[shoulders] SHOULDER TO SHOULDER #271 ---- 2/17/03

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From: "Bob Tolliver" <btolliver@...>
Date: Mon, 17 Feb 2003 17:48:58 +0200
Standing Shoulder To Shoulder Together As We
Fight the Good Fight of Faith

A personal letter of encouragement to you, written solely to "lift up hands that hang down".

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SHOULDER TO SHOULDER #271 ---- 1/17/03

TITLE:  "Living In A Two-Level Culture"

My Dear Friend and Ministry Companion:

I trust you are doing well today, and that you had a very good week.  This has been another good week for Jo Ann and me, although still hard and challenging at times as we continue our adjustment to a new culture, a new lifestyle, and a new ministry.  But, in spite of everything, we wouldn't change a thing.

I apologize for a late delivery on today's letter.  I have been unable to access my ISP since Sunday morning and have just discovered it is apparently my computer that is the problem.  So, finally Monday evening here, the problem has apparently been solved.

Just a quick update on my father.  I talked with him Thursday evening shortly after he had returned from a visit to the doctor.  He informed us that a cancerous lump has returned in the lymphatic system under his left ear where the large tumor had been earlier.  The doctor told him that radiation was not an option because the cancer would only move somewhere else next time.  So, it is apparent that surgery is the only course outside of God's divine intervention.

So, I ask you to pray again for Dad.  He continues to be a marvelous blessing to all those around him and even those who simply hear about him.  His attitude is excellent and he is not worried in the least.  He will see a specialist in a couple weeks and after the two doctors consult with each other, a surgery date will be set.  Obviously, unless it were life threatening, it is not possible for me to be with him.  So we ask for your intercession in his behalf (and ours) again.


Last Tuesday, as I sat on the Metro (subway system) enroute home from language school, I was struck by just how layered the culture is here in Ukraine.  While I'm still trying to assimilate what I see around me, one thing has become evident . . . . people here clearly live in a dual-level society.

For example, the economy.  You have the open visible economy, and then you have the subterranean "black" economy.  Interestingly, this is not so much for the purpose of deceit as it is for survival.  Taxes here are apparently simple, but very high.  If I recall, income tax is about 40% or more of your income, with little or no deductions.  As a result, people are driven to be dishonest by the need to simply survive.

There are essentially two classes of people . . . . the upper and the lower.  Probably over 90% would fall into the lower category, with just a small percentage of wealthy.  However, for the most part, that minority controls the political, educational, and economic structures, while the lower class tries to survive.  They do that by living without many of the most basic essentials, and by finding unique ways to earn enough to take care of their families.  They will do menial tasks for a pittance, they will try to hold down more than one job if they have one, they will raise fruits and vegetables for their own consumption and a few to sell, they will sell heirlooms, they will openly beg, and so forth.

The lower class itself is also divided into two groups ---- the "getting" and the "groveling".  There is within this group an emerging "middle" class made up primarily of younger adults who are slowly getting the education necessary to make things better for themselves than for their parents and grand parents.  Particularly significant right now are the young single women who have decided a good career is more important than being married to an alcoholic husband.

There is also the duality of past and present, and it is visible everywhere.  This part of the world has an ancient history that goes back literally thousands of years.  Kiev as a recognized city came into being in the Tenth Century.  It is the original site of the Rus empire's capital city.  Even today you see the remnants of some of the ancient walls dating back nearly a thousand years.  The streets are lined with Seventeenth, Eighteenth, and Nineteenth Century buildings still is use.  Breath taking and ornate Baroque, Gothic, and Romanesque styles of architecture catch the eye at every glance.

Yet, down below the streets there is also an array of modern life and style.  So far I've discovered at least three complete large and modern shopping malls beneath the streets, characterized by contemporary design and Twenty First Century technology.  You have a choice . . . . walk amidst the splendor and beauty of regal buildings of Czarist days, or glide into the retro ambience of western society.  Take your pick.

