By / Dec 27

Around Christmastime, Southern Baptists are accustomed to hearing about Lottie Moon, the incredible former missionary to China who pioneered the way for many more to take the gospel to faraway lands. Dr. Rebekah Naylor, a former medical missionary to India through the International Mission Board, is referred to by many as the modern-day Lottie Moon. In addition to her many accomplishments overseas, she currently holds the title of the first female distinguished professor of missions and permanent missionary-in-residence at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Dr. Naylor was kind enough to give us a glimpse into her life as a missionary and heart for the nations. 

Elizabeth Bristow: People often refer to you as a modern-day Lottie Moon. You professed your faith in Christ at age five, and then you felt God calling you to the medical mission field eight years later. So can you describe what that moment was like for you as a 13-year-old girl? How did you sense God’s calling upon your life at this time?

Rebekah Naylor: I had learned about missions my whole life. My father was my pastor, and we prayed for missionaries. I had met missionaries in our home. But it was during a week of foreign mission emphasis in our church that missionaries were speaking. And it was in that week that I just sensed inside of me a direction that this was personal and God wanted me to do this. I could not imagine that I could do something that, in my mind, was huge. How could I do that? And it was [after] several months of prayer — I didn’t tell anyone, even my parents — that I finally said, “OK, Lord, if this is it, I’ll do it.” And immediately all the confusion went away, and there was peace.

EB: You received an undergraduate degree from Baylor in Waco, Texas, and then you completed your medical training at Vanderbilt, in Nashville, Tennessee. Following your surgical training in 1973, you were appointed to what is now the IMB. Then, it was the Foreign Mission Board. You served at the Bangalore Baptist Hospital for 29 years in Bangalore, India. During this time, the hospital expanded and experienced significant growth. Reflecting back over your years serving in Bangalore, what was the most rewarding aspect of your work?

RN: It’s hard to isolate one. Of course, seeing people made well physically, and spiritually, to find wholeness [in] Jesus, would be the most rewarding. Investing in future generations of leadership, discipleship ministries, and modeling leadership, administration, teaching, and clinical care was all very rewarding and continues to be because the hospital today is remarkable. I just could not be more rewarded, especially seeing the leadership that is strong and faithful to the Lord and to the work of the hospital.

EB: What were some of the biggest challenges you faced during your 29 years serving at the hospital?

RN: You know, I tend not to think of [them]. Obviously, there were crises. There were problems. Those are not foremost in my mind because God did so many wonderful things, even in those. Yes, being away from family was probably the hardest thing. I think another challenge was communication. India is a very multilingual country with scores of major languages. In addition, they have dialects of those. So that was always a challenge, because I just wished I could have communicated well with everyone, which wasn’t possible.

EB: Besides serving as a missionary surgeon and professor, you also worked as a strategy coordinator and a church planter for the IMB in Karnataka, India, from 1992–2009. Will you give us a snapshot of that time, when you worked with medical missions and Indian pastors and helped plant 900 churches in that state?

RN: Those churches really came [about] over all the years through the hospital and its outreach through local pastors, church planters, and Indian evangelists. As patients came to the hospital, our chaplains were able to share the gospel with them. Many believed, and they were followed up with in their homes. If the interest was there and they truly believed, then Bible study groups were started, and eventually, house churches. From the beginning, we tried to ensure that they multiplied into surrounding communities. And so, multiplication is how those hundreds were possible. It was a collective effort, with much prayer and much hard work from the pastors, the evangelists, the church planters.

EB: Looking back over the time that you worked in church planting, what was the state of religious freedom like in India? And did you all have to undergo challenges when it came to that?

RN: The Constitution of India allows a person to worship as they choose. And when I went to India, it was possible to share the gospel openly in a village or a community. Over time, that became more restricted. It’s very restricted today, but over the years, it slowly became less open. Showing the Jesus film or sharing the gospel would happen more commonly in a home rather than just out by the well or something. I remember once that some of our chaplains were doing follow-up work in a village and were beaten up when they entered the village. 

