Generous Friendship

“Why did you come to Siberia?” asked a scientist named Andre, not long after we first met. Deb and I were “non-resident” missionaries to Siberia at the time—during the mid-90s. We traveled in and out and helped launch an outreach and discipling ministry among former communist atheists.

We made multiple trips to the city of Irkutsk over those three years. On one of these visits, mutual friends at the universities in Irkutsk introduced me to Andre.

“What do you wish to accomplish here?” Andre continued. “How long will you stay?”

With the help of an interpreter, we were able to connect fairly well during the time I spent with him. Because of his scientific background and my degree in civil engineering, we immediately bonded over the similarities in our interests and education. We just seemed to “click.”

Although he was a bit hesitant at first, my new friend showed some interest in spiritual things and eventually shared some personal feelings with me. God knit our hearts together, and we had many conversations about spiritual things.

I tried to see Andre each time we visited Irkutsk. It wasn’t always easy to find him because he changed apartments several times. We had some interesting discussions, and he had numerous questions. We learned from each other.

Once, Deb and I were able to spend a day with Andre and his son at their dacha, a small rustic cottage in the country. We took the train out of the city for several hours and then hiked another 45 minutes to their place. Andre brought food with him, and after starting a fire, he cooked a wonderful meal of steak and veggies for us. He pulled out the largest potato I have ever seen, and it easily fed all four of us.

For many reasons—including the remoteness of the location—The Navigators decided to pull their missionaries out of Irkutsk in the summer of 1995. The last time I met with Andre, just before I returned to the United States, he and I exchanged gifts. He gave me some special Russian tea, and I presented him with a mechanical pencil. He was very grateful, and I was as well.

I told Andre how much I appreciated his friendship and how much I had learned from him. I assured him that I would be praying that he would find answers to his questions about God and about what it means to have a relationship with God through Christ.

I then asked him to write out his current address and a phone number so I might be able to reach him on a future visit. He reached into his pocket and grabbed a pen. It was the inside cylinder of a ball point pen, and it had only a little ink left. It was the best he had, and I was immediately convicted thinking of the boxes of new pens I had in my desk at home. I felt in my pocket and I had a pen with me, so I pulled it out and offered it to him as an additional gift.

“Oh Bob,” he said, “I couldn’t take that. You have given me so much already.” I was humbled by his attitude. I told him to consider it a gift from God, who had blessed me so that I might bless him. In reality, Andre had blessed me much more by his example of contentment and gratitude.

I’ve since lost contact with Andre, but I trust he has found real meaning to his life—especially in spiritual things. I don’t know for certain that Andre had committed his life to Christ, but I do know that I will never be the same because of what I learned from him.

You see, God has entrusted me with so much, and my calling is to be generous to others. I want to continue growing in this quality. The writer of Proverbs reminds us, “The generous man will be prosperous, and he who waters will himself be watered” (Proverbs 11:25). Andre and I had a rich friendship full of these “co-watering” times.

Who in your life do you pour into that pours right back into you? How can you bless someone out of your generosity today?

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