Valentina met us at the door with a bit of a stern look, as if we were late. Andrew seemed oblivious as he pulled off the kids’ valenki (Russian boots).
Valentina stood aside and held out her hand, ushering me in. Stout, with a wizened face and sharp eyes, she eyed me up and down, barely a hint of smile on her face. A severe bun tucked back her long gray hair, dyed cranberry on the ends, and she hustled about the kitchen with a no-nonsense aura about her that would have made my grandmother proud. She wore a shapeless gray polyester dress over her barrel body with an antique topaz pin fastened to her collar and she looked every inch like the matrons I’d seen in old Communist Party pictures.
In fact, she was a former KGB Colonel.
Of course Andrew didn’t tell me her lifelong profession until after we’d sat down to tea with pickles – which had been soaked in vodka – boiled potatoes, tomatoes and brown bread. She even sliced up some cheese and sausage – a lavish spread for a pensioner.
She told me she’d been a translator. I wanted to make conversation, so I asked her what kind of things she translated. She hesitated, and we fell into a pregnant pause…then, “Let’s not talk about it.”
At that moment Andrew realized that I had no idea who I was talking to. I was drinking tea with someone who ten years ago would have had me under bright lights for asking such a question.
“What did you expect her to say?” he teased me later, “that she had translated the wire taps in President Kennedy’s office?” Oops.
But the realization that we were in the home of a former KGB Colonel made drinking tea with her like old friends and talking openly about who we were and why we were in Russia, that much more profound. She asked why we had come to Russia and I told her plainly, “To tell the Russians that God loves them.” Amazingly, she looked interested.
My children sang a song for her, recited a poem and David told her about Christmas. As we were leaving, she pulled me aside and asked where and when we were having Bible studies. She said she wanted to send her granddaughter, but I wondered if she wanted to send herself.
Valentina invited us back. This was only significant in that, to her, this was a complete embracing of the enemy. She told me that although she could speak fluent English she was never allowed contact with foreigners. Ten years into Perestroika, we were the first. I expected her to be wary. Instead, she welcomed us like we might be friends.
My friendship with Valentina taught me much about God, and His grace. Some might think that Valentina doesn’t “deserve” heaven. She has spent her lifetime denying its existence. But God doesn’t operate that way.
Valentina an inescapable reminder that salvation does not come to the worthy, but to the unworthy. If the Lord can change the heart of a woman like Valentina, a modern-day Saul, then there is hope for anyone – including me, that God will not stop His flow of grace into my life and that He will soften all my calloused places, if I will only let Him.
All we have to do, to receive grace, is to step out in faith and accept it. No games. No deception. No hidden cost. Just life.
I’m so excited to announce the re-release of Nadia, one of my favorite books in this series.
This second title in the Heirs of Anton series takes place in 1970, when former CIA spy Nadia “Hope” Moore must sneak behind the Iron Curtain, spring her estranged husband from a Russian gulag, and prove to the CIA that Mickey Moore isn’t a traitor-at least, not to his country. Mickey has secrets that will save American lives, but a double agent isn’t about to let the spy duo escape, even when her well-placed father attempts to help. Will Nadia be able to resurrect a love she thought had died? God is her sole ally, and only He can give her the wisdom to save her husband, her father. . .and her country.
When I wrote this book, I had just finished 10 years of living in Russia as a missionary. It’s one of my first books…so hopefully I’ve grown as an author since then. Still, I love the story and I hope you do too.
Nadia landed the honor of being a 2005 Carol Award finalist, and RT Reviews had this to say: “This second in the series thrusts the reader along a fast track of adventure with all the elements of vintage romance.”
And, if you missed book 1: Get Ekaterina!