…a thread of forgiveness!
The thread runs through Natalya*, a Jesus follower who now leads teams in the North Caucasus. It goes through a man who was forgiven and then chose to forgive others who were indebted to him. It continues through another man who was healed and forgiven and then decided to forgive a debt before it was even incurred. The roots of this thread can be traced, in a way, to the prophet Isaiah. It can also be traced to Natalya’s mom. But more importantly, this thread is anchored to the God of the universe.
When Natalya’s mom became a Jesus follower, she began praying for Natalya and her sister so that they might believe in Christ too. Natalya started attending a Baptist Church and participated in the youth group, where she was surprised by how much interest people showed in her. More so, they showed her love.
So surprised by this unconditional love, Natalya decided she wanted to surround herself with the people who demonstrated it. A few months later, the need for forgiveness of her sins became very apparent, and she accepted Jesus as her Saviour.
As part of following Jesus, Natalya began studying the Bible, and as she did so, God began to change her life. Her outward behaviour reflected the inner change in her heart, and people noticed something had shifted in her. When a few mission workers came to Natalya’s church, she thought it was inspiring that people would leave their homes and families and travel to her small town to share about Jesus. It so impacted her life that she started thinking and praying about whether she should follow suit and share Christ’s love with those who do not know it.
About ten years later, when Natalya visited her sister in another city, she heard about OM. Challenged to consider how she could share Christ’s love with others, she responded much like Isaiah did and said: “here I am, send me.”
Natalya first served with a team in her own country, which included leading Bible studies. An opportunity was then presented to Natalya to join OM’s ship, Logos Hope. Again, she responded as Isaiah did and made herself available to serve. The experience deeply impacted her life as she saw God work in different people and nations across the world. Natalya says her time onboard allowed her to see and appreciate different perspectives.
Natalya’s deeply held Isaiah-like perspective surfaced again when an opportunity arose to serve in the North Caucasus. She agreed to go and join other Jesus followers in the region and coordinate the few OM teams there sharing Christ's love through various ministries such as Bible studies.
During one Bible study, a businessman gave his life to Christ. He then read the Bible to his wife and son and started hosting a Bible study in his own home. In the operation of his business, others often became indebted to him. With a desire to apply what he learnt from Scripture, the man chose to forgive the financial debts owed to him, continuing the thread of forgiveness.
In sharing what she appreciates about the North Caucasus region, Natalya notes that people are very relationship-oriented, and it is easy to connect with others. People also love to share their culture and are genuinely interested in where other people are from. Such interactions are especially easy and natural in contexts when food is shared.
In one town, Matvey* was hospitalised and seemed so near death that his family and friends were already planning his funeral. Some of the team members talked with Matvey and shared about the hope they have in Jesus and Matvey responded by asking Jesus to forgive his sins. The thread continued.
The team prayed over Matvey, asking God to heal him. And, after a few days, Matvey was healed! It shocked and surprised everyone in the community to hear that Matvey was no longer sick. After returning home, Matvey became involved in a Discovery Bible Study, which emphasises the practical application of Scripture through ‘homework.’
On one occasion, Matvey didn’t complete the homework. Shortly after, a neighbour came to his house and asked for hay to feed his animals. The problem was that the man had no money to pay for it. While Matvey was normally reluctant to share with others at no cost, he remembered a verse he memorised that encouraged sharing with others in need. Matvey realised he needed to apply the verse by sharing hay with his neighbour for free. The thread of forgiveness continued as Matvey forgave a debt before it was even incurred!
The team faces difficulties in some parts of the North Caucasus that are predominately Muslim, Natalya shared. If a Muslim becomes a Jesus follower, they often have to flee because of persecution. As a result, the church hasn’t been growing. But, on an encouraging note, there are groups of Jesus followers who meet in home groups.
As Natalya considers the work of God in her own life and the lives of others, she has a growing appreciation for a line in the Lord’s prayer found in Matthew 6:12: “and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors” (ESV).
This thread of forgiveness has only just begun to run through the North Caucasus!