By Rev. Donna Fowler-Merchant
Romans 8:14-17 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
14 For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. 15 For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, “Abba Father!” 16 it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 17 and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ—if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.
In 2000, when Scott and I discerned that God was calling us to adopt two older children from Russia, we tried to think through all the possible issues that might arise. We were hopeful and also realistic, knowing that it wouldn’t be easy, even though we both speak Russian. After all, it would be an enormous transition from everything they had ever known before. How would they adapt to having a new family, new country, new language, new almost everything? And we had never been parents before. How would we face that particular challenge, especially with an 8 year old and a teenager?
With the prayers and support of family, friends, and our church family, we traveled to Russia and adopted them on April 12, 2001, returning to Fayetteville on April 21 for the start to our brand new life as a family of four. We were blessed because the church I was serving at the time, Haymount UMC, was truly a place of open hearts, minds, and doors to Sergei and Natasha. They went above and beyond in welcoming them with gifts of clothing and toys and friendship and most of all, with love.
Imagine my delight when I received a call from the Conference office a few weeks later informing me that Bishop Ruedigor Minor, the United Methodist bishop over the Eurasia area, would be our guest at Annual Conference in June and that the Russian United Methodist choir would also be singing at one or two of our worship services. “Would you be interested in being Bishop Minor’s driver while he is in Fayetteville?” I was asked, and of course, I immediately agreed. Having grown up in East Germany, he was a fluent Russian speaker and a natural fit as the episcopal leader of that area, and upon learning that, my children were excited at the prospect of spending some time with him and with the Russian United Methodist choir.
To my great joy, Sergei and Natasha not only had an opportunity to speak with him but also to hear the choir sing praises to God in Russian and to chat with them afterwards. Coming just two months after their arrival in the United States, it was a little piece of home right here in their new home, and it felt like a gift that had been arranged specifically for them. In fact, at the Conference Love-feast, Natasha told me to share with the Conference her feelings of belonging and the joy of hearing and understanding praises to God being lifted up in her own language. With shining eyes, she turned to me and exclaimed: “I understand everything!”
What a difference it makes to a newcomer to this country when she/he is greeted with love, and what a gift when someone is able to hear words of praise and worship of God offered in a familiar language! How might all of us be lavish with our hospitality and welcome to those who are immigrants among us?
Prayer: Lord Jesus, you welcome everyone, especially children and show them God’s love. By the power of the Holy Spirit, help us to open our hearts and arms wide so we may do the same. Amen.