13 July 2014

Behind enemy lines


Don't be confused. This is not a movie review of the 2001 Gene Hackman/ Owen Wilson debacle so titled.  For the review of that sad piece of Hollywood read Roger Ebert's review here. No, for me this is about traveling to Russia in June and pondering it after returning to Sydney a couple weeks ago.

When I was born in 1951, the embers of World War II were long cooled. Before I turned 3, Josef Stalin died. He defined much of what I understood in my primary school days as Russia or the USSR. Under Stalin's rule, the concept of "socialism in one country" became a central tenet of Soviet society. He replaced the New Economic Policy introduced by Lenin in the early 1920s with a highly-centralized command economy, launching a period of industrialization and collectivization that resulted in the rapid transformation of the USSR from an agrarian society into an industrial power. However, the economic changes coincided with the imprisonment of millions of people in correctional labor camps and the deportation of many others to remote areas.  Stalin was not good for the Jews. He was not good for most of Russia.

But I didn't know much about the real Stalin until I was much older. My earliest introduction to Russia was Nikita Khrushchev and Rocket J Squirrel. Every war gives so many images to a young boy, and the Cold War was no exception. Maxwell Smart, created by Mel Brooks, and the Ian Fleming series of James Bond's 007 were central to my education about Russia and its people. The cartoons of Rocky and Bullwinkle with their archnemesis of Boris Badenov with his sidekick Natasha Fatale, were formative in my 'understanding' of the Russian mentality and the hostility of the Cold War. Fun history of Rocky and Bullwinkle.

The real Boris' life took place in the 16th Century and was dramatized by the founder of Russian literature, Alexander Pushkin, in his play Boris Godunov (1831), which was inspired by Shakespeare's Henry IV.  Mussorgsky based his opera Boris Godunov on Pushkin's play. Sergei Prokofiev later wrote incidental music for Pushkin's drama. In 1997, the score of a 1710 baroque opera based on the reign of Boris by German composer Johann Mattheson was rediscovered in Armenia and returned to Hamburg, Germany.

Back to my own story. After N Khrushchev threw his shoe and banged it on the podium at the United Nations in 1960, the enemy had clarified himself.  Khrushchev was my enemy and his people were collectively the same.

When I was about 10, in Hebrew and otherwise Jewish school each week, we too, learned about Russia. Ian Fleming wrote a popular book From Russia with love, and United Artists made this sequel to Dr No into a great success. I'm sure I saw that movie and again the enemy was clarified. At the same time I was learning at Hebrew school about the plight of millions of Jewish people who were not allowed to practice our religion. Atheism was the state religion under Communism and Jews were forced to amend their religion completely to survive. (for more facts and evaluation read Identities in Flux, 2003)

When our teachers at Kehilath Israel synagogue and others in the Jewish community of Kansas City heard about this, they decided to conduct rallies in support of the Russian Jewish people. Perhaps many had fled from there and still had relatives in the Former Soviet Union.  For whatever reasons, we marched and stood outside the Jewish community center on 82nd and Holmes and held placards reading, "Free Soviet Jewry." I was about 11 at the time. Even then I knew that Russia was our enemy.

When I was asked by the leaders of Jews for Jesus in Moscow to come this year and be the chaplain for the campaign we would conduct in June, I was reluctant. I don't know the Russian language. I wasn't sure I could learn to read the language in time. But honestly, and I was not even aware of this myself, I didn't want to go 'behind enemy lines.'  They were the bad guys after all. What evil lurked behind cosmonaut statues and Pushkin arts' displays?

After some personal prodding and God's overwhelming clarity, I went there and spent three weeks in the Russia about which I'd heard, both in Moscow and St Petersburg. It was a great experience and I valued being there to participate in the campaign/ outreach and to see a very beautiful and massive city and country.

This week I pondered being 'behind enemy lines' and the reality of being there. The enemy of course is not Mr Putin or Russia itself. Even Cyrillic was not as difficult as I imagined. As a result, I was less inclined to see the people of Russia as objects of scorn. In fact, I realized how lonely, how lost, how sad they really were. That realization, not because of the advent of 1991's form of capitalism, but because of systemic emptiness was in sharp contrast to our campaigners' proclamations. We wanted everyone to experience eternal life, and that's only found in Yeshua. He alone could give hope. He alone could give life. He alone was the answer to the questions raised by Soviet inefficacy.

I was seriously behind enemy lines. But the enemy was wrongly identified. And maybe you are also behind enemy lines in Topeka or Toulouse or in Toorak. The enemy is not your family or the HSC. The enemy is not the KGB or the CIA or the IRS. The enemy is Satan and the answer to overcoming him is in Yeshua. He already has triumphed over sin and death in his dying on the cross in Jerusalem 2,000 years ago.

"This is the victory, even our faith," says John the apostle.
"The thief is come to steal, to kill and to destroy, but I (Jesus said) am come that you might have life, and have it more abundantly."

You can win, even behind enemy lines. And so can many others if they will listen.

Are you listening?






No comments: