God Really Is A Refuge
This article started with a crash. I was reading an issue of Women of the Harvest while eating lunch. As a single, I find meal times to be great times for catching up on magazines from home. I had finished reading Rootless with tears in my eyes, because my parents are preparing to move from the house that has been “home” for 2S years. Then I read Earning Your M.A. Degree about cross-cultural adjustment with chuckles of understanding, nods of agreement, and encouragement to hear of others facing similar predicaments.
But then, CRASH! One globe of the ceiling light fixture in my living room suddenly fell out and crashed to the floor at the chair where I usually sit. As smithereens of light bulb and glass sprinkled around me, I thought “adjustment.” Whom do you call in Odessa, Ukraine, to fix something like this? Slavik is a nice guy, a believer who made my apartment livable, but I have been waiting four months for him to replace a window screen. I’ve been waiting for an electrician for several days to replace a circuit breaker that died. Most Ukrainians, when asked about repairs, just shrug their shoulders and make do. Where do you find a replacement globe for a lamp picked up in the market where rarely you see the same item twice?
As I went into the kitchen to get the vacuum cleaner (thank you, Lord, for electricity and small appliances). I looked at the water spot on the ceiling. Is it bigger than two days ago? The paint is peeling; that can’t be a good sign. I climb up on a chair to check, and sure enough, it’s still wet. The people upstairs have not been answering their door, and I am not sure I want to confront them with my poor Russian anyway.
I live in one of those drab grey Soviet high-rise apartment buildings that make you pray for no earthquakes. Since they are all concrete, fire is not a big threat. But they get very cold in the winter, especially before the government turns on the heat. We are eagerly awaiting the return of heat and hot water, which we have from mid-October to mid-April usually. When the heat comes on, the electricity starts going off. We usually lose power for 2-4 hours per day during the winter, about five months per year. You know it’s a bad sign when some of the first words you learn in your new language are “plumber” and “leak”.
After less than a month in Ukraine, I experienced my first flood in the kitchen (I’ve lost count since), which included black tarry goo oozing through and below the kitchen sink. The plumbers who finally came managed to throw the gook around the entire room. Later, while on my hands and knees cleaning the black floor, tears mingled with the gook. But the Lord reminded me that I needed to understand how my Ukrainian brothers and sisters really live. At least I was able to pay for repairs. Most of them can’t. God brought to my mind Christmas carols in August. So I put Christmas music on the stereo, started singing and praying while cleaning, then finally was able to thank God again for bringing me to this place where so many need to hear the Good News.
Adjustment is the word for it! Sometimes I think longingly of the comfortable medical practice I enjoyed in small-town West Virginia, with Christian partners and frequent opportunities for ministry. But then God brings to mind the words of Maria in the small Ukrainian village of Kubanka, “I would have no medicine if you had not.” Maria has not yet accepted Christ as her Savior, but she has rejected the atheism that Communism taught her and now eagerly asks questions about the true God of creation and power. Instead of dissolving in tears on my monthly visit to Kubanka, she now greets me with smiles.
Instead of going to a beautiful office every day to treat patients, I travel to small villages with medicines and supplies in cardboard boxes. My “exam room” may be a bedroom, or a government office, a dusty room in an unused Communist auditorium, or a Sunday school room in a church building. Usually there is no running water, electricity or indoor plumbing. I won’t tell all my outhouse stories here but I will tell you that the rewards far outweigh the difficulties. In these village clinics, we are making a difference for the Kingdom of God. People come for medical help who would never darken the door of a church building. They are grateful for these small gifts of medicine that they cannot find or afford in their areas. I am planting the seeds of the gospel as I give away acetaminophen and advice, and show the compassion of Jesus Christ.
God gave me these words recently:
When stretched, I was strengthened,
When weak, I was empowered,
When irritated, I was convicted,
When sick, I was refreshed,
When pressured, I was helped,
When uncertain, I was encouraged,
Whenever…God is always there.
“God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble” (Ps 46:1 N IV).
“Refuge” speaks of peace, contentment, and security in the midst of difficulty. To think even the great apostle Paul had to learn to be content: “I have learned to be content, whatever the circumstances” (Phil 4:11). I am still learning after living overseas for five years in five different countries. But come to think of it, I had to learn to be content in America too. When a broken relationship relegated me to singleness. When insurance company pressures and paperwork and complaining patients threatened my joy in American medical practice. When countless hours on call and loss of sleep went unnoticed and unappreciated.
Paul went on to say, “I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want” (v12). Okay, Paul, I am waiting with bated breath. What is the secret of contentment?? “I can do everything through Him who gives me strength”. Yes, Christ is the secret. When I focus on Him instead of my problems, I am content. When I appropriate His strength instead of trying to do it on my own, I am happy. When I trust Him with the imponderables and with the path of my life, I am at peace. It is a choice that only I can make, but that choice opens the door to peace and contentment in the midst of trial and uncertainty. It is the choice that Joseph made, that Mary made, that Paul made, that Jesus made. If I choose to rest in Him, God really is a refuge.