Saturday, December 23, 2000

Fishers of Men

They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. "Come, follow me," Jesus said, "and I will make you fishers of men." Matthew 4:18-19

The camp organized by Ganaty Petrov for orphans was in a national forest on the outskirts of Voronezh. These 114 children had no other place to go for the summer when the orphanages closed their doors for repairs and workers vacations. While a good portion of the children are “social” orphans with relatives they can stay with in the summer months, unfortunately there are some who have no place to stay. This prompted Ganaty to organize a Christian camp where they could further learn about the Bible in a relaxed atmosphere and also just to have fun outside of a state run institution.

They arrived that first day unsure of what the days ahead would bring. Many came with only the clothes on their backs wearing threadbare shoes. We greeted them with a host of clowns, funny music, games and merriment. Kids are kids wherever you go and soon they joined in the activities running around the campgrounds, locating their cabins and getting settled in.

Our group was not the only group in the campgrounds. Many local families come and stay in the cabins and at a “hotel” taking advantage of the proximity to the city, yet able to enjoy time out in nature, swimming and fishing in the river as a relaxing getaway. We were joined from time to time by a variety of children who had come with their families. After all our group had organized game and craft stations, music and dance time, with afternoon swims down by the riverbanks. Quite a loud a boisterous bunch we were compared to their families, though any of the children in our group would have gladly traded places with them for a moment of their familial security.

One evening as we waited in line for our turn at the shower stall servicing the entire hotel, a man began trying to communicate that it was his young son in the shower. He banged hard on the door as any father would do in an effort to speed him up and shorten our wait. The boy came out and the father proudly indicated that the boy could speak English. He then proceeded to insist the boy try his language skills with these American “invaders”. The youth didn’t get much farther than his name and age and something about Cuba. We smiled, laughed, and went on into the showers. When we returned to our rooms there stood the father and son waiting for us with a string of salted fish to present to us as a gift, sharing in their day’s good fortune and catch. We gladly accepted their generosity, while wondering what we were going to do with the fish in our rooms?

Once again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was let down into the lake and caught all kinds of fish.. Matthew 13:47-48

The next day I was at the river with my interpreter Katya. We saw the father, now donning a military cap and preparing his bait and rods for another day’s worth of fishing. I told Katya about his gift the night before and asked if she would translate for me. She expressed our thanks for their kindness and generosity and the father came and sat on the bench beside us.

Then the righteous will answer him, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? ' Matthew 25:37

He explained that he was a Russian military officer stationed in Cuba when his son was born. He questioned why we were in Voronezh, and about the children that were orphans. He asked me what my opinion was of Russians now that I had seen for myself. I answered that their openness to outsiders and their inherent generosity surprised me. This was not what I had been told in school about the Red enemy.

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Ephesians 6:12

He laughed and said he was thirty miles from the American coast for many years. He had been trained to hate Americans. “When Russians hate something they destroy it, but when they love something they love it completely” a gentle smile curled across his weather worn face. “Russia left Cuba in 1988, but the Americans are still there” he chuckled “I think this is probably wise for the Americans.”

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil's schemes. Ephesians 6:10-11

Foreign diplomacy by the banks of a river. While it was not hard for us to show benevolence to the orphans with no place to go in the Voronezh region. It was a tremendous leap of faith for this military man to ask his son to speak to his once sworn and hated enemy, much less to extend such a humbling hand of hospitality on a fisherman’s line.

But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. Matthew 5:44-48

That day it became obvious there was more to our being in the campground that what we could see in the faces of the children. Behind the scenes great things were going in the realm where the real battles are being fought.