October 23, 2013

Dateline Moscow

Oleg, my personal trainer, thinks 12 is a lucky number.

We’ve been talking about the number 12 since his thirty-eighth birthday on March 12. Oleg pointed out that we think in 12-hour cycles, and that there are 12 months in a year. We also do our gym exercises in twelves: five sets of 12 crunches, four sets of 12 weight lifts, three sets of 12 minutes on the treadmill.

Oleg asked me what else involves a 12. I told him about eggs and buns sold by the dozen in the United States. He found that surprising, because things come in 10s in Russian stores.

Oleg and I have been working out together for more than a year, three to four days a week. Oleg is a great role model: muscular and toned, he does not use steroids or smoke, unlike many other personal trainers and bodybuilders at the gym. He has taught me a lot about good health: Purposely control the size of food portions. Avoid food after 6:00 p.m. Never relax after a meal; instead, get up and wash the dishes.

Oleg knows that I choose not to train from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday. But he has never asked why.

As we’ve worked out, I’ve wondered whether he has any interest in God. After all, we are sowers of the Word, and we are the most effective when we find good ground to plant in. As Jesus said in the parable of the sower: “But the seed falling on good soil refers to someone who hears the word and understands it. This is the one who produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown” (Matt. 13:23).

A few weeks ago I sought to gauge Oleg’s spiritual interest by asking him what he believed to be the meaning of life. I wondered whether he would mention God or heaven.

Oleg winced at the question and thought for a few minutes. “The point of life,” he said finally, “is to get married, have children, and through them leave a legacy.”

Those were brave words, considering that Oleg and his wife separated early last year, that she hasn’t spoken to him since then, and that they don’t have any children.

No opportunity to discuss God arose in our conversation.

Then the other evening as we paused in the middle of four sets of 12 push-ups, I announced to Oleg that I had thought about him while reading the Bible that morning.

Oleg looked at me curiously.

I told him that I had read a story about a woman who had been bleeding for 12 years and how Jesus had healed her, just as He was traveling to meet an ill 12-year-old girl.

Oleg’s eyes lit up. “The Bible also has 12s!” he exclaimed. “Remember the 12 saints?”

I didn’t remember the 12 saints. I asked whether he meant 12 disciples.

“No, no,” Oleg said. “The 12 saints. You know, they were at the Last Supper: Moses, Elijah, and Judas, the one who betrayed Him.”

I struggled to keep a straight face. Oleg spoke with such eagerness and sincerity.

But I’m glad we engaged in the conversation. Now I know that Oleg is open to discussing Jesus and the Bible. He is good ground.

We have many more 12s to discuss: the 12 patriarchs, the 12 tribes of Israel, the fact that Jesus was 12 when He first understood His mission on earth, and the 12 gates made of pearl in the New Jerusalem, which I look forward to seeing Oleg walk through.