September 15, 1999

"What did you go
out to see?'

___By Steve Davis
___"What did you go out to see in the desert?"
___This was the question Jesus posed three times to the people of Judea concerning John the Baptizer. There was evidently much talk about the meteoric rise and fall of the imprisoned religious celebrity, with speculation about him ranging from prophet to devil.
___In his most vulnerable moment, John sent his own disciples to ask if Jesus was, indeed, the one foretold, or if they should look for another. Jesus responded, "Go and tell
Vice President, Children's Emergency Relief International, a part of Baptist Child & Family Services, San Antonio

John what you have seen and heard."
___In July, I had the privilege of leading a group to Russia on behalf of Baptist Child & Family Services, and in conjunction with Children's Hope Chest and A Bridge Called Hope, to conduct a 10-day summer camp for a group of about 165 adolescents from 13 orphanages in the region of Vladimir. We also spent four days in Moscow.
___"What did you go out to see?"
___I expected to see children with more of the same types of severe traumatization that we see in kids admitted to our own Baptist Children's Home in San Antonio––lots of anger, distrust, antisocial behaviors, cynicism, fear and depression.
___What I saw were children who quickly overcame their shyness toward us and exhibited genuine and appropriate affection. There were very few times when I didn't have the hand of a child's in mine. When there were no interpreters about, communication was 99 percent body language (somewhat frustrating, but always adequate). At the close of camp, two boys––Roma and Artume––about 12 or 13 years old, cried into my chest for about half an hour.
___"What did you go out to see?"
___I expected to see people who viewed Americans with disdain and suspicion, if not hostility. Instead, I found people who were eager to hear about my life and family and open to share their own experiences. One evening at camp, I received word that several children wished me "flowers and angels in my dreams."
___On another afternoon, I spoke to a gentleman who came out every morning to play his accordion during our morning assemblies and activities (punctuating announcements and transition times somewhat like organ music at a baseball game). I asked him if he would ever like to come to America. With tears welling in his eyes, he responded, "Ah, this is my dream!"
___"What did you go out to see?"
___I went to see if Russian people were "godless Communists," a politically motivated but awful expression I remember from my youth.
___Rather, I found beautiful cathedrals in every city we visited, with worshipers praying earnestly throughout. One of our college-age interpreters told me how she and most others had been raised to believe that Lenin was a wonderful man of the people and of the many things he had accomplished on their behalf. It was not until "perestroika" that the full truth about Lenin and communism became public knowledge. She spoke of her personal sense of betrayal and that of the general populace when presented with the realities of history. I told her how very invested I now felt in the future of Russia and the desire of our group that our new friends not be subjected to suffering under the Russian economy. She told me she believed God would use their suffering to purify the people.
___These are the things I've seen and heard. There is much that is still not right in Russia, but the same can easily be said about our country. We are neither prophet nor devil. But I have seen the light of God's love in the faces of Russia's children, and I will no longer think, feel or speak of that nation in the way I once did ... nor will I ignore their plight.
___A door is open to us today that has been nailed shut for centuries. May God have mercy on our souls and those of our children if we do not enter it with respect, fervency and compassion.
___I went to preach good news to the poor ––now those poor are my family. I went to Russia to give a cup of cold water to a child in Jesus' name. I came out touched by him.


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