Archives For 10 Events That Shaped Me

A Dead Mouse and a New Life

MY wife was looking at a dead mouse on the ground. We were in Odessa, Ukraine visiting. I was convinced that God was calling us to move there, and indeed He had spoken to Elana as well. However, as she looked at the dead mouse, which really was a microcosm of how the rest of the city looked and felt, she thought, How can I bring my three daughters to this dirty place.

In fact, as the plane landed earlier that day, she would tell me later, God spoke to her: “You will live here.”

Deribasovskaya Street, the Walking Street

As she looked out onto the tarmac, watching stray dogs roam around looking for something to eat, she responded: “No, I won’t!” I imagine that there was a chuckle in Heaven—as a year later we were living in the heart of the city, on Deribasovskaya Street—the most famous street in Odessa, maybe in all of Ukraine.

Jewish Revival!

We spent the year there working with the Messianic Jewish Bible Institute, a cooperate effort of several ministries to train believers to minister to the growing Messianic community. In 1992, Jonathan Bernis began to hold mass festivals for Jewish people. After seventy years of atheism, the Jews were hungry to celebrate their culture. The events would attract thousands of non-Jews as well. Auditoriums and sometimes stadiums would be filled. Thousands of Jewish people put their faith in Yeshua… but there were not many Messianic congregations or Messianic leaders. Hence, the MJBI was formed to meet that need.

We moved into a very modest two-bedroom apartment. The girls has a bunk bed where the bottom was a double, so all three of them could sleep there. I used their room as a home office as well, using 33kps speeds and dialup Internet. Sending my newsletter to the printer in Maryland would sometimes take well over an hour.

Our Courtyard

I had bought a first generation digital camera before we left that came with 4 megabytes of memory and took pictures at a quality of 1 megapixel. I have always been a storyteller and I had a feeling that the camera would help me convey the many stories and adventures we would experience in this new country.

Slamming the Door—A Big Mistake!

One of which happened about three months into our adventure. I was working out in our apartment. I had thought of joining a gym, as everything was extremely cheap, but after stepping one foot in the gym, the odor drove me out. I would figure out a way to stay in shape at home.

There was a knock on the door. I answered it and a babushka (literally grandmother, but used for anyone of that age) was standing there and she began to yell at me. I don’t speak Russian (The Ukrainians of Odessa speak Russian, as opposed to the rest of the country that speaks Ukrainian.), so I had no idea what she was yapping about.

This wasn’t the first time this had happened. In fact, it happened regularly. You parked in the wrong spot; you’re blocking me; you are on the phone to much! Yes, I would get complaints that I used my phone too much. No one told me that we were sharing a phone line with a neighbor. For real!

She just came on the wrong day. I was simply tired of getting yelled at by old women—so, with very little fruit of the Spirit, I slammed the door shut. I went back to working out. I didn’t give it much thought after that.

However five minutes later there was another knock on my door. She was back, I thought. This time, I will let her have it!

However there was no screaming babushka at my door. Instead, I was staring at a hard-faced man, standing over six feet tall, dressed in an expensive suit that screamed I am Ukrainian Mafia. Next to him was a security guard that obviously worked for him. Hard-face walked right in, gently shoving me to the side. I had no doubt that this man had either killed people himself or had them killed. He began to yell at me.

I was terrified. What had I done? Why was he so angry? Come back tomorrow for Part Two and find out.

The Odessa Mafia and Me — Part 2

The Odessa Mafia and Me — Part 3

The Odessa Mafia and Me — Part 4

 

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Dasvadanya Tolyatti

The next day we packed and prepared for the trek back to Moscow. As we gathered at the bus that would take us to the train station, many of our new friends came out to see us off. Most of the interpreters were there, and of course Irina came with her son to say goodbye.

Overwhelmed!

Just before we got on the bus, Don Greenwald, our jack-of-all-trades and video man, asked me if I had any thoughts concerning the adventure. As he filmed, I started to talk, but within seconds I was overwhelmed with emotion and could not hold back my tears. I went straight to the bus,  found an empty seat and just broke down. I was emotionally wiped out. For the next half hour, I just wept and wept as we made our way to the train station.

