The Courage to Say “I’m Sorry”

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Probably you know what it’s like to have people you don’t actually know, but who you know of, because you move in the same circles and you have a lot of common friends.

Having been missionaries in Eastern Europe for many years, there are many people whom my wife and I don’t know personally, but we know of them, because we’ve been in the same places at different times, or we’ve met once or twice before.

During my recent trip to Ukraine, I met one of these people: a long-time missionary in Kyiv named Cara Denney. On this trip, however, I did get the chance to spend some time with Cara and really enjoyed getting to know her. We have a lot of friends in common, but this was the first time we’d ever really talked.

As Cara was telling me part of her story, she said something that was very profound: she was telling me about how she had a strained relaitonship with her mom for many years, but after she became a Christian, she was able to forgive her mother in light of how Christ had forgiven her.

Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. (Ephesians 4:32)

It was a few years after that, that her mother approached her, and finally apologized for the pain and suffering she had caused Cara earlier in her life.

Now here’s the good part: Cara told her mother at that point, “Mom, I forgave you years ago!” — to which her mom replied: “I know. That’s what gave me the courage to say, ‘I’m sorry’!”

“I forgave you years ago.”
“I know, that’s what gave me the courage to say ‘I’m sorry.'”

That story reminds me of a few things:

  1. It is the kindness of God that leads us to repentance. (Romans 2:4)
    The fact of God’s love for us displayed in Him acting to save us through Christ — while we were yet enemies! (Romans 5:10) — shows us that God deeply loves us, and this kindness and love gives us the courage to come to him and confess our sins, knowing that they have already been dealt with in Christ and that we will be welcomed in and received with open arms by the Father.
  2. You don’t have to wait for someone to say they are sorry in order to forgive them.
    Some people will never say they are sorry. But if you hold onto resentment against them, you will be the one who suffers, not them! It has been said that holding onto resentment against another person is like drinking poison and expecting to other person to die. In the end you are only hurting yourself. In order to be free, you’ve got to forgive that person for what they’ve done against you, whether they apologize or not. And who knows, maybe like with this woman, the fact that you have already forgiven them will be the thing that gives them the courage to say, “I’m Sorry.”
    After all, God is the judge, and Jesus has already died for that sin – which means that justice will be served and/or has already been satisfied. Knowing this gives us the strength and the freedom to forgive.

Holding onto resentment is like drinking poison and expecting to other person to die. In the end, you’re only hurting yourself. Forgiveness sets you free.

For more from Cara, check out this article she wrote for calvarychapel.com: Where is God in the Conflict With Russia & Ukraine?

Back to School

Yesterday I received my letter of acceptance from London School of Theology, where I will begin my postgraduate studies starting this September to get a Master of Arts in Integrative Theology.

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I will be studying via distance learning, which means I won’t have to travel at all and will be able to make my own schedule, both of which are important to me since I’m a full-time pastor and have a family at home. I looked into a local school in Colorado, but I prefer the British approach to education. Also, British schools are more affordable than US schools when it comes to studying Christian theology because in the US it is only taught in private universities because of the separation of church and state – whereas in the UK public universities can have theology departments. I would recommend Americans who want to study theology to really consider looking into studying via distance learning in Britain.

I’m excited to go back to school and continue my theological education. It’s been nice taking a year off, but I am ready to get back into it.

I am still in Kyiv; I fly home tomorrow morning. Today I got to visit Ukrainian Evangelical Theological Seminary and speak to the students and staff.

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The faculty and students of Ukrainian Evangelical Theological Seminary

Several months ago I met a couple who live in Berthoud, CO who run an organization called Ukraine Orphan Outreach. It was through them that I got connected to people at the seminary, and as it turns out there are several people from Calvary Chapel in Ukraine who work and study there.

I was impressed with their school and its mission: “To strengthen churches and transform society” – as well as the work they are doing to accomplish that. Having an interdenominational evangelical seminary in Ukraine is a great asset to the church here.

The school has many students from outside of Ukraine, and recently they started a second campus of their school in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. They also operate several mini-campuses in cities around Ukraine, for people who want to study with them but have difficulty coming to Kyiv.

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A class at UETS

I’m praying that God uses and blesses the work of UETS to raise up and train many ministers of the gospel to work in this country and the former republics of the Soviet Union.

Something to Pray Earnestly About

As I wrote in a previous post, I am currently in Kyiv, Ukraine on a ministry trip. On my way here I had the chance to stop in Hungary for two short days, during which every moment was packed.

