When God Leads by Closing Doors

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This past Sunday at White Fields Church, we began a new series called Upside Down, which may or may not be a reference to Stranger Things, but definitely comes from what was said about the Christians in Thessalonica, that “these people who have turned the world upside down have now come here also.” (Acts 17:6)

Upside Down Sermon Graphic-2

One of the interesting aspects about the church in Thessalonica is that Paul never actually intended to go there. His plan was to go somewhere else: to the province of Asia. When that didn’t work out, he tried to go to the region of Bithynia. In other words, going to Thessalonica, in the province of Macedonia, wasn’t even Plan B, it was Plan C! And yet, God did an amazing work there, so much so that Paul tells the Thessalonians that they are his glory and his joy. (1 Thessalonians 2:20)

Closed Doors that Changed History

David Livingstone, the great missionary who brought the Gospel to the interior of Africa, originally wanted to go to China as a missionary, but it didn’t work out. That’s how he ended up in Africa. The rest is history.

William Carey, who pioneered the modern missionary movement in India, originally planned to go to Polynesia.

Adoniram Judson, who brought the gospel to Burma, originally wanted to go to India, but the doos were closed.

Closed Doors and God’s Leading in My Life

I spent 10 years as a missionary in Hungary. They were wonderful, fruitful years. But I didn’t originally intend to go to Hungary.

Check out this video in which Mike and I discuss how God led each of us to Hungary. Spoiler alert: Mike didn’t intend to go to Hungary either. Watch the video to find out where we were each intending to go, and how God led us, and how we feel about our plans not working out.

We are also now podcasting not only our sermons, but these Sermon Extra discussions every week as well. You can find them on Apple Podcasts, Google Play, and Spotify.

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Original Music by Michael Payne: My Times

Michael Payne, who serves as worship pastor at White Fields Community Church in Longmont, just released an original song called “My Times”. Check it out on YouTube here:

Here’s what Mike wrote about the song:

The story of this song starts back in 1996 when I arrived in Debrecen, Hungary with my backpack and guitar. It comes from Psalms 73 and 31 and encapsulated the start of my journey as a missionary. This song would become a mainstay for our Monday night English language Bible study with the medical students. But then I left the song behind in Debrecen as we moved to Budapest where I felt God call me to invest in Hungarian songwriters and song-writing. Since our move to the States 21 years later, this song has taken on new meaning as my family declares this same endless truth to God again – “My times are in Your hands”, stepping out into a new chapter in life.
Music is not only about the song itself, but who you play it with and it was a great joy to record this with great friends.
I hope the story and the words of this song resonate with you wherever you are in your walk with God.

Mike is going to be featured in the Longmont Times-Call’s 100 People of the St. Vrain Valley feature, in which they highlight notable people from the area.

You can also listen to Mike’s music on Spotify: Michael Payne on Spotify

Compelling Stories & the True Myth

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Have you ever noticed that many of the stories that you love, all have the same core elements?

This is a reality which played a major role in CS Lewis’ conversion from atheism to Christianity, as he discussed it with his friend JRR Tolkien. I told that story in this post, called Addison’s Walk.

Lewis later articulated this concept in Mere Christianity, in which he described how the gospel story of Jesus Christ is the “true myth,” and the fundamental myth, which is written on the human heart, and to which all other myths point.

Joseph Campbell and the Monomyth

It isn’t only Christians who have observed this phenomenon. Joseph Campbell, an American professor of literature who researched comparative mythology, wrote a book titled, The Hero with a Thousand Facesin which he showed how there is a common structure in the mythological stories told in all human cultures of an archetypal hero. This structure has come to be known as the “monomyth.”

This podcast episode gives a very engaging description of the monomyth theory and how  Hollywood has now begun to use it as a formula for writing stories that people want to watch: Imaginary Worlds, The Hero’s Journey: Endgame

I first heard about The Hero with a Thousand Faces while recording a podcast episode for the Expositors Collective Podcast at a training weekend in Bradenton, Florida last December. That episode was released this past week, and you can listen to it here: Expositors Collective, Episode 45: Telling a Compelling Story.

