October 23, 2013

Dateline Moscow

Ryan Fogle may be known to the world as the accused CIA spy who was expelled from Russia. But to me he will always be an answer to prayer.

Fogle made international headlines in May when the Federal Security Service, the successor agency to the Soviet KGB, detained him for allegedly trying to recruit a Russian agent. State television aired footage portraying him as a bumbling spy, the Russian Foreign Ministry declared him persona non grata, and he left the country five days later. But the Ryan Fogle whom I met showed little resemblance to the inept spy depicted by Russian authorities.

Fogle was standing near the United States ambassador when I arrived at Spaso House, the ambassador’s residence, for a reception to celebrate U.S. Independence Day in 2011. Youthful and clean-cut, he greeted me with a warm smile and a handshake. He told me that he had recently arrived in Moscow to serve as third secretary in the embassy’s political section. We spoke for about five minutes and swapped contact information.

The next day I sent Fogle a “nice to have met you, let’s keep in touch” e-mail, the same e-mail I try to write to everyone I meet for the first time. He replied with a similarly polite message.

About a month later a Russian friend from church called me with an urgent problem. A teenage relative had been camping out at his apartment for two weeks, unsure whether the U.S. embassy had approved his visa application to study at an Adventist university. The teen had received a full scholarship, and had traveled to Moscow from his hometown in southern Russia for the required interview at the U.S. embassy. But now the school year was about to begin, and he had no idea whether or not he would be allowed to travel to the U.S.

“Should he call the embassy and ask, or would that ruin his chances?” my friend asked. “The embassy says very clearly, ‘Don’t contact us; we’ll contact you.’

“We’ve been praying for the past two weeks,” he continued, “but there hasn’t been any news. Do you know someone at the embassy who could help?”

For me, the request amounted to a “mission impossible.” I was powerless and saw no way out. Then I remembered Ryan Fogle. He didn’t work in the consular section, which handles visas, but perhaps he could offer some advice.

With a prayer, I sent an e-mail to Fogle, explaining the situation.

He promptly wrote back. “I’ll ask,” he said.

I prayed for God’s will to be done. This teen had put everything on the line to pursue his studies. He was leaving home, family, friends, and everything else dear because he wanted an Adventist education. He had pledged to use his newfound knowledge to serve God.

But what were God’s plans?

Just hours later I received a phone call from my church friend.

“You won’t believe what happened!” he exclaimed. “The U.S. embassy just called to say the visa has been approved and will be delivered by courier tomorrow.”

I never heard from Ryan Fogle again. But one thing I know: God can use anyone to fulfill His purposes.

When Sarah laughed at the news that she would give birth to a son, Isaac, in her old age, the Lord asked, “Is anything too hard for the Lord?” (Gen. 18:14).

When an angel announced that Elizabeth would give birth to John the Baptist in her old age, he explained to his surprised listener, “For no word from God will ever fail” (Luke 1:37).

When the mouths of Jesus’ disciples dropped open at the news that it would be easier for a camel to squeeze through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God, Jesus assured them that even rich people could be saved: “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible” (Matt. 19:26).

God is all-powerful. He can work with absolutely anyone: a barren woman, a rich man, and an alleged CIA spy.