Friends, Furniture and Faith

Mansur grew up as an orphan in a poor, closed Muslim country in Central Asia known for its persecution of Christians. Eventually taken in and raised by his grandparents, he started going to Young Life, where he began a relationship with Jesus. Disowned by his grandparents for​ his new faith, Mansur moved by himself to Russia to look for better work. He moved from city to city, often suffering mistreatment as a poor immigrant.
 
In every city he visited across Russia, Mansur looked for Young Life. He eventually landed south of Moscow in the city of Lipetsk, where there is, in fact, Young Life. Mansur quickly began volunteering with Capernaum (working with kids with special needs) and also served with a local homeless ministry. Two years ago, he was nominated and selected for Young Life’s Developing Global Leaders (DGL) college scholarship and leadership development program.
 
Fast forward to the Former Soviet Union All Staff Conference in April 2016. During our DGL time, Vova, a Ukrainian pastor, spoke on finding joy in the Lord (the talk was in Russian so a few of us Americans in the room were getting little bits and pieces translated, but not understanding much). After the talk, Mansur came up to me and asked in broken English “for the names of friends who sell furniture.”
 
I had no idea what he was talking about.
 
“Are you referring to something from Vova’s talk?” I asked.
 
“Yes.”
 
“I didn’t have anything to do with putting this talk together with Vova,” I explained. “You need to ask Vova.”
 
Frustrated, Mansur disappeared for a few minutes and came back.
 
In his thick Russian accent, he said, “No, Ryan, Vova talk to Utkin [our Young Life Ukraine regional director]. Utkin talked to you. So tell me names of friends who sell the furniture to give money to Young Life.”
 
And in that moment, I knew what he meant. 
 

One Piano, Several Postcards and Countless Prayers

Back in 2006, when I was an area director for Young Life in Costa Rica, some friends, John and Lori, supported my work on a monthly basis. While not my largest donors, they never missed a month; they responded to every one of my email updates, and always wanted to meet up whenever I was home visiting. One time I went to their house for dinner, and as I took off my coat inside their front door, I noticed an imprint in the carpet from something heavy that used to sit in their living room. I didn’t think anything of it, but they saw my glance and explained, “John quit his job to go back to seminary in order to be a pastor, so we’re just on one salary right now. Things have been a little tight so we sold our piano to make ends meet last month.” I was taken aback. I was a 26-year-old working for Young Life. I didn’t make much money, but living in Central America, I didn’t have many large expenses either, and was saving money every month. And here were some of my most faithful supporters with three kids, selling some of their furniture in order to not miss a month supporting me in my work.
 
I spent the rest of dinner trying to think of how to tell them I needed to cut them off from supporting Young Life without making it sound demeaning. But finishing dinner, I noticed my Young Life Costa Rica postcard stuck to their fridge. “Hey, that’s the postcard I sent you,” I exclaimed. “I assumed everyone just throws those away when they come in the mail!” They responded, “No, Ryan, we put it up there on the fridge so we see it every day, remember you and the kids you’re working with, and pray for you all!”
 
I then noticed four or five other prayer cards next to mine … Pray for Jimmy in China … Pray for Christine serving in Kenya … and I realized this is just what these friends do. “It’s so great getting to be a part of what the Lord is doing all over the world through supporting these friends of ours,” they told me. I knew then this family wasn’t going to stop supporting me even if they had to sell their piano to make ends meet.
 

A Picture of Joy

Back in Russia with Mansur, I had the sudden epiphany he was referring to the faithfulness of John and Lori — an event that had happened 10 years before on the other side of the world. I don’t recall ever telling the story to Sasha Utkin, our Ukrainian regional director, on a previous visit in 2012, though I do mention it every now and then to share an example of the type of people who financially and prayerfully support our DGL students. Sasha apparently told his pastor, Vova, who remembered it, and shared it at the conference this past spring as a picture of joy in the Lord.
 
When I returned from Russia, I shared with John and Lori how a DGL student from the former Soviet Union came to tell me a story about them! I met them for coffee, shared the whole story and then hand delivered a letter from Mansur. Part of it read, “When I heard about you and your love of Jesus, I was in shock. I’ve never heard of anyone loving Jesus that much and hope that I can love Him like that too. Thank you.”
 
Developing Global Leaders (DGL) is Young Life’s college scholarship and leadership development program designed to identify, support and equip talented young leaders outside the U.S. to make an eternal impact in their home country. DGL targets Young Life leaders in developing countries who have already demonstrated exceptional leadership and service. The vision is that DGL graduates will play strategic roles as Young Life staff and as professionals in other fields such as education, health, business and government. For more information about DGL, go to www.YLGlobalLeaders.org​.