Growing up, my mom told me stories of believers in the Soviet Union forbidden to own a Bible. Across the ocean in churchy Grand Rapids, I often wondered where Soviet Christians hid the books, but these stories fostered my concern for the persecuted church and the oppressed. Fast-forwarding thirty years, I battle for orphans and the fit’s a natural. The Lighthouse Project is scratching my itch to aid the hopeless.
An elemental aspect of Lighthouse Project trips I coordinate is the three-day Bible school the kids attend. Content is basic, but I’d be remiss addressing nothing more than the kids’ need for an earthly father. Since I speak no Russian, I have sought out a Russian believer to teach. On a 2007 trip that feels eons ago, a host family I’d known forever led me to Galina. Saintly Galina taught with such conviction that I invited her again next trip. The first day Galina’s cousin Luba came along to assist with the children; recognizing their features she told Galina the kids were from a specific region of Russia. Next day Galina needed a ride so I drove; not knowing what else to say I asked her what brought her to the United States. She told me her family, including Luba, had been granted religious asylum in the US before the collapse of the Soviet Union; Luba had been arrested for printing Bibles in the late 1970s. Though she lived in Estonia, authorities sent her 900 miles away for trial to a region of Russia where she had no connections. It was a hardship, but Galina followed to attend the trial. For her “crime,” Luba was sentenced to, and served, three years in that same region. She correctly recognized the kids because their tiny region was where she’d been tried. Incredulous to know someone jailed for her faith, I asked what town Luba had been imprisoned in. I shivered when Galina answered, “It was the tiny town of C____.” I knew that tiny town, visited it twice even, when we went to meet and, later, pick up our kids we adopted. How incredible that this forsaken hamlet, where the orphanage might be the largest employer, once detained both dear Luba and my precious children.
We gave out Russian Bibles at that Bible school as we always do, though the kids seemed as appreciative to be given anything as they were of the Bibles themselves. Safe in America and far from home, they leafed through the pages as Luba watched. I wondered if they could possibly appreciate what this same book had cost her thirty years earlier, or how she’d paid that price in their region, so far away from her own home.