There is also a duality of respect and irresponsibility.  This is illustrated when you see the beautiful monuments erected over the years to commemorate events and people dating back to when Kye, his two brothers and sister landed on the shores of the Dnipro River and established the first settlement of what is now Kyiv (Ukrainian for Kiev).  At the same time you'll see trash of every description and beer bottles strewn along the streets.  Locals tell us that when the Ukrainian government saw western money and political figures heading their way, they spent millions of Hrvn (pronounced "Gree'-ven") on a major face lift of important places, but let the common man remain in his dilapidated apartment located on pot hole filled side streets.  While little old ladies diligently sweep the gutters of major streets with brooms made of twigs and limbs, stinking garbage and trash often fill the subterranean hallways of the Metro and the residential streets.

Other examples of this societal duality are to be found in virtually every segment of the culture.  And in many cases those on the top of the pile are there because of corruption which, in itself, is often caused by the drive for survival or for wealth and power.  It is true politically, educationally, economically, and in most other areas.

Young people recognize that they must make a choice as to whether to stay in the "peasantry" or try to escape in some manner.  For the most part they can escape through crime, through alcohol and drugs, through prostitution, or through education.  Unfortunately, many choose one or more of the first three.  Alcoholism and prostitution are rampant here.  So called "escort" services promising all the side benefits are openly advertised with phone numbers and pictures.  Such agencies abound.  Vodka, the primary beverage, is now being overtaken by beer and hard liquors.  Jo Ann and I see groups of young people and young adults gathered in the underground passages of shopping malls and Metro stations at least once a day, and usually more.  Go to any restaurant and you will probably see at least 70% of the customers consuming alcoholic beverages.  

A single ride on the Metro will almost certainly guarantee that you will see some derelict either on the platform, on one of the cars, or in the access hallways, totally oblivious to what is around him.  Just Monday we got on a Metro car where a man in his 60's was so drunk that he was asleep on the bench.  Filthy dirty, he literally smelled as if he had not used toilet paper for weeks.  Most people on the car actually got off and went to another car or another Metro because of the odor.  When one young man kicked his foot to wake him up, the best the poor man could do was grunt and sit up, hunched over so far that we thought he would fall out on the floor.

For those young people who choose education, their high school experience will include six long and hard days of intensive study each week, and where accumulation of knowledge is the driving force rather than the development of understanding what they may have "memorized".  What little social life they have revolves around Sundays or late nights when they congregate in cafe's, parks, homes, or even the subterranean halls and stairwells of the Metro system.  Then they go home, fall into bed, and start the process all over again.  They realize that if they want to have a chance to attend a university, they must make excellent grades in high school.  Added to that, western merchandizing, music, and television give them fantasized images of what provides happiness and fulfillment.

This duality also is found in the religious circles.  First, you have the Orthodox Church with its relics, rules, buildings, and wealth.  Over 90% of all religious organizations and activities are affiliated with them.  The remaining groups and individuals make up about one to two percent of the total populace.

Even within the evangelical circle of religion this dual level of activity takes place.  For example, it doesn't take long to find yourself facing a decision between truth, honesty, and integrity on the one hand, and reality on the other.  Even though you know Christ calls us to follow Him completely in honesty, you also realize that if you don't "benefit" a certain person, you may not get your vehicle document or driver's license back.  You also understand that if you actually report all of your income to the government, almost half of it is gone for taxes before you even have a chance to better yourself and your family.

So, what do you do?  You first find some ways to generate "cash in the pocket" income that is never seen or reported.  Of course, you can't talk about that for fear of being discovered.  And you certainly won't tell your Christian brothers and sisters because they might think ill of you, even though they may also be doing the same thing.  So you keep it quiet.  You report just enough income to satisfy the curiosity of the tax police, and then you carry on the rest of your financial affairs "under the table" so to speak.  

Obviously that also influences what you give to the church.  You can't give what you should because you feel you don't have enough, and you won't give what you could because you don't want to tip your hand to someone who might tell the authorities.  So, sometimes even within the churches there may be "incomplete" records . . . . not because people are thieves, but simply because they are trying to cope with a system that is geared to depriving the majority and benefiting the minority.