The other thing we noticed is that we could no longer get resident visas to live there as missionaries. From about 1980 onward, we couldn’t get those kinds of visas. So that was another restriction. I struggled to keep a medical license. Supposedly, it was not due to my religious affiliation, but I think it probably was. And, the difficulties have continued to increase.

EB: What type of advice would you give to a young woman who is looking to pursue a calling similar to yours — in medical missions. What encouragement would you offer to someone who is praying through that?

RN: Praying through it is the key, and I think the bottom line is submission to whatever God wants you to do without any qualifications put on it. For example, “I’ll go if I have a husband,” or, “I’ll go if this happens or that.” And if we’re totally submitted to what God wants — to stay here or to go some other place — he will direct our paths. He promised that, and God keeps every promise. We have to submit to and trust him in it. That would be my advice and encouragement. Also, stay in God’s Word. Read missionary biographies. Talk to missionaries. Go to conferences. Use every opportunity to know about our world and its needs.

EB: As Christians, how can we support missionaries? How can we better serve them? What are specific things you pray for? 

RN: I pray that they will truly love the Lord with all their heart and mind and soul. I pray that the Spirit will direct them, certainly in the big things, but even daily, for a person that they could meet today. I pray that they will see fruit and be encouraged in their work. Sometimes it’s hard, and so I pray for their encouragement. I pray for them in times of loneliness. I pray for them in times of threat or danger.

God [also] told us to pray for more laborers that he would call from among us and from among the peoples to whom our missionaries have gone. So, praying and certainly giving generously, sacrificially, and cheerfully to support missions communicates to our missionaries that we care and are supporting them, and it encourages them. And, of course, we should be willing to go and our churches should be burdened to send out people from their fellowships. These are all ways that we can really encourage our missionaries.

As we know, the Christmas season is all about giving, because God gave his Son for us. Dr. Naylor’s life and ministry is a perfect example of why it’s important to give to the IMB. We cheerfully give so that we can see the nations cared for and told about the good news of Jesus. Dr. Naylor has a children’s book published about her life that can help you teach your kids about the importance of missionaries and the work of God around the world. All the proceeds from Rebekah: an American Surgeon in India go to the IMB and to missionaries all over our world. This season — and all year long — may we remember to pray for our brothers and sisters who are carrying the gospel, sometimes at a great cost, across the globe. 

For more about Lottie Moon and the IMB, view this article and the IMB’s site

By / Feb 8

When my husband and I set off with our children on an adventure to move overseas, we knew they would make an adjustment to a new culture, make new friends, learn a new language, and call another place on the globe their home. All of this was to be expected. Even with the challenges, we felt ready to accept these cultural adaptations.

What I didn’t know was that cultural adaptation would mean more than just accepting what was around them. It also meant transforming them too. Hence, the cross-cultural name, third-culture kid (or TCK for short). The name signifies the blending of a home culture with a host culture, and how kids who blend two “homes” uniquely identify with the world around them. Missionary kids, military kids, and any child whose parents have relocated across the globe can be TCKs. Being a TCK is a gift that I am thankful my children have received.  

But what does the reality of TCKs mean for family members, friends, and church communities back home who send families across continents and want to care for them even at a distance? How will churches that send missionaries receive TCKs back when they come for visits, or if they make a more permanent move back to their home country? 

As the child has adjusted and changed to adapt to a new culture, do those who care for them need to adjust and change as well? The answer is yes, and quite honestly, this experience is not unlike all relationships where we must continually adapt, adjust, and be diligent students, observers, and respecters of one another. 

To talk about good examples of care, I’ve interviewed my daughter and son, Megan and Parker. I’ll let them speak their own wisdom and personal experience

What are some ways that you felt cared for as a TCK? 

Parker: At a younger age, I would say that I remember feeling loved through gifts. Though we don’t want to make material objects the things that bring us the greatest happiness, it was meaningful and tangible that someone on the other end of the ocean cared enough to send you money or that new toy. 

As I grew older in Germany, I was able to connect and build relationships with kids and adults in our home churches. I began to see the continual and transformative work of the gospel in the world. I saw the world as a mission field, and, as I learned about God’s grace, it inspired me to live out my identity in Christ with open arms for those in need around us. The act of giving one church can do for a TCK is one of the things that inspires young missionaries to go outside of their doors and give to the nations.

