Return to Russia – Episode 3: This is Where I Offend Some People

Ducking down in the foxhole, the young soldier braces himself as one more explosion rocks the muddy walls surrounding him. It’s been raining for days. He can’t remember what it feels like to have dry socks to wear. Several friends have died. He’s tired, weary, and his nerves are shot from the close calls he’s experienced over the past few months. Suddenly, he remembers a letter from his girlfriend that he tucked away in the inside pocket of his coat. He was never one to wait long to read his mail, but this letter was different. You see, in his last letter he asked her to marry him. This would be her answer. He slowly rips the end of the envelope off, trying not to smudge the ink of the paper inside. As he unfolds the single, delicate piece of paper he takes a deep breath. He lets out a deep sigh as he reads the one word reply to his proposal……. “YES!” He quickly climbs out of the trench and jumps in the nearest plane. “Fly me back to Kansas, Jed! I’m getting married!”

Ridiculous? Of course. In the middle of a battle, you don’t just stop fighting and leave because of your personal plans. People are counting on you! Lives are at stake. It’s not all about you!

Maybe I should try a less dramatic example….

Deep in the huddle, the score is 10-7 and the Dallas Cowboys are behind. If they win this game, they won’t make it to the playoffs, but they will at least break even on their record for the season. Jerry won’t be happy, but he won’t be quite so upset if they can manage to beat the Eagles in the final seconds of the 4th quarter. Jason gets his route from Tony and looks up into the stands. He knew right where she was sitting. He gave her and her parents the seats the day after he proposed. She still hadn’t answered, but he expected to find out her decision after the game. Something catches his eye. She’s holding a big poster board in his direction. A big smile on her face and tears in her eyes, he can read her lips. She’s saying the words written on the sign, “Of course!” Her parents are beaming waiting to see his response. He has a new route now! Tony Romo stands there dumbfounded as Jason runs off the field and makes his way up into the stands. She said, “Yes!” I’m getting married!

Stupid? Absolutely. The point in both of these examples is that teams work only when people are willing to put their personal priorities secondary to the purpose of the team. Teams depend on one another. Every member is important. If one member falters or walks away, the purpose of the team will suffer. It’s not that they don’t have personal lives, values and priorities, it’s just that in certain seasons, they put those on hold for a common purpose.

Some jobs involve working very, very closely with teams. I have a job like that. Wherever I am in the world, whatever my assignment, I am doing my job in the context of a team. In certain locations, where resources are more scarce, teamwork becomes more intense – lives are more interwoven. In other locations, the team is still important, but there are resources and conditions that make the interdependence much less intense. There is more buffer, more margin.

Both of my examples involved a very personal, life-altering decision. No one doubts that getting married is one of the biggest decisions a person will make. But, whether a person is on the front lines of a war or the 3 yard line of a professional football game, even this decision is trumped by the purpose of the whole. It’s hard to wait. It’s inconvenient to delay. It may seem impossible to focus. That doesn’t change the result.

Being back in Russia, it has been so good to catch up with former team mates who became dear friends. We served “in the trenches,” side-by-side through some very difficult seasons – interrogations, major moves, family illnesses, language learning, government scrutiny, loss. The list goes on and on. These were teams that were tightly knit. Resources were scarce, ministry was difficult, and the stakes could not have been higher. Our ministry is more of a calling than a mere job – worth our very lives.

It might sound dramatic, but I believe that to my core. I invite people to partner with me, to invest financially, to give sacrificially, and to pray faithfully. I would not ask for such a commitment from others if I was not willing to commit my very life. It’s not a glamorous job. They pay isn’t high. It is, however, the best job in the world because the rewards are invaluable.They are much greater than monetary compensation. These rewards come in the form of deep relationships and the knowledge that we are about our Father’s business which is the redemption and transformation of lives which results in redirecting souls’ eternal destinations. It is abundant life for me, my team mates, those who partner with me, and those we are called to serve.

Looking back over the years, however, my friends and I can tell many stories of battles lost. Whether an individual rejected love or just chose to put his or her needs above those around them, the root of it all was a lie. That is the essence of “spiritual battle.” Since the beginning of mankind with a man, a woman, a snake and a piece of fruit, at the very core of the battle was a lie that was believed. God is not good. He is holding out on you. You have to look out for #1 because no one else is going to. Or, you aren’t worth love. No one cares about you. They’d be better off if you were gone. There are endless variations to the distortion of truth. It doesn’t have to come from a demon sitting on your shoulder. Those lies are like a virus that multiplies and spreads. The battles are won and lost when we choose to live our lives in the light of truth or in the shadows of darkness.

One of the most prevalent and yet subtle lies in this part of the world stems from what the purpose of life really is. Is it to be married and live “happily ever after”? Or is there a cause more important? Marriage is amazing and wonderful, but it isn’t what determines the significance of a life. Too many have bought into the lie that it is the ultimate purpose. Friends who were called and committed to the same job as my team mates and I would suddenly check out and drop everything, without warning because a knight in shining armor appeared or a lovely maiden accepted a proposal.

I have been accused of taking my job too seriously, of not “appearing” as though I wanted to get married. To the first accusation, I say that it is impossible to take my life’s purpose too seriously. My life has been set on a course chosen by my Creator. It is His life, not mine. He gave me my purpose, it isn’t up for question. It is the very meaning of the term “life purpose.” To the second, I can honestly say that I would love to get married. I think it would be ridiculous, however, for me to stop everything to make getting married my life’s purpose. It is not. Sacrificing my life’s purpose to change an aspect of my circumstances would be idolatry. I don’t know if it’s part of God’s plan for me to marry. Focusing on that would certainly be losing the battle because I would be living in light of a lie – my purpose and identity is found in marriage. I don’t care who you are or how wonderful a husband or wife you are. Being a spouse and a parent is no one’s ultimate identity. That is a lie.

I love celebrating engagements and marriages. I rejoice when two become one and live their lives in mutual submission to one another and, ultimately, to God and His purposes. My heart is grieved, however, when friends choose to drop everything, without consideration to their “Band of Brothers & Sisters” to chase after their personal fulfillment. Patience is a virtue. Rushing unnecessarily is foolish. Inconsideration is ugly. Letting your team mates down in the midst of battle is ignoble. Living in light of truth, motivated by sacrificial love is terribly hard, but never a choice to be regretted.



  1. Wow. What a moving post. I love you. You have truly lived out these words.

    1. You are a hero, Kara. So privileged to have served with you for so many years. Even more privileged to call you friend. Love you!

  2. Kimbie · · Reply

    Really speaking to so much of what I’m struggling with right now. Thanks friend.

    1. Thanks for the comment, Kim. Sad I didn’t get to see you. I’ll be praying for you!

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