The custom of Russian women is to take their husband's name at marriage and adjust it for gender. Thus, when Irina Arshanska married Vladimir Morozov, she became Irina Morozova.
The Morozov family is rather representative of opportunities and challenges faced by missionaries on the field around the world; it's just that in the case of Urban Nations, the world is within our field (New York City). We first met Vladimir born in St. Petersburg and raised with the merest, nominal, unbaptized connection to the Russian Orthodox Churchwhen he enrolled for English as a Second Language classes in the summer of `95. His instructor was the exuberant Peter Lindstrom.
Peter seized the opportunity of meeting Vladimir and ingratiated himself (not hard to do, since everyone who meets Peter loves him) into their family. It was not long before the Morozovs began visiting Messiah's Congregation's worship services and elders' homes, where they'd be invited for dinner, along with their daughter, Ksenia.
Irina, a bright, bold and gregarious woman, born of Jewish parents in St. Petersburg, lives with several health problems, including severe consequences from polio, which condition afforded us further occasions to show practical love in the name of Christ. We were able to direct her to a clinic in New York which specializes in her ailments and also arrange for transportation to and from her appointments (Irina must use crutches).
Irina showed a keen interest in both learning English and studying the Bible. During the private studies, conducted in their home by different staff members, Irina would be the inquisitor while mild-mannered Vladimir would politely listen. The studies, and their church attendance, were erratic. We could not tell if we were making true spiritual progress or just maintaining a friendly relationship.
After the Morozov family joined other immigrants at the Schlissel home for Thanksgiving dinner last year, they drew closer to the church. Following dinner, we sang some hymns and I led in prayer. Then a woman from Peru began giving thanks to God, sweetly and sincerely, in Spanish, which my daughter Sarah Faith and I were able, roughly, to follow. When Ursula concluded, Irina chimed in with a candid prayer of her own in Russian, which Sarah, who is studying the language, strained to understand. We were all surprised at the spontaneity of these prayers and were very grateful to have in front of us a token of Christ's universal harvest-work. Though each was not understood by all, all were understood by God. (The photo accompanying this article shows Irina sitting in the parsonage kitchen with Sarah Faith, discussing Sarah's progress in Russian.)
Vladimir has begun attending worship regularly, whether or not Irina's health permits her to venture out of the house. He listens attentively in the Adult Discipleship Group (Sunday School) and during the worship service. The language barrier on his side no longer deters him (as it once did). From our side, however, it makes it difficult for us to discern if genuine faith has been kindled in Vladimir by God.
The same problem, a common missionary challenge, exists with Irina. Do the Morozovs love only us, or do they love Christ, as well?
On one home visit she asked, "Steve, when you Christian me?" She meant, "When will you baptize me?," but her charming and artless way of asking becomes more artful each time I think about it. For the question, "When you Christian me?" is a way of asking, "When can I change my name so as to have Christ's superimposed upon it? When can I wear His name, and the name of the Father and the Spirit?"
When the Ethiopian eunuch asked Philip the same question, he answered, "If thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest [be baptized]." As soon as we're persuaded that it is Jesus whom Irina and Vladimir love, and not just His unworthy servants here in New York, we'll have a "Christian-ing" to report. In the meantime, add discernment to the list of things which you petition our heavenly Father to provide to his harvesters. We are looking only for the same, self-conscious, Spirit-prompted confession uttered by the eunuch in Acts 8:37:
"I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God."
It is that simple statement, not language or race or nationality, which divides the human race. It is to hear that statement made in faith, and to nurture that faith unto fruitfulness by His Word, that we labor and strive. For when we take Christ's name upon ourselves, we don't just "adjust it for gender" rather, we adjust ourselves to His Law for life.
2662 East 24th Street
Brooklyn, NY 11235
E-mail: [email protected]
- Steve M. Schlissel
Steve Schlissel has served as pastor of Messiah's Congregation in Brooklyn, New York, since 1979. Born and raised in New York City, Schlissel became a Christian by reading the Bible. He and Jeanne homeschooled their five children and also helped raise several foster children (mostly Vietnamese). In 2003, they adopted Anna (who was born in Hong Kong in 1988, but is now a U.S. citizen). They have eight foster grandchildren and fourteen "natural" grandchildren.