Stories of Others on the Same Journey
God's Plan Unfolded Before their Eyes
By Tom and Carol McLennan
A folded sheet of yellow notebook paper fluttered to the floor, falling out of an old favorite book.
Curious, I bent over and picked it up. I saw my own handwriting and a date from six years earlier. As I read, I was stunned. This was a document testifying to the unexpected but obvious working of our faithful God in those intervening years. It was 2002. The sheet of paper was dated 1995. I had written the question: “Should we go to Russia?” Under the question I had written nine reasons why we should go. However, I’d also listed 15 reasons why we should not go. It was this list, the list of negatives, that captivated me, because in the intervening years, God had taken care of all but five.
The five remaining obstacles were things we were dealing with the very day I found that sheet of paper, such as financial support, not knowing the culture, and the language barrier. “Surely,” I thought, “God gave this back to me as an affirmation of His sovereign design in my life.” My passion and experience as a Christian educator provided a natural bridge into missions. In early 2001, Carol and I began the search for a mission that fit our interests, training, and life experiences. We began with the online application through the Finishers Project website. Of particular interest for me were those missions that included Russia.
A few months later, in April 2001, we attended a one-and-a-half day Finishers Forum where we met and spoke with a representative of a mission called, at that time, Biblical Education by Extension (BEE) International. (The mission has since changed its name to Entrust.) The more we talked, the more I resonated with the goals and vision of this ministry. We filled out their preliminary application and the journey began in earnest.
That same month, Carol had a spiritual catharsis as she privately laid her heart bare before the Lord and admitted she did not want to go into missions. Her life was already brimming with fulfilling ministry. As she stood in our kitchen, overflowing with tears of anguish, a thought came to her with intense clarity: “What about those who are praying that you will come?” It seemed as if the Lord was speaking directly to her heart. Carol realized that this was not about her, but what God wanted to do through her. Calmness and peace came over her, and she was willing to go wherever God would lead.
We continued the application process with Entrust. Eventually we were accepted and freed to begin preparations to move to Russia. But God had some tests and surprises in store for us. Carol ruptured a disk in her lower back. She had suffered through bouts of severe back pain for10 years, and now, at just the right time, God took care of it all through emergency surgery. For the first time in years, Carol was pain-free. Six weeks later we were walking in Moscow’s Red Square on our vision trip.
Originally, we thought we would be too old to learn Russian. After all, we thought, we had only 15 years, at best, of active ministry left in us. Wouldn’t it be better to serve by teaching through translators and learn just enough Russian to make it around town? God was patient with our ignorance. We became aware of a special two-year program at “New View Culture and Language Center” in Krasnodar, Russia, a ministry begun through New Tribes Mission. This provided just the opportunity we needed, so we poured our energies into language study.
Fourteen weeks before we were scheduled to leave for Russia, we had raised only half of our needed monthly support and none of our one-time outgoing funds. We needed to sell the majority of our belongings and find a long-term renter for our home. A myriad of things needed to come together quickly. It all seemed impossible. Yet, by the time of our departure date in mid-August, we had all of our support, everything was sold and a good renter secured. Through a variety of circumstances, God opened multiple opportunities to become more and more involved with the Russian people in the region around Krasnodar. The language school actually became a catalyst for our ministry in Russia. We were part of a team from the language school that served as volunteers at the large regional hospital a couple of times per month. This led to befriending many non-believers who introduced us to their extended families. With her training as an RN, Carol began to minister to homeless men and women on the streets—which led us into partnership with two Christian drug and alcohol rehabilitation centers.
We were asked by the pastors of the Russian church we attended if we would facilitate an English language Bible study in our apartment. We became “Mom” and “Dad” to over 25 medical and engineering students from Nigeria, Kenya, Zambia, Zimbabwe, and India who attended the study each week along with Christians from Canada and Russia—truly an international fellowship.
With many of our Russian friends in Krasnodar, believers and non-believers, Carol and I celebrated our 60th birthdays and our 40th wedding anniversary. Each occasion provided a special opportunity to share how God had brought us to that point.
Unknown to us, God was using all of these “peripheral” ministries to build our credibility with the Russian people. As a result, ministry opportunities exploded. We found ourselves serving in more capacities, in more contexts, than we ever could have hoped or imagined. We were overwhelmed, but grateful for all that God was doing. Then, all of a sudden, our life in Russia abruptly changed at the end of 2007. The political situation, always volatile, had led to a new visa law that forced us to leave the country we’d come to love. We left Russia the day after Christmas in 2008. Disappointed but still wanting to serve, we relocated to Colorado Springs, to work at Entrust’s home office. God has provided us with additional blessings: we are now members of a small Russian congregation here in Colorado Springs, and we have the opportunity to travel to Russia once or twice per year. It’s a blessing to see the fruit of our labors of love continuing to flourish there.
A yellowed sheet of paper. Fifteen reasons not go to Russia. Nine reasons to go. God knew what He had planned when I wrote those lists in 1995. Now, in 2012, Carol and I look back together in awe. He has done amazing things. Things worthy of our lives.
(Thomas is now Director of Training with Entrust. He and Carol have been married 41 years and have two married children and three grandchildren. Thomas received his B.A. in Bible/Christian Education from Trinity International University in 1970 and his M.A. in Christian Education from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in 1976. Carol graduated from the University of Georgia/Augusta Campus with a degree in nursing in 1973. You can access information about Entrust at: www.entrust4.org and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/entrust4.) *A portion of this article was first published in the Spring 2003 issue of Trinity Magazine.