I went into Romania right after the fall of Ceaușescu to preach the first Good Friday and Easter services, and we made arrangements to bring relief goods in. We sent a printing press in and paper and food and, you know, of course, literature.
We left Romania and went into Yugoslavia, and I was preaching there in Belgrade. There was a young man that came up after the service. He said, “I really like your preaching and I’d like you to come to my city, Minsk.”
Of course, he couldn’t speak English and so we had to work through interpreters. He spoke to a Bulgarian who spoke to me, but we eventually got the word that he wanted me to come, and they were going to have this big crusade.
25,000 People at a Russian Crusade?
It was the beginning of the Glasnost, Perestroika, and openness and all of those kinds of things. And so they had made arrangements for this big soccer stadium to be used. They were telling me if I came and preached, there’d be 20,000 to 25,000 people. I said, “Oh my goodness. I’ve always wanted to preach to 25,000 people. Yeah, okay. I’ll try and work out the arrangements.”
So I filled out my visas and all those kinds of things and sent it into the Russian embassy and consulate, and they just gave me a runaround. They told me they lost my passport. They told me that I’d sent it to the wrong place, that they’d sent it to the wrong place, that I didn’t fill out the paperwork the right way. It was just a nightmare trying to get this visa.
Eventually I got a visa from the consulate. They gave it to me, but the day they gave it to me was the last day of the crusade that I’m supposed to preach at.
Of course, they had the crusade and somebody else preached in my place. So I didn’t get to preach to the 25,000, but I did go over to the Soviet Union.
Sharing the Gospel in Russia
I brought the Jesus Film, and I brought some New Testaments and things like that.
So I got into the country, and I preached at some Baptist churches and some Pentecostal churches. I had good meetings. People were giving their life to Christ and things were happening, but on the inside I was kind of upset.
I wasn’t really mad at God, I was just kind of mad at the whole situation because it didn’t work out. I mean, I didn’t get to preach to the 25,000 people! You ever get that in your heart? It’s really kind of stupid. You really need to get rid of that as quickly as you can, but I had that inside me. It didn’t take very long.
They came to me one day and they said,
“Listen, you’re going to speak at the linguistic school and there are between 700 and 900 students there. They’re the top echelon of the people in the Soviet Union. These are the guys who are going to bethe KGB and the cosmonauts. These are the people that are going to be the top scientists, and these are the people that are going to be the government officials. And you’re going to be able to preach to them.
“You’re going to be able to preach in English, you just have to talk slowly. They’re all pretty proficient in English but they need you to speak slowly.”
And I thought, Hallelujah. I knew there was a reason why God had me come to the Soviet Union, you know? I mean, the church services and things have been good, but I just, you know, I wanted to preach to 25,000 that didn’t work out. But this is the reason why He sent me here.
900 Young Russian Leaders?
So a couple of days later I’m looking in the newspaper, Pravda—the communist paper. It said that on November 17, the government declared that there couldn’t be any meetings, anywhere, for any reason, for anything, because that’s the anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution and they didn’t want any problems. People were starting to demonstrate have some freedom of expression, and they didn’t really need any problems.
And that was the day I was supposed to have the meeting. So my meeting with the 700 to 900 students got canceled.
And so I’m just a little bit ticked. Just a little bit ticked, and I’m just upset and I’m talking to God,
“I don’t know why you sent me halfway around the world. I’m supposed to speak to 25,000 people here. That fell through. I’m supposed to speak to 900 people over here—the bosses and the leaders of the country—and that didn’t work.”
Now, I didn’t say any of this out loud, of course, but this was in my heart.
A Dinner Invitation
So the 17th comes around, and I was in a hotel. A Baptist deacon came. He knocked on the door, and he said, “My wife and I would like to invite you for dinner. Would you like to come?” And I said, “Well, yeah, I’d love to come.”
On the inside, I’m saying, “Well, yeah, I might as well go and eat with you. I don’t have anything else to do. I mean, you know, I’m supposed to preach to these people …” I’m just being honest; that’s what was in my heart.
So I got over there and we’re just about ready to sit down to eat, and all of a sudden a knock comes on the door.
We went out to the door, the deacon and I, and he opened it. There were seven students there from the linguistic school.
Dinner and the Gospel
They said, “We heard that there’s an American man who is here, and he was going to come and talk to us about God and the United States and whatever else. And we heard he’s here.” He says, “This is him right here. We were just about ready to have dinner. Why don’t you come in and we’ll have dinner together?”
So they came in and sat down with us, and we’re eating dinner. While we were eating dinner I shared my testimony—how I gave my life to Christ and how I tried to prove the Bible wrong and proved it to be right.
Pretty soon this guy that’s sitting beside me, Peter, says to me, he says, “Oh,” he says. “I feel you pulling at my heart.”
I said, “No, that’s not me, Peter. I’m telling you, it’s not me. We can talk about English. We can talk about economics. We can talk about science or politics, and you wouldn’t feel that. That’s God. He’s pulling at your heart.”
All of a sudden he just broke down and began to cry, “For the first time in my life, I know there’s a God. He really is real.” Okay.
The guy that’s sitting over on the other side of me, Ivan, says, “Me too! Me too! I know He’s real! I know He’s real!”
I thought, Oh God is doing something here. So I talked to them a little bit more, and that night I led four of those seven students to faith in Christ.
Learning to Leave the 99 for the 1
I went to the hotel room that night and God really worked me over. He said, “Steve, what is it to you if I send you halfway around the world for these four?”
And I said, “God, I’m so sorry. You know I got all these big things. You know I want to preach to 25,000, or these 900 here, and that’s a big deal for me you know but … God, I’m so sorry. I just want to go where you want me to go. I just want to do what you want me to do, and if you want me to go halfway around the world, it’s okay, man. I’ll go anywhere you want me to do, and I’ll preach to one.”
And I learned an important lesson that day: God is not your servant. You’re his servant. If we’re ever going to get the gospel to the world, we’re going to have to get that down inside of us. He’s the one who’s the master. He is the Lord of your life. He tells us where to go and what to do, and we’ll find fulfillment and hope and faith and accomplishment when we do those small things.