Several years ago when I worked in Turkmenistan, I had an unusual experience.
My Russian friend, Catherine, had told me on a previous visit, “I think, when I was a little girl, I was Christian. But we were not allowed to go to church under the Soviet Union, so I don’t know if I am Christian now or not.”
Her confession came in the context of a country controlled by a dictator, who among other odd laws banned the growing of beards, attending circuses, or watching ballets (The Telegraph). That president eventually died only to be replaced by an equally bizarre one.
When I returned to the states, I prayed with fervor for my friend who didn’t know if she were a Christian or not. I prayed night after night, as if my prayers alone could lead her to rediscover God.
On my next visit, Catherine took me to visit an Orthodox church that was being repaired by workers. Colorful paintings of religious icons filled the small room. I felt God’s presence in this holy place. As we left the church, a man approached us on our path. He was the priest.
He and Catherine began a discussion in Russian that she occasionally remembered to translate for me. Unknown to her, and a surprise to me, the few sentences she gave me from their conversation seemed to be a message directed for me from God.
The priest spoke about the concept of Free Will. In a land controlled by dictators, the idea of Free Will was difficult for her to understand. She had many questions about it. As she asked me later, “How do I know what Free Will means, if I have never experienced freedom before?”
The priest explained God allows us to choose Him or not. He is here for us, always inviting us. We are the ones who have to decide to reach out to Him in return.
Through the priest, God gently reminded me that Catherine had Free Will to accept Him or not. She had heard His invitation, and she would have to decide what to do about it.
Did that mean I wasn’t supposed to pray for her? Of course not. But I needed the reminder that this issue was between God and Catherine. Both of us were in tears the rest of the day after this visit with the priest.
Americans are a blessed people. We understand the concept of Free Will because we live in a nation of freedoms. We are not a perfect people or nation, but we have many more opportunities than most citizens of the world to follow God through our exercise of Free Will.
This July I pray for all Christians as we strive to be God’s hands and feet in this broken world.