As we pulled away from Tolyatti, I couldn’t help but think of Michael, his wife Aimee and their small team who had made a multi-year commitment to live in Tolyatti and grow this new congregation. I wondered if they felt lonely, as the fun part was over and seventy of us were leaving. What would they do that evening? No more revival meetings—but the real work of pastoring and raising up leaders would begin. Most Russians didn’t speak English in 1993. I felt that if it were I waving to the leaving buses, I would have been quite depressed.

However the grace of God “was not without effect” (I Cor. 15:10). The congregation prospered and went on to plant several more in the region. Michael and Aimee became apostolic overseers of the network.

_________________

Russian Trains and Bad Tuna

We arrived at the train station. Steve Winkler and I bought some canned tuna and  other munchies for the 24-hour ride. One of the things I enjoy most about Russia

A Typical Russian Train Compartment

and Ukraine, is riding in the trains. For a modest fee you can get a second-class ticket. That means you get a bed. There are four people to a cabin and seven cabins to each wagon. Often, as many as 16 people would gather in one cabin, to worship or just to hang out.

Each wagon has a key lady—to this day, I am not sure if that is what they are actually called or if that is simply what we called them. From her, you can get hot water for tea or coffee, fresh linens and a wake up so you don’t miss your stop. They also lock the bathroom about 10 minutes before each stop and keep them locked during the stop to prevent freeloaders. Hence the name, key lady.

Steve and I opened our tuna and it was gray. I told Steve that it didn’t look right. He felt it was fine and we both ate. When I woke up the next morning, I immediately knew something was wrong with my stomach. I grabbed a fresh role of toilet paper and headed quickly for the stinky, metal bathroom. It was locked!

I began to panic. I went the to the key lady and told her I needed to get in the bathroom. She didn’t understand me. I pointed to the toilet paper and then made some other gesture that I can’t remember and she got it. Even still, rules are rules on a Russian train and she just looked and me and said with authority Nyet!

I responded DA!!!!

NYET!!!

DA!!!!

NYET!!!

Pajulsta (please), I pleaded, now suffering.

NYET was her final answer.

I was really in pain at this point, but had no choice but to wait. In my cabin, the other three men of God just laughed at me as I a suffered. The ordeal lasted about twenty minutes until we left our next stop. And then I was able to take care of business. I ingested an Imodium and that did the trick.

Return to Moscow—This is Awesome!

We had one more day in Moscow. I will never forget the moment that we checked back into the Izmaylova Hotel. A week ago this place was a dump. Jerry and I got to our room and as we sat down, exhausted, on our beds, we look right at each other and both uttered at the exact same time, “This is awesome!” It was amazing how quickly our perspectives had changed. After a week in the bug infested, mafia ridden Tolyatti version of Motel 6, the formally dark and dingy, rundown Izmaylova felt like a palace.

Honoring a Friend Who has gone Home

We spent the next day in Helsinki and then flew home to our families. I still remember David Stearman greeting his wife and two daughters. David had been diagnosed with cancer not long before the trip, but he came anyway. My memory is a bit blurry, but I seem to remember he had already gone through chemo and had lost most of his hair. Still, in his weakened state, he persevered and God used him in Tolyatti—both as an inspiration to the team, and as a witness to the lost. He fought a good fight, but sadly his body gave in to the deadly disease in the following months.

Elana was there, with Sharon and Yael, while Danielle was still in her mother’s womb, to greet me. We went out to eat with the Stearmans somewhere close to Reagan National and I remember, despite the cancer, David would have kept us in the restaurant all night with his stories. ADHD Ron doesn’t sleep as well as David on airplanes and finally I had to throw in the towel.

I still remember my head hitting the pillow that night. Such a sense of satisfaction… Such a sense of joy… such a sense… I was asleep within a minute or two.

____________

For the next several years I wondered why we didn’t just pack up everything and head over to the Former Soviet Union. In 1998 we did. We spent a year in Odessa, Ukraine… one of the greatest (and toughest) years of our life. More on that later.

Read Part 1

Read Part 2

Read Part 3 

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From Hooker to Heaven

When Irina got off the floor and began to worship the Lord, we were overjoyed. It was the hand of God. She looked completely different.