Megan: Like Parker said, I felt cared for by the gifts churches would bring or send to us, especially at the beginning. Culture shock was still setting in, and I remember not having the words to express what I was feeling or even what I was missing. When churches sent boxes of macaroni and cheese or peanut butter cups, it struck a deeper chord. Those items represented something bigger that I was missing, and they gave me a sense of comfort and grounding in a time when I had lost my usual bearings. As I got older, I remember feeling cared for in the relationships I found within the church. Upon each return we were welcomed with warmth and generosity. I made supportive, lasting friendships with peers and mentors within the church. Relationships like these gave me a deep sense of care. 

Susan: One of the most meaningful acts of care my children received was before we even made it overseas. We had planned to arrive in October 2001, but the events of September 11 delayed all international visas. We had already sold our house, car, and belongings, and all we had were our suitcases—with nowhere to land while we waited.  Our home church provided us a house, a car, and our children a place in their school during the wait. When we arrived at the home provided for us, there were backpacks, school supplies, lunch boxes, a stocked fridge, and sweet notes to our family waiting for us. They went above and beyond with these provisions, and it had a huge impact on our family—giving us a sense of security and belonging in the midst of an uncertain time. The church continued to care for us through our years overseas in ways that spoke of availability, understanding, and compassion. It was just never a question that they were there for us.

Were there some ways you were cared for that might not have been as helpful?

Parker: One thing that caregivers want to avoid is making assumptions. When I think of difficult care situations, I think of things that were done or said that made me feel misunderstood. For example, someone might say, “Isn’t it great to be home!” or “Aren’t you lucky to be able to live in such an amazing place!” Those statements assume the TCKs feelings based upon the caregiver’s own perceptions of their life. The TCK might instead be thinking, “You don’t live away from your friends and family, so you don’t understand,” or “You don’t know what it’s like to feel so different.” In reality, everyone does feel this way sometimes. So, it’s important to think about times you’ve felt different and consider your words, or choose to ask good questions about someone’s perspective, instead of speaking your own view of their life over them. Asking thoughtful questions is a way of providing care and understanding.

Megan: I remember feeling pressured at times. Sometimes this looked like a church wanting me to share experiences from “the field” in front of my youth group or at a Bible study, and that always made me feel uncomfortable. I believe there was an intention to show support by listening, but it always made me feel singled out and pressured to share impressive stories that I simply didn’t have. The language used during these interactions also perpetuated my sense of confusion between “home country” and “the field.” These interactions were difficult for me in processing “home” and “other,” as there were clear lines being drawn from the church’s perspective, but I did not follow those same boundaries. 

Susan: Families returning to their home culture are thankful to connect with their sending church or churches to thank them for support, share updates on their ministry endeavors, and to be in community with them. This provides a much needed rest, spiritual salve for the weary souls, and encouragement. It’s a lifeline they provide. It is natural for the church to want to celebrate this family in special ways and to give them an opportunity to share their stories in various settings. In doing so, we have a tendency to bring children into these moments of sharing in front of groups, whether formally asking them to speak during worship or at a youth event or conference, or informally in a small group setting or with friends.  

This pressure to speak about one’s life can be a bit overwhelming for a TCK. It can cause some isolation if they just want to blend in as they adapt to being back in their home culture. It may create anxiety if they haven’t been in such a setting before, or at least in a long time. The social norms of American culture may be very different from their host culture—the noise level, social distance, ways of conflict resolution, and humor. It is important to be sensitive to the child’s comfort level when finding ways to celebrate them. Listen to them, and ask what they might enjoy doing as they integrate into this new-to-them and new-again social setting.  

Looking back, do you have ideas or advice to share with churches, family and friends as they care for their TCKs?  

Parker: Focus on community. Find a way to get TCKs together with other TCKs, whether it be through an annual conference, a weekend getaway, or through a virtual connection. TCKs need to understand that someone in another country is feeling the same way they are. It’s one of the only sources of empathy that makes sense to a kid—that is a true connection. Invest and devote thought, planning, money, and time to getting TCKs together. 

