Beth and I have been holding talks about the war of Russian aggression in Ukraine. Each talk consists of a 30-35 minute PowerPoint lecture. Listeners are then rewarded with a 30-minute Q&A. This is when the evening goes from simply being informative to being spicy.
A church in north central California was treated to a bit of spice when two pro-Russian gentlemen from a nearby city attended the meeting. They were well-mannered, well-dressed, and in all ways seemed intelligent. They did not interrupt the meeting and during the Q&A, one asked a couple questions and raised his hand both times. From the two questions, it was clear they were well informed by RT (news agency Russia Today), and after a third question had begun, I asked if he was informed by RT and that suspicion was confirmed. Because of their sources, I could not let the questioner continue, and besides… he had already asked two questions and there were others in the room that would like to ask questions. The onlooking Americans seemed to be in a bit of shock by the directness of the exchange, but between Russian-speakers, this is customary if not the preferred method of communication.
The Americans quickly recovered and asked lots of intelligent questions. Then the meeting ended and that is when the fireworks began. The older of the two gentlemen wasted no time in coming to the front and telling me everything I had said was wrong. Our conversation was fully in Russian since in the last sixteen years since immigrating to America, he had not bothered to learn to speak English. Here is a truncated, condensed version of the conversation…
“Well, actually everything that I said tonight was true to the best of my knowledge and while I am open to being wrong on some things, before God I spoke the truth from a clean conscience.” I continued, “On what basis do you refute what you heard tonight?”
“I lived 60 years in Russia,” was his reply.
“How long have you lived in America?” I queried.
“Sixteen years,” he answered.
“Have you ever been to Ukraine?” I asked.
His answer was shocking, “No, never.”
“So you’ve been here in the states for sixteen years, but before that you were in Russia for 60 years. So, in all those 76 years, you have never been to Ukraine, but you believe your 76 years of life has given you the knowledge of what is happening currently in Ukraine. Is that correct?” I admit my musings were so ridiculous, that I could not help but smirk a little as he answered, “Correct.”
“Sir, you are 76 years old. It’s time for you to be wiser and smarter than this. While you were here enjoying life in the states with your children and grandchildren, I was living in Ukraine. Until 2014, I lived in the Donbas and traveled all over Donetsk and Lugansk provinces. After 2014, I lived in the Kyiv province and repeatedly traveled all over Ukraine, and though I never returned to the cities of Donetsk and Lugansk, I visited the grey zone and spent significant time in Mariupol as late as 2019. Yet you maintain that you know more about what is currently happening in Ukraine, because you were in Russia for 60 years before you left 16 years ago. Is that correct?” I thought for sure he would realize the complete and utter absurdity of his assertions. Alas, I was wrong, “Correct,” he answered.
“Amazing!” I thought. Admittedly, he had really gotten my goat, but I would not call him a goat as that is only a shade less than swearing in Russian. So I went for the jugular, “Thank you sir, for demonstrating to me what it means to be a part of the Russian herd.” Now, this might not sound very offensive to the western ear, but trust me, if this man were younger and bigger, this might have escalated to fisticuffs.
“I’m sorry, but it appears we can’t talk politics.” Russians and Ukrainians are quick to move on in most cases. “We need to change the subject. Do you mind if I ask you another question?” “Sure,” he replied. “Do you know Jesus?” “Well, I’m Orthodox,” he stammered. “That’s not what I’m asking you,” I reminded him before asking the question again a bit slower for emphasis, “Do you know Jesus?” His answer made my heart sadder than it had been during the previous ten minutes of conversation, “How can anyone know Jesus… he lived a long time ago.”
“Sir you and I have nothing more political to talk about, because you have much bigger problems… namely where you will spend eternity. Without knowing Jesus Christ you have no possibility of spending eternity in heaven.”
After a few more minutes of conversation, I went to the back of the room and talked to his son. We bantered back and forth for a while, but it was not too much different than talking to his dad. I have learned that pro-Russians and conspiracists both get distracted in nonsensical subjects that keep them from thinking about the core of the matter. For example, they see a film in which a frantic, crying lady recounts how the mayor, city council and townspeople crucify a five-year old boy in the town square in a city of eastern Ukraine. They do not stop and ask why there is no footage to prove this story true. Certainly in a country so inundated with smart phones, a few people would have been live-streaming such an event to Facebook or Youtube.
But the real question becomes, why is Russia in Ukraine. Why did they invade a peaceful and peace-loving country that was living in harmony and without strife? This was the question that left our pro-Russian guests with no answer. In the end, I told the younger of these two men that he had bigger issues than politics, because, even though he professes Christ, his dad does not know Jesus and is on his way to hell because of that. When I mentioned this to the son, he said they had talked about it and “he knows where we stand” (or something like that). Truly their minds are on this world and they are ignoring the more important spiritual questions.
If I had thought faster on my feet, I would have told the son he isn’t doing enough for his father. “He’s living in your house. Read the Gospels to him everyday. Stop fixating and distracting your father with the war and start fixating on Jesus. Make the kingdom of God your treasure in the field, your pearl of great price. It is not enough that you have talked to your dad about Christ. Live the reality of Christ daily in front of him in Word and in deed.”
What I learned from our guests
I was thankful my first pro-Russian guests who were truly nice guys. They were not disruptive and they behaved appropriately in this group setting. So here is what I learned from this experience:
- Do not argue the propaganda. Conspiracists are like magicians in that they are experts at employing smoke and mirrors to maintain the illusion.
- Get to the heart of the matter as quickly as possible.
- Realize that the spiritual warfare is not only happening in Ukraine… we are in the midst of it as well.
- Always remember that the spiritual condition of the heart is more important than the political opinions one espouses.
- Keep Christ central.