In the dark, I followed the person in front of me. We even crawled through a tunnel on our hands and knees. The whole group was quiet. Then we arrived in a room lit only by a single flashlight. By that light, the leader read to us…
That was my most memorable church experience. I believe I was three years old at the time, and I still remember it all these years later.
We were learning about the persecuted church, specifically in Russia (USSR) as I recall. That evening gave me a taste – be it ever so small – of the challenges Christians in many parts of the world have to face in order to learn more about God. It brought the real-ness of it to me, gave me a connection and settled into a special place in my heart.
Years later, I discovered a set of books written for children – I like to check out books for my younger friends, as if you haven’t noticed – that take place during the final years of the USSR. Of course, I had to read them.
Within the Ivan series, Myrna Grant shares the escapades of Ivan, his sister Katya and the struggles they face growing up as Christians in the USSR. Whether at the circus, in school and even in America, Ivan is faced with choices of whether to do things God’s way and invite persecution or to take the easy way out. Each book is packed with suspense, including interrogations by the police and smuggling God’s Word. While the action is gripping, the realities of life for Christians in the USSR are dealt with in a way suitable for most children (I would say ages 9+). Beyond that, I think many children today will be able to empathize with Ivan and will gain a greater understanding and compassion for the persecuted church.
I wished I had read these books before my college class on the “Rise & Fall of the Soviet Union”. Frankly, stories seem so much more memorable than mere facts! Besides that, I would have had interesting pegs to hang my new knowledge on and heightened interest in the skeletal matter of Soviet history.
From both the stories and the class, I came away with a deeper understanding of Russia’s history and sociology – why it is the way it is today – but the biggest take-away for me was gratitude. Gratitude for a freedom-filled history, gratitude for family, gratitude for the opportunity to work hard to benefit myself and those I love, gratitude for the ability to speak my mind, gratitude for liberty to worship God.
Yes, the name USSSR no longer scrawls across the continent of Asia, but persecution of the global church is still very real. Since Sunday, November 8 is an international day of prayer for the persecuted church, let’s come before Christ our Advocate (I John 2:1, ESV) on behalf of our brothers and sisters around the world. Along with our petitions, let’s also thank Him for three things:
- Those who have gone before us in faithfully walking through trials whether in the USSR or elsewhere around the world.
- The liberties we enjoy – however great or small they are.
- His faithfulness (Psalm 117:2, ESV).
“Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving.” ~Colossians 4:2, ESV