Spotted Goats and Insignificant Conversations

Posted by admin in April 27th, 2010
Published in faith, obedience, prayer

“I love Russia! I mean I really love everything about Russia! The food, the people, the literature—EVERYTHING!”

I was my usual melodramatic self speaking through clenched teeth to an American teacher in China telling her just how much I wanted to live and work in Russia.

It was an insignificant chat with my new friend Melody. Melody was teaching in the northeast city of Changchun where I had first taught nearly five years earlier. I’d come back just for the summer and I was teaching a conversational English course for the university’s English faculty. Melody had come to China for a year to teach with a Christian organization. We met on campus my first day back and were thrilled to find fellow followers of Jesus. I was leaving at the end of the summer, but Melody had decided to stay an additional year. We parted promising to stay in touch, but never actually doing it.

I felt called to Russia, but every long-term door I had tried just wouldn’t open. Finally, I realized that in order to live and work in Russia, specifically Moscow, I would need a master’s degree. I enrolled at the University of Oklahoma, but the cost was prohibitive. I did one semester of grad school there and had to drop out. I couldn’t work full time, go to school full time and make ends meet. I gave up and decided to open a small language school near Wichita’s air force base to help military wives from other countries learn English. I opened my own little school. It did really well and thanks to the help of my sister and brother-in-law I was well-equipped with a nice used copy machine, a professional-style office phone, and an electronic typewriter—a precursor to today’s laptop. Fun times!

I got home late one night from teaching and I had a message on my machine. It was a recruiter for Oral Roberts University. She said she had an offer for me that I couldn’t refuse. I called her back just to see what was going on. I had no idea how the school could’ve gotten my number. I wasn’t a big fan of ORU to tell you the truth. In fact, I was a little bit afraid of it. But I called her back.

It seemed that someone had given this recruiter my name in response to ORU’s launching of a new scholarship in the name of Evelyn Roberts (Oral’s wife). The scholarship was very specific: a woman, 30 years old or older, an owner of a small business and it was for graduate degrees only. The recruiter asked if I’d like to apply. I did. I got it. I closed up the small language school and headed to Tulsa. And I loved my time at ORU. God blessed me there and I learned so much and met so many wonderful people. Because of my semester at OU and my teaching experience overseas, I was able to finish my master’s degree in two semesters going fulltime and carrying heavy loads.

Now, the only reason I wanted to go for that master’s was to qualify for a teaching position in Moscow. That was my only reason. I have never been a person who loved school. Every degree I have has been hard earned and I had to work like crazy to keep up. I’ve never been a good student.

Fearful that I might drop out or that I might get distracted at ORU I made a decision. The first thing I did when I moved into my little campus apartment in Tulsa was buy a long piece of butcher paper. Then with big old Magic Markers, I wrote in all capital letters, “MOSCOW FALL 1991!” and taped that banner to my bedroom wall. It was a lot like Jacob putting markers at the watering holes of the goats. Spotted markers resulted in spotted lambs and his flocks grew (Genesis 30). I thought if I could read those words the first thing every morning when I got up and the last thing I saw every night when I went to bed I wouldn’t lose my calling no matter what tried to waylay me along the journey. And there it was in living color—my goal, my dream, my marching orders.

The scholarship provided me with free tuition, housing and I taught a couple of classes in the communications department which provided me with a nice stipend. Looking back on it, it was really a wonderful time in my life. Finally though, March was upon us and it was time to start planning for my future. Universities, for the most part, start looking for faculty by the end of March or early April. I wanted to get applications in for jobs in Moscow as quickly as possible. I sent random letters to schools all over the city. It was the USSR back then and communication wasn’t easy. Phones didn’t work well. Mail wasn’t always delivered and any communication from the outside world was looked on with great suspicion. I called USSR embassies, consulates, and even followed leads from things I read in the newspapers. All without any success.

A student of mine gave me a copy of InterVarsity’s missions magazine. I think it came out quarterly back then. Anyway, at the back of the magazine was an ad for the International Institute for Christian Studies (IICS) which was trying to recruit professors to go to Russia to teach. I called immediately and was turned down by the organization’s director Dr. Daryl McCarthy (Yes! That one.) because I didn’t have a PhD and they only appointed PhDs. But he prayed for me and unlike a lot of missions agency directors, he didn’t put me down. He said it was a good goal and a valid dream and he wished me the best.