Megan:  I agree with Parker, connection was so important. I mentioned earlier the tension I felt when there was pressure or a sense that I needed to perform to gain connection. What was more helpful was the church’s ability to foster natural spaces for connection. Going out for ice cream felt much more supportive to me than being placed in front of the same group of kids and being asked questions about my experience as a TCK. I imagine there are many creative ways to do this now virtually that didn’t exist when I was younger. I also think it’s important to be cognizant of the “developmental stage” of the TCK—not in regard to their actual age, but their development in understanding these particular intersections of identity. For example, you might provide support to a 15-year-old who has just moved within the past year in a very different way than to a 7-year-old who was born overseas. Their needs are going to be vastly different, so I would warn against lumping all TCK care together. 

Susan: Acceptance of where a person is in their journey encourages connection even when we are quite different from one another. The posture of listening, the invitation to join, the patience when joining, is hard. The presence of just being together with no explanations needed, and the offering of space as they adjust are all acts of care toward TCKs and their parents too. 

Thank you, Megan and Parker, for being a voice for TCKs as you draw from your own experiences and give insight into what caring for TCKs can look like. My family is grateful for the care we have received in many and varied ways from those who sent us, loved us, and cared for us as we made our life transitions cross-culturally. It’s amazing to me how these 20 years later, I can look back and mark the moments where someone in our home culture reached out to us in a way that touched our hearts and welcomed us in. From big events of bringing groups to serve alongside us overseas to small, simple moments of bringing my child a school jersey so they could wear it to the school sports event like their peers—these are the moments, big and small, that accumulate over the years and across the miles to make us feel connected. Care simply says, “You matter.” And that is all that is needed. It makes a world of difference.

By / Dec 3

“It is the worst possible decision you could make for your family,” is the phrase my parents heard from multiple people after sharing that they were taking their three young daughters and moving halfway across the world to become missionaries in another country. But God’s call on their life to “go and make disciples of all nations” had been a cry of both of their hearts since they were young, and they knew it was what they had to do. So what was the result? Was uprooting, leaving everything behind, and entering an unknown culture going to change the outlook of their family? Well, yes, but not in the way the naysayers said. 

A little over 20 years later, I can confidently say that the decision my parents made to follow God’s call on their lives to go to the nations was the best decision they could ever make for our family. It was what molded me into the person I am today. When we lived overseas, I was a preteen—that time of life where you not only begin to remember the things you experience, but also begin to develop your self-identity, worldview, and passions. And that was the case for me. Being raised in a family with a missional mindset and living for a time on the mission field helped me experience a world outside my own, develop a passion for serving others, and motivate me to make the Great Commission my life’s focus.

A world outside my own

As a young child, I had seen pictures, heard stories, and even watched video clips of people in other countries. While those things helped me understand there was a world outside of the one I lived in, I wouldn’t say there was any true recognition of what that meant. Sure, I went to school with people of different ethnicities, but average “suburbia” in the 90s didn’t exactly lend itself to experiencing a culture outside of your own. But the moment I stepped out of the airport in our new home and experienced what this new place looked, sounded, smelled, and felt like, I knew right then and there that this was unlike anything I’d known before.

As a 10-year-old girl, the things I’d seen and read about had now come alive! My senses were heightened, and I took every bit of it in. My eyes saw people who looked different than me. I was the minority now. My ears heard the bustling groans and beeps of this major city, and in order to be heard, I needed to speak loudly. My nose smelled the scent of unknown foods, spices, and herbal medicines. (To this day, when I smell something similar, I can close my eyes and be taken back there.) My body felt the humid air that whipped off of the nearby sea, which was a bit miserable in the summer, but was comfortable in the winter.

The place my family served as missionaries was a hub for people from all over the world, so not only did I experience the culture of the place where we lived, but I also got to experience cultures of other countries. We were invited into people’s homes, ate food from their homeland, and also learned to abide by their customs. 

We served at an international church, and I can remember services where we would have Scripture read in the varying languages that made up our congregation. So, when I would read Scriptures, such as verses in Psalms that talk about people from varying nations coming together before God and praising him, I was witnessing something quite similar, a vision of complete unity in Christ. I realized that the differences were what made each of us unique and special to the Creator who masterfully designed it all.

