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connecting through pain

by Patrick McDaniel


The outside wall of School 23, Krasnodar, Russia

September 1, 2004. You may remember this date. I know I will never forget it.

On September 1, the first day of the 2004 Russian school year, Chechen rebels raided a school in the small town of Beslan, Russia. Students and their families filled the building as they prepared for the new school year. When the crisis ended more than 300 people were dead. About half of those who died were children.

Imagine you were in a Russian school that day. I was.

Hundreds of smiling faces celebrated the beginning of the school year in Krasnodar, Russia. At School 23, where I was, the festivities went smoothly. My language school classmates and I celebrated with the students’ families and friends. We watched the jubilant singing and dancing. Later, I arrived home and heard about the horrible events of the day. We were less than 500 miles from Beslan.        

I had only been in Russia seven days. I was recovering from jet lag, trying to find my way around town, and immersed in a language and culture I didn’t understand. What an introduction to Russia. Each time I walk through the doors of School 23 (or look at any school) I think of September 1.

Every Friday I teach English at School 23 as a part of the cultural studies program at the language school I attend. During my first few visits the students often asked about my reaction to the Beslan crisis. They wanted to see if I related to them and their pain. Even though 500 miles separated my students from the tragedy, the hurt was very real to them—much like the terrorism of September 11, 2001, was painful to every American.

Over the last seven months I have become attached to my students. I’ve had opportunities to play basketball and goof off with them. We’ve talked about life and serious matters. I’ve even judged an English competition among some of the students.

Working at the school offers a great opportunity to minister for such a time as this. Generally, my class discussions with students revolve around comparing Russian and American cultures. I have to be careful about what I say, especially if I talk about church and the Bible. Their laws are as strict as ours. Some days ago we discussed the judicial system in America, and I was able to compare it to the Bible. I try to take every opportunity to do this, but more important, I try to live a life before the students that will make them say “I want what he has.”

Because I teach English, I only speak English to my students in order to challenge them. However, the entire time I have been teaching them English I have been studying Russian. Recently, they discovered I speak Russian and begged me to use it in class. They sat wide-eyed as I told them a funny story in my broken Russian. Even though I wasn’t able to speak perfectly, it gave me another connection with my students and increased my credibility with them.

As my time in Russia draws to a close, I often think of how it all began. I think how my relationship with this school and these students started out bumpy and yet has become so great. I consider how the questions have changed from the “why” of pain to the “what” of my faith.

I sometimes wonder, why am I here? What good have I done? Then I am reminded God has placed me here to minister to the hurting, for such a time as this. I am here to bring glory to His name.

May Jesus help us all minister to the hurting wherever He has placed us.

Patrick McDaniel, a junior at Free Will Baptist Bible College in Nashville, TN, is the first to participate in the overseas internship program for students majoring in Missions.


©2005 ONE Magazine, National Association of Free Will Baptists