The small living room had been converted to a temporary classroom with several chairs and a table. As we sat and listened to the Bible study, I translated the lesson into Russian for two Russian Jews who were present The lady sitting next to me did not know English well.
After the class this lady told me that she had once heard an old, uneducated Russian man foretell the future of the world, and that she had seen part of his prophecy come true. I knew what was in the back of her mind. She was thinking of the Elders of Russia, a small, elect, unstructured and mystical group of people from all stations of life. They purportedly had powers to heal, to read letters without opening them, to give godly advice, to know the personal futures of some people, and when led by the Holy Spirit, to reveal the future. It is impossible to understand the history and literature of Russia without knowing something about these Elders of Russia. Most likely, the famed Rasputin was an Elder of Russia.
When the lady repeated the prophecy, which she remembered very well, I recognized that what she was saying in Russian was really a quotation from the 24th chapter of Matthew.
I said, What the old man was telling you was not a spiritual prophecy, but a quotation from the Bible, the 24th chapter of the Gospel of Matthew. The riches of God’s wisdom are not reserved for an elect few, but for all who are in Christ, and they would be open to you, too, if you accepted him. Do you want to do that?”
She had been hearing and understanding something of the gospel, and like most Russian Jews, was not afraid of the term “Christ.”
“Yes,” she said. “I would like to accept him.”
“So do it,” I responded.
“How?” she asked. All this was going on quietly between us in Russian while everyone else around us was conversing in English. Because we were speaking another language, we had privacy in the midst of a crowd.
I said, “I will pray, and if you agree with what I am saying, as if it is sincerely coming from you—not otherwise—repeat prayerfully to God what I am saying.” I prayed with her, and she accepted Jesus the Messiah in her heart. I called the Bible teacher over to us and said to her, “Confirm it to another person by telling him what you did just now.” She confirmed it. He asked her if she had really meant everything she had said, and if there had been any pressure on her.
She said, “No pressure. I meant it.”
She said the same when I called over another Jewish Russian woman who already was a believer. Then knowing that she had made a real commitment, I arranged for the lady to be discipled locally so that she could learn and grow in her new faith.
I spent the rest of that time in New York City organizing a camp program for Russian Jewish and Gentile children and giving out Russian gospel tracts in Brighton Beach. I also participated at night in a street meeting outside of Madison Square Garden, worked with some problems of a Russian Jewish believer, and set up a schedule of meetings for my next visit to the area.
The adjustment from the Russian to the American culture is great, and someone who is familiar with both can be a real friend to the Russian immigrants. I have had the privilege of consulting with people about how they can help Russian Jews adjust in a work situation and thus build true friendships with them. Friendship is a necessary factor in being able to present the gospel message in a caring way.
We are encouraged that believers want to help, and that the Lord is working among many Russian Jewish people to bring them to himself.
Last summer my husband Max and I went to a conference on world evangelism in New Orleans. There we presented our ministry needs and got contacts for his work of evangelizing Russian Jews. At a booth in the exhibition hall we disseminated information, answered questions and gave out materials on Russian Jewish evangelism.
A man and his wife came over to our booth to tell us about Igor, an enthusiastic Jewish Russian believer in the New Orleans area. Igor was a former Olympic champion gymnast who was deeply concerned for the salvation of his parents, who also lived in a suburb of New Orleans. While Igor’s fervent witnessing had cost him all but one of the Jewish students in the gymnastic school he was running, it had also brought many to know the Lord.
On the Sunday evening after the close of the evangelistic conference, Igor took us to his parents’ home, where to our surprise, almost all of the close-knit Russian Jewish community of New Orleans had gathered.
In order to precipitate questions and discussion, Max wore his badge from the conference, an event that had been well covered by the local news media. Introductions, of course, were in Russian, and included the fact that Max is Jewish. Hearing Max’s beautiful Russian, Igor’s parents and all their friends burst into excited conversation. They all wanted to know what Max had been doing at the Christian convention. None of them had known any other Russian Jewish believers before, and they thought that Igor was the only one, and perhaps crazy. It was as though everyone in the room was electrified. All of them began to talk at once, plying Max with questions and accusations as he vigorously and sometimes humorously answered.
Igor’s mother went around begging their friends to leave him alone, saying, “He’s our guest!” His father, who had threatened at one point to leave his mother if Igor did not stop talking about Jesus all the time, began to defend Max’s belief in Christ.
Eventually the men settled down to talk to Max, and the women began to talk to each other and to me. Though I understand a small amount of Russian, I speak almost none, so we talked in English. Some of these women were very friendly and full of questions. One, who was moving to Los Angeles, made me promise to come and visit her if I ever went there. No one made any commitments that night, but now Igor’s parents are far more open, and others are thinking about Yeshua.