To be a disciple is to be a learner — a lifelong learner. This crucial affirmation resonated afresh with me as I have reflected on my most recent visit with our ministry partners in Ukraine. Reggie Quimby and I returned from our eventful trip just in time to jetlag our way through Labor Day and then speed through the busy start of a fall marathon of ministry tasks which do not abate prior to Christmas.
Our visit began unceremoniously with flight delays due to maintenance concerns and weather-related challenges. Our luggage went to New York, and we proceeded to Paris and onto the Crimean region by way of Kiev. Kiev is in the northern part of the country and Crimea is nestled in the southern region on the Black Sea.
As you might imagine, this frustrating series of events — as well as the overall experience itself — helped us learn or, perhaps better stated, relearn some valuable lessons. The first lesson is the most obvious: You can live out of a little hand bag for three or more days. With the most recent carry-on restrictions, we could not pack hygiene items, such as shaving creams, deodorant and toothpaste. We had a partial one-day change of clothing, such as a shirt and undergarments, and a book for reading — and that was it.
Before we left, Mike Shaw, chair of the Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions, kiddingly said, “What is Rick going to do without hairspray for a day?”. What about three days? Yes, we did buy some items when we discovered the news about our luggage but — like many of you — there is no substitute for your own things, especially when you travel internationally.
The second valuable lesson learned relates to the Christian witness of the Ukrainians themselves. We were enriched by the winsome testimonies of how people were true to the faith during the dark days of Communist rule. Despite the philosophical and governmental adversities throughout the seven decades of Communism, many believers in Ukraine and elsewhere in the former Soviet Union were faithful to Christ. Their commitment serves as an encouragement to us to remain steadfast in our faith in the culture of permissiveness here in the U.S.
While Reggie and I visited the picturesque area of the Crimea, we were taken to a site along the Black Sea where nuclear submarines were housed for repairs. This huge cavernous compound is now a museum open to the public. The setting is most impressive. Literally thousands of Soviet personnel worked non-stop on these vessels in an attempt to keep them seaworthy. This was serious business for the Soviet Navy. They were always on alert in this period of the Cold War.
If memory serves me correctly, the mountain-sized base was opened in 1962, around the time of the historic Cuban Missile Crisis with the U.S. For the four decades this base was operational, this facility was dedicated to repairing and servicing as many as six nuclear submarines at a time. The lesson I learned or relearned was sobering: This is and always has been a dangerous world. During the frightening days of the Cold War, I along with untold numbers of other school age Baby Boomers, wore dog tags for identification and experienced numerous drills preparing for a potential nuclear attack.
The Ukrainian believers with whom we worked knew this history as well as we; yet there seemed to be an understanding between us which transcended former political differences. We are one in Christ! We have more in common with each other than we do with unbelieving fellow citizens in our own countries.
The Soviet Union and the U.S. were both serious about the Cold War. Now the Ukrainian Baptists and Alabama Baptists need to be even more serious about sharing the gospel in both Alabama and Ukraine. If nations can be that serious about war, surely we can be even more serious about evangelism. This truly is the most serious business!!!!