March 25, 2014

Dateline Moscow

Alexei stopped me in the church hall after the worship service on a recent Sabbath.

“I don’t know if you can help, and I don’t know if this is a Sabbath discussion,” he told me, “but my sister is in trouble.”

It turned out that Alexei’s sister, Lena, a nonbeliever whom I had met once when she visited our church, was pregnant and wanted to fly to the United States to join her American husband before the birth of their child.

But when Lena had gone to the Moscow airport to check in for her flight, she had found that her United States green card had disappeared.

In a panic she tried to contact the U.S. embassy to ask for a replacement visa before her pregnancy left her unable to travel. But she had been unable to arrange a one-on-one interview with anyone under the automated visa application process.

Alexei asked whether I knew anyone at the embassy who could help.

As a matter of fact, I did. I had been working to improve relations between the embassy and the newspaper where I work, and I had the direct phone numbers and e-mail addresses of several embassy staff, including the point person on visas. The words of Esther’s cousin Mordecai rang in my ears: “Yet who knows whether you have come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” (Esther 4:14, NKJV).* Perhaps I had been able to network with the embassy staff to assist Lena in her time of need.

I promised a grateful Alexei that I would try to intervene. That evening, after sundown, Lena called me to explain the details of her case. I promised to do my best to help.

I didn’t have embassy staff contacts at home, so I couldn’t do anything until I returned to the office Monday.

On Monday I forgot my promise. Then a few days later I left Russia for my own weeklong trip to the U.S.

With a jolt I remembered my oversight when I saw Alexei at church a few Sabbaths later. Feeling terribly ashamed, I walked up to Alexei to apologize.

I never got the chance.

Alexei eagerly began to tell me about Lena. “It’s a miracle!” he exclaimed.

Lena, unable to arrange a new visa, had lost all hope when she got a phone call from the airport police. An airport custodian had found her green card and turned it over to the police, who, in turn, tracked down Lena’s phone number.

“This is completely unheard-of,” Alexei told me.

Alexei was right. Lost-and-found offices are nonexistent in Russia, and the unlucky owner of a missing possession can pretty much forget about ever seeing it again. People who find lost items tend to keep them or throw them away. Russian police, with a reputation for being corrupt and unhelpful, are not known for going the extra mile in recovering personal belongings.

But despite those insurmountable odds, Lena got her green card back and flew to the U.S.

As Alexei related the story, my shame deepened. God had given me an opportunity to help Lena. But I had failed. Still, God wasn’t dependent on me. He had found another, even more miraculous way to help Lena.

God gives each of us opportunities to use such resources as time, talents, and money to assist others. As one of my favorite authors says, it is our privilege to assist angels in spreading the gospel. But God isn’t going to wait for us to do our part. If we drag our feet or refuse to participate, He will find other ways to fulfill His goals, and they will be fulfilled.

“For if you remain completely silent at this time, relief and deliverance will arise . . . from another place” (Esther 4:14).

I’d rather play an active role than sit on the sidelines ahead of Jesus’ return. How about you?

* Texts credited to NKJV are from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1979, 1980, 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.