The discussion in that episode is based on a talk I gave at that event on the topic of homiletics (the art of preaching), about how to use narrative format in order to craft compelling expository sermons.

Why Do People Like to Read These Kinds of Stories?

Interestingly, when Joseph Campbell was asked why he thought it was stories contain these common elements, which are all present in the biblical narrative, his response was that the reason people write in this way, is because it is what other people like to read. However, in that response he fails to answer the question and get to the root of the issue, which is: Why do people like to read these kinds of stories?

As Christians, we would agree with Tolkien and Lewis, that the reason for this is because we are created by God, and this story is the true story of the world, which we intuitively know because God has placed it in our minds and put it in our hearts.

This same theme was identified by Don Richardson, a missionary to Papua New Guinea who discovered that there are common virtues and mythologies held in all cultures in the world, and that these shared stories create a basis by which the gospel can be shared cross-culturally, even to people who have never been exposed to the gospel before. He documents and explains this in his books Peace Child and Eternity in Their Hearts.

Popular Examples

In our interview, Mike mentions a clip from the Simpsons in which Homer says something profound about the Bible: “Everybody in this book is a sinner… except for THIS GUY!” Here’s the clip:

I recently found out that at the end of the series, J K Rowling revealed that Christianity inspired Harry Potter. In an interview, she stated how she always thought that the influence of the biblical narrative was so obvious that every reader should have noticed it, and that the Bible verses on Harry’s parents’ gravestones “sum up and epitomize the entire story.”

What does all this mean for us?

It means that when you read a story that compels you, when you watch a movie that makes you cry, when you read a news story about heroism that touches your heart, there is a very profound reason for that: that story resonates with and reflects the true story of the world, the gospel story of Jesus Christ – the true story of the ultimate problem, the ultimate peril, the ultimate act of sacrificial love, the ultimate story of good overcoming evil, and the ultimate hero.

If you follow the ladder all the way to the top, it will lead you to Jesus. As you enjoy these stories, don’t fail to recognize that what you truly long for in your heart of hearts is nothing less than Jesus himself and the redemption that is found in him!

Calvary Chapel Ukraine Leaders Conference

For the past week I have been in Ukraine to work with Calvary Chapel churches here. On Friday and Saturday Mike Payne and I spoke at the CC Ukraine leaders conference in Irpin, near Kyiv.

I taught on discipleship pathways and leadership pipelines, and Mike spoke on leading in a supporting role. There were also a few Q&A sessions where leaders from different churches were able to ask questions about things they are facing or are curious about.

On Saturday evening, after the conference, Mike went to Ternopil in western Ukraine, while I took a train to Kharkiv in eastern Ukraine, and we both spoke at churches in these cities on Sunday.

The pastor of Calvary Chapel in Kharkiv, Victor, contracted measles and got very sick, to the point where his life may have been in danger. He is doing better now, but is still under quarantine. I spent the weekend with the assistant pastor, Nate, who also leads a ministry called Fostering Hope, which provides a home and family for several children. To find out more about Fostering Hope Ukraine, click here.

I am currently on my way back to Kyiv for a series of meetings tomorrow, and after that I will head to Budapest on Wednesday, where I will speak at Golgota Budapest and then spend a day in Eger, where my wife and I lived for 7 years and planted a church. On Friday I will be heading back to the US, just in time to preach on Sunday at White Fields.

God is continuing to do a great work here in Ukraine through these churches. Pray for them as they plan to plant new churches in Kyiv and develop a Leaders Training Program in Kharkiv.

Recap of Recent Travels

I just got back on Saturday night from a 2-week trip, during which I was in NYC, Turkey, Hungary, Ukraine – then a quick jaunt to Southern California, before making my way back home just in time for daylight savings! My internal clock was so confused by that point that losing one more hour of sleep didn’t even register.