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“Otthon” – Rákóczi út, Budapest

I arrived in Budapest Tuesday night, met with a few friends on Wednesday, and got on a train to Eger to visit our friends from the church we started there several years ago. There was an open house gathering at the pastor’s house for anyone who wanted to come see me and it just so happened that one of my good friends and our former worship leader, who now lives in the Netherlands, was also in Eger that day, and was able to come out and visit.

Jani and Tünde and I stayed up late that night talking about life and ministry, and on Thursday I woke up early for a marathon of meetings with as many people as I could. It was a short time, but because of that it was also a very focused time. That evening, rather than taking the train back to Budapest to catch my flight the next day, Jani decided to drive me so that we would have more time to spend together and talk.

Pray for Pastor Jani and Golgota Eger. They are doing a good work in that city and region.

And he said to them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” (Luke 10:2)

Friday morning I flew to Kyiv, arriving at 11:00 AM. At 2:00 PM the Calvary Chapel Ukraine Pastors and Leaders conference began at the conference center in Irpin.

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Conference Center in Irpin, just outside of Kyiv

The conference was two days long and the theme was “Vision for Our Cities.” It was a pleasure to get to spend time with this great group of people who are doing important work, and get to share with them some of the things I’ve learned.

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Teaching at the CCUA Pastors and Leaders Conference

On Sunday morning I shared at Calvary Chapel Kyiv, and had a great time with that wonderful church which has great leadership and a great vision to reach their city and the country of Ukraine. Pastor George told me today: “We could literally start as many churches as we want in Ukraine, the only thing we lack is people to do it. People here are so receptive to the gospel, particularly in the East where the fighting is going on.”

“We could start as many churches as we want in Ukraine, the only thing we lack is people to do it.” – Pastor George Markey, Calvary Chapel Kyiv

As Jesus said, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”

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A statue shrouded in national colors outside the church in downtown Kyiv

At church in Kyiv, I spent most of my time talking to people in Hungarian; an ethnic Hungarian man from the Hungarian-speaking region of Ukraine was there, as well as a Ukrainian girl whom my wife and I know from when we all lived Debrecen, Hungary. As more and more people in the world are moving to big cities like Kyiv, the world is getting smaller as it gets bigger.

Here is video of the message I shared at CC Kyiv:

“Should I Not Have Compassion on that Great City?”

Greetings from Kyiv, Ukraine! I have been in Europe for the past week on a ministry trip to visit some ministries that White Fields Community Church partners with in Hungary and Ukraine, with the focus of my trip being here in Ukraine.

I got a good price on a multi-destination ticket with Turkish Airlines. Part of the reason for the low price is that it included a 12 hour layover in Istanbul. I can understand why for some people that would be a terrible inconvenience, but for me on this trip it was a great added bonus! Recently I’ve been teaching classes on the history of Christianity, and Constantinople is a big part of it, so I looked forward to the chance to get to see the “New Rome” and the old capitol of the Byzantine Empire along with the Hagia Sophia – the largest Christian church in the world for nearly a thousand years, and a building that changed architecture.

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Inside the Hagia Sophia (Holy Wisdom), built in 537 AD!

Istanbul, with 14 million people, is the largest city in Europe. During my time there I went to the Asian side of the Bosphorus Strait, and from there I could begin to get a glimpse of just how big this city is. It was great preparation for the conference I was coming to teach at in Kyiv on the topic of “Vision for Our Cities.”

I was reminded of the message of the Book of Jonah, which is summed up in the final verse, where God says to Jonah, “And should not I pity Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know their right hand from their left?”

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Looking across the Bosphorus from the Asian side, toward the “Golden Horn”

Jonah’s view of Nineveh was that it was a city full of terrible sinful people who did terrible sinful things, and that they deserved God’s wrath. He was frustrated and upset by the fact that God wanted to offer them a chance to repent and receive mercy. But God spoke to Jonah at the end, and pointed out that Jonah was more concerned about plants than he was about people. God, on the other hand, cares more about people than plants – and so therefore, how could God not care about a city full of his most masterful creation, whom he loves? God wanted Jonah (and us) to understand the way that he feels about people, and about cities full of people: he loves them and we should too.

“And should not I pity Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know their right hand from their left?”

On the streets of Istanbul and in the public transport areas I saw a lot of refugees from the Middle East. While I was in Turkey, the United States issued a ban on bringing laptops and tablets onto flights originating from 10 airports in 8 muslim-majority countries, including flights originating from Istanbul, something which will affect me on my flight home. The ban came as the result of the discovery of a plot to put explosives into an iPad.

As I walked through downtown Istanbul towards Taksim Square, I began wondering what it would be like for someone to do Christian ministry in that city. I was surprised at how European it was; aside from the mosques and minarets, most of the city looks like any other large European city.