Afterward she shared her story. She was a single mother living in a bankrupt country that was still too young, poor and disorganized to take care of people in her category. In desperation she resorted to prostitution to make ends meet. Of course she hated it.

Furthermore, her mother was a practicing witch, which brought all sorts of demonic interference to her life. She just wanted freedom.  When she heard about our meetings, she began to hope.

A Cursed Charm

However the next night brought new challenges with Irina. Someone came and got me and said that Irina was outside of the auditorium and was asking for me. I went to see her and immediately noticed that her mouth was stuck open. She was barely able to explain that it had been like that most the day. I was confused because I thought we had cast demons out of her the night before.

As we continued to talk, I noticed a gold trinket around her neck. I asked her about it and she said that her mother gave it to her—her mother the witch. It turned out that the trinket was somehow connected to the occult. I told her, “You will have to get rid of that if you want to be free. It is cursed.”

“I can’t!” she replied, “It was a gift from my mother and it is gold.” When it became clear she would not part with the charm, I did something foolish. I offered her money in exchange for the charm. In Acts 19, it states that all the believers destroyed all their occult and witchcraft paraphernalia. They willingly burned it all, and Paul did not offer them money!

A number who had practiced sorcery brought their scrolls together and burned them publicly. When they calculated the value of the scrolls, the total came to fifty thousand drachmas. In this way the word of the Lord spread widely and grew in power. (Acts 19:19-20)

Fortunately, Irina refused my offer. Unfortunately, she also refused to get rid of the cursed trinket.

Sunday, Blessed Sunday

The next day was Sunday. What a glorious Sunday it was. This would be the first service of the new congregation that we were planting. The place, once again, was packed. The weather was simply perfect. Irina came to the meeting and her face was still contorting in strange ways.

After the service she invited us to her home, to bless us and to get rid of all the demonic garbage that she owned—except the charm. I can still remember walking to her home. The sun was shining and there was a cool breeze. My heart was simply on fire for God! My good friend Steve Bokmiller, a classmate from Bible College was with us, and Jerry Miller, my pastor and several young ladies, plus an interpreter.

$100!

That morning I realized that I was running out of money. It wasn’t the end of the world—I just needed enough cash to buy some food for the trip home. We would be taking a train the next day. As I was leaving the hotel for the meeting, the pastor of one of the churches that was partnering with us to do the outreach walked up to me. “Ron, the Lord spoke to me this morning to give you $100.”

“Wow! That’s great because I am nearly broke!” I thanked him and went to the meeting, with a clear sense that this money would only be passing through me. It wasn’t mine.

We arrived at Irina’s apartment and she began to bring out books on witchcraft and other demonic garbage. We packed it all up and prepared to throw it away. Still, however, her face was twitching and contorting out of control. I said to her, “You have to understand, you will not be able to defeat the enemy as long as you are wearing that charm. You must get rid of it.”

Freedom!

With a sigh of defeat, she finally took it off and handed it to me. As soon as she did, she was free! Her face returned to normal. It didn’t take much that day to make me cry. I had been crying all morning, realizing that we had walked into a city, preached the gospel to thousands, sending demons scattering in all directions, proclaiming the goodness of Yeshua the Messiah, and now a lighthouse—a beacon of hope—had been planted right in the center of the City. Tolyatti Christian Center was a reality. I was undone. So when she finally gave up the necklace with the charm and we saw she was completely free, tears began to flow again.

At this point I took her and the interpreter into the kitchen. I handed her the $100 and said to her, “I am not a rich American and in fact, I was pretty much broke this morning. Someone gave me this $100 just a few hours ago. It is sign from God that He is now your provider and you will never have to sell your body again!” Oh what a day—to see the gospel not only touch a city, but then to zoom in and see Yeshua change one specific life. From a hopeless prostitute, to an on-fire believer in Yeshua!

Of course afterward I was attacked with guilt. I was told that $100 would take care of her and her son for three months. What about after that Ron? You told her that God would take care of her, but you will never see her again. She will have to go back to prostitution when the money runs out.

But I was quite sure the Lord had told me to tell her that. And even if not, His Word is clear. This is what He does. He would take care of her and I would trust him.

“So, what happened?”