Hungary

The purpose for the European trip was to visit White Fields‘ missionaries and ministry partners in Hungary and Ukraine. I got to spend time with Pastor Jani and others from Golgota Eger, the church my wife and I started back in 2005. We also spent time in Budapest at Golgota Budapest and with the leaders of the Anonymous Ways Foundation which helps to rescue women out of sex-trafficking.

Ukraine

After a few short days in Hungary, we flew to Kiev, Ukraine where Mike and I taught at a Pastors and Leaders Conference for Calvary Chapel Ukraine. Our topic was “movement dynamics” and we gave biblical and practical instruction about leading missional churches for about 50 pastors and church leaders from all over Ukraine.

Kiev

On Sunday morning I had the privilege of preaching at Calvary Chapel Kiev. Here is the video of that service if you’d like to watch it:

After church we spent some time with George Markey, one of the pastors of Calvary Kiev, and he shared with us the vision for urban church planting in Kiev – a city of about 5 million people. Their vision is to plant 30 churches in Kiev in 5 years! This year their goal was to begin with 2 church plants, and God has already raised up people for those in the northern Obolon region of the city and in the southern Teremky region. Please join in praying for God’s work in Kiev through Calvary Chapel and for this big vision they have for church planting!

Ternopil and Kharkiv

Sunday evening, three of us got on an over-night train to Kharkiv, the second-largest city in Ukraine, near the Russian border – while Mike and his wife Marika took a train in the opposite direction, to Ternopil in Western Ukraine to visit friends from Calvary Chapel Ternopil.

In Kharkiv, we visited with friends from Calvary Chapel Kharkiv, including Pastor Victor Fisin and Assistant Pastor and missionary Nate Medlong, whose aunt is a member of our church. Nate and his wife Diana are on the front lines of ministry to orphans and children in the foster system in Kharkiv. God is doing great things through their ministry, so please keep them in prayer.

UETS

Returning to Kiev, I got to speak to the students of Ukrainian Evangelical Theological Seminary on Tuesday morning, and then we spent time with one of the teachers and the director of the seminary afterwards. UETS is a doing a great work, raising up pastors and leaders from all over the former Soviet Union. They have a strategic partnership with the seminary I am currently attending: London School of Theology (LST), and they have several hundred students attending their many campuses all over Ukraine and one other former-Soviet country. Pray for their work!

California

While the others from the team came back to Colorado, I had one more trip before I came home: I went to Thousand Oaks, California for the first Expositors Collective – an interactive seminar for young people who have a desire to preach and teach the Bible well. As one of the leaders, I coached a group of young men who had a range of different experiences: from Bible college students to interns, to a staff pastor who sometimes preaches at his church. It was a great event, and one that was geared towards ongoing mentorship. This was only the first of what will hopefully be an ongoing collective to encourage expository Bible teaching in the next generation. For more information, check out expositorscollective.com

It was a great trip, but I’m glad to be home, here where God has called me to be!

They Sold Themselves Into Slavery

lamb-slainUnitas Fratrum (Unity of the Brethren) is the formal name of the group often referred to as the Moravian Brethren or Moravian Church. They were one of the very first Protestant groups in the world, originating from Jan Hus and the Bohemian Reformation of the 15th century in what is now the Czech Republic.

Fleeing religious persecution, they fled to Saxony in 1722, and some of them were given permission to settle on the land of a nobleman named Count Nikolaus von Zinzendorf, a Lutheran Pietist who had a large estate outside of Berthelsdorf.

The Moravian Protestants who settled there, together with Zinzendorf, established a church and named their settlement Herrnhut (The Lord’s Watch). One characteristic of their new community was continuous prayer, done in shifts by different people. This continuous prayer at Herrnhut went on uninterrupted for 100 years.

What is particularly significant about the Moravian church at Herrnhut is that they were a missionary church. They were the first large-scale Protestant missionary group, and they were the pioneers of the modern missionary movement.

During the eighteenth century alone, the Moravians established mission outposts in the Virgin Islands (1732), Greenland (1733), North America (1734), Lapland and South America (1735), South Africa (1736), and Labrador (1771).

