From The Former USSR
We received the following letter from Alison Whitelaw, an NYU Nav who is spending two years in Russia studying and ministering. She's got some great stuff for us, and without being heretical, I really feel like the letter is strangely epistolic (I don't know if that is a word,) but it is very reminiscent of Paul writing back to churches that supported him on his missionary work. We may be on to something here.
To My Dear Brothers and Sisters in New York,
Greetings to you all from the former Soviet Union.
You should know that you are all on my mind and in my prayers. Although I am very far away, New York shows up in the majority of movies I watch (not to mention I am still an avid “Friends” watcher, and even though it’s in Russian, I still give a shout out every time I see New Yorky things).
I am very happy to hear about all the exciting things you have been up to this semester. From artist gatherings, supporting each other’s individual performances, to really awesome sounding seminars, your community is always abuzz with something new. Every week I comment to my roommate about some new thing you guys are doing that week, and she is also amazed with the talent, passion, and creativity that comes out of NYU. I know you all know how talented you are in the secular world, I guess I’m just really impressed with the creativity and passion you all show in the spiritual realm as well.
But I think the deepest impression NYU left in me is the powerful love you all have for one another. Even now, thousands of miles away from West Fourth Street, I can feel the love pouring out from you as a community as well as individuals. This deep love is both inspiring and uplifting to me. I am amazed that I can be so far away and yet still feel secure in the knowledge that there are bonds in the heavenly family that span oceans. It would be an honor for me to know even a few of you personally, but I have the joy of knowing many more than a few of you. To those of you who I have never met, I hope that one day we can meet face-to-face and chat over a cup of tea at one of my favorite little West Vill cafes.
To all of you, thank you for the support that you have shown me through funding and prayer my first semester away. I will never forget the response I received from the NYU community when I was so drastically underfunded several months ago. It was truly a sight to watch God move in your hearts as I heard of your eagerness to give to me. Thank you for the ways that you have and continue, day-by-day, encourage me in the work God is using me for in Russia.
I want to take this opportunity now to encourage you in what you are doing at NYU and in New York at large. Whether you are aware of it or not, you are part of a work that our Father in Heaven has going on there. In a place that is forever introspective, consumer-driven, prideful, lonely, and competitive, your community is a well of love, passion, true community, grace, and understanding that I know God desires to use to bless the rest of the University as well as the city.
In his book “Bread for the Journey,” Henri Nouwen explains that “community is first of all a quality of the heart. It grows from the spiritual knowledge that we are alive not for ourselves but for one another.” You all epitomize that for me.
However, it is important in this celebration of community to remember the goal of all Christian community. Dietrich Bonhoeffer describes it as the merciful opportunity given by God to “meet one another as bringers of the message of salvation”. You are all certainly the bringers of salvation to one another. I saw community bringing salvation to one another in many ways during the two short years I was at NYU: I realized for the first time the truth that it is by God’s mercy that I am saved, not by my desires or efforts. I gave and received true confession first on a farm in Vermont. I also danced on roofs in China town, played Nintendo Wii and Settlers of Catan, drank a lot of tea, and ate a whole lot of Thai food with the best friends I’ve ever had in those two years.
But besides being bringers of salvation to one another, I feel that it is my duty as a current foreign missionary to remind you that it is also your responsibility and gift from God to bring the message of salvation to those outside of our Christian community. I just think of how well you all love each other and make God’s redemption real to one another, and then think of the great need there is for this exact kind of love in both NYU and in New York City.
There are people hurting everywhere in a city filled with literally millions of lonely people. I know that the knowledge of this can become overwhelming at times, especially when faced with personal depression, family strife, and that looming final exam. But I want to encourage you in your love for one another, that it may spread outwards and fight against the apathy,indifference, or secular forms of social justice that always fall short of meeting the spiritual needs of your friends. This love is such a powerful tool that we possess, but we must not onlyseek itfrom human community, but from the one who created humans and blessed them with community. It then becomes an endless stream of deliverance available to us so we may also bring this deliverance to others.
As a final word, I pray that God pours out His love not only in your community but also through your lives. I pray daily that He deepens your hunger and thirst for not only the things the Lord has to offer, but for Him Himself. If I’ve learned anything in the short time I’ve been abroad (or in exile, as Bonhoeffer calls it), it’s that even though you have true community, great Bible studies, and sound systematic theology, there is no substitute for God Himself. I pray that this becomes real to you and your loved ones as you prepare to go home for that sometimes rocky winter break.
So as we say in the old NYU way: Shalom.
I love you all.
In Him, Alison