Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Freedom Of Conscience

"Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free." (John 8:32)

These are the words, in Russian, on the narrow door of our center. All who pass by on busy Brighton Beach Avenue can read them, and they notice also that we teach English and Bible classes. Each week, at least 200 people enter that door and climb the carpeted stairs to a lighted place, where they receive practical help through a variety of classes and programs. Most importantly, here and on the streets and in the Russian-language media we openly proclaim Messiah Jesus to Russian-speaking Jews, Muslims, Russians and others -- 300,000 of whom have immigrated to Brooklyn since the fall of the Soviet Union.

I have been a patriotic American since childhood, long before also becoming a believer in Jesus. How exciting it was to learn that the foundation of this country was specifically Biblically Christian. The Pilgrims, most of the Founding Fathers, many of the great Presidents -- all gave testimony of Jesus in their lives and callings. I often refer to these facts while teaching and speaking with immigrants from the Former Soviet Union, who knew only atheistic communism and before that the authoritarian czars or the tribal chiefs. The freedom of conscience that we take for granted in America is something still difficult for them to grasp.

The most important aspect of this freedom is how one can relate to God through Jesus Christ. It cannot be dictated either way. Receiving His free gift by faith is not something that can be forced upon a person. Neither should it be prohibited for a person. I thank God that we can freely speak of Jesus in this ministry in this country, and that so many people -- many of them lifelong atheists -- feel free to come and consider Him.

Another aspect of our freedom of conscience in America is the ability to discuss and choose our political leaders without great fear of reprisals. Looking out the window, I often tell my students that I could walk downstairs and out into the middle of the street and shout my disapproval of any President, and nobody would do anything to me. Most of them were afraid to discuss political issues in Soviet times for fear of being betrayed to authorities. Many lived in secret fear of the sudden knock on the door and the scant chance to even say goodbye.

As I considered the 2008 Presidential candidates, my own conscience had been troubled for a year or two, and I often prayed in distress about it. I could support some of them for some reasons, but the negatives were hard to justify. How could I in good conscience vote for even a competent person who was not close to Biblical standards? What about the foundations? How could I explain such a fallen position to immigrants who expected something better in America? Were our blessed days behind us? Would we be given over to a leader who reflected the worst in us and not a hope for the best?

Now I'm going to exercise both freedom of conscience and freedom of expression! I do so not in my official ministry capacity but as a private citizen with a rejoicing heart! It turns out that there is a candidate for President who deeply understands the founding principles of our nation and whose entire public life has been specifically Biblically Christian. I'm referring, of course, to Governor Mike Huckabee!

Del actually met Mike Huckabee in the 1990s at a Promise Keepers event in Seattle. We heard bits and pieces about him over the years, and were interested that he was running for President. Then we began to realize that he is the complete package, the real deal! The more we tuned in and the more we heard, the more we understood that we were seeing an exceptionally faithful, unusually competent man prepared and raised up by God for such a time as this.

One of the key points that we consider in a candidate, in addition to the important social, fiscal and security issues, is his position on Israel. This is where it gets really good! Mike Huckabee has visited Israel 9 times and has the best, most Biblically-literate plan for Palestinian statehood of any politician we have heard lately. It should be located in Saudia Arabia or Egypt or some place with a lot of land, but not in little Israel. And the United States Embassy should move out of Tel Aviv and into Jerusalem, the actual capital of Israel.