Their all-consuming purpose was to spread the gospel to the ends of the earth, a passion that was evident in their proportion of missionaries to laypeople, by some estimates a ratio of 1:60.

Some of the very first Moravian missionaries went to the Caribbean island of St Thomas. They went there in order to minister to the slaves on the island, even selling themselves as slaves in order to get access.

The Moravians had learned that the secret of loving the souls of men was found in loving the Savior of men. On October 8, 1732, a Dutch ship left the Copenhagen harbor bound for the Danish West Indies. On board were the two first Moravian missionaries; John Leonard Dober, a potter, and David Nitschman, a carpenter. Both were skilled speakers and ready to sell themselves into slavery to reach the slaves of the West Indies. As the ship slipped away, they lifted up a cry that would one day become the rallying call for all Moravian missionaries, “May the Lamb that was slain receive the reward of His suffering.” The Moravian’s passion for souls was surpassed only by their passion for the Lamb of God, Jesus Christ. (Source)

I don’t know about you, but it challenges me to see that these people were willing to sell themselves into slavery in order to minister to people they had never met before. That is radical love and radical self-sacrifice. It expresses true belief in the importance and urgency of people coming to know the good news of who Jesus is and what He has done.

This attitude is absolutely counter-cultural, not only in our day, with our extreme focus on self, but also in every generation, since humans are naturally inclined to self-centeredness. This radically different approach to life and others comes from having a Savior and a God who gave up everything to save enemies and rebels, out of love for us.

For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. (Romans 5:6-8,10)

To read more about the Moravians and their hearts for prayer and missions, you can check out the entire article this excerpt comes from.

I also recommend this book for those interested in the history of Christian missions: From Jerusalem to Irian Jaya: A Biographical History of Christian Missions.

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?

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.

Evangelism and Street Witnessing Now Illegal in Russia

From Assemblies of God and Christianity Today:

Late on the afternoon of July 7, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed into law legislation against terrorism and extremism. An amendment in this law restricts religious practice in a way that is considered the most restrictive measure in post-Soviet history.

The amendments, including laws against sharing faith in homes, online, or anywhere but recognized church buildings, go into effect July 20.

Christians wishing to share their faith must secure government permits through registered religious organizations. Even with such permits, they will not be allowed to witness anywhere besides registered churches or religious sites. Churches that rent rather than owning their facilities may be forcibly disbanded.

This decision will severely restrict missionary work and the ministry of local churches in Russia.

Proposed by United Russia party lawmaker Irina Yarovaya, the law appears to target religious groups outside the Russian Orthodox church. Because it defines missionary activities as religious practices to spread a faith beyond its members, “if that is interpreted as the Moscow Patriarchate is likely to, it will mean the Orthodox Church can go after ethnic Russians but that no other church will be allowed to,” according to Frank Goble, an expert on religious and ethnic issues in the region.

If passed, the anti-evangelism law carries fines up to US $780 for an individual and $15,500 for an organization. Foreign visitors who violate the law face deportation.

Russia has already moved to contain foreign missionaries. The “foreign agent” law, adopted in 2012, requires groups from abroad to file detailed paperwork and be subject to government audits and raids. Since then, the NGO sector has shrunk by a third, according to government statistics.

Sergey Ryakhovsky, head of the Protestant Churches of Russia, and several other evangelical leaders called the law a violation of religious freedom and personal conscience in a letter to Putin posted on the Russian site Portal-Credo.

“If it will come to it, it’s not going to stop us from worshiping and sharing our faith,” wrote Sergey Rakhuba, president of Mission Eurasia. “The Great Commission isn’t just for a time of freedom.”

Pray for the believers in Russia and for the missionaries who go to serve there.

Street witnessing was illegal in the first century, in the time of the Book of Acts, as were Christian gatherings. Such restrictions only caused the church to grow!

Please join me in praying for the gospel to spread throughout Russia despite these restrictions, and for the believers there to be emboldened to share their faith whatever the cost.