From our small town in Wisconsin to the beautiful city of Nizhny Novgorod, Russia is 5,316 miles. Several years back, I went there with two of our leaders to minister in several rehab centers around that region. I’ll call these two leaders Mark and Josh, because that’s their real names. The rest of the names in this retelling will be fictitious in order to protect their identity. You’ll see why in in a moment.
After being in planes and airports for almost two days, we finally arrived in Nizhny Novgorod, and for the next ten days ministered in rehab centers, churches, and a Bible school, all within approximately 100 miles of the city. Sometimes, we would go to two or three places a day.
We heard story after story from former gang leaders, people who had been beaten so badly they could no longer function in society, runaways, drug dealers, drug addicts, prostitutes, and pimps. Just about all of them had been in prison, some more than once. Our driver, who jokingly called himself “Bob,” was a pastor and one of the leaders of the network of rehab centers. Bob had been a violent gang leader before having an encounter with Christ. You wouldn’t know it because Bob was one of the nicest and most generous people you would ever meet.
But one memory will stick with me forever. We had been ministering at a particular rehab center outside of Nizhny that was very rustic. I couldn’t help but notice that there was one particular young girl who didn’t seem to fit in. If I recall correctly, she was about 17 years old. We’ll call her Natasha (not her real name).
Natasha didn’t have the look of years of wear and abuse that the other’s had. But I didn’t think any more of it until later in the meeting when Mark got a word for her. We often minister like this in meetings. If God impresses upon us a particular person, we respond in faith that He wants to minister to them. We pray for them and then see what happens.
So, Mark calls Natasha up front. We begin to pray over her and then he tells her that Jesus wants her to get her song back. He also suggested that she sing. That was it. After hearing the interpreter say this, she nodded and started to sing, very quietly and reserved at first. Then, all of a sudden, her voice got full and passionate. Everyone in the room could feel it. Her voice was beautiful. It was moving.
I knew enough Russian to know she was singing about her love for Jesus.
Meanwhile, there was one older woman crying profusely and making quite a commotion in the back of the room. We had no idea what was going on. After Natasha stopped singing, one of the people explained to our interpreter, who told us, that this older woman was Natasha’s mother.
Then they told us Natasha’s story.
Evidently, Natasha always loved to sing and was active with her youth group when she was younger. For some reason (that wasn’t explained) she had lost faith in God, got depressed, and wouldn’t leave her room for many months. Her mother tried everything, to no avail. Then, one day, Natasha ran away. What had happened was she had met an older American man online who had convinced her to marry him. They were supposed to meet in Moscow.
As it turned out, this was all a ruse with the intent to kidnap and sell her in the sex trade. Somehow, miraculously, her mother found out and called the Moscow police. She also frantically reached out to a pastor in Moscow who was part of the same rehab center network. This pastor was able to find Natasha and bring her safely to this rehab center where we were at. Since then, these whom-much-is-forgiven people have loved on Natasha and her mother who came to live with her there, which is why she was in the room on that day.
She had been rescued, but she still hadn’t sung like she used to…that is, until now.
After Natasha sang her song, a healing rain of tears flowed freely from her face, and she was joined by her mother as they rejoiced in the goodness of God. Something broke that day that was stolen from this precious young girl and I give all the praise to Jesus for it. We were simply participants who said “yes” to letting Jesus pour Himself out through us.
Frankly, I’m still astonished by the whole thing myself. Whenever I think about this encounter, I think about the lengths that God went to in order set this young girl free. I think about the relentless love of this mother, the pastor who answered the call in Moscow, and the grace and compassion of those at the center. I’m reminded of what Jesus said here:
4–5 “There once was a shepherd with a hundred lambs, but one of his lambs wandered away and was lost. So the shepherd left the ninety-nine lambs out in the open field and searched in the wilderness for that one lost lamb. He didn’t stop until he finally found it. With exuberant joy he raised it up and placed it on his shoulders, carrying it back with cheerful delight! 6 Returning home, he called all his friends and neighbors together and said, ‘Let’s have a party! Come and celebrate with me the return of my lost lamb. It wandered away, but I found it and brought it home.’” (Luke 15:4-5 TPT)
Just how far will Love go? God takes three ordinary guys from the Midwest and sends them 5,316 miles to a place they never heard of, to reach one young girl who had been abused and taken advantage of, who had lost all hope, who had found refuge among former pimps, prostitutes, drug dealers, and addicts, so she could get her song back. So that she could be healed in a dark place in her soul that only God can reach.
Beloved, this is the heart of a Father who will stop at nothing to get His kids back. And He does it through you and me…if we’re willing to follow wherever He takes us.
I don’t know what you think about this story…but it’s all true. I’ll just call it the overwhelming, never-ending, reckless love of God.
“There’s no wall You won’t kick down, lie You won’t tear down, coming after me.”