So, there you have a small picture of what the people of Ukraine and other former Soviet countries have to endure simply to survive.  Prospering is not the goal of most; surviving is.  Even though new freedoms are greater, old bondages are stronger.  In one of the video presentations we used in preparing people for our move to Kiev, there is a statement something like this: "Under Communism people had money, but there was nothing on the shelves.  Now there is plenty to buy, but nobody has any money."

My heart has felt wrenching convulsions many times over what I see and feel for these dear people.  So many of them are caught in a vicious cycle.  "Надзжда" is something they do not have . . . . "Na-dezh'-da" . . . . hope.

All of this has reminded me again of the reality of double standards and double systems in life.  More importantly, it has reminded me that I also live in a world system the operates on two levels.  Paul, as you recall, identified it as temporal and eternal . . . . as terrestrial and celestial.  Jesus reminded us that we cannot serve God and "mammon" . . . . material things.  We are often reminded of the difference between carnal and spiritual. . . . and tragically much of what we think of as spiritual is actually carnal to the core.  Paul reminded us in Ephesians to "not walk as the Gentiles walk", but rather "walk worthy of the vocation to which you've been called" and to "walk in the spirit".

Perhaps the most graphic contrast, however, is when Peter reminds us in I Peter 2 of our true identity.  Although I wrote about this a few months ago, I want to reiterate his comparisons, because He names five characteristics of who we really are toward God and then two characteristics of who we are to the world.  God sees us as a "chosen race", a "royal priesthood", a "holy nation", a "people of God's own possession", and "people of God".

However, the world sees us differently, because we are different.  And we feel the difference.  Why is it that we feel so uncomfortable around the conditions and circumstances of this world?  Because spiritually we're not of this world, but another.  Too often we forget that fact.  It's not an opinion Peter is sharing, but a divine revelatory fact . . . . we are "aliens" and we are "strangers".  Remember what I wrote a few months ago? . . . . an alien is someone who doesn't belong, and a stranger is someone nobody knows.

And that's exactly what we are in this world.  We must not forget this truth.  It is imperative for consistent, stable, and faithful Christian living.  Once we lose sight of the fact that we don't belong here and nobody really knows us, we will find ourselves fitting nicely into the lifestyle of what may appear to be the rich and famous but in reality is the lifestyle of the spiritually destitute and derelict.

My heart aches for what I see in the empty eyes of the people of Kiev.  It aches more, however, for the believers I know who don't realize they're living on the wrong level.  They're living in wishful thinking rather than in confident hope.  They're fighting for victory rather than from victory.  They're bound to performance rather than to grace.  They're spending all their time trying to impress God instead of being impressed with Him.  They're living under their circumstances instead of at the right hand of the Father seated with Christ in the heavenlies.

Just as many people in Ukraine try to survive illegally in an unjust economic system, and they deny the trash by gazing at the trappings, and they try to live in the present by resting in the past, believers, too, can try the same tactics.

So, as I conclude my note to you today, I pray that you have been able to grasp more than my feeble attempts have revealed.  I pray that your heart will be stirred by the glaring contradictions and grievous inconsistencies we find within our own hearts when it comes to the call to wholeheartedly follow Jesus.  We cannot forsake "some" and follow Him.  We must forsake "All" to follow Him.

I'm reminded of a story I heard thirty or more years ago; I believe it may have been attributed to F. B. Meyer, but am not certain.  Whoever it was, the great preacher was counseling a young woman who was struggling with surrendering all to Jesus.  In attempt to show her how she was trying to both surrender and yet maintain some degree of control over certain areas of her life, he directed her to the story in Acts 10 of Peter's vision on the housetop when God was calling him to preach the Gospel to the Gentile Cornelius.  When the angel commanded Peter to eat food that was not Kosher, Peter said, "Not so, Lord!"

The evangelist's point was clear . . . . you can't say "Not So" and "Lord" at the same time.  If you say, "not so", then you're not acknowledging Him as Lord.  If you say, "Lord" you cannot also say, "not so" to Him.

So, I guess, my friend, we have to deal with the fact that we must daily choose which level of living is for us.  God has made it clear what He as designed. But, . . . .

What will we do in response?

In His Bond,

Bob Tolliver -- Rom 1:11-12
Copyright February, 2003
Life Unlimited Ministries

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