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Galata Tower and a typical European neighborhood in Istanbul.

At the same time, I remember the news about German missionaries who were killed in Turkey a few years ago, and I realize that it would not only be difficult, but also dangerous for someone to do Christian ministry there.

Cities in general are “humanity magnified.” And because of that, there is inherently a dual nature to all cities: on the one hand they are full of the pinnacle of God’s good creation: people who are made in His image – on the other hand, we are fallen and so cities also have more brokenness, danger and sin.

The story-line the Bible tells is one which can be summarized in four points: Creation, Fall, Redemption and Restoration. That means that because of Jesus there is hope for humanity.

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Istanbul: very European and yet unquestionably Muslim

A Google search helped me find some international churches in Istanbul. I pray for their safety and for them to have effective ministry in this great city. May we truly understand the message of the Book of Jonah and may God give us His heart for cities like this one.

A Day in Kyiv

We arrived yesterday to Kyiv and have been staying with George and Sharron Markey. George's dad pioneered Calvary Chapel church planting in Ukraine, where there are now around 20 churches.
About 9 months ago George and his family moved back to Kyiv from Ternopil, where they had planted a church several years ago, to lead the church in Kyiv after the previous pastor stepped down. When I lived in Eger I had come to Ternopil twice to work with George and visit the church there.
After we arrived yesterday we went with George to the church office where he had a meeting, and then we got to walk around the city center of Kyiv.
In just a little bit we will be heading to the conference center for the Pastors and Leaders Conference which begins this afternoon. Jani and Tünde from Eger are on their way; I'm hoping they'll be blessed, instructed and encouraged by the conference and get connected with the Ukrainian Calvary Chapel leaders.
Here are some pictures from downtown Kyiv:

Dniper River in Kyiv
Mother of the Motherland Statue and Great Patriotic War Memorial

Famine Memorial

 

Pray for Ukraine

Our family walking in downtown Kyiv in November 2010:

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I was in town for a pastors conference with Calvary Chapel and we found Kyiv to be a beautiful, cosmopolitan European capital.

Here’s what Khreshchatyk street looks like today after months of anti-government protests, which recently turned violent:

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Here’s a photo I took of Independence Square, AKA Maidan, in 2010:

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Here’s the scene today:

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You can follow the news of what is going on in Ukraine here: the BBC is running live updates as things unfold.

Please pray for the people of Ukraine. They have suffered greatly from corruption since the end of the Soviet Union. Ultimately, the greatest hope for these people, as for all people, is found in Jesus Christ, and in His Kingdom of righteousness.

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.” (Matthew 5:6, ESV)

How Effective was Government Persecution of Orthodox Churches in Russia During the Communist Period?

I have been toying with the idea of posting some of the articles I’ve written for seminary up on this blog for people to read and discuss. A few friends mentioned they would be interested in this one in particular. The following is an article I wrote for a class on Twentieth-Century Church History. Feel free to chime in and leave a comment below. (Just a heads-up that it’s written in UK English; those aren’t misspellings!)

The twentieth century, along with being a time of great technological development, was a period of some of the most intense persecution of Christianity the world has ever seen. Multiple sources have estimated that more Christians were killed for their faith in the twentieth century than in all other centuries combined. Much of this persecution happened under the rule of communist regimes in Eastern Europe and Asia. Not least among the persecuted churches was the Orthodox church in Russia. However, the Orthodox church did not cease to exist, and now enjoys a constitutionally privileged position in Russia. Tertullian famously wrote, ‘the blood of Christians is seed’; the implication being that persecution, rather than causing the extermination of Christianity, actually causes it to become stronger and to spread. Was this the case in regard to Orthodox Christianity in Russia during the communist period, or did the persecution ultimately reach its objective?

First of all, we must consider what the objectives of the government persecution were. As the largest and most influential religious organisation in Russia, the persecution of the Orthodox church by the Soviet government was both ideologically and politically motivated. Ideologically, one of the ultimate objectives of Marxism was the elimination of all religion. Politically, the Orthodox church had been very closely tied to the ruling houses of Imperial Russia, and thus, in the minds of the communists, was part of the old system which they were trying to overthrow. The fact that during the Russian civil war many prominent Orthodox supporters fought on the side of the ‘Whites’ certainly contributed to the persecution of the church once the ‘Reds’ eventually triumphed. Although all religions and Christian groups suffered persecution during the communist period, the Orthodox church was often treated uniquely; there were times when non-Orthodox were allowed greater freedom in the hope that their growth would weaken the Orthodox church, and there were times when the government sought to work through the Orthodox church as it did through its puppet regimes, to influence people or gain popular support for its agendas.

