July 1st was an amazing day. I met with Jane and Sasha, two girls I met last week in the tourist office. We spent about 4 hours together walking around Perm and spending time in a little cafe. It was so amazing because in God's graciousness I was able to share the entire message of Jesus/the gospel with them.
I asked them if they had a faith or religion and Sasha said "well I'm christian, because when I was a baby my parents took me to the orthodox church and baptized me." Jane said "I guess I am nothing because my parents did not do that for me." It was so cool to get to tell her that just because she wasn't baptized as an infant, doesn't mean that she cannot be a Christian...and explain to Sasha that her baptism as an infant is not an indicator of her salvation. I continued to spend time with them and eventually asked them if I could share my faith with them. They had brought up astrology and horoscopes and if I followed mine, and I told them no because it put too much power in human hands for our lives and path where God is the one who should determine that. I then asked if I could share what I believed with them, and they said yes.
In David Platt's book "Radical" he writes of the following metaphor of how Christianity is different than other religions, and I shared it with the two girls. Think of God, high and mighty, standing on top of a mountain. Other religions have laws and rules and works that get you to God eventually if you keep doing them, and you will work your way up the mountain and finally achieve God at the top. If you follow the 5 pillars of Islam and keep the rules, laws, fasting, prayers, and "balance the scales" of good and bad in your life, you will hopefully get to God. There is no forgiveness in the Muslim faith, you just have to do enough good to outweigh the bad, and your goodness will move you upwards to God. In Buddhism, you pray and meditate and try to live a life free of desires and sin and eventually you will find peace, nirvana, ultimately God or some desired afterlife. I can go on about other religions, but the key is that Christianity, on the other hand, is different. In Christianity, no matter what we do, we can't get up that mountain or do enough on our own to get us even close, because we always fall, make mistakes, and sin. We will never on our own do enough "good" and good works to get us to God; who are we to think we are good enough or doing enough? No, the beauty is that instead of us climbing up a mountain to get to him, GOD instead comes down from the mountain, picks us up and rescues us and saves us from ourselves, and carries us up the mountain.
I told them about Jesus coming down to earth and dying for the sins of the world, taking on the wrath of God in that moment as he endured all the punishment God had for sin and sinners and taking it all right then. I also explained that just because someone is baptized or lives in a certain region doesn't mean that they are automatically a Christian. It has to do with their faith, belief, and if their life is lived in a way that says I follow Jesus. Jane looked close to tears and like she had discovered or heard some great news...she looked really joyful and I saw hope in her eyes, truly. Sasha was content with the conversation but afterwards she started talking about astrology and horoscope signs and how my aura and electricity connects with others and that's why my words are well received. Jane did not seem to agree with her, and it was kind of strange to hear, but I told her than any goodness seen in me is because of Jesus in me. We did not talk much after that about it, but I could see that Jane's mind was whirling with the story shared, and she commented that she really liked the mountain example. They want to continue to spend time with me while I am here, and Jane might even come to our summer camp, which would be awesome! It was really cool getting to do that, share Jesus and the hope that He brings and life that He gives. I got emotional and joyful while telling it...I can't express how incredible it was to share that story with people who had never heard.
I have been reading through Acts and today I saw something very interesting that Paul does when he speaks to a King in chapter 26. Paul not only shares with King Agrippa about Jesus, the prophets, and God's promises, but then asks him "Do you believe the prophets? I know you believe." King Agrippa says to Paul, "In a short time would you persuade me to be a Christian?" and Paul said, Whether short or long, I would to God that not only you but also all who hear me this day might become such as I am-- except for these chains." Paul boldly claims God, answers honestly that YES, I want you to become a Christian and know this love that I have!, and asks him if he believes after sharing with him. This is something that I did not do with these two girls, asking them if they believed or pressing to know more of what they thought of the gospel of Jesus after I shared. Next time I know to do this, so that I can further understand how they received the words and lead them to recognizing God's saving grace in their lives.