In fourteen years of ministry, I could not begin to count or remember all the times I have shared the Jewish children's folk tale of "The Apple Tree." I came upon the story when I was taking my first "official" ministry trip to Israel in the Fall of 1996. It was during the High Holy days which begin with the New Year celebration known as Rosh Hashanah. Traditionally apples and honey are shared to represent the hopes for the next year to be a bountiful and sweet harvest. I find it no small coincidence the Lord of the Harvest brought me back to Kirov (after 7 years) to show me the bounty of His "Apple Tree" during the same season (Rosh Hashanah is September 9).
"You did not choose me, but I chose you to bear fruit, fruit that would last." John 15:16
In the story, the little apple tree looks around the forest of big oak trees. Every night stars twinkle in the branches. The other trees are tall and strong. The apple tree prays to be like all the other trees. The Lord tells the apple tree, "Be patient." Seasons change and the apple tree has beautiful blossoms. Still all the apple tree can see is the other trees and how lovely the stars in the branches are. The apple tree prays again, again the Lord says, "Be patient." Seasons change and apples are now in the branches. The apple tree is still unhappy, but the unhappiness has now turned to anger. "Why can't the Creator, just do this one thing? I want stars in my branches!" The wind starts to blow and all the trees bow down before the Lord. The apple tree starts shaking and an apple falls from the tree and breaks open (if cut horizontally, the seeds of an apple are in the shape of a star). The Lord says, "You see little apple tree, everything your heart desired I put inside you all along."
We arrived in Kirov Sunday morning after another overnight train ride rocking and rolling down the tracks across the rural Russian countryside. We had just enough time to check into our hotel and get a bit organized before heading off for church. It was a sweet time of fellowship with old friends, and definitely another Zephaniah 3:20 fulfillment. (All those painful partings I will turn into joyous reunions).
Tears (to water the seeds) ran down my cheeks as I saw the young orphan boy (Pasha) the Pastor and his wife adopted 11 years ago. Of course he has grown into a young man and ran over to greet us with a warm embrace.
"I am Pasha; now I am 16, you knew me when I was just a little boy. It is wonderful to see you again."
After the service Barbara, thanked the church for praying for her during the adoption of her son and for the many years we have participated with them in orphan ministry. Then another young man approached us and through the interpreter explained his identity.
"I am Daniel. I am from the orphanage in Sanchursk. You came in 2002 and built a floor for our gymnasium. Thank you for all you have done."
Barbara asked if he had family (perhaps a grandmother or aunt) that he was now living with in Kirov (Sanchursk is about 150 miles away). The young man just shook his head and looked around the church. "No, this is my only family."
We spent the evening with the Pastor and his wife and another dear friend who has served as an interpreter down through the years. We discussed the week ahead of us, travel times, program details and then we spoke of Pasha and Daniel the boy from Sanchursk. They shared about the gym floor our team of Americans came and built. Now, it is not just used by the children at the orphanage, but by the whole city for their athletic events.
I shared my memory of Pasha and the first time we met in the orphanage when I shared the story and I used him as the apple tree. The Pastor said, "Now you will make me start crying." His wife had a head start as the tears streamed down her face. She began speaking with great emotion. She said while they were waiting to adopt Pasha, she wrote letters to him and said, "Remember the apple tree? You must be patient." With joy at the remembrance she said, "Even today those letters are at the orphanage. They still tell the story to the children. It gives them the hope of God's plan for their lives."
Three young men (Pasha, Daniel and Barbara's adopted son Artyom) are a testimony to the Harvest of souls the Father has raised up in this region. Almost two thousand years ago a young Jewish carpenter told stories (parables) still being shared today. It makes me wonder how big that little apple tree story is going to grow!
"But the seed planted in the good earth represents those who hear the Word, embrace it, and produce a Harvest beyond their wildest imagination." Mark 4:20
Sowing in the morning, sowing in the evening always smiling (even when there are tears)
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