The Initial Chaos of Communism’s Demise in Georgia
With the fall of communism and the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, things got worse before they got better. In the republic of Georgia
chaos reigned, as well as a wild, anarchic sort of freedom. With law and order breaking down, many Georgians living in the neighboring republic of Abkhazia were subject to a brutal ethnic cleansing from the Abkhazian people. In a tragic sense of irony, a land, where Jesus’ disciple Simon the Zealot is said to have been buried, had now become the gravesite of numerous Georgian victims.
In the middle of this conflict, one young mother and her three children fled their homeland in Abkhazia for Georgia proper. But along the road one of her boys died. Then another. To this day she doesn’t remember where she buried them. Grief simply overtook her as she and her remaining daughter sought shelter from the war. They ended up in an old resort town known as Tsalkhtubo, not too far from the ancient city of Kutaisi. Here the mother made an agreement with an elderly gentleman whose children resided in America. If she could look after him, then she and her daughter could live in his apartment. And so they did, in a one-room apartment with a kitchen.
Meanwhile not too far away in the city of Zugdidi, another woman lost her home in a fire. In the turmoil of those days, she never discovered who did it. She lost everything except her Bible, which remained opened and yet unharmed. Not that she read it much anyway. Depression overtook her also, as she and her invalid husband finally found a place to rent where they lived in poverty and uncertainty. She began to clean homes for whatever money she could get, returning home at the end of the day exhausted and reduced to sleeping on a cement floor. In her despair, suicide seemed to be her best option.
I’m sure there must be plenty of people around the world today, subject to the pain of war and tragedy. But it was at this point in their lives that another woman came onto the scene. She was a gift from God. This woman had found peace and joy in the Lutheran congregation in Kutaisi and she befriended both of these other women. She spoke to them about the love of Jesus, the Son of God who brings hope into destitute lives. Encouraged, the women began to attend our church in Kutaisi.
Christ Brings Peace Where There is No Peace
When I got to know these ladies, I couldn’t believe their stories. They seemed well-adjusted women, usually sporting wide smiles. But this is not uncommon where I live and work. I have come to realize how difficult circumstances are for many people in the former Soviet Union, and how joyful the Gospel of Jesus Christ sounds in their ears after the trials they’ve experienced.
These women now want to start a choir in the congregation. They are full of hope. The Word that feeds us and gives us life is very real to them. The invalid husband had been quite nasty to his wife, but his demeanor began to change as he saw her change. He began to read the Bible with our evangelists. He now attends church on occasion, and has been seen wiping away tears when the Law strikes him and the Gospel uplifts him.
We have been blessed to receive support from Jesus is Lord Mission Society in Texas, which provides aid to our evangelists and supports them in their work as they travel around Georgia, leading various Bible study groups and a small congregation as well on the Black Sea coast. God in His mercy is hearing the prayers of those in despair, and we know that He desires to bring them to faith and life eternal in His Son Jesus. May His peace be with you, as well as the people of Georgia!
Please continue to keep Cousin Shawn in your prayers. She is doing much better! Please also remember our Ingrian Lutheran pastor Alexey Shepelov, who has a brain aneurism. Alexey is seeking medical advice for a possible operation. While I lived in Moscow, he served as my pastor and I would fill in for him on occasion.
Please thank God for my safe return to Georgia and pray for upcoming travel and teaching in Russia, Mongolia and Kyrgyzstan.
E-mail: [email protected]—mailing address- 26650 Woodshire, Dearborn Heights, MI., 48127.
To support my work financially, you can send a tax-deductible gift to:
LCMS World Mission; Missionary Support; PO Box 790089; St. Louis, MO 63179-0089 —–Make checks payable to LCMS World Mission. Mark checks “Support of Matthew Heise.”
If you would like to partner with me in my ministry with ongoing support as an individual or congregation, please contact Debra Feenstra for information on Together in Mission or Mission Senders at 1-800-248-1930 Ext. 1651 or [email protected] Thank you and may God bless you!