Some historical context is helpful for understanding the place of the Orthodox church in Russia prior to the communists coming to power. The official christianisation of the Russian people is recognised as having taken place in 988, when Vladimir I led the citizens of Kyiv to the Dnieper river for baptism. One of the factors in Vladimir pronouncing Christianity to be the official national religion was that he believed it would be a means of unifying his divided people by giving them a common sense of identity. Vladimir aligned his people with Constantinople, the ‘second Rome.’ Vassily III was the first Russian ruler to take the title of ‘tsar’, which comes from the Latin ‘caesar’. In 1589, the Patriarchate of Moscow was established; the Patriarch of Constantinople recognised Russia as the political but not ecclesiastical successor to Constantinople, and the tsar was acknowledged as successor to the Byzantine Emperors, but Moscow was not acknowledged as the ‘third Rome’, though its form of Christendom and church-state relations followed that model. Russian history after this point was marked by a struggle for authority between church and state; at some points church leaders claimed supreme authority, while at others the church was reduced to a department of the state and the clergy as state servants. At the beginning of the eighteenth century, Peter the Great suppressed the Moscow Patriarchate in favour of a synod which ran the church as a department of the state, limiting its freedom. Thus, in Russia there was a tradition of autocracy reaching back several centuries, in which the Orthodox church, while enjoying considerable privileges, was subjected to the state. When the communist regime made the churches answerable to a government department, this was nothing new to the Orthodox church. The traditional patterns of church-state relationship in Russia meant that the Orthodox church was surprisingly able to adapt to life under communism, where they found themselves once again in a struggle with the state for authority and once again subjugated to the state. In some ways the situation the Orthodox church found itself in under communism was one they were well-prepared to cope with because it was more familiar to them than, for example, Western-style pluralistic democracy would have been.

The Orthodox church suffered great losses during the communist period, but they also received some surprising benefits. After the Bolsheviks took power, a prolonged period of repression began, rising steadily throughout the 1920’s and 1930’s. The Orthodox church was virtually ‘decapitated’; between 1918 and 1926, over 100 bishops were executed and thrown in prison, along with tens of thousands of priests—85,000 clergy were put to death in 1937 alone. Stalin, a dropout from an Orthodox seminary, continued Lenin’s policy of persecution. During the first decades of Soviet control, the number of functioning Orthodox churches was reduced from around 55,000 to about 500, and the number of monasteries was reduced from 1,025 to 0. The Orthodox church, at least on the surface, ceased to exist; it was forced underground, with believers being led by clergy who took up ordinary occupations to mask their religious activity and to support themselves. We are only left to wonder if the Orthodox church in Russia would have survived at all had this level of persecution continued, because in 1943, Stalin introduced a reversal in policy and allowed the Orthodox church a limited amount of freedom in exchange for their support of the war effort. Such changes in policy happened a number of times during the communist period, with bursts of persecution and moments of reprieve, but it was always generally suppressive, and it was clear that the view of the future held by the communist powers was one which did not include religious groups of any kind, much less the Orthodox church. However, the Soviets were not opposed to using the church in the short term as a mechanism for influencing and controlling people in their empire, as Stalin had in 1943. Furthermore, it was easier to control centralised institutions than underground bodies. Thus, from 1940 the Uniate churches of Ukraine and Central Europe were forcibly united with the Russian Orthodox church and the jurisdiction of the Moscow Patriarchate was extended after 1945 to include Orthodox churches in Bulgaria and Romania as they came under Soviet political domination. The Russian Orthodox church had a history of attempting to extend its influence, and ironically, it was the Soviet regime who helped them to do so during the communist period.

The way the communist government of the Soviet Union approached the Orthodox church in Russia differed from policy of the communist government in China towards Christianity. The main reason for this is because communist social thought did not have to undo Christian cultural influence in China as it did in Russia, which had been shaped by centuries of Christian allegiance. In China the Christian community had always been a minority; it was smaller, less influential, and closely associated with foreign influence. Russia, on the other hand, had experienced centuries of Christendom, in which the Orthodox church, far from being considered a foreign entity, was part of the historical and national identity of Russia and the Russian people. This is precisely what Soviet policy sought to undo, as well as the reason why this was as incredibly difficult task, which they never fully succeeded to accomplish. It seems that this was ultimately accepted by the Soviet government, who in 1988, at the millennium of the christianising of Russia, not only allowed, but even participated in the commemoration by minting a gold coin. In the newfound liberty after the end of communism, the Orthodox church rushed in to fill the void in national identity left by the collapse of the Soviet Union. Symbols and paraphernalia of Orthodox worship began to reappear and the remains of Tsar Nicholas II and his family were disinterred and reburied in an Orthodox cathedral in Saint Petersburg. In 1997 a new law in Russia put the Orthodox church in a constitutionally privileged position and limited the freedom of other religious groups. Orthodox priests have been seen blessing Russian army recruits going off to war in breakaway provinces. It would seem that these are signs of a return to Christendom and the failure of the decades-long Soviet policy of persecution.

