I was six thousand miles from my home in Atlanta, Georgia. My evangelistic team and I had come to Beloretsk, Russia in the foothills of the Ural Mountains. This was Siberia and it was not summer time. The cold came hard and fast upon our bodies as we trudged each night to the meeting hall to present the Gospel of Christ's soon coming. As in most cases when I am out of the country and expending a lot of energy, I fell ill.
Of course, I learned sometime back that illness doesn't necessarily translate into quitting. However, as I awaited my turn on the program when I would stand before a crowd of Gospel hungry people, I lay prone on an old couch backstage attempting to conserve all the energy I could. One of the team members came to me and said that they had called home that afternoon and had been told that one of our local leaders had been complaining that I, his pastor, should not be thousands of miles away. The church needed a leader who stayed where he could be of service to the congregation. I thanked my team member for the report and closed my eyes to pray. My head swirled and my stomach felt like it wanted to turn itself inside out.
The only black member of the team, a bass singer, approached my makeshift sick bed. He had overheard the discouraging news I had been subjected to and spoke words to me intended to counteract what I had just heard. Both his demeanor and his choice of words came at me like refreshments. When it was time to lift my weakened body from the couch, I stood erect, took my Bible in hand, and spoke with power at the evening's meeting. As quickly as possible, I made my way back to the respite of the couch to collapse into the soft cushions.
It seemed the very moment I was able to relax my neck muscles allowing my head to find some comfort, one of the interpreters shook my shoulder. She said there was a woman who needed to speak with me. I moaned my frustration and asked if I might have a conversation the next night. I was immediately told that I must come. It was somewhat urgent that I speak with this woman. It was with a great deal of effort that I again pulled myself vertical and followed the Interpreter into the poorly lit hallway. I was instructed to wait there while the woman was brought to me.
I propped my foot up against the wall to keep myself from falling in a dizzied state. In a short while the Interpreter came followed by a diminutive lady. I was introduced and took the hand of the woman who seemed to be in her late thirties or early forties. Her poor hand, even after being in the meeting for an hour, was still quite frozen. She wore a dull read coat, a hat made of material Americans would think resembled steel wool, and a slightly muddied pair of shoes. All in all, she had a pretty pitiful appearance.
After reaching into the right hand pocket of the coat, she retrieved a course folded paper and unfolded it. She looked to the Interpreter who nodded that it was alright to proceed.
The Russian woman lifted her eyes to meet mine. The were pretty eyes, eyes that contained intensity of purpose. Then she glanced at the paper and began to read to me. Her hands shook, but not from the cold. The Interpreter repeated in English each sentence as a story came from the lips of my visitor.
I learned that the lady had only one son who was the love and meaning of her life. He had been killed last year when a bus had struck him. She had gone into an empty existence, one from which she never intended to escape. But the grieving young mother said she had been coming to the meetings and had discovered that God loves her. She had learned about Someone who compassionately looks upon her. Although her heart was yet broken, she thanked me for bringing her what she had lacked - hope.
Thank you was all she had wanted to say as she placed the paper in my hand. With the most sincere facial expression I could muster, I thanked her for telling me about her son. As she walked away, I was overcome with how I was touched by the story of her son and she had been touched by the story of God's Son. With the help of one of the team members I made it that night to my bed and began to mend. I briefly thought of the man back in Atlanta who was complaining of my absence and looked out the window past the accumulated snow and thought, "I'm just where I am supposed to be."