Is There Life in Outer Space?

Posted by admin in February 11th, 2009
Published in missions

They were literally yelling at me—screaming actually—these two babushka, thick-ankled, over-muscular cafeteria ladies. Everyone fears cafeteria ladies, but in Russia they are a whole lot worse; they are EXTREME CAFETERIA LADIES. I was soooo embarrassed standing there in the middle of the crowded cafeteria (café diarrhea was another name I had for it). Students stopped eating and all eyes were on me waiting to see how I’d respond. I strained in an effort to understand what the two Soviet grannies were shouting at me but I didn’t have a clue. I didn’t speak a word of Russian! To them, that just meant they needed to speak louder. Yeah, that works. Shout the words at me and I’ll magically understand the Russian language.

There we were the trifecta of lunchtime cafeteria entertainment: the two babushkas dressed in white, cafeteria uniforms (including white hats) and the newly arrived American teacher. It was a circus act.

The only thing between these two screaming women and me was my food tray filled with the mystery soup of the day, black bread and a cup of hot fruit compote; the tray was getting heavier and heavier. I felt tingling heat crawl up my neck alerting me to the fact that my face was turning beet (how significant) red. Panicking, I whispered, “Oh dear Jesus please help me.”

That’s when she appeared. Out of nowhere she came and stood right next to me. She was what I like to call “pleasantly plump”. Her hair was tight curls and going in every direction. She had on the mandatory heavy makeup of the Soviet era including fire engine red lipstick. She wore large framed eyeglasses that were a testament to 70’s fashion in 90’s Russia. In a thick Russian accent that was really quite beautiful she asked, “Perhapz I kan help you. I spek a liddle English.”

Honestly, I got a little teary eyed. For some strange reason I shouted at her. I got caught up in the moment I guess. “YES! YES YOU CAN! I don’t know what they are saying to me and they just KEEP SHOUTING at me. Have I done something wrong?”

The young girl, very calm, turned to the cafeteria babushkas and asked them. They replied.

“They vant to know if you vear glazzez.”

WHAT?!? What are they talking about?!? Surely she messed up the translation.

She continues, “Zey thought you in glazzez yesterday.” She pointed to her own bug-eyed glasses and I thought, yup, she’s saying the right word.

“Deed you looze them?” Uh…no. No…I mean I don’t wear glazzez, uh, I mean glasses. I’m 20/20, never mind.

What in the heck were they talking about? I thought maybe I had not paid the right amount of money, or I was not supposed to eat in the students’ cafeteria or perhaps I needed a special ID to be there, but they wanted to know whether or not I wore glazzez. The curly headed , glasses-wearing, heavily makeuped student politely answered their question; they seemed satisfied and off they went back behind the serving line placing mystery soup in unclean bowls and pouring compote.

“Thanks. G-i-r-l! You saved me! ” That’s my Oprah style of talking when I’m nervous.

“Naut to menshion it” she replied. I leaned toward her still holding the heavy food tray. I asked, “What’s your name?”

“My name iz Olga.”

“Well thank you very much Olga. You were a great help to me.”

She started to walk away. “Hey!” I called out to her, “Where did you learn to speak such excellent English?”

“In skool of cours and it iz not so excellent” expressionless she started to walk away again.

Ohhhh, but I was so lonely and I was new and no one spoke my language and I didn’t speak Russian and I soooo wanted to connected with someone.

“What level are you in at the institute?” I admit it. I was grasping for anything that would hold her there.

“Second courzez” she stopped.

“Oh.” I smiled knowingly, but in reality I had no idea what she was talking about.

“Well, Olga, I’m the new English teacher and I will be teaching here this year.” I sounded like I was speaking to a first grader. What’s wrong with me?

Smiling. She stared at me as if I was a moron. Okay, I am. “I know,” she said it flatly. Then with typical Soviet-style sarcasm she replied, “You are only American here on dis campuz. I know who yu arrr.” Then she says, which I am really glad because I want her to talk ‘cause if she is talking she’s not walking away from me.