A passion for serving others

Prior to living overseas, my parents took me along for various mission trips and projects. Although I really don’t have authentic memories of taking part in these events, I know that serving others was something that was instilled in me during those years because it came naturally as I grew. 

As a missionary kid on the field, I had the opportunity to serve others in various ways. One way I was able to serve was through my church. My very first church ministry “role” was given to me by the pastor of our international church. I was the Sunday School attendance taker. I was also able to serve through the girls mission group my mom started. While my mom taught the young girls, I led my peers. Eventually, our girls group was able to put hands and feet to our learning as we served at a welcome event to immigrants and passed out “blessing bags” that we packed from donations given by our fellow missionaries and church members. 

A little over 20 years later, I can confidently say that the decision my parents made to follow God’s call on their lives to go to the nations was the best decision they could ever make for our family. It was what molded me into the person I am today.

So when I would read about how Jesus encouraged his followers to serve others and that when we did so, we were actually serving him (Matt. 25:35-40), I knew what it meant because I was living it. When walking the streets, we would pass beggars and at times provide them sustenance. When a friend’s unbelieving relative was in the hospital, we would go visit them. And when immigrants arrived as strangers into our city, we welcomed them. 

I knew I was an ambassador for Jesus; in serving others, I reflected him. From then on, I never looked at serving others as something that was a requirement or that I had to do because my family was doing it. Rather, I saw and continue to see it as a blessing and an honor that I get to represent Jesus by serving others and thereby serve him.

A Great Commission focus

The spiritual, global, and missional awareness I experienced during these pivotal years of my life most definitely provided me with a Great Commission focus, one that increased when I returned to the States. When I returned, I was shocked to discover there were people who honestly did not care about what I had done and experienced. They made fun of people from other cultures; they only cared about serving themselves; and church seemed to be the place you went to fellowship, not to listen to God’s Word and understand terms like “the Great Commission.” I now know that this mindset is not really that unusual for the typical American teenager, but at the time, it was a devastating realization that took time to come to terms with.

Around the age of 16, I knew I had to dare to be different from my peers and help others grasp what living out the Great Commission really meant. As a teenager who didn’t really understand her own peers and vice versa, how would I go about doing that? By influencing the next generation. What began as a teenager being trained in how to teach children in children’s church, eventually developed into a young woman who was leading children’s missions education in her church and also throughout her state.

God has given me many amazing opportunities to influence the next generation in what it means to have a Great Commission focus. Today, there are children I taught who are now in college majoring in a career that they can use on the mission field. Once, I taught a child who decided to learn another language because she was certain God would send her to a country where they spoke that language. And there are multiple stories of children who would come back and share with me that they told their friends and classmates about Jesus. 

God has even given me the opportunity to use my Great Commission-focused heart as a career path. I am able to serve Southern Baptists every day through my job. I do not say these things to boast in myself at all. I say these things to boast in Christ alone. He gave me the experience of living out the Great Commission, placed that focus in my heart, and used me as his vessel to encourage the same focus in the hearts of others. 

Conclusion

Was moving our family halfway across the world to become missionaries the worst possible thing my parents did for our family? Not even close. It was quite the opposite. My life completely changed when I stepped off that airplane. And I wouldn’t fully understand the effect of it until many years later when I realized I am who I am today because my parents took Proverbs 22:6 to heart: “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.” 

In being raised with a missions mindset, some of which was experienced on the mission field, I grew up to realize that there is a world that is desperate to hear and know about the Savior who came to save them and that it’s our job as his followers to go, make disciples, teach, and baptize them (Matt. 28:19). 

And the thing is, anyone can do this same thing for themselves or their family. Decide today to live and raise your family with a missional mindset and see the world outside of your home as a mission field. For some, your mission field might be your community. Get to know and be kind to your friends and neighbors from other countries and cultures. For others, a big city may be where God is calling you to serve. The crowds and noises may be crazy, but think about the unique ways you can serve people from all walks of life. For others, God may be prompting you to live in another country halfway across the world, making disciples in a land you have never heard of before. Will it be hard? Will people question you? Will life change? Yes. But when you live and raise your family with a missions mindset, the Lord will undoubtedly change you and those you minister to for his glory. 

