It's a God Thing
Have you ever wondered if you're worthy of God's rich love? Many people do, often from ignorance of God's character. I've seen God's love transform the lives of hundreds of thousands of people. Here's one of my favorite stories about a young woman named Kristine, whom we first met in Latvia and who has since visited us in Oregon:
Like her childhood friends, Kristine Strele, seven years old, was a Child of October. She proudly wore a star bearing the image of Vladimir Lenin, leader of the revolution. She didn't know what it meant. "I just thought Lenin was a great man who loved children," she said. "That's what we were taught."
A little older, Kristine joined Pioneers, not that she had a choice. Her friends also were members of the communist student organization. "There was a certain pride to wear the red scarf around my neck," she said, even if everyone else did, too.
But by the time Kristine was 16 and a student in art school, the sameness of the Soviet system left her feeling caged in and insignificant. She was a teenager with opinions she couldn't express, a unique person whose identity couldn't stand out. Kristine wanted to be special, to be important, to have friends who admired her.
"We were all potential artists, so no one was any more special than anyone else," she said. "I was looking for friends who would understand me outside of school and the artist’s society. And I met people who weren't good friends for me."
Even in communist-controlled Latvia, a teenager could get in trouble running with the wrong crowd. Kristine's compulsion to be special hit head-on with another feeling afflicting her soul: guilt. The voice of conscience was telling her she wasn't doing "good" things; she wasn't with the "right" people.
Kristine's grandparents were Christians, and although they didn't talk much about their faith, occasionally they took their little granddaughter to church with them. As a result, Kristine grew up believing in God.
"I knew there was somebody more powerful we can pray to when we have a need, and that's all," she said. "When I needed help, I prayed to God, but I didn't know who he was. But the feeling was growing quite strong that I should do something more worthy of believing in God."
That's when Kristine decided it would be a good thing to sing in a "spiritual choir," and how she ended up in her grandparents' church, Saint Matthew's Baptist Church, Sunday morning, September 10, 1989 when I was there to preach. Gorbachev's glasnost had opened doors for foreign Christians to speak in several cities of the Soviet Union, including Riga, the capital of Latvia.
"When I asked my mom which choir I should go to, she suggested Saint Matthew's," Kristine said. "Interesting thing, when my mom was a teenager, she was singing in the choir because of her parents. Later when she got married, she walked away from God. But the choir was still in her memory as something special."
Kristine had been in the choir only a couple of weeks when it was announced a special service was coming. "We will have this evangelist—everyone please wear white blouses or white shirts."
"I'm glad it happened soon, because I was desperate," Kristine said. "There wasn't peace in my heart. As he was preaching, it seemed like he knew exactly what was happening in my life. I understood one thing: I needed forgiveness. My life hadn't been right, not the way it should be, and I finally heard that I could say no to my past and start a new life with God.
"As he invited people to come forward who wanted to have Jesus in their life, my heart was starting to beat really fast. I thought if I stay in my seat I'm going to explode. My knowledge of things was very small, but it was so powerful that one thing I understood: I need Christ."
Fluent in English, Kristine began serving as a translator for Western missionaries who came to Latvia when the Iron Curtain fell. One young man about to graduate from Bible college in Canada needed someone to translate the Bible studies he was teaching out in Latvia's countryside. Dustin Peterson asked for Kristine.
Kristine had a hunch this was more than a ministry opportunity. She prayed a long time before she accepted the job. Dustin and Kristine eventually married and are teaching the Bible and translating Bible study literature in Latvia.
"I feel very special," Kristine said. "I'm special because I have the Lord, because I can talk with him and he lives within me. And I feel very special that I can serve God." "So now we can rejoice in our wonderful new relationship with God—all because of what our Lord Jesus Christ has done for us in making us friends of God" (Romans 5:11).
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