“Unfortunately I cannot take yuur clazz. Yuu teaching teachers, postgraduate students not regular students. Too bad.”

I wondered how she knew that. “Hey Olga, if you want, I can work it out with the department chair and you can take my class, I mean if you want. That is, you know… if you’re interested.”

Calmly and without a lot of enthusiasm she smiled oh so slightly and said, “Yez. I will cum if yuu get permizzion.” And I did and she did.

Olga and I sort of bonded that day in the café diarrhea. I loved her from that very first moment—mostly because she saved me.

Olga was a computer engineering major and she was my best student. Her English was better than anyone’s in the class. She did all the homework even though she did not get credit for the class. She never missed and she always came prepared. She answered questions, worked hard to understand the nuances of the language and she did extra readings. Every day she had new vocabulary questions. She loved English and she loved learning. She was a gift.

Olga’s class was my last of the day. I usually headed home as soon as it was over. Sometimes when I would be getting my stuff together Olga would ask if she could ride the train with me. We would ride together talking nonstop. I would get off at my station; she would cross the platform and catch the train back to campus.

Occasionally, if we both had the time, I would ask her to my apartment for tea and a small meal. Food was very hard to come by in the fall of 1991. The coup, though it overthrew communism, wreaked havoc on Russia’s economy. There was little food in the stores; it was bleak.

Olga and I enjoyed those times together on the hour-long train ride home. We discussed boys, why I had never married, parents, and my religion. Olga had many questions about God. Does God exist? How does one know Him? Do you believe in the Bible? Do you believe in Jesus? How could Jesus be born of a virgin? Is there life in outer space? (err..what?) Do you have a Bible I can borrow?

I’ve learned that on rare occasions, God, in His sovereignty, prepares individuals to receive Him before I ever arrive on the scene. Olga was so ready to receive Jesus that I was merely an observer of what God was doing in her life. She told me that when she was very little, her grandmother took care of her while her parents both worked long hours as Soviet aeronautical engineers in Ukraine. At night, her grandmother would tuck her in bed and whisper in her ear, “Olga, do not believe what they tell you at school; there is a God. He does exist.”

For some reason, only known to God, Olga had a hunger for the things concerning Him. In October of that first fall in Moscow, Little Olga, as I affectionately called her, gave her heart to Christ and I had the privilege of watching the experience. Her sweet, round face was filled with light and peace and joy. She thanked God again and again as tears ran down her face. “I knew it! I knew all the time that He was real!” she cried.

The day Little Olga gave her heart to Christ, she and I made a commitment to meet weekly for Bible study. The first week’s meeting Little Olga brought a friend, Svetlana. Svetlana wanted to become a Believer also. She spoke English, but not as well as Olga. So as I explained to Svetlana the truths of Jesus Christ, Olga interpreted now and again to make sure it was all clear. In fact, I would say that Svetlana was actually Olga’s first convert.

By November, Olga and Svetlana came to me saying they wanted to be baptized. They explained that they really felt the need to do this in the Orthodox Church and asked if I would be their godmother. I agreed and Olga and Svetlana were baptized.

Olga and Svetlana met with me regularly, and they attended church with me—the Moscow Protestant Chaplaincy. The Chaplain there saw that I was bringing several of my students to church, so he suggested that he start a student group in his home to explain the foundational beliefs of Christianity. I was thrilled and the group lasted one year. Olga invited her friends and many of my students went. Olga grew in Christ in a way I have never seen before or since. She would come to me weekly and we would discuss what they had learned in that week’s foundations class. She was memorizing scripture, both in English and in Russian. She wanted books, commentaries, dictionaries, anything I could get my hands on for her that would help her learn more about God. Her life was transformed. Without my lecturing her or telling her about all the laws of God or what to do, one by one, Olga began to let go of the strongholds in her life. She stopped smoking, she gave up “hard drink” as she called it, (though she never believed drinking champagne could ever be wrong and I agree), she stopped sleeping with her boyfriend, and he broke up with her. But she was happy and she was growing in her relationship to Christ.