We encourage you to consider giving to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering. You can help send even more Southern Baptists to the ends of the earth by making a year-end donation to the International Mission Board

By / Nov 17

Even though the religious freedom situation in Russia is already challenging the traditional and therefore ineffective political correctness of international rights organizations and Western governments, few of them acknowledge that the continuing limitation of freedom is affecting the actual life and missionary practice of local evangelical churches. Today, churches unwillingly appear in the center of attention of officials and security services as the main spiritual extremists and terrorists. As is well known, in July 2016, the president of Russia signed a package of “antiterrorist laws” that became known by their co-author name as the Yarovaya Laws. In practice the so-called anti-terrorist laws turned out to be anti-missionary and even anti-church laws. Instead of a war on terror, the state unfurled a very real war against religious freedom.

It is remarkable that even during a pandemic there have been numerous instances of limiting the religious freedom of evangelical believers, mostly fines for distributing spiritual literature and bans on conducting worship services.1Russian Evangelicals Fined for ‘Missionary Activity’ During Pandemic https://www.christianitytoday.com/news/2020/august/baptists-russia-religious-liberty-putin.html?utm_medium=ctsocial. The fact that the state is so active in its attempts to control the activity of evangelical communities even in the midst of more global problems shows plenty about the priorities of state policies.

Worship services in the forest

Recently in the news about religious freedom in Russia, an interesting headline caught my attention, “Vladimir Ryakhovsky Agreed with the Mayor of Novorossiysk About Solving the Problem of Evangelists Conducting Services in the Forest.”2Владимир Ряховский договорился с мэром Новороссийска о решении проблем евангелистов, проводящих богослужения в лесу // http://president-sovet.ru/presscenter/news/read/6416/?fbclid=IwAR3cM0sDIRlMKGgP39wguYqmKIXxruo4O3EH9imnwRjw5NdbOhJmCjeNlSI. The news appeared on Sep. 10 on the official site of the Russian President’s Council on the Development of Civil Society and Human Rights.

Immediately I thought of two things. It was strange to see a Baptist church in the woods as the result of all the heroic efforts of the president of Russia and his Council on the Development of Civil Society and Human Rights. It was even stranger to hear that it is necessary to “agree” on the implementation of constitutional rights of freedom of conscience and assembly.

I learned from the news that “believers turned to a human rights defender because in July 2019, the judicial authorities sealed the living room of a residence where a church of evangelical Baptists conducted a worship service. A ban on the owner and other persons using the yard and the residence for religious purposes was imposed by a court decision. As a result, the congregation was completely deprived of a place for worship and forced to conduct worship services in the forest during the summer of 2020.”3Ibid.

Thanks to Vladimir Ryakhovsky’s personal intervention, the congregation gained the hope that it could restore worship services in its church building. In order to understand the seriousness of the situation, one should know that Mr. Ryakhovsky is a prominent Russian attorney, a member of the presidium of the President of the Russian Federation’s Council on Development of Civil Society and Human Rights, and co-chairman of the Slavic Center for Law and Justice. His brother, Sergei Ryakhovsky, heads the very large union of Pentecostals of Russia, and even so, is considered quite loyal to the Kremlin.

It seems that even such a highly-placed intercessor is unable to defend local churches. The role of the Council regarding “human rights” is more and more becoming a façade, leading to an illusion of freedom and even hiding its absence. At the same time, anti-missionary limitations are becoming a part of a consistent government policy directed against the most active religious congregations that are not controlled by the government.

Forum 18 announced that before it went to the forest, the Novorossiysk congregation was subjected to systematic pressure by the security organs.4RUSSIA: Losing places of worship // http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2505). Its pastor Yurii Kornienko was fined for conducting a worship service in a private home owned by a church member. Although there were only Baptists at the service and although the pastor himself had permission to conduct missionary activity, the ban on using the building was imposed by the Novorossiysk administration. Thus, a small Baptist congregation lost the right to gather in a building and was forced to transfer to the forest.

