Reflections on my recent trip to Russia and Israel

Earlier this month I took a trip to Siberia and Israel to teach biblical counseling with Pastor Dan Kirk and Eric Mock (SGA).  I have traveled with these men previously and was particularly anticipating returning to one location in Siberia where we taught two years ago.

The goal of the trip was two-fold:

  1. Finish a three-part training of pastors and church leaders in the Irkutsk region of Russia on the topic of biblical counseling. Dan and I taught the first part of this course two years ago.  Someone else taught part two last year, and we taught the final session this year.
  2. Teach on some key topics in biblical counseling at an evangelical church in Israel and meet with other church and education leaders in Israel with the anticipation of doing additional teaching there in the future.

Over four days in Irkutsk, we taught 23 hours of biblical counseling material on the topics of crisis counseling, sexual addiction (pornography, adultery, and homosexuality), general addictions (mind and body issues, drug abuse, alcohol abuse, and technology addiction), issues from the past, blended families, abusive relationships (domestic, physical, and sexual abuse), and eating disorders.  At the completion of the teaching, we recognized with certificates about 25 leaders who had completed all three sessions of the course.  We also met with several of the pastors individually and talked with some of them about particular counseling cases they were practicing.

Following the time in Irkutsk, we flew to Israel and taught two evenings at Grace and Truth Christian Congregation in Kanot (south of Tel Aviv; David Zadok, the pastor of the church has written an article about the state of the church in Israel) and met with several pastors as well as the President of Israel College of the Bible.  We also participated in a worship service at a church and rehab center in Nazareth.  At Grace and Truth we found people who were particularly interested in biblical counseling, and two women who are actively counseling and working on their certification with ACBC.

At ICB, we spoke with the president about the possibility of teaching a 5-part counseling course (taught in five one-week segments over three years) to the Russian speaking students at ICB.  Because between 20-25% of Israel’s citizens speak Russian, SGA has a significant ministry to Russian speakers in Israel, including a missionary who teaches Russian students at ICB.  During the discussion with the president about the proposed course, he suggested that it be made available to Hebrew speaking students as well, which would significantly increase the influence of this course.  We are excited about the possibility of providing this instruction for the application of the biblical and theological instruction these students are receiving — helping them to see the connection between the Scriptures and sanctification in every area of life.

As I have reflected on the trip, I am thankful for several things.  First, I am thankful for the effectiveness of the Word of God.  Though we taught in two very different cultures, the problems of people are not so very different around the world — as Solomon said, “there is nothing new under the sun” (Eccl. 1:9).  And the Word of God is transcendent — it is wise, effective, and powerful to address all the problems of people in every culture and every circumstance (2 Tim. 3:16-17; 2 Pt. 1:3).  As we interacted with a counselee and his pastor in Siberia, we a man who had a problem that, while difficult, would not have been uncommon in Granbury.  Likewise, that man also had a pastor who was humble, gracious, and servant-hearted, wanting to care well for his soul.  And when I interacted with the two ACBC applicants in Israel, likewise they presented a case that was sad, difficult, and troubling, but not unlike the kind of case that we often see in our counseling rooms.  And in these and other circumstances, it was our joy to be able to repeatedly point to the ability of the Word of God to meet the needs of these individuals.  The Bible has answers for depression, sexual sin, abuse, addictions, and more, whether we are in Granbury, Irkutsk, or Kanot.

Teaching the Word of God is always a great privilege no matter where and when one is asked to teach.  So I was thankful for the opportunity to teach in both locations, but was also especially gratified to read some of the responses of the students who attended the sessions in Russia:

  • Andrey — at these classes I felt complete renewal in my heart about my responsibility for counseling in my family and in the church. By God’s mercy I will try to devote more time for biblical counseling in my family, church and in the world around. Thanks so much to everyone who made this training possible for us!
  • Evgeniy — God spoke to my heart first, He showed me areas to work on. May the Lord help me to work with people to help them through their difficulties. Praise God for these truths. Goal of Biblical counseling is sanctification. We are to allow God’s spirit to transform us into Christ’s image. Please, pray for my transformation to Christ image more and more each day, to be faithful to Christ and for our church, May the Lord bless you, I Love you my brothers. Your brother in Christ, Evgeniy.
  • Dima — very valuable to see that in fact Bible is sufficient, it gives deep understanding on all life situations, it is good to know for me and for showing this to people as well. It is great help for the ministry, I can completely rely on God’s grace. Our Lord has answers to all questions and we do not need to go to psychologists for help.
  • Sergey — the training was very clear and understandable, I learnt how to treat both believers and nonbelievers. We learn to trust God first, not ourselves nor our own knowledge. I see a huge opportunity to use this material in ministry, because first I was able to understand it well myself.
  • Unnamed — For me was so important that our teachers touched upon very urgent topics, they showed Biblical definitions and perspectives, and gave us Biblical solutions to those problems. It helped me personally to have Biblical understanding of these topics, and now I will be able to apply these truths in helping others.

It was also humbling to interact with pastors who served in difficult situations.  One particular pastor, Sasha, leads a large congregation (200+ members) and a rehabilitation ministry outside of Irkutsk.  In February, a small fire started in the building and through a series of errors and incompetence by the fire department, the building burned to the ground, destroying all the documents, money, and the church seal, which were all stored in the church office.  Losing their legal documents is particularly troubling in Russia because they cannot simply request duplicate documents from the government; they must reapply for every certification they had.  In spite of this massive setback, Sasha and the church leaders demonstrated tremendous humility.  In a newsletter to other churches, they wrote,

“Of course, the first thing we did was thanking the Lord that no people had been harmed and the fire hadn’t destroyed the rehab center building and neighbor houses. We also pray now asking God to let us make an inspection of our spiritual conditions and to help us see all the wrong in our life and ministry, which probably we had quit noticing, and which could have been the indirect reason of what happened.

“We pray about fear of God becoming stronger in our hearts, about renewing our commitment to God and about strength and God’s help to us to make us able to live through such trial and learn the lessons being taught by God.

“Generally, the church has unbiased look at what happened. We didn’t lose out head, and we didn’t allow the despair to take a hold of us, instead we had Sunday worship service at homes and served the communion.”

To hear that their first response to this tragedy was not anger but personal and corporate self-examination was both humbling and encouraging.  The true church in Russia is small, but the Lord is building a strong church there.

While in Israel, I thought several times about Paul’s comment to the Roman church about his fellow Israelites:  “my heart’s desire and my prayer to God for them is for their salvation.  For I testify about them that they have a zeal for God, but not in accordance with knowledge” (Rom. 10:1-2).  What Paul wrote some 2000 years ago is still true — the Israelites are people who are so geographically close to the truth of Christ, but still ensnared in a religiosity that keeps them from the truth of Christ and the grace of justification.  To be able to be in Israel and help equip growing church there so they are enabled to more effectively reach God’s chosen people with the gospel was especially gratifying.

Lastly, I am thankful for this church that loves the gospel, Scripture, and missions.  The overflow of that is a commitment to equip our missionaries to do the task of teaching and training overseas and then sending others, like me on this trip, to build into and equip God’s people in other places.  I am thankful for the elders who are committed to that vision of ministry, for the gifts of the body that made this trip possible, and for the prayers of the elders and body that sustained me while I was away.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s