Door after door after door closed. The chair of the journalism department at ORU called me in his office and offered me a fulltime job teaching in his department upon my graduation. Good salary and they’d even allow me to keep my rent-free apartment near campus. It was a great deal and a great opportunity. But it didn’t feel right.

Discouraged and a little panicky I ran home and fell on my bed crying. “Lord Jesus! Lord Jesus! I thought we agreed I was to be in Moscow fall of 1991. What’s happening here? I have no connections. I have heard from no one. Not one single response to my letters. Where are You in all of this?”

Anyone else like this? Do you ever start feeling like maybe you’ve done something wrong? That it’s your fault things aren’t falling into place? I immediately started asking God for forgiveness. “Is it me? Are you angry with me? Have I done something to quench Your spirit?”

It was a terrible time of fear, regret, confusion and a loss of hope. Could I work in the US? Sure. My master’s degree in education would open doors for me in the US! I had a job offer from ORU and I wouldn’t even have to move. But I didn’t want to be in the US! I wanted to be in the USSR! I wanted to teach in Moscow.

Spring break came and I decided not to go home and see my parents. I decided instead to clean the apartment. Then I cleaned my car. Then I worked on papers that were due by the end of the semester. I did a lot of crying and the last weekend of spring break—Friday, Saturday and Sunday—I decided to fast. I bought some juice, turned off the phone, turned off the TV, played some praise and worship music on the old tape player and I lay face down and cried out to God. “Please make a way for this; please direct me. I need You to open these doors. I need to know that You really want me to go to Moscow. Help me, please.”

Friday. Saturday. Sunday. Nothing. Finally around sundown on Sunday evening I decided to turn the phone back on, eat something and watch some TV. I felt the whole fasting thing had been very unproductive. Around 8 o’clock on Sunday night I got a phone call. It was from my ORU professor. She said there was a girl I met in China a few years ago trying to get a hold of me. Would I call this girl? She said it’s important. I took down the number and called her.

It was Melody. You know, the girl I had an insignificant conversation with one summer in Changchun where I told her “I love Russia!” It had been three years since that conversation and Melody and I hadn’t had contact after that. She was living in Virgina going to law school. She explained why she wanted to talk to me.

That fall in Changchun, after I left, a Russian professor had come to teach on Melody’s campus. They’d become good friends and Melody had even given him a Bible.

His wife was an English instructor at the Moscow Textile Institute and the school had just been awarded permission to host its first English-language professor from another country—preferably the West. Alexander, Melody’s friend, had written her a letter asking her if she would come and teach English at his wife’s institute. He had included his telephone number and some of the conditions of the contract. “If you cannot take this position Melody, we would appreciate your help in finding someone we can trust who would be willing to come and teach here and do a good job.” Melody said as soon as she read the letter, she thought of me. But because we hadn’t stayed in touch, she didn’t know how to reach me. So she called a friend of hers who was in the master’s program at ORU and asked if she knew of anyone who might want this job.

And her friend, a classmate of mine, shouted, “Teri Hodges!”

Melody screamed, “Teri Hodges? That’s who I thought of too but I don’t know how to reach her.”

“She lives right here in campus housing!”

So, Melody’s friend called my prof; my prof called me; I called Melody and by 9:30 that night I was telephoning, for the first time in my life, the USSR. Now, for most of us living in the US or free nations, making a simple phone call is well, definitely not miraculous. But trying to place a call to the Soviet Union back in the early ‘90s, well that was a lot more complicated. So you’ve gotta bear with me here when I say, I picked up the phone in my little apartment in Tulsa, Oklahoma, dialed some digits and the phone rang in Moscow and was answered by…Alexander! Uh back in the day, that was pretty amazing.

“Hello Alexander?” I asked.

“Yes.” He replied hesitantly, a little suspiciously.

“My name is Teri Hodges and I’m a good friend of Melody Cockrell’s. She told me your wife’s school is looking for an English instructor for the fall. I am very interested in that position.”

