Against the Stream
All my life I have been going against the stream. I grew up in the Soviet Union where everyone marched together in columns singing the same songs, glorifying the communist leaders. At first it was interesting, but then everything became more complicated because the price for a dissenting opinion was always rising. Saving my face in the mass was not easy, especially because I was a Christian and my parents were repressed and enemies of the people who make up the mass.
My family lived very poorly. My mother was often ill, and my father was regularly fined for participating in illegal religious activities. I remember when the police came to our apartment for searches and “conversations.” They dispersed prayer meetings and took my father to the police station. My dad was jailed for four to five years for his faith and my mom was expelled from the university she was attending. Therefore, I could not be part of society; I was in opposition. My parent’s strong example of faith and the power of prayer helped me find my calling and be true to God.
I read the Bible at a very young age and began to understand my own distinction and advantage more clearly. I soon realized I had a special vocation to share knowledge about God to people who knew nothing about him. I had the opportunity to be an important witness for God, a storyteller of biblical stories.
At school everyone was admitted to the October Party and to the Pioneer Party, organizations of young communists. I did not want to be a part of their society, not because my parents or my church put pressure on me; no, they gave me the right to choose. I alone stood by and cried from the offensive words the teachers showered over me. When I was rejected by my teachers and students, I saw God moving in my life in a very special way. This was my first personal choice: to go against the stream and follow Jesus with the “little flock” rather than the atheistic majority. The people around me were not so much annoyed as they were interested in my faith and my differences. They asked questions, argued and were angry, but they were not indifferent. That is when the news of God spread even more.
Eventually, I served as a field ministry leader in post-Soviet countries for 16 years. God was preparing me for service in international ministries. Our friends, Jon and Ellynne Wiebe of Hillsboro, Kansas., invited my family to live in Hillsboro. We were immersed in the language and local Mennonite Brethren culture which prepared me for my new role with Mission Eurasia. Both my personal history in the Soviet Union and my experience with the Mennonite Brethren have strengthened my desire for radical faithfulness that is so countercultural to our society.
In countries around world, the call to follow society is no less powerful than in the U.S. In countries where Mission Eurasia works, one can be imprisoned for sharing a link to an online Bible or inviting guests to talk about God. Other global challenges are the daily overload of “urgent” matters and the constant distraction of useless things.
In this age of omnipresent social networks and digital realities, it is important for each of us to discern the voice of God and follow him every moment of our lives, without wasting our lives on secondary or distracting things. It is not easy, but it is vital to focus on the most important voice—the voice of God and our obedience to it. This attracts the attention of society, and society wants you to renounce your beliefs and values and live like everyone else.
My four children love this song very much:
Row, row, row your boat,
Gently down the stream.
Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily,
Life is but a dream.
I love this tune too, and I would very much like to agree with the lyrics of the song. But life is not a dream. In order to remain faithful, we have to go against the stream, doing our best whether it is fun or not so much fun. I don’t believe in the moral majority, I believe in the “influential minority,” or speaking in Biblical language, I believe in the “holy remnant.” So, I prefer to be a black sheep rather than majority leader.
Today I continue my journey against the stream. Every day I face the same radical challenge: to row my boat gently down the stream or follow Jesus and His commandments. May God strengthen me and you to follow and serve Him, and only Him.
Michael Cherenkov is the visiting professor at Tabor College. He and his family attend Parkview MB Church in Hillsboro, Kan. His permanent residence is in Ukraine where he lives with his wife, Nina, and their four children. Michael serves as the Executive Field Director of Mission Eurasia Ministries. He has written a book in Russian; the English title is Influential Minority.
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