I was delighted to hear about a month later that the new church had hired her as their secretary. She continued to grow in the Lord and began leading a home group. Within a few years she became the overseer over all the home groups in the congregation under Pastor Mike. I was told that she got married as well and that her formerly witch mother, had also given her life to Yeshua.

On the way back to the seedy hotel, I dropped the charm in a sewer.

Come back tomorrow for Part 4, the final installment in A Prostitute in Russia.

A Prostitute in Russia Part 1

A Prostitute in Russia Part 2

A Prostitute in Russia FINAL

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The Outreach Begins

One of the saddest things about Soviet era Russia is that creativity was killed. Miles and miles of massive apartment buildings, with very little architectural differences between them, span the streets of most cities. In every city there is a large meeting hall for events… and the building looks the same in just about every locale.

A typical Russian meeting hall/community center, much like the one we rented in Tolyatti

We rented the one in Tolyatti for our outreach. On the first night, despite the lack outward beauty, the place was electric. We were so excited. We had come to bring revival to this city and finally it would begin. We were not disappointed. Each night there was only standing room only in the 1000-seat auditorium.

We gave out free Bibles and strangely the people wanted all the American visitors to sign their Bibles. At first I resisted, as it seemed sacrilege to do such a thing. However, when it became clear that it came from a pure heart—that they simply wanted to remember us, I gave in.

Beautiful Chaos

On Friday, John Cava preached a message on receiving the Holy Spirit. At the end of the message our team was released to lay hands on everyone who desired to receive—and that was everyone!

It was beautiful chaos. Each one on our team, whether a housewife, a teen or a businessman or businesswoman, was laying hands on dozens of people. There were no ushers to bring order, just people crowding around, seeking to receive the Holy Spirit. It was amazing.

Demons!

As I was praying for one woman, I noticed a younger woman next to her. She was not dressed in the most modest apparel, but that was not what caused me to notice her. It was that her face was contorting in an extremely creepy way. Suddenly she fell to the ground and began to writhe like a snake.

(Let’s take a break here. I know that some of my readers do not believe in such things as demon possession. Let me just say, that when Yeshua ministered, demons manifested. When the power of God comes on a city, demons get agitated. If you believe in the New Testament, then you must believe in the passages where Yeshua casts demons out of people [Matt 4:24, Matt. 8:28ff and so many more].

Furthermore, we, His followers are given the charge to also use His authority to cast out demons and set people free.

As you go, proclaim this message: “The kingdom of heaven has come near.” Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received; freely give. [Matt. 10:7-8]

And these signs will accompany those who believe: In my name they will drive out demons… [Mark 16:17]

This is part of our calling!)

When the woman fell to the ground, I had no idea what to do. I had read in the New Covenant about casting out demons, but had very little experience. Fortunately, Blanche, a fellow team member, was well versed in the subject and she was next to me.

For the next forty minutes or so we commanded the demonic powers in this woman to leave. Sweat was pouring off my face. This was not easy and I cannot tell you that I was  full of confidence that this woman would be set free.

A great crowd gathered around us, gawking at the wild scene. While occult practices were not new to these people, seeing two Americans praying with authority over a Russian woman who was slithering beneath them was different. When the woman would begin to talk in a creepy voice Blanche would say, “Shut up in the name of Yeshua!” And by golly, if her mouth didn’t close. It was like someone literally zipped up her lips and she could not open them. I was amazed.

Why are the Cooks here?

After what seemed like eternity, and about the time that I was wondering if we had done all that we could do for her, several people rushed into the building. They were dressed like cooks, but they moved towards us as if they were serious. I thought, Why are the cooks here? Then it hit me; they were paramedics. Someone, concerned for the woman on the ground writhing like serpent, called them.

And just when they got about two feet from where we were, a peace and a presence entered that area and the woman calmly got up off the ground, lifted up her hands and began to sing beautifully in other tongues. She looked like a different person altogether.

Her name was Irina and she was a whore. She was forced into prostitution in order to support her son and herself. And her story does not end here.

A Prostitue in Russia Part 1

A Prostitute in Russia Part 3

Check back tomorrow (August 30th) for Part 3, I am blogging one post a day. Thanks for reading! Please share with your friends. The Facebook thingy to the left does work, even though it doesn’t seem to be counting correctly. We are working on it. 

