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  • Rev. Bradford G. Olson

Mom and Mikhail

I thought I would take a moment to share a story about my mom on mother's day.

Many know her as Rev. Dr. Mary Olson, but I know her as ‘mom’. She is the main reason that I moved to Ohio. In the mid-1980’s she was the Dean of the Doctoral Program at United Theological Seminary in Dayton.

One of her guiding principles was that leaders should be aware of what is going on in the world. So, she would organize trips for students and mentors around the world. One of the trips that she put together was to Russia.

Some of the people who went along were Robert Schuller who founded one of the first megachurches called the Crystal Cathedral and hosted a TV program called “The Hour of Power”, Leonard Sweet who is a renowned author and speaker, and Samuel Proctor who taught at Yale and Boston College and pastored the Abyssinian Baptist Church. Traveling with these kinds of people gave her some clout.

While in Russia, she managed to get an audience with Mikel Gorbachev. Do you remember him? He was the last leader of the Soviet Union before it divided. When I was in elementary school, we were in the middle of a cold war with the USSR. They were the “evil empire.” I remember doing bomb drills where we would hide under our desks, because we were afraid they were going to drop a nuclear bomb on us (like our desk would help?). Then, Gorbachev came along, and it looked like things might get better. He championed an idea called “Perestroika.” It was a new way of thinking that promised to give greater freedom, opportunity and cooperation for Russia and the world. I still have a signed copy of his book in my office.

Anyway, in their conversation mom asked, “What can the Christian Church in the US do for you?

Gorbachev said (imagine a thick Russian accent), “You Americans are all the same. You think that what we need is for you to give us something. We have enough. What we really need is… hope. Can you give us hope?”

Do you know what he is talking about? Have you ever felt like what you really need is hope?

In commenting on the story about the widow at Zarephath (I Kings 17), Henry Nouwen wrote (From Bread for the Journey), “If that’s you – one day, when that’s you – don’t give up. Turn to the God who has made himself known and demonstrated his ability to supply. Confess your sins and see if God doesn’t forgive. Cry out for help and see if God’s Spirit doesn’t give strength. Ask if God loves you and see if God doesn’t show you the cross. Ponder God’s power and see if God doesn’t remind you of the empty tomb. Beg God for wisdom and see what comes from his word. Bake the last of what you have and see if God doesn’t come through.

God is a God of abundance, not a god of scarcity. Jesus reveals to us God’s abundance when he offers so much bread to the people that there are twelve large baskets with leftover scraps (John 6:5-15), and when he makes his disciples catch so many fish that their boat nearly sinks (Luke 5:1-7). God doesn’t give us just enough. God give us more than enough: more bread and fish than we can eat, more love than we dared to ask for. God is a generous giver, but we can only see and enjoy God’s generosity when we love God with all our hearts, minds and strength. As long as we say, “I will love you, God, but first show me your generosity,” we will remain distant from God and unable to experience what God truly wants to give us, which is life and life in abundance.”

Rev. Dr. Mary Olson is currently pastor of Waves of Prayer in Elaine, Arkansas.

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