Nadia will never forget the day terrorists stormed a local school in her hometown and took nearly 1,200 children and adults hostage. Neither will I.
When the siege in Beslan, Russia, ended two days later – on September 3, 2004 – more than 330 were dead, including 186 children. The massacre left the town and our entire country numb with grief.
A few weeks after the tragedy, members of a local evangelical church knocked on Nadia’s door. They came with a Christmas gift – and a paper Star of Bethlehem ornament, sent by a person in America who wanted her to know that God loved her.
Grateful for the kind gesture, Nadia hung the little silver Star in her front room. For the past 16 years, the ornament has hung where she can see it every day. This Star, with the bold-red words “God Loves You” in Russian printed on it, has brought Nadia – who lost her own son in a tragic accident – hope and comfort in the darkest times.
When the Russian Union of Evangelical Christians-Baptists partnered with Slavic Gospel Association to create the Immanuel’s Child Christmas program many years ago, we never imagined these simple ornaments would have such a huge impact. Again and again, I’ve been reminded that the smallest thing is always big enough if done for the glory of God and the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Just last year, a local pastor visited Nadia’s home to invite her to an Immanuel’s Child event and share with her about God’s love and forgiveness through the gift of His Son, Jesus Christ, and how the Star of Bethlehem led the Magi to the Savior of the world – “Immanuel, God With Us.”
Excitedly, Nadia showed him the carefully kept Star of Bethlehem she was given years ago. Now in her 60s, she’s moved houses three times, but the Star has always gone with her, hanging in a place she can see it.
For Nadia, the truth proclaimed on this simple ornament shines brighter than ever: “God Loves You.”
Symbol of Love, Light, Hope
More than 2,000 years after Christ’s birth in Bethlehem, the Star is still a powerful symbol of love, light, and hope – especially in the darkest times when hate seems so strong and it’s difficult to see anything hopeful at all.
There’s nothing mystical about a piece of paper in the form of a Star. But in Russia and the former Soviet Union – where many of us grew up under communism and were told there is no God – people are drawn to this simple ornament by the power of the three words printed on it: “God Loves You.”
For those like Nadia who’ve lived their entire life in a spiritual vacuum, the sudden realization that there is a God, and that He loves them, is a blinding flash of light, illuminating the soul – just as the Star of Bethlehem shone the way to the Savior’s birthplace for the Magi from the East.
This Christmas, evangelical churches across Russia, Ukraine, the former Soviet countries, and Israel’s Russian-speaking communities will take this Star and its message of God’s love – even going door-to-door – to many who’ve never heard about Jesus.
Thousands will hear the Gospel – many for the first time – and the light of the Star will shine in their hearts.
Bibles, Gifts for Impoverished Families
From Russia’s capital Moscow to Siberia and beyond, local pastors, missionaries, and church members partnering with Immanuel’s Child will deliver Bibles and locally purchased Christmas gifts to some 50,000 children and parents, many from impoverished households on the edge of hunger and reeling from the impact of COVID-19.
But they’ll also have that little paper ornament in their hands, a Star of Bethlehem bearing the name of a Christian in the U.S. who has committed to pray for the recipient.
These small, seemingly insignificant ornaments will be treasured for years to come – a witness to the Gospel that transforms lives.
It’s also a reminder to us all that it’s often the “small things” we do for God that matter – and that He uses them in a big way to make an eternal difference.
Because of Immanuel’s Child and the love shown by her local church, Milena – a young nursing student – put her faith in Jesus and was baptized last year. Like thousands who’ve experienced the love of Christ through Immanuel’s Child, she says she can’t imagine life now without Jesus and her church family.
This Christmas, will you do a “small thing?” Will you join with Immanuel’s Child and put your name on a Star of Bethlehem ornament? Will you let a lost, hurting person on the other side of the world know the wonderful truth they’ve never heard … “God Loves You”?
The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily reflect those of Christian Headlines. Used with permission.
Photo courtesy: ©Robert Thiemann/Unsplash
Vladimir Miskevich, a pastor who has planted 18 churches across Russia and now serves as the chief administrator of the Russian Union of Evangelical Christians-Baptists.