A Long Obedience in the Same Direction

Reflections on Grief, Horses, and Marriage

Pastor John Smith


Eugene Peterson wrote a book titled “A Long Obedience in the Same Direction: Discipleship in an Instant Society.” He reminded us that the Kingdom of God is not built quickly or easily, but requires a long journey of obedience.


When Russia first “opened” after the dissolving of the Soviet Union in the early 1990’s, a multitude of missionary organizations rushed in. It became “the place of what’s happening now” for missions. But not finding it an easy place to work, many of those mission organizations are no longer working in Russia.


The roots of Orphan Tree’s ministry in Russia go back 25 years, when George Steiner took his first trip there. Under George’s leadership, we have had a long obedience in the same direction, allowing the roots of Orphan’s Tree to grow deep into the Russian soil, and producing much fruit for the Kingdom.


My most recent trip to Russia was May 2-11, 2016, when I visited our major ministry points in the Vladimir, Ivanovo, and Kostroma regions. On that trip I saw several examples of the fruit of a long tenure of obedience there.

Elena 2010

One of our partners in Russia was Elena Bolshakova, who was for many years the Director of the Ivanovo Ministry Center. Elena passed away after a battle with cancer just several weeks before we arrived in Ivanovo. Along with Pastor Paula Koch (from Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio) we gathered the family, co-workers, and orphanage graduates who were deeply grieving the loss of Elena. Over lunch we told stories of her life and love and commitment. We laughed and cried together. We thanked God for her life. Romans 12:15 tells us to rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. This is only possible when there is a deep relationship formed over years. Americans and Russians were grieving together in the hope of the resurrection and reunion that is promised to us in Christ.


We passed through the historic town of Suzdal. There we met an orphanage graduate named Misha. He had been a faithful caregiver at Luhtonova to his orphanage Director, Ludmilla, in the final two years of her life. He was at her side when she died. Misha’s dream had been to work with horses. He recently graduated from the orphanage and works giving tourists horse back rides through the historic town of Suzdal. He loves caring for the horses, and we rejoice that this young man has found a place to live and prosper. He arranged for a carriage ride through the town for us. The town was beautiful, but what thrilled us was seeing how Misha has developed into a mature and caring young man.


I had a more personal reason to rejoice on this trip. My wife Pat and I had sponsored Alya at her orphanage from the time she was 10. We continued to stay in contact with her after her graduation. Our relationship over the years has become close, and while I was there Alya invited my wife and me to attend her wedding in July. She and Dima desire God’s blessing on their marriage, and are taking the necessary steps to be married in an Orthodox Church. Alya knows that God has blessed, protected, and provided for her. What a privilege to be part of what God has been doing in her life for the past 13 years!


Grief, horses, and weddings don’t sound like things that are connected. But they are all the fruit of a long obedience in the same direction. We at Orphan’s Tree are thankful for all those who continue to walk this journey of obedience with us.



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