These are not easy issues, of course, but with Mike Huckabee, you get the idea that his statements are more than just standard political posturing. This is vitally important for America, because if we fail to bless Israel according to Biblical principles, we will be disciplined by God, Who said to Abram, "I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse." (Genesis 12:3)

I encourage you to visit for more information about this candidate whom we can wholeheartedly support as Bible-believers. And whatever your own conclusions might be, please pray for America and for Israel.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Freedom For Modern Slaves

"He lies in wait like a lion in cover; he lies in wait to catch the helpless; he catches the helpless and drags them off in his net. His victims are crushed, they collapse; they fall under his strength. He says to himself, 'God has forgotten; He covers His face and never sees.' ARISE, LORD! LIFT UP YOUR HAND, O GOD. DO NOT FORGET THE HELPLESS." (Psalm 10:9-12)

Earlier this year, I joyfully read a new biography, Amazing Grace: William Wilberforce And The Heroic Campaign To End Slavery, written by Eric Metaxas. I was already thankful for William Wilberforce, because 200 years ago he had also been a leader of an influential London group formed to bring Jewish people to their Messiah and also back to the Promised Land. The new biography focuses on Wilberforce's strong Christian faith and tireless work to make slavery illegal in the British empire and beyond.

Not long after reading that biography, I received a call from a young Russian woman in desperate need. Somehow, she had heard about Leslie in Brooklyn who knows the laws and helps people and is with God. She had answered an American man's internet fishing for a Russian wife, and had arrived several months ago to marry him. This alarming practice is not uncommon, alas. They married, and at first things seemed OK, but it turned out that he is very abusive, threatening and immoral, and has taken all of her documents and confined her in the home more or less as a slave. I am still in contact with her, and ask for your prayers.

The young lady appears to be a possible human trafficking victim. This form of modern slavery comes in many evil varieties, including forced servitude and even something specifically called servile marriage. It is a huge and growing problem in the world, very profitably operating through large dangerous criminal networks and also much smaller individual enterprises. It usually involves forcing or deceiving a victim to enter into an opportunity that turns out to be a slavery from which there is no escape. People are literally bought and sold in a morbid supplier/consumer setup. One of the very largest sources of these slaves is Russia, and one of the very largest destinations is the USA, particularly New York.

Our federal government has a specific hotline number and website to help and inform trafficking victims and citizens ( ) as well as safe places to which they can come if they want to be rescued and safely transitioned. Notice on the federal website that Russian is one of the language options. New York City also has a large non-profit agency with a special human trafficking victim branch, and there is an excellent new ministry organizing to help victims.

In the specific case of our lady, the local and federal agencies have been very responsive to us and willing to assist her. A main issue at first was whether or not she really wanted real help that would take her out of a bad situation into an unknown situation that, in her abused mind, might be just as bad or worse. It must be her decision, because her case at this point does not fit the criteria for an active intervention.

Our lady had an emotional investment in her abuser, even though things went terribly wrong very quickly (constant verbal abuse, manipulation and intimidation; confiscation of all of her documents; deception that our government is her enemy so as to frighten her and increase her sense of isolation and helplessness; forced servitude in the home all day every day; no opportunity to move about freely outside the home -- all very typical in trafficking situations). She desperately hoped he would change, but now realizes this is only a distant prospect. She is currently waiting for greater understanding of her legal options, and is more willing to choose outside help.

This young lady is just one of literally tens of thousands who have been brought to America through human trafficking -- modern slavery. As Christians, we need great compassion, wisdom and attentiveness. Especially we need to pray. Here are some specific prayers for our lady, and please remember the many other victims as well:

1. Assurance of salvation in Jesus (she has some religious background).
2. Immediate protection and wisdom for her and for us, especially since we do not know if he is part of a large ruthless operation or just an individual with more limited means of enforcement.
3. Safe opportunities and timing for her to communicate with us
4. Guidance and strength about receiving help and pursuing legal remedies against a trafficker, which would also open the way for more government assistance and financial/restoration aid.

