Somewhere along my journey of my becoming a son, the Wild Goose called me into a relationship with a wildly glorious Russian saint, Yura Belonotzkhin, whose passion is helping men find their true strength in a part of the world where masculinity is deeply assaulted and the offer of the gospel is far less frequently presented than it is here in the States.
This divine introduction, made at a coffee shop in San Antonio, seems to suggest that the Father has entrusted a very special piece of his heart to me. One thing has always seemed to lead to another in this ongoing story, which leads to me today, the eve of a 12 day trip to Norway to help Yura host his 3rd Nordic Men’s Base Camp, which is a gathering of men from Norway and surrounding countries (US, Norway, Russia, Sweden, and Finland).
As a family learning to work together on mission, we had the opportunity last year to bring Yura and 3 other good men from Russia into our home, where we had a blast hosting them for one of our ABOB BASIC Boot Camps and then for a backpacking adventure to Big Bend National Park. For years my wife and kids have been offering the sacrifice of my time to the cause of ministry, but with this international visit they finally got a peek behind the curtain of what I do and why I do it. They were delighted to play host to 4 strange men who spoke little or no English and were squeezed around the dinner table. We enjoyed big group worship sessions, both inside and out, employing every instrument we own and deep Russian voices.
On the last evening together in our den, I asked the men if they would be willing to share their abbreviated testimonies to my 11 and 12 year old children. I can't describe how holy that time was, as these grateful men poured into our kids so much truth, wisdom and love, honoring God as the true Rescuer of their lives and families. Through Yura as translator, they spoke to my kids and wife things I could never have spoken...stories of God's miracle working power and perfect provision. We were all deeply humbled by the power of their stories and by the beauty of God's rescue of each of them. We loved it, every minute.
These and many more have been relationships created and fostered by God with a group of men who are truly becoming brothers in the Kingdom, fighting for the hearts of men, even as we have been here in San Antonio. Some painful ministry experiences from my past have led me to the strong conviction that the effectiveness of any ministry "I" might have is absolutely limited by the quality of my relationships with my family, and our collected buy-in to the mission being one that "we" actually share together. This will be my 3rd Summer to travel to Norway and stand with Jesus in the mission to seek and recover the hearts of men, and I count it an unbelievable privilege to do so. But the trip is wearisome and the time away from my family is difficult on us all. I thank God that He gave us an opportunity, as a family, to participate together in the mission.
As a gift that speaks straight to my heart, God always seems to arrange an adventure into the Wild on these trips, a way of decompressing after the conference, one heel strike at a time as I venture into a wilderness unlike any that can be seen here in the US. Upon completion of the Base Camp in the town of Lakselv, Norway, we will be traveling North as a group of about 8 men. We will spend a day deep sea fishing in a fjord, then head north to Mehamn to embark on a 50km (30 mile) roundtrip hike for several days over tundra to the tip top of Europe along the Arctic Coast. While in the wilderness I hope to follow up the base camp discussions with some of the more powerful one-on-one campfire chats. This I love. God has a way of using the beauty and exhaustion to soften a man into dropping his shield and shedding his fig leaf.
One of my favorite lines in cinema recently comes from the movie "Fury" where five American soldiers wrestle with their difficult situation in the brutality of war. "Why me?" they ask. One of the crew, a soldier who has wrestled heroically to remain pure in heart through the hell of war and the constant teasing to become nicknamed "Bible", offers his prayerful reflections on the ultimate reason for his participation in WWII. This same scripture has been close to my heart as I wrestle with how the Lord would choose any of us to participate in this epic story He is writing, where we must cling by faith to the unrealized hope that good will ultimately vanquish evil once and for all.
Papa, I hear you. Here am I. Send me. -Jay