As soon as the conversation starts, I know that the question is coming. For it happens in every conversation…and this exchange is no different. Very quickly, my friend asks, “Why Russia? Aren’t there people closer to home who need help?”
It’s a fair question – or actually, two fair questions. We have been asked similar questions literally hundreds of times, including by a Russian television station during an interview on our first visit in March. And candidly, they are questions that we have asked ourselves many times.
I wish we had a simple answer. But we don’t. We can’t explain it. There certainly would be easier places to visit and help – Russia is not convenient on any criteria. But God works in mysterious ways. Why He called a collection of folks in Chapel Hill to travel 40 hours to bring love and hope to a group of kids in Russia is beyond me. But it happened. And our lives will never be the same.
In many ways, the most straightforward answer is that we feel that we are doing what Christ calls us to do – “Love your neighbor.” The idea of loving our neighbors is not foreign to any of us. But what has changed is our definition of neighbor. Almost overnight, our “neighborhood” has become larger…or the world has gotten smaller. With this new perspective, the question sometimes becomes, “Why NOT Russia?”
But the more I think about it, the more I realize that our international mission has created a far-reaching local impact as well. What started out as helping neighbors so far away in Russia has produced transformation and impact on a local level. Everywhere we look, we see evidence of things changing in our own backyard:
- Casual acquaintances have mentioned how the ministry has motivated them to help at a local charity.
- Middle school and high school kids are raising thousands of dollars to support their new friends.
- A Mission 1:27 club has started in Carrboro High School, with scores of kids joining who had no connection to the effort to date.
- New friendships have formed based on a common passion to give love and hope to those who desperately need both.
- Priceless items have been donated and precious time has been volunteered, all in the name of “loving our neighbors.”
This is not to credit Mission 1:27 with this impact – far from it. The things that are happening locally provide further evidence of God’s involvement in this effort. For only He could take something as preposterous as traveling to a remote village in rural Russia and use it to impact lives just down the street.
So the next time I am asked why we are going to Russia, the answer will be simple: “To visit some neighbors.” For now I realize that loving others has repercussions throughout the entire “neighborhood.”