17 August 2008

Jeff's Experience in the Georgia Conflict

Jesus told us there will be wars and rumors of war until he comes. That God is in control and is the one and only true judge, well this is our remaining comfort when wars and cruelty seem to take us like a flood.

As to Georgia, I am amazed at God's protecting hand. Our plans to visit Gori had been in place for maybe 6 months. We arrived there Thursday evening, the 7th. That night Dr. Ralph and others heard shelling throughout the night. I heard only a lot of loud rumbling. (I had a noisey air conditioner that someone had apparently taken off a Motel 8 in Mobile, Alabama back in '73.) The next morning Dr. Ralph and I were in the Gori drug store buying medicines when we heard a loud explosion, shaking the building. At the same time the lights went off. The workers began calling their families on cell phones and outside we saw people rushing to and fro. Within minutes the streets were filled with cars and there was a general panic.

When we rejoined the van with the team, Jim Earl, a doctor's assistant on our team, told us how he saw the Russian fighter plane swoop down and release a bomb into the city stadium. The windows where he was standing were shattered, and he said later his ears still hurt from the explosion. Other than that we suffered no harm during the trip. We went to E. Georgia that same day, and the following day traveled by bus to Yerevan, Armenia as the International airport at Tbilsi was now closed.

Bro. Vissarion, pastor of the church in Gori managed to escape with his family. Temporarily, he is living with our missionary to South Ossetia, Bro. Anatoly, who lives in Tbilisi. Bro. Anatoly has been shepherding churches in Tskhinvali and surrounding Georgian and Ossetian villages. They are now essentially in ruins. Please pray for our brothers and sisters whose homes and belongings in Gori are subject to looting and destruction. It is not only Russians, but many Ossetian "irregulars" who are also still occupying this city.

You ask about the propaganda from Russia. It is true that Georgians have been guilty of repressing Ossetians in the past, and probably vice versa. I am not convinced that Georgia was trying to commit "genocide". This sounds more like a justification for Russian military action. On the other hand, I wasn't in South Ossetia itself, so I can't say. I doubt that even the most unbiased observers will ever be able to fully establish the truth. Try to convince the average Russian citizen that there was no ethnic cleansing by the Georgians. Your efforts would be in vain. You will do better to agree there is evil afoot and quickly turn the conversation to Christ.

A video from the You Tube link that was sent to me of a young Russian man portrays persuasively the Russian media's view of the conflict: Russia is the compassionate protector of the poor abused Ossetians. The unnamed Russian in the video does not mention the fact that Russia has issued passports to the Ossetians, calling them "our citizens". Over the last several years they have armed them, giving them the ability to wage war in their own right. All of this was done inside Georgia's internationally recognized borders. What if Canada (or China) did the same for one of our Indian tribes?

Where I think this gets sticky is that Georgia through hateful, unforgiving attitudes, has not done right by their minority populations, and in some sense has "asked for" someone's intervention. Given the presence of a new major pipeline through Georgia, a young new president, and a strong shift to western politics, Russia's hackles have been raised. They were more than ready to play the role of the great defenders of the Abkhazians and the Ossetians. The Russian people have been fed this line through all their media channels and virtually all of them believe it is true.

In this conflict Russia, Georgia, and America all have their agendas, and rich natural resources play heavily into this picture, notwithstanding minorities and borders. The tragedy is that many Ossetians and Georgians who have lived in S. Ossetia for generations have been killed, their homes destroyed, and the survivors are forced from their homes and farms and are living in refugee camps.

There are no "hero" nations in this conflict, much as we like to see ourselves with white hats. We must pray for the victims and do all we can to re-establish peace in the region. As believers we must do this first on our knees as per 1 Tim 2.

Thanks for being there and for caring. Thanks especially for your prayers for us and for our Georgian and Ossetian brothers and sisters, who are going through such a great trial of their faith.

Bro. Jeff

Blessed is he who has regard for the weak;
the LORD delivers him in times of trouble.
The LORD will protect him and preserve his life;
he will bless him in the land

and not surrender him to the desire of his foes. Ps 41:1-2

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