Suppression of evangelical church locations 

This event is part of a general problem in which the state does not allow believers to exercise even minimal rights to a designated place for assembly, forcing them into a semi-legal space and clandestine existence. Evangelical believers assemble in private homes not because they do not want to build separate church buildings (“cultic facilities”). Rather, they are not allowed to do this by the state itself, which then punishes them for this. Thus, the state deliberately creates the conditions under which no place for congregations remains in the legal space of social life and then forces them to break up into clandestine small groups or to gather in the forest.

This is a well-known story for local evangelical believers who still continue from the times of furious Soviet anti-religious campaigns when all churches were closed and when believers went underground and gathered secretly in private homes or in remote unpopulated places. Little has changed since then. Although in the first years after the collapse of the USSR, the state closed its eyes to the “self-willed-ness” of the evangelical churches and tolerated their missionary activity, in the last 20 years it transitioned to active countermeasures against further growth and church activity. Even so all this time, the Orthodox Church was allowed full government support and built luxurious religious buildings in the very best locations.

Today we see a shocking contrast between the golden cupolas of the Orthodox Church and the humble congregations of evangelical believers in the forest. These contrasts speak volumes. First, that in distinction from the Soviet practice of fighting against religion as such, the current Russian authorities are quite discriminatory in their attitudes toward religion. They maintain a course of state support for one confession and of marginalizing the others. That which can be controlled winds up in a golden cage. That which opposes control winds up behind prison bars, or in the forest.

Regrettably, many Western experts on religious freedom are inclined to follow the lead of Russian propaganda and to equate the Christian revival in Russia with the expansion of the official Orthodox Church. They are simply deceived by the results of surveys in which the majority of Russian confidently declare their adherence to Orthodoxy. Even more, they are deceived by the beauty of the Orthodox churches. Therefore, instead of solidarity with evangelical believers in defense of their freedom, the experts advise reconciling with the reality of Orthodoxy and the pro-Putin consensus and to accept the rules of the game, which are written in the Kremlin. But there is another path, a narrow path of faith in God and one’s conscience, which leads to the forest, and for some to prison.

I recall my childhood experience of being a part of the underground evangelical community. I committed my life to God in such a church, which we called Church in the Forest. Then we gathered in worship services in deserted places far from the cities and walked many miles to worship God freely in lap of wild nature. There were harsh crackdowns on congregations and frequent fines and searches of homes. But my parents were prepared for this; and we, the children of Christian parents, were proud of their courage and valued our freedom to believe in God and to be faithful to him. Sometimes the church can remain the church only in the forest.

That which occurs today in Russia is not Christian revival but determined state support of Orthodoxy and discrimination against all other confessions. But knowing the history of the evangelical church, including the history of my family which included not a few martyrs and prisoners, I can confidently say that the result of the state’s anti-missionary campaign will be not the cessation of the churches’ missionary activity and the isolation of believers but the general mobilization of the church and the creative search for new forms of service. Having been deprived of buildings, the church does not cease to gather; but it finds its place even in the woods and in prison. 

The difficulties for the evangelical church created by the anti-missionary laws aid its growth and its active mission much more than gifts or temporary concessions or privileges by the government. The church in the woods is an excellent illustration of the faithfulness to God and its mission. The persecutors of the church never did and never will understand that this history of faithfulness never frightens believers but strengthens their faith and motivates them to a more sacrificial mission.

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    Russian Evangelicals Fined for ‘Missionary Activity’ During Pandemic https://www.christianitytoday.com/news/2020/august/baptists-russia-religious-liberty-putin.html?utm_medium=ctsocial.
  • 2
    Владимир Ряховский договорился с мэром Новороссийска о решении проблем евангелистов, проводящих богослужения в лесу // http://president-sovet.ru/presscenter/news/read/6416/?fbclid=IwAR3cM0sDIRlMKGgP39wguYqmKIXxruo4O3EH9imnwRjw5NdbOhJmCjeNlSI.
  • 3
    Ibid.
  • 4
    RUSSIA: Losing places of worship // http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2505).
By / Oct 20

When I was a child, my mother passed along to me a deep appreciation for the life and writings of Elisabeth Elliot. As a teenager, I read her book Passion and Purity, convinced that my own Jim Elliot was right around the corner. In my 20s I often read from Keep A Quiet Heart as I wrestled with both depression and singleness. In my 30s, I clung to Elliot’s mantra, “Do the next thing,” as chronic illness made a home in my body and altered my life ambitions. And I spent the summer I was 42—recovering from chemotherapy and major surgery—savoring every last word of Suffering is Never for Nothing. 