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A Prostitute in Russia Part 1

Ron Cantor —  August 28, 2012 — 1 Comment

Reports of spiritual hunger in Russia in the early 90s deeply moved me. The Iron Curtain came crashing down in the Former Soviet Union and in a day revival broke out amongst the poor, hungry people, who had been cut off from the rest of the world for 70 years. When two churches decided to partner with our congregation, Beth Messiah, to plant a church in Tolyatti, Russia, I knew I must go.

However when I landed at Moscow Domodedovo Airport I wondered if I had made a hasty decision—a great mistake. We had flown from Helsinki in an Aeroflot Airline jet, Russia’s largest airline at the time—and still, I think. The plane was old. The seats would flop over at the slightest push. And the flight—well, let’s just say that I felt like some kid named Sasha or Anatoly stole his dad’s keys to the airplane and was taking it for a joyride.

Intimidation Plus!

The airport in Moscow was dark and quiet. Machine gun toting soldiers were everywhere and quite intimidating. You just had the feeling that you were neither liked nor welcomed. In Soviet era Russia, no one drew attention to oneself. Everyone sought to be invisible to the Secret Police—the KGB. This part of their culture remained. And here we were, 70 normally loud Americans, jet-lagged and a little freaked out—like we were in a Robert Ludlum (Jason Bourne) novel. I can honestly say that the Moscow airport is the most oppressive, intimidating place I have ever been!

I immediately thought of Elana, at home with two children and a baby on the way. My heart ached. What was I thinking? How could I have taken off for two weeks to go to such a dangerous place, leaving her alone?

The first day on an overseas missions trip in another time zone is always the hardest. You are tired and dirty. Mentally, you are weak and susceptible to depression. However, the restorative power in a good night’s sleep can be astounding.

We were taken to the infamous Izmaylova Hotel, one of the nicest in the city, built for the 1980 Olympics that the US boycotted. It was a dump! Fortunately I was so tired that I slept like a baby.

Off to Tolyatti

After a day of touring Red Square and shopping at the famous GUM shopping mall, we began a two-day journey on two barely-working buses to Tolyatti. When we arrived, we checked into a seedy motel, filled with prostitutes and Mafia. For a tourist, the Mafia in Russia is pretty much like most creepy things—wasps, snakes—you don’t mess with them, they’ll stay away from you. From 1998-2004, nearly 600 contract killings took place in Tolyatti. Clearly, someone aggravated the beehive.

I am pretty sure this our Hotel from Tolyatti

Jerry Miller, my pastor, and I checked into our room. It was rough. I wondered how I would stay in this dump for a week. The next morning, I had to make coffee with cold water, which I filtered with my own purifier. We were told, “Don’t drink the water—don’t even brush your teeth with it!” Those who did got sick.

The next day I found a café next to our hotel where I could order coffee. It was the most disgusting Turkish coffee I had ever had. However, I was really impressed at their heating system. They would mix the coffee and water together and then put it on a heating plate of hot sand. Within a minute or so, it was boiling. (This video shows the process, but it doesn’t even begin to display the atmosphere of the dingy café where I got my daily fix.)

Breakthrough

During the day, our team of 70 spread throughout the city handing out proglashanya, invitations to the meetings. We had a team of about a dozen interpreters; all university students that would help us converse with the people. By the end of the trip many of them had come to faith.

That evening our group brought guitars and tambourines to a local park. As we began to sing, a large crowd gathered. Back then, after 70 years of communism and atheism, the people were desperately hungry. As the crowd grew, I was asked to preach.

I poured out my heart, sharing my testimony and God’s plan of salvation. When I gave the invitation, many came forward. I was stunned. You could just stand up at any street corner and start preaching, and people would gather, listen and receive.

The Plan

We were not just shooting buckshot. We had a plan. Michael Hennen and his wife, Aimee, had already moved to Tolyatti with a team. After the four nights of outreach, they would hold their first congregational service on Sunday, where we would introduce him and his team to the city. From there, they would plant and grow a New Testament congregation.

The next night, the outreach would begin and soon I would meet a woman whose story would completely wreck me.  

A Prostitute in Russia Part 2

A Prostitute in Russia Part 3

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