The Man Who Tried to Save Me Part I
John inspired me with his car stories (I, II, III, IV, and the just-released V). Plus, I promised to tell the story about a guy who tried to convert me and my family. So, here goes.
Our town has a sizable Russian-speaking community. We have several Russian grocery stores, which we frequent. It was in front of one of these stores that I first met this man. I will call him Ivan. It was cold and windy, with snow blowing all over the place. Ivan was standing in front of the store passing out invitations to his new “Jewish Messianic” church.
Now I’ve got to tell you that our Russian community is really, from the ethnicity standpoint, predominantly Jewish. Back in Russia, most of these people were atheists, but here in America, they try to follow the Judaic traditions, observe the holidays, go to the synagogue a few times a year, etc. Very few people take it seriously, but practically everybody views it as honoring the traditions of their fathers. Need I say that converting to Christianity is frowned upon? You’re better off not believing in anything at all than confessing the Nicene Creed. I was the black sheep in our community for years. Then Ivan came along and took the title away from me.
I have to admit, it takes a lot of courage to stand in front of a Russian store in the evening, when people normally stop by after work to get their groceries, and hand Christian literature to hungry, hostile men and women that look upon you as a traitor. I am not sure how many people Ivan converted this way. I’m estimating zero. But he kept doing it, rain or shine, for at least three years in a row. Sometimes, the store owner’s patience would run out, and he would ban Ivan from standing in front of his store. Ivan would go to the next store, spend a few months there, get kicked out, go to the next store, and generally keep rotating in this manner. He had a wife, four kids, and a full-time pastor job, he was very obviously not welcome in these stores, and he still kept coming back. Even if his actions didn't make much sense, they bordered on heroism. This is the part of Ivan that I admire.
Then, there’s the other side of Ivan. The one that makes me think I’ll be able to crank out some pretty funny posts about him. Here’s what happened a few years ago, when I12 was starting 4th grade.
It was a warm, dry summer, and Ivan spent most of his free time in front of the store. We talked a few times. He even met my husband and they had a nice, long discussion about the meaning of life. I don’t quite remember which one of us gave Ivan our home telephone number. One day in August, he called us and left a message about a new Russian school he was opening. While we were mulling the message over, Ivan’s wife called with more information.
The school was going to run once a week, on Saturday afternoons. It was going to be tuition-free, “for now” – later on, depending on the school’s success, there might be tuition. They had hired real schoolteachers with fifteen to twenty years of Russian experience to teach on a volunteer basis. The school was geared towards the children from Russian immigrant families, who were rapidly forgetting their native language.
The idea was great. The need for this kind of thing was tremendous. The only thing that bothered me was that the school was located in a church, and organized by a church, and I wasn’t sure if what they were teaching would be in line with what my boys were already learning in their Sunday school.
I voiced my concern to Ivan’s wife, and she assured me that the teaching would be strictly secular. I had no reason not to sign the boys up, so I gave her their names. The next Saturday, we all went to the new Russian school. My Atheist Mom and my mildly Jewish Dad came along, too.
To be continued…