It is called déjà vu in French, but I would call it a “missionary moment.” It happens when I plan an event in some remote city across the globe three months ahead of time; I figure out the transportation and coordinate it with other events, people, locations, etc.; I try to take care of every detail: setting, screen, microphone, coffee break, etc., etc. Yet I keep worrying that something will go wrong, that somebody will mess it up and the event will be canceled. When the day and the time come and I start the presentation–here comes that odd feeling, the “missionary moment”! I stand there in front of these dozens (or even hundreds) of people with an unquestionable confidence that it was absolutely predestined to happen, that I absolutely had to be here and now sharing the Lord’s message with these very people. It absolutely could not, NOT happen! It almost feels like it already had happened even before I ever got here! Déjà vu.
I especially experienced it during my last teaching trip through three countries and a dozen towns and cities. To cover more territory and to get to some new strategic locations, I used a slightly new tactic: instead of working out from a “hub” city (like Moscow or St. Petersburg) I lined them up on a long string: Riga (and Daugavpils), Kiev (and Irpen), Cherkassy, Kremenchug, Komsomolsk, Poltava, Kharkov, Belgorod, Moscow (and Solnechnogorsk). In this way, every next event depended on how all the others before it went: Will the bus/train be on time? Will the organizers keep the schedule? Or rather, will I be flexible enough to adjust to their ever-changing schedules? Despite of all my worries and despite of all the unpredictabilities of winter travel on the infamous Russian roads – everything was happening in the Lord’s perfect timing and always (!!!) much better that I could have ever foreseen or prepare it.
Part of the audience at the Belgorod Teachers’ Continuing Education Center, Russia, whom Oleg equipped to use FaithSearch Discovery in their classes.
The new and strategic territories in Ukraine included the universities and the teachers’ conferences in Poltava and Kharkov. Speaking and being very warmly accepted in Poltava (the “Ukrainian Athens”) automatically opened the doors to many other universities in the country. I am already invited to speak at the National Conference on the Biblical History and Christian Ethics on February 7, 2011, as well as to present FaithSearch Discovery to the other public schools and colleges in the city. A similar story happened after teaching at the University of Belgorod, Russia, where I am now scheduled to present the FaithSearch Discovery material on February 8th and 9th, at the only Orthodox Seminary with a Missions emphasis in all of Russia. My second visit to Latvia this year and especially the Latvian translation of the FaithSearch Discovery (the Surprised by Faith book translation is also underway) brought about an invitation to the All-Latvian Teachers’ Conference on April 11, 2011.
Of course, none of that would have been possible if I worked alone! It especially enjoyed connecting to and planning my teaching opportunity through such well established partners as the Campus Crusade for Christ and the Russian Academy of Education. All I needed to do was to show up at the time/location and in front of the audiences they had already prepared for me.
Other highlights of the trip are as follows:
- Passing the Approval Board for my Ph.D. dissertation topic
- Making an additional 400 copies of our new bilingual (Russian, Latvian) FaithSearch Discovery CD on the go in response to the demand
- Making a FaithSearch Discovery recording for TransWorld Radio
- Teaching at “Plyoskovo”–the Russian, very elite, private High School near Moscow
I ran out of CDs in Kremenchug, and had to order 300 more from a small computer service shop. The technician worked overnight to get them done for me, and said the next morning: “I was very curious about what am I duplicating all night. Hope you don’t mind that I watched the presentation. I am so proud of being now a part of what you are doing! Great material! I’ll be watching again and again.”
With that as a starting point, here are my favorite things to report – responses from the audiences:
- “I am so proud to be Orthodox today! I can’t wait to share it (FaithSearch Discovery) with my friends and faculty! I already know what kind of questions they will ask. But I also know now how to answer them without being looked down at. This disk will be used A LOT!” – History major student at Daugavpils University
- “I sometimes get tired and discouraged presenting people with the same arguments for God again and again with no results. I was inspired today by this new and very powerful presentation!” – Arts Teacher in Daugavpils
- “Teachers? Students? Great! But how about simple church folks like us? Yes, we cannot sit through a three hour long lecture. But we can do it in two nights with a time for discussion in the end. Please make sure you put us on your schedule next time you are in Latvia.” – Baptist pastor
- “Honestly, I felt uncomfortable when you suggested that we shall study the New Testament as a history record and that you are going to apply secular history tests and criteria to the text. How dare you? And what if it fails?… Thank you for showing me how little trust I had in the Word of God! I am so glad I had this chance to test it …and to strengthen it today!”– Evangelical Church member in Kiev
- “I am looking forward to having [FaithSearch Discovery] translated into Ukrainian. We’ll be using it all over the place–in our dorm outreaches, churches, student conferences, and later–in our high school classrooms! This material is truly universal!” – Pedagogical University in Cherkassy
- “I can’t wait to start teaching this in my church! And I strongly suspect my pastor will be interested in attending my Sunday School class as soon as the word gets out of the quality of the material I have”.– Sunday School Teachers’ Conference participant in Poltava
- “Thanks, Oleg for visiting us again. You don’t only teach my students powerful material for their missionary work. You are also a living lesson for them–presenting the class with such joy and enthusiasm!”– Dean of the Orthodox Missionary Seminary near Kremenchug
- “I especially liked the way you treated the other points of view and religious teachings–respectfully and yet very objectively. No harsh words or hurt feelings but facts and hard evidence that speak for themselves. Great presentation!” – Student at Pedagogical University in Poltava
- “I still have lots of questions regarding personal faith in God, but one thing you made absolutely clear today–there is nothing illogical or irrational about believing in Him.” – Philosophy Department Dean at Poltava University
- “I already talked to a couple of students after your presentation. They were so exited and so grateful for your material. You made them think, you made them question their values, you gave them hope of finding the meaning of their life.” – Natural Science Department Dean at Poltava University
- “Suicide rate among young people in our city is increasing every year. Your seminar offers a way out of the crisis. Honest, logical and clear. That is what many of them need to hear now.” – History Teacher in Poltava
- “Thank you for challenging my students today! I am sure that for many of them it was the first time they viewed world history from this perspective. Honestly, I was challenged as well. How could I have overseen this evidence (for the validity of the NT) if it was always in front of me? We are going to have quite a conversation with the students at our next class!” – Kharkov University History Professor
- “I am a Biology teacher in a school with Biology emphasis. I’ve tried so many times to share my faith with my students but they always pin me down by requesting ‘facts, facts and only facts.’ Your presentation is exactly what they need to see and hear. It is exactly what I needed to see and hear. As a teacher I can tell how much time, effort and talent was put into making it so powerful and so effective. It was very generous of you to come and spend this time and these resources with us.” – Belgorod Teachers’ Conference participant
- “We teach them the Orthodox Catechism as a part of the curriculum but you presented it in the way they have never heard or seen before: What does it mean to me and why do I believe in God Jesus Christ? I was watching their reaction very carefully and their response made me so happy today! They loved it! They absolutely loved the way you challenged them with questions on the validity of the Bible and its historical integrity! Your presentation respected their opinions and their personal spiritual experience and yet–questioned and tested the very core of their religious beliefs. I also heard a couple of our teachers saying how important for them it was to learn from your teaching experience and from your presentation. We are looking forward to your next visit to the ‘Plyoskovo’ School!”– Principal at an elite private High School