When Elliot passed in 2015, I dug up an old picture I’d taken with her at a speaking engagement 20 years before. Although there had been seasons when I’d tired of her crisp-and-conventional style (after all, she was from my grandparents’ generation, not mine)—and I’d let her books collect dust on my shelves—I looked at the picture with a heart full of love and gratitude, feeling that I’d known her well. 

Little did I know how little I knew her. 

Last month I picked up a copy of Ellen Vaughn’s new authorized biography, Becoming Elisabeth Elliot—a captivating look at the woman behind the best-selling books, the lauded story, and the global speaking engagements—as well as the criticisms. 

Thanks to Vaughn’s writing prowess, laborious legwork, and extensive use of Elliot’s personal journals, I felt as if I were shadowing Elliot from her birth to her early 30s (Vaughn is writing a second volume to tell the story of Elliot’s later years). I vividly saw, smelled, heard, and even tasted Elliot’s world—from her scrupulous East Coast childhood home to the perilous jungles of her 20s. I felt her agonies and ecstasies, her terrific triumphs and heart-wrenching failures. I wept through words that painted Elliot so human—so like me. She too wrestled with depression, a flawed personality, broken relationships, and weariness. Elliot wrote, 

“It is not the level of our spirituality that we can depend on. It is God and nothing less than God, for the work is God’s and the call is God’s and everything is summoned by Him and to His purposes, our bravery and cowardice, our love and our selfishness, our strengths and our weaknesses.”

Not only was Elliot well acquainted with weakness, she was also on a first-name basis with mystery. Vaughn shows how the cumulative loss and death and “unfruitfulness” of Elliot’s 20s transformed her from the once “dutiful, devout . . . high-achieving new missionary” into a seasoned woman of tenacious faith who didn’t mind asking the tough questions. Her unresolved sufferings—and the God she came to know intimately in the midst of them—laid the bedrock of her lifelong message that captivated millions around the world. Elliot wrote,

“Obviously, God has chosen to leave certain questions unanswered and certain problems without any solution in this life, in order that in our very struggle to answer and solve we may be shoved back, and back, and eternally back to the contemplation of Himself, and to complete trust in Who He is. I’m glad He’s my Father.”

While Elliot is best known for her husband’s martyrdom and her consequent decision to live with the tribal people who murdered him—and although she did write a number of best-sellers and travel the world speaking to thousands—Vaughn beautifully demonstrates that the most celebrated parts of Elliot’s life were “just part of her story. For Elisabeth, as for all of us, the most dramatic chapters may well be less significant than the daily faithfulness that traces the brave trajectory of a human life radically submitted to Christ.” 

Elliot had boring jobs and monotonous days that threatened to suck the life out of her. She endured appalling living conditions in both New York City and Ecuador. She faced long, hard years isolated from dear friends and family. She waited half a decade for the man of her dreams to decide whether or not he was going to marry her. And then after that man finally married her, he was killed 27 months later, leaving her with a toddler and the formidable task of running a jungle station. 

As I devoured page after page of Vaughn’s biography, I began to realize that while I’d known the indomitable Elliot through her testimony, her books, and her messages, I’d not known the flesh-and-bone “Betty” I discovered through Vaughn’s careful unveiling of her life. Vaughn doesn’t force any preconceived ideas of Elliot. In her own words, she wanted “to lay bare the facts of Elisabeth Elliot’s case” by using Elliot’s own words and the words of “so many who knew her well.” 

Vaughn does this masterfully. As a result, this biography will appeal to a broad audience—not only to those who grew up with Elisabeth Elliot as a household name but also to a young new generation who asks, “Elisabeth who?”