Olga began having Bible studies in her dorm, six each week, to explain what she had learned about Jesus and the hope of His Word to her friends and classmates.

I left Russia in 1993. Olga graduated in 1994. That year the Moscow Protestant Chaplaincy hired her to work full time as the church secretary. This job involved travel arrangements for visiting groups, publishing all the materials for the church’s activities, taking care of the expatriate pastor and his family, paying bills, and organizing events. It is one of the most important jobs in the church.

My parents offered Little Olga a full ride scholarship to come and study at seminary in the U.S. This offer came at a time when Russians were doing anything they could to get out of the country. Olga graciously refused their offer, “If I go, who will do my job? Who will lead the Bible studies in the dorm? No thank you. I am doing what God wants me to do right here.”

Little Olga is married now. She has two kids. She still works for the church. When my husband and I visited Moscow the new pastor at the chaplaincy said that he had never seen an individual whose faith so informed her life as did Olga’s. She is an incredible person. Lives in Moscow are changed because of her.

When I went to the Soviet Union, I was just an old-maid missionary tentmaker with a heart to teach English, to love my students and to try and make a difference because of all that Christ had done for me. I loved Russia because God loved Russia. I taught English there because that is what the Russians wanted from me. I met Little Olga because I was her teacher. And now Little Olga is reaching her nation for Christ.

If I had not gone to Russia, would Olga have come to Christ? That I do not know. But if I had not gone I would have missed out on one of the most incredible and significant experiences of my life—the joy and privilege of seeing Little Olga come to Christ. I wouldn’t have missed that for the world.

Today there are 1.8 billion people in the world who have no access to the Gospel. There are Little Olgas around the globe hungering to know, “Is God real?” How can they know if we do not go and what a blessing we miss by staying home. Peace.

5 users Responded In This Post

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65. big sister said,
February 11th, 2009 at 9:35 am

On behalf of those who may not be called or available to ‘go’ at this time in their life, I want to thank you and others like you who don’t do what they do because they want thanks, but because they have a call from God and want to please Him and show others and teach others about this wonderful gracious and loving God. Thank you. It is, I think, on your part not necessary to hear me thank you BUT I need to say thank you because it is a great service, a sacrificial undertaking. Oh, we will continue to give of finances and prayers until we believe we are released to ‘depart’, even share the gospel of our loving Lord in our local community BUT until we are able to ‘go’ with every fiber of my being I am humbled, grateful and truly blessed by the missionaries of the world – those who are sharing the Truth, giving of their lives, leaving their comforts, families, familiarities of life as they have known it to go to strange and unusual places for Christ’s sake. I’m proud to be #2 to your #1. Love, again, me

66. admin said,
February 11th, 2009 at 10:14 am

That’s a good word sista! Of course this comes from a woman who feeds the homeless every week in OKC. Go sista…soul sista! 😉

67. addie said,
February 11th, 2009 at 2:30 pm

As I read this, I cannot help but wonder why I am in Sterling, and why God has me doing what I am doing? Is my question a sign that the pillar of fire is preparing to move, or simply my own discontent? I wish I knew…But, oh, I want to be an Olga…ready to be all I can be for God, wherever I am…

68. jamie said,
February 11th, 2009 at 6:25 pm

Love the story of Olga. Gotta have stories. It’s what pushes us to somehow reach out of ourselves and believe. They allow us to remember his faithfulness. Where would we be without the stories of Corrie Ten Boom or Elizabeth Elliott or Hudson Taylor? Stories move us into a new faith. A renewed faith. We need more stories like that……

80. texas sister said,
February 17th, 2009 at 11:26 am

God in you is so BIG! Jesus shines through and I sit captivated by His glory. I for one am completely enthralled to sit and read these snippets of His work in our world in these days, even though this was a few years ago, it is inspiring today in Burleson, TX.

Thank you for sharing
and grace, focus, and flying fingers for finishing the book without a hitch!


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