To Russia with the Love of God and back again! What an amazing life changing experience.
From the time I was saved 7 years ago, I always wanted to be a missionary, but never did I dream of sharing the love of God with children and adults alike on the other side of the world and in, of all places, Russia. It all started just before Christmas '95 on a Sunday night when I managed to hear the last part of a sermon given by Jouko Varis of the Finnish Free Foreign Mission at my local Church, Church on the Rock, at Maitland. He shared some of the exciting things that God was doing in Russia amongst what were once the Pioneer Camps that surround St Petersburg. Now that the so-called Iron Curtain had been torn down, an incredible opportunity lay before the church to take up the mandate of God and share the love of Jesus amongst the millions of Christ-starved souls in Russia. These same camps, of which there are around 300 catering for over 300,000 children and staff, have opened their doors to those who would bring the love of Christ to these children. I knew immediately that it was a call of God on my life. The planning began for the northern summer of 1996.
The 4th of July rolled around quickly and I found myself saying goodbye to my lovely wife, Rae and our daughter Alexandra. I was part of a group of 28 Australians split up into three teams. My team had nine members including myself. Eight women and me. (God definitely has a sense of humour). Late in the evening we arrived at our camp, Molinar, only to find that they had overbooked and there was no room in the inn. So off we went again firmly in the hands of God, trusting that He had the right camp set aside for us. Sure enough about 9 pm that night we arrived at the camp God had picked out for us, Sputnik.
After settling in and getting used to the sun still being up at 10:30 pm we began to get to know each other. Five of the girls were from Canberra and had got to know each other well before coming. Ruby from South Australia and Tracey and Natalie from Western Australia completed our team. The next day we got to know the camp director, Victoria, and were invited to the staff meeting that night. What an interesting meeting it was. Most of it was spent laughing with them as they laughed at us as we tried to understand and communicate with them. Even with an interpreter we had much fun and this in turn brought about the comment, "You Australians laugh so much". I could sense the doors were beginning to open. Then came the question "Why have you come to our camp?". Well there was nothing for it but to tell the truth. I launched out trusting God, "We have come because of the love of Jesus in our hearts and so we have come to share this love with you". This was received well and when we discovered that one of the counsellors (teachers who work with the children while they are in the camps) was a Policeman on holidays, the doors seemed to open even wider as I too was a Policeman on holidays. (God knows what he is doing).
During the next week we set about sharing the love of God by simply opening our arms and being there for the children who would flock around us. We brought with us some sporting gear to play with the children and this, combined with our willingness to join in whatever activity came our way, broke down the barriers of reservedness and any lingering suspicion. We found that we were invited to whatever was going. Before we knew it we were on the go from 8 am to midnight everyday.
As the first week drew to a close, we were invited to join the bonfire in the woods surrounding the camp. So off we went walking through the beautiful woods, most of us with two or three children competing for a hand to hold. It was during this time that I met Sasha, an English teacher who had come to the camp to visit his friends. As we talked without an interpreter, we became good friends. I found out that he did not believe in God but stated "we Russians believe in ourselves". Over the next day his belief changed. The last I remember of Sasha after spending over three hours with him the next day was his gratitude for teaching him about Jesus. That night as I talked to one of the counsellors, Dima, I asked him if he would like us to come to his class and tell some stories about Jesus. He looked at me as if I had asked him if it was cold in winter. He replied "of course". It was as though they were waiting for us to come and share our faith but wondered why we hadn't. The door was totally open.
The next day we put together a short concert, comprising some mimes, songs and skits. It seemed to go well considering none of us had done anything like that before! However after the concert I found myself spending quite some time with two Russian women who peppered me with question after question about Christ. The next week we began our teaching times in the classes and I found myself surprised at the interest shown, by not only the children (aged from 10 to 15 and 6 to 9) but also the counsellors. During the third lesson we felt God direct us to pray with those who wanted Christ as their Saviour and Lord. I will never forget the fervent look upon those beautiful faces as they sought the forgiveness of Jesus and believed upon Him to be their Saviour and Lord. That day over 30 children made decisions that will change their lives forever.
We continued to see lives of many of the children touched by the Lord. In the end it is hard to say, but somewhere over half the camp of a 100 children turned to Jesus. I remember clearly after we held a Church Service on the last Sunday we were in the camp and one of the boys came up to me to ask when we would be coming back to their class to tell him more about Jesus. It was typical of the hunger for Christ that was in the children.
Over that last week we were to experience many incidents that touched our lives in many ways that we could never forget and too many to mention. One of the orphan girls, Olga, came running up to me on the last night that we were at the camp and she said to me "I love you and I love Esousa (Jesus). He's in my heart".
Every one of us experienced many such incidents. I look back and in a sense feel so unworthy of their love but I know that in reality it was not me but Jesus that they fell in love with. I remember hearing one of the counsellors, Marsha, say to Tracey "I want to be just like you. Just how you are". How can I forget her tears as they rolled down her cheeks as she embraced Tracey. What a privilege to be part of the work of the Lord and to see and hear such wonderful testimony of the love of God working through our team. Not one of us left with dry eyes. Not one of us left the way we came.
Our time finished too quickly with still so much to do. I was fortunate in some ways to go on a quick tour of just some of the camps around our area with Kari Lehelma. As we drove along we passed camp after camp, with Kari saying that one and that one we have not been able to visit and that one they want us to come but we have no one to send. As I sit and type I feel the tears well as I think of all those spiritually impoverished children, hungry to be fed the Gospel but no one to feed them. How true it is, Matthew 9:37 "...The harvest truly is plentiful but the labourers are few. Therefore pray the Lord of the harvest to send out labourers into His harvest".
The three Australian teams that spent 16 days sharing the love of Christ in these camps not only touched hundreds but were privileged to be royal labourers in His majesty's field when hundreds were reaped to His glory. I know of nowhere on earth, where in such a short 16 days, such an opportunity awaits those who would obey His call. The wonder of wonders is that God seems to do as much work in each of us as He did through us.
Is God speaking to you about Russia? Do you love the Lord Jesus and His children? Are you willing to obey His call? I remember when I was asked by a friend "How do you know that God is calling you to Russia?", I replied "His call is to go, mine is to obey. Unless He says otherwise, I go". The door is open at the moment, the political climate is unstable and the country very poor. The camps are subsidised by the Government and as we left funding had run out for the August camps. Only God knows how long we have. The call remains, who will respond?
Doug Rumbel is a Police Officer from Maitland, Australia who spent three weeks in the St Petersburg area ministering to children in Russia's summer camps during 1996. If you are interested to be a part of the Russia Outreach please contact:
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If you would like to meet the Jesus who brought Doug a life-changing experience in Russia, click here.