Alex. He is the “little guy” I held at the orphanage and potato farm in rural and remote Bakchar, Siberia. His hauntingly empty stare and desperate reach to be held will be with me forever. When I see his picture, I feel his unwantedness oozing out of the photograph. That was 1995. It’s now 2005. I wonder where he is; what he’s doing. Is he even alive? I don’t know.
This I do know: I was forever changed in those two hours of holding him. If only I could describe to you how his heart raced when I first picked him up; and how after a while the racing suddenly shifted to a slow thump as he relaxed. If only I could describe how his fingernails dug into my neck as if he was a wild dog that had never been held: he did not even know how to hug. If only I could describe the desperation in his face as he reached for me — against the odds of all those older, taller, stronger children surrounding me… it took great courage to just lay it all out there: Please hold me! If only I could explain clearly enough what it was like when he nuzzled his head into my neck — almost like a baby desiring to nurse. I cannot explain it clearly enough. But maybe you see a bit of what I am speaking about in his photo in Part 1. Maybe my words are painting a picture that at least gets close.
As special as this moment was, I had no clue that it was part of God’s thunder rumbling into the depths of my soul. I had no clue that the Christ I was already falling in love with was about to overtake my soul and leave me changed forever. I had no way of understanding that my American Worldview was about to come undone.
Only four days after returning from Siberia, I relocated from Houston to Boston. I left behind my partner, my condo, most of my possessions, and my family. I thought this relocation was temporary to open up a new office for my company — then, I’d return back home where I most wanted to be. New England was beautiful, but no beauty satisfies in the midst of loneliness. In Boston, with only a mattress on the floor, a few sets of clothes, a CD player, and my Christian CDs, I did not have much to distract me from loneliness. Away from family and friends and not knowing many people my age in Boston, this too forced me to confront my loneliness.
In this desperate place, I kept seeing the face of Alex. Now, I knew a bit of what he felt. I was hungering so deeply to be in the arms of my partner. I was desperate for touch and affection. But my opportunity for that was 1,800 miles away. So I turned toward the Savior that I had begun falling in love with a couple of years earlier. I prayed and I read the Bible with great fervor. My hunger for God to catch me in my free fall was just like Alex’s desperate raising of his hands that screamed, Hold me!
In my own desperate raising of my hands in the face of intense loneliness, I screamed, God, hold me! I did not hear the actual voice of God, but I sensed a still, small voice whisper across my soul. I was confronted at the core of my soul with the truth of my life. God opened a spiritual window in which I was able to see things as they really are — not as I want them to be. In this experience, my American Worldview fell apart.
I had always believed that if it’s about love, it’s about God. If I want it, I need it. If I need it, I deserve to have it. If I deserve to have it, I’m going to get it. If it feels good, do it so long as no one gets hurt. I had always believed in God, but that belief had never driven my life direction. In fact, I was convinced that a ‘loving God’ would never withhold from me anything that I wanted. If He was that kind of ‘god,’ that would not be so loving and that would not be the kind of ‘god’ I would want to follow. It might cost me too much to have a ‘god’ who is overly invasive.
Now, God — the ONLY God — was invasively intervening in the circumstances of my life. He was drawing near — very near — and I was sensing His voice. He whispered across my heart:
Consider the Siberian orphans. Consider Alex. Will he stop being exposed to frostbite next winter? Or the winter after that? And the next one after that? Will his parents ever come get him out of that remote place of isolated loneliness? Will another bus of Americans come during the 9 months of bitterly cold winter weather? Will he get enough to eat to counter his lagging growth? Will he ever escape this potato farm? Will he ever recover from the pain of abandonment and unwantedness?
No, he won’t. Alex is one of the ‘least of these.’ And he will be one of the ‘least of these’ this year and the next year and the year after that. On and on for years and decades, Alex will suffer in the midst of unmet longings. But on that Great Day, Alex who is last in this world will be first in the Kingdom to come! For I am preparing a place for him. But until then, this little boy is subject to the fallenness of this world; he will wander in the midst of unmet longings and needs; he will not escape suffering.
But this he will do: like the lilies of the field, he will be clothed and fed and he will shine and blow beautifully in the wind because his life is under My authority and sovereignty. He has no choice — he cannot escape his suffering. But you Bill Henson, you have a choice because you are from a wealthy land; you can choose to reject a ‘god’ who might demand too much of you; you can change God into a ‘god’ of your own making so that those demands are lessened; you can redefine ME into a false ‘god’ that never intervenes or commands or demands; in the wealth of this land, you can make ME into whoever you want me to be.
I am asking you what will it be? Are you going to continue to follow a ‘god’ of your own making? Or are you willing to become like this little child Alex and submit your full life under MY authority and MY sovereignty? What will it be?
Never did I experience this whisper of God as condemning or harsh: His tone was inviting and inclusive and unconditionally loving. He came close to draw me to the Cross. His love was so nourishing that I fell more deeply in love with Him than I had ever been in my life. The days passed and my heart of stone was refurbished into a heart of flesh. All resistance and hardness was melted — washed away.
I saw with my spiritual eyes Jesus dying on the Cross. His head was down. He was sweating and bleeding. He lifted his head and stared right into my eyes. But this was unlike any stare I had ever encountered in my life. Every other stare was something that I could shield myself from. I could be kind to others but hide my true feelings. I could present one person to some people while I was another person inside. I could hide when I needed to hide from people. But in this moment, with Christ looking through my eyes, there was nothing I could hide. Even the desire to hide was melted instantly.
Christ looked inside me and saw the full me: he did not condemn me; rather, He filled me to overflowing with His love and His peace. I fell to the floor and wept as I realized that He was overtaking my life and I was going to lose my life — the only life I had ever known. But I would not ever be alone or lonely again — because in the losing of my life, I gained Christ. He filled me so deeply that night in October 1995 — the pain I felt at my great loss was only surpassed by the depth of His love and peace that flowed into the depth of my being.
That night, I became a little child like Alex. I reached my arms up to heaven. I knew God was holding me. I knew I could trust Him.
That night, I surrendered my whole life to Jesus Christ.
That night, I lost my American Worldview but gained salvation.
That night, my world came undone.