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JULY REFLECTION

God has given you the privilege not only to believe in Christ
but also to suffer for him.

Philippians 1:29

I stood on the crowded subway, holding a grab handle in one hand while reading from a book in the other. I was a newly-minted believer, a follower of Jesus Christ, attending services at the International Christian Center in Staten Island, New York. The book I read from was written by one of the “health and wealth” or “prosperity gospel” preachers of the era. It had been given me a few days earlier by a friend, supposedly a more mature Christian than I.
 
As you might imagine, the author was making a case for how believers are meant to prosper and be blessed under the watchful eye of a God who keeps his promises. On the surface, I saw nothing wrong with that, and when I noticed in the table of contents a chapter on Job, I jumped ahead to that section.
 
But let me give you some back story…

View of Alice Springs from Anzac Hill, early 1950s.

Two years prior in 1980, I had been in Alice Springs, Australia, doing research for the screenplay It’s a Beautiful Day, which was based on the life of Feodor Cartchenko, a Ukrainian immigrant to Australia in the early 1950s. He made his first impression on the good burghers of Alice Springs one morning by blowing on a horn and singing psalms at sunrise from the top of Anzac Hill. By all accounts, he had a powerful basso profundo singing voice that literally echoed through the valley below. Jim Bowditch, an English journalist living in town, fell out of bed at the sound of Feodor’s singing and drove to the top of Anzac Hill to see if the world had come to an end. There, he encountered a gentle, peaceable giant of a man who had a message of love for the world and a simple word of greeting: “It’s a beautiful day.”
 
Mingling with folks in town over the next several weeks, and befriending children in particular, Feodor found the tables turned one day. Suspicious that he was a communist spy, or perhaps mentally ill, local police forced him on a train out of town. But three hours or so down the track, in the middle of nowhere, Feodor jumped off the train and disappeared into the Simpson Desert. His chances for survival in the harsh landscape were slim to none, but the story (thanks to Jim Bowditch) made national headlines across Australia as a search party was sent to his rescue—with the aid of camels and Aboriginal guides.
 
But that’s just the beginning of the story…

From the Alice Springs newspaper.

When I discovered in my research that Feodor had been a devout Christian, I bought a Bible and began reading it in my small motel room in Alice Springs where I was writing the script. After all, if I was going to describe a man who considered himself a Christian, I should at least read his Bible, right?
 
For research purposes, you know…

I began with the Psalms, looking for verses I could adapt into song lyrics for Feodor to sing from Anzac Hill! And then, for no particular reason, I turned to other sections of the Bible, in particular the Gospels, but also Ecclesiastes and the Book of Job. Reading Ecclesiastes made me think of my own life and existentialist worldview; but why Job? In that moment, I felt as though someone were speaking to my inmost being. The impression was palpable, the voice just short of audible: ”Like Job, you, too, will suffer.”

Flash forward two years to the crowded subway hurtling between Brooklyn and Manhattan, where I stood reading the prosperity preacher’s book.
 
“God did not take anything away from Job,” the prosperity preacher wrote, “rather it was Job’s decision to let bad things happen to him. If Job allowed it, then God had to permit it.”
 
Say what? I never read that! 
 
I remembered reading of a man who had declared in the face of unimaginable loss, “Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him…” A man who, when his wife told him to curse God and die, had replied, “Shall we receive good from the Lord and not evil?” Nowhere could I remember reading that Job had “permitted” or “invited” his own suffering. Rather, God had expressly granted Satan permission to destroy what Job held dear though Job had done no wrong. Why? I didn’t know. But clearly, it was not the consequence of Job’s “decision.”
 
The prosperity author then quoted Job 3:25 where Job said: “For the thing which I greatly feared is come upon me, and that which I was afraid of is come unto me," concluding that Job had caused his own downfall; that he had brought calamity upon himself because he was afraid. “What he was afraid of came to pass because he kept running off at the mouth about how scared he was,” wrote the health and wealth minister.
 
I felt a knot in my stomach.
 
The subway train came to a stop. As the doors opened, I wanted to toss the book out onto the platform like a hot coal, but that would have been littering! Verses from the Gospel of John, chapter 10, came powerfully to mind: “His sheep follow him because they know his voice. But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger's voice" (John 10:4,5). In that moment, I was extremely grateful that I had read the entire Bible, cover to cover, before giving my life to Christ. I didn’t know much about theology, but I could tell that the “voice” of the prosperity preacher was the voice of a stranger.

Cris with his son Daniel, the inspiration for The Puzzle Factory. Watch the backstory!

In the years that followed, I did, indeed, experience troubles akin to those of Job. Not to make more of it than I should; that is simply what happened. At times, it seemed more than I could bear. But far from driving me away from God, those valley experiences served to drive me closer to him. I take no credit for that; I’m not Superman nor am I the holy man I’d like to be. But thankfully, in December 1980, as I sat on a motel room floor in Alice Springs, Australia, trying to write a screenplay, God saw fit to whisper in my heart that I would know something of the sufferings of Job. All I did in the ensuing years—if I did anything—was stay by my post. At least most of the time.
 
Now, here I am, nearly forty years later, my hair gray and knees rickety, but my “inner hearing” still intact; my Savior dearer to me than ever; his words more precious and clearer than they have ever been. To what can I possibly owe the honor of suffering for Christ? By his grace, I have learned it is not a punishment; it’s a privilege. It’s a gift from above to draw us nearer to the One we love. 

From my heart to yours,

FILM OF THE MONTH: Final Solution was filmed in South Africa twenty years ago and has now been remastered and rereleased in high-definition video. Set against the backdrop of the last days of apartheid, Final Solution tells the true story of an Afrikaner, Gerrit Wolfaardt, who undergoes a radical transformation from violent racist to committed peacemaker. Given all that has happened of late here at home and abroad, the message of reconciliation at the heart of Final Solution is timelier than ever. And it is available for you to watch for free during the month of July!

 
CLICK TO WATCH NOW
UPDATE ON MATCHING FUNDS: In case you missed last week’s notice, generous donors have pledged a total of $15,000 in matching gifts to help cover operational costs at Messenger Films as well as costs related to the production of The Puzzle Factory. As of today, friends and supporters have contributed $4,000 toward the match!

Can you help us bring it home in time for Cristóbal’s birthday on July 14th?
 
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Cristóbal Krusen is a filmmaker and author. He founded Messenger Films in 1988.
www.messengerfilms.com

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