Statistics, however, suggest that the government persecution of the Orthodox church was not without effect. It is estimated that by 2000 there were around 80 million self-identified Orthodox Christians in Russia—about half the population. The other believers of all religions made up roughly 15 million, leaving approximately 65 million Russians professedly without any religious belief—an astonishingly high proportion compared with countries outside the former communist lands. Of that 80 million, somewhere between 3-15 million actually attend church even once a year. This disparity between practice and professed identity has led some to suggest that Russia is in fact one of the most secularised societies in the world.

Since the breakup of the Soviet Union, one of the greatest challenges that Orthodoxy has faced is how to cope with Western-style pluralistic democracy. The collapse of the Soviet state, while allowing the church far greater freedom than it had had at any time since 1917-1918, came at the expense of its ability to influence many of the churches once under the Soviet sway. One of the great legacies of communism has been internal church division. The reappearance of the Uniate churches and the formation of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church as well as schismatic Orthodox churches in Russia, Ukraine and abroad have significantly weakened the Moscow Patriarchate. Whereas the Orthodox church in Russia, for many centuries under tsarist rule and then still under communist rule was one, unified, ‘national’ church—Orthodoxy in Russia and its former areas of influence is now splintered and divided. Thus, it seems that the vision of a renewed Christendom is something which can never again exist in the same way it did during Russia’s imperial period. The legacy of the communist era is that it forced Russia out of Christendom in an irreversible way.

How effective was the government persecution of the Orthodox church in Russia during the communist period? On the one hand, in the wake of the communist era, an astonishingly high number of Russians profess no religious belief and the once-united Orthodox church is now splintered, divided and weakened. In this sense, the persecution was effective. On the other hand though, it failed to accomplish its ultimate objectives of destroying the church and its role in society. Although there is evidence that church attendance was in decline during this period, it was also in decline in the West; state persecution did not make much difference. In fact, in some ways, Soviet policy helped to strengthen the church by keeping it united and by increasing its sphere of influence. Considering the rapid decline of Christianity in Western Europe—and even more recently in countries like Poland, which remained extremely loyal to the Roman Catholic Church throughout the communist period, but has seen decline in that area since it has become more of a Western-style democratic society—one is left to wonder what would have happened if the communist authorities would have not persecuted the Orthodox church, but had treated it as irrelevant and quietly excluded it from public life, as the democracies of Western Europe did as they transitioned out of Christendom. If the Soviets would have done that, I expect that Orthodox faith in Russia would have gone the way of Lutheranism in Sweden and Anglicanism in England—and maybe it is now, but the transition would have been, I believe, quicker and easier. Forbidden fruit is always sweeter; persecution only strengthens the resolve of the faithful. The real way to kill a religion is not through persecution, but by making it appear irrelevant and making its adherents complacent and uninterested in it.

Bibliography

  • Ferguson, S.B., D.F. Wright and J.I. Packer, eds, New Dictionary of Theology (Leicester: Inter-Varsity Press, 1988)
  • Grass, T., THY305 Twentieth-Century Church History (Cheltenham: University of Gloucestershire, 2013)
  • Graves, D., “Tertullian’s Defence”, Christian History Institute, <https://www.christianhistoryinstitute.org/study/module/tertullian/> [accessed 06/12/13]
  • Jackson, E. and T. Grass, THY206 The Early Church to the Enlightenment, ed. by J. McKeown (Cheltenham: University of Gloucestershire, 2011)
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  • Pell, G., “Persecution of Christians is still rife today”, The Telegraph, 24 August, 2013 <http://www.dailytelegraph.com.au/news/opinion/persecution-of-christians-is-still-rife-today/story-fni0cwl5-1226703406943> [accessed 06/12/13]
  • Vos, H.F., Exploring Church History, Nelson’s Christian Cornerstone Series (Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1994)
  • Walters, P.M., ‘Russian Orthodox Theology’ in New Dictionary of Theology, ed. by S.B. Ferguson, D.F. Wright and J.I. Packer (Leicester: Inter-Varsity Press, 1988), pp. 599-605