Alexander could not believe I was calling from America. When I finally convinced him it wasn’t a joke he settled down and started asking me a few questions. Alexander said to me “Melody I know and trust. I can recommend her without hesitation. But I am sorry. I don’t know you and a bad recommendation could be a problem for…well…for me and my wife. You understand of course.” And I did.

Neither of them could take that risk. But they were trying to help find someone from the West to come and teach. Could I come for a visit and meet the rector and the department chair? Housing could be arranged for me if I could take care of the airfare. Yes! I said with utmost confidence. I can come in May for an interview.

I hung up the phone trembling. I called Pan American Airlines which was going out of business due to bankruptcy. They were offering flights anywhere in the world roundtrip for $300. They were the only American owned airlines that flew into Moscow back then. I called them at nearly midnight and the operator told me that the $300 offer was ending at midnight. I bought the ticket. By faith. I didn’t have $300, but I had my Dad’s credit card and figured I could get the money by the time the bill came in. I called my Dad the next morning and told him what I had done. I said, “I promise Dad by the time the bill comes to your house you’ll have $300 from me!”

I made one more phone call letting Melody know my plans. We had prayer and I thanked her again and again for thinking of me. “It was the Holy Spirit actually. I think this was meant to be,” she said.

The next morning I went in to fix coffee and in the middle of my living room floor was a plain white envelope with a tire track mark across it. I couldn’t figure out why a piece of trash like this was on my living room floor. I hadn’t opened the door; the weather sealing under the door was tight and I had no roommate or any one sharing my apartment. I opened the dirty envelope just to see what was inside and it was three one hundred dollar bills. Unbelievable? Yup! I know. I write these words and I still struggle to believe them. But it happened! And I about fainted.

I graduated. I headed off to Moscow in May. I got the job. I have a whole lot more story here to tell, but the bottom line is this: God worked through all of these circumstances and I was teaching in Moscow by Fall of 1991!

A few years ago I was at an IICS dinner here in Kansas City talking with friends and meeting new people. The dinner is an annual event and Daryl always encourages IICS supporters to bring friends and family to learn about the work and the ministry. A girlfriend of mine asked if I’d come to her table and meet a longtime friend of hers. Her guest was the assistant DA for Kansas City, Missouri. I shook the friend’s hand and we stood there for a moment…



Hugs and tears and laughter and utter disbelief.

“Hey, did you ever make it to Moscow that year?” she asked.

“Did I ever!” I whispered. And the stories began.

God is good. He is faithful. He is powerful and capable and He wants to do big things in each of our lives. He wants to bring about those supernatural miracles for all of His kids. He wants to intervene. He desires to participate with us in living and working and in our very being. But we sometimes have a part to play in all of that. Sometimes we have to stick a spotted pole in the mud and hold on to what He has promised us. Sometimes we have to put butcher paper on our bedroom walls to help us not be distracted or dissuaded. It’s a tempering I think. It’s a purification perhaps. It is a way that He uses to ignite the fire in our bellies. “God I want Your will for my life more than anything else!” And He will work in our lives and orchestrate events, even through seemingly insignificant conversations, to perfect and perform His will. Peace.

5 users Responded In This Post

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389. jalling1 said,
April 27th, 2010 at 8:35 pm

Isn’t it exciting to see God work? He still does here in our lives just as He did in the Old Testament. Thanks for telling us about your miracle. That story encourages me to never give up on our prayers.

390. margaret said,
April 28th, 2010 at 8:10 am

Thank you for the reminder of His power, love, and goodness!Thank you for being a willing vessel to go into all the world!!(Even to Kansas!)

392. pam said,
April 29th, 2010 at 2:53 am

cool…encouraged my spirit as we wait

393. big sister said,
April 29th, 2010 at 10:47 am

You know, sweet sister of mine, when you share these awesome experiences – God planned and ordained moments in time – my heart gets so excited and encouraged as you remind me of Who our God is – He is no waster of time, divinely appointed meetings with people – He is the best coordinator/conduit of putting everything in place – THANK YOU LORD FOR YOUR INFINITE WISDOM and the opportunity to remember that you may use moments from our days to further our call and purpose – HALLELUJAH!!! I love you.

395. alphabeck said,
May 6th, 2010 at 9:03 pm

Thanks you for writting this encouraging entry.
I think I am going through a spotted goat period in my life right now. This blog could not have been written at a better time.

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