughter because his wages as a day laborer barely covered the rent. Worse, he had invested his life into ministering, and now he lacked church employment.

The problems, Pavel said, stemmed from the year he took off from his theology studies in the 1990s. “I didn’t really need the time off,” he said. “But it seemed like a good idea at the time to rest up and earn some money.”

With a scholarship that covered his tuition, Pavel really didn’t need the money. The university dean also opposed Pavel’s plan, and he tore up Pavel’s written request.

Pavel wrote a second letter, which the dean also destroyed. Then he wrote a third letter. He ultimately got the year off.
Nothing, however, went according to plan. Pavel lost his job after two months and spent the rest of the year looking for another place to work. He didn’t manage to find time to relax.

2012 1521 page25Disappointed with the year off, he returned to the classroom in the autumn and graduated.

Still single, Pavel was assigned to a district where a young woman quickly caught his eye. She attended church every Sabbath. Her family treated him like royalty, assisting him with various tasks and inviting him for meals. Pavel grew convinced that he had found his life companion. The two got married.

Pavel’s career blossomed. He loved being a pastor, preparing sermons throughout the week, visiting families, and rejoicing in baptisms. He moved from district to district as he was assigned new churches. Then he received a call to embark on what he saw as the most exciting mission yet: a position in a Middle Eastern country hostile to Christianity.

“This was the opportunity of a lifetime,” Pavel told me. “I could share the gospel in one of the last closed countries in the world.”
Pavel started studying Farsi. He visited the country and preached in a local church. Everything seemed perfectly in order for Pavel to make the move.

But then his wife put her foot down. “No way,” she told him firmly. She didn’t want to leave their familiar surroundings for a risky future sharing Jesus in a non-Christian country. When Pavel insisted that the family move, she filed for divorce.

Pavel lost the call. (“A complicated family situation” was how local church leaders explained their refusal to support it.) He also lost his job.

Pavel told me that he didn’t understand why he was no longer employed as a pastor, living in a shabby rented room in Moscow and working as a low-paid construction worker.

But he said he understands one thing: A single decision changed his life.

“I wish I had never taken off that year from school,” he said gloomily. “If I had stayed in school, I never would have met my wife. But because I took off the year, I’ve lost everything precious to me: my wife, my children, and my career. Everything I invested in is gone.”

This is an important message for me. I often forget that my daily decisions have the power to change both my future and the lives of others. I pray that God gives me the wisdom to make good decisions and, by His grace, to put my life back on track when I mess up.

During our conversation Pavel and I reflected on the promise in Jeremiah 29:11: “?‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’?”

To Pavel’s surprise, God fulfilled that promise a few months later. Pavel received an unexpected job offer—and immediately hit the Farsi-language textbooks. 

* Name has been changed.

Andrew Mc Chesney is a journalist in Russia. This article was published July 26, 2012.