As we continue our series on how our workers around the world see SEND’s new vision statement becoming reality, we focus again on “among.” SEND workers practice incarnational ministry, living purposefully among the people we hope to reach. In this case, “among” means literally sharing a kitchen. Today we read about how a beautiful discipleship relationship naturally developed when a missionary family offered their spare room to a seminary student.
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By Kellie Benge in Ukraine — We had just dropped our youngest child off at college and were on a plane flying to Ukraine. As a mother, I was fighting that feeling that I had abandoned our three children, two in college, the oldest married with one child. They were all very supportive of our calling to serve in Ukraine training pastors since my husband, Jerry, had been a pastor for the previous 27 years. My prayer was that God would use this time in all of our lives to strengthen us and help us better live out the gospel that all of us believed.
Little did I know what God had in store for me when one Sunday, about six months after we arrived in Kyiv, a colleague announced that he knew of a student from Kazakhstan who needed a place to live for a short time while she looked for more permanent housing. Jerry and I went home and talked about it and decided that since we had an extra bedroom, we should share it with this student. That began a relationship that I, to this day, regard as one of the greatest gifts that God has given me. I think it has been a big blessing to Aigerim as well.
When the day came for me to meet this student, as I sat waiting in the lobby of the seminary, I began to have doubts about what we had offered to do: What about differences in culture? What if we didn’t get along? What if she didn’t want to keep her room clean or if she didn’t care about taking care of our things? Would we be able to communicate? I had been in language school only six months — I hardly knew anything, and I was petrified to speak in Russian.
Someone brought Aigerim to me, we got into a taxi and we rode silently the 10 minutes it took to get to our apartment. I stumbled through showing her her room and helping her get settled. She was very quiet and stayed in her room for the first couple of days.
I asked her if she wanted to eat and at every meal she said no. She could speak some English, so I finally asked why she wasn’t eating. She shyly told me that in her culture it was not polite to accept an offer the first time it was given. She was teaching me that the straightforwardness of Americans is not the way it is in other parts of the world. I needed to be more sensitive. That was the first of many lessons that I would learn from my Kazakh daughter.
‘We just did life together’
Aigerim Khozhamoturova lived with us for three years! Our relationship grew naturally as we ate together, cleaned the house together, helped each other in our studies (she was my Russian language helper) and just spent time together. We shared the stories of our spiritual journeys and got to know each other’s families on Skype. When our daughter came to visit, they shared a room and grew a “sisterly” relationship. That was in 2011, and they still communicate with each other from time to time.
I did not do anything special with Aigerim — we just did life together. I taught her how to make an American apple pie, meatloaf and other recipes that have become favorites with her, and she taught me how to make plov and soup that is better than any I’ve had in the States!
As we lived life together, we naturally talked about issues of dating, modesty, beauty, how God had gifted her for future service — just like I’d talked with my own daughter. Together we ministered to ladies’ groups as I spoke and she translated. We shared special holidays together, especially Christmas. It has become a tradition for us to get together on Christmas Eve, have a nice dinner and give each other small gifts. We have truly become family to each other because none of us have family living close by with whom we can share special times.
A new family forms
Eventually, Aigerim met a young man. As she worked through whether to get married, we had many conversations about what she should be looking for in a husband and what she needed to be learning to become a good wife. During that time we did a Bible study on contentment, prayed together and always based our conversations on what God’s Word had to say about a subject. As Oleg and Aigerim committed to get married, they asked us to help them better understand marriage and get ready for it. We had some good conversations that helped them look into the future and analyze their readiness for both of their hearts to become one.
After their honeymoon, Oleg and Aigerim moved about an hour away. We tried to get together at least twice a month, and our relationship grew to one of friends encouraging each other as we shared what we were learning and how God was working in our lives.
And then, two years ago, a happy, beautiful little boy, Mark, was born to Oleg and Aigerim. This has added another dimension to our lives together. As Aigerim and Oleg have observed their own culture, they have discovered that Biblical child-training is not a priority. So as we have studied some passages in the Bible and asked questions about what kind of child they want Mark to be in the future, we have together come up with ideas for helping them to bring him up in the training and discipline of the Lord.
The discipleship that has grown from this relationship has not been formal a majority of the time. I have just enjoyed Aigerim and thanked God often for the wonderful gift He gave me as I left behind my own children. For Aigerim, also, with her parents so far away, it has been a blessing to have someone older for her to talk to and get advice from.
Aigerim is a faithful young woman whom the Lord has given great influence with other women. She has led her women’s ministry in her church talking about many of the topics that we discussed during our years living together. She loves God’s Word and is hungry to grow and become more like Christ. I’m thankful for the influence of her learner’s heart in my own life. I look forward to many more years of growing together.
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More stories in this series
This is the seventh story in a series that explores SEND International’s new vision statement: A global movement of Jesus followers making disciples among the unreached. Click below to read the others.
Week 1: Continue in Christ
Week 2: From the nations to the nations
Week 3: Better together
Week 4: A role for everyone
Week 5: Couched in love
Week 6: Growing in a new land
Week 8: ’Any day, he could be gone’