"'Because of the oppression of the weak and the groaning of the needy, I will now arise,' says the Lord. 'I will protect them from those who malign them.' And the words of the Lord are flawless, like silver refined in a furnace of clay, purified seven times. O Lord, You will keep us safe and protect us from such people forever." (Psalm 11:5-7)

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Freedom For Immigrants

"The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on Me, because the Lord has anointed Me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners." (Isaiah 61:1-2)

The immigration issue is a hotly-discussed topic on the national scene these days, and Bible-believers must be very careful to seek the mind of Messiah on this subject as they enter the debate. Many of us are political conservatives, but I must say that His approach is not well-represented by much of conservative punditry. The loudest, most influential voices seem heavy on law and light on grace, and they risk some personal lessons in what God really means when He says:

  • "Do not mistreat an alien or oppress him, for you were aliens in Egypt." (Exodus 22:21)
  • "Do not oppress an alien; you yourselves know how it feels to be aliens, because you were aliens in Egypt." (Exodus 23:9)
  • "When an alien lives with you in your land, do not mistreat him. The alien living with you must be treated as one of your native-born. Love him as yourself, for you were aliens in Egypt. I am the Lord your God." (Leviticus 19:33-34)
  • "For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, Who shows no partiality and accepts no bribes. He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the alien, giving him food and clothing. And you are to love those who are aliens, for you yourselves were aliens in Egypt." (Deuteronomy 10:17-19)
  • "If you really change your ways and your actions and deal with each other justly, if you do not oppress the alien, the fatherless or the widow and do not shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not follow other gods to your own harm, then I will let you live in this place, in the land I gave your forefathers for ever and ever." (Jeremiah 7:5-7)
  • "I was a stranger and you did not invite Me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe Me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after Me." (Matthew 25:43)

I'm not trying to write immigration policy in this post, but I am trying to encourage prayerful consideration of God's perspective on the matter.

The famous plaque at the Statue Of Liberty does not read: "Give me your lords and ladies, dukes and duchesses, geniuses and generals, bards and businessmen looking to invest millions in our wonderful free market. Send these, the rich and famous and other desirable people who are as perfect as we are, and we will be a great example to the world."

Rather, reflecting the fact that most of America's immigrants through the centuries came from very distressed backgrounds, these are the memorable words of the plaque: "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!" (Emma Lazarus, 1883)

Are immigrants any different today? Mostly not. So why are some Americans (the vast majority of whom are from immigrant stock) so quick to constrict the free-flow of blessings that must be freely given as He gave?

Some of us can speak from the perspective of Native Americans. My own little Chinook Tribe, for example, was the group that welcomed Lewis and Clark when they reached the end of the trail in the Northwest. Rather than deporting outsiders on one-way canoes into the Pacific, Chief Comcomly (Grandpa!) and the tribe welcomed trade relationships and new European family members. What if they had been immigration hardliners? How then could we live today without Northwest necessities Boeing, Microsoft, Nike,, Costco, T-Mobile, Washington apples and, most importantly, Starbucks?

As we discuss current immigration issues, let us do so with Biblical maturity and Godly character. It is right to follow His commands and other legal principles, but essential to live them out in the ways of the greatest Immigrant:

"Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made Himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to death -- even death on a cross!" (Philippians 2:3-8)

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Lessons In Freedom

"On the Day of Atonement sound the trumpet throughout your land. Consecrate the fiftieth year and proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants."(Leviticus 25:9-10)

During the past year, as a fifty-year-old American, I have gained new understandings of slavery and freedom. In the eighth year of demanding ministry in Brooklyn, I had wearily prayed for God to give me new insights and experiences of liberty during my jubilee. He has answered in amazing ways, often through trials yet always through unexpected blessings.

I hope you too will be blessed as you read along!

My husband and I are Bible-believing servants of Messiah Jesus, working among 300,000 Russian Jews and other Russian-speakers who immigrated to Brooklyn since the late 1980s. This blog consists of personal reflections. Although I refer to the specific ministry at times, I am writing as a private individual and not in my official capacity with the ministry organization.

My next post begins to detail some lessons in freedom. In the meantime, check out my testimony on the ministry website to see how a philosophy major political professional from the Pacific Northwest ended up serving Jesus among Soviet immigrants in Brooklyn, New York.