Do You See The Cross?

Shushan Richardson, Missionary, Lithuania

Do You See The Cross?

In the days leading up to the trial that would eventually result in a not guilty verdict for the man who killed my youngest brother, I went on a private spiritual retreat. It was a time of prayer and seeking God.

In those days of quiet, I read the Bible and Suffering and the Sovereignty of God by John Piper. During those days, God brought me to the cross and helped me to see it. Before, I saw the cross as a picture of God’s love, grace, and victory. My view was beautiful and joyful, but it was shallow. I realized that I had been missing the cost, cheapening the unimaginable suffering of Jesus. The cross is an amazingly powerful reminder that we are called to die, called to give up illusions that this world is fair and safe and just and easy.

It is a reminder that no matter the pain, difficulty, or cost, we are called to love and live and suffer as Christ did. I now see and feel the cross differently, overcome by the fullness of the vision. Worship for me has become all about the cross. 

Like life, missions is full of uncertainty. I had hoped to return to Ukraine, but the opportunity to serve with war-affected students drew me to the country of Georgia. There, I was presented with a new cross—the Georgian interpretation where the arms of the cross point downward. At first, I bristled at the strangeness and thought it was irreverent. But then I heard the beautiful story of a missionary to Georgia in the fourth century. She came to Georgia, sharing the gospel and living such a devout life that even the king took notice. She constructed a cross of grapevines, which she bound together with her hair. Eventually, she was able to lead the king to Jesus. Not only did he become a believer but also Georgia was a Christian country by the year 337. And the cross made of twisted grapevines remains a symbol of a life and a country dedicated to Christ.

When students from Iraq and Syria were unable to enter Georgia, the ministry was relocated to Lithuania. Here, too, the cross is a central theme. The Hill of Crosses in Lithuania is an awesome site. Hundreds of thousands of crosses have been placed on a small raised area outside of a city. The hill began as a memorial to soldiers lost in battle in the 1830s. It became a place of prayer for peace, and more crosses were erected. Under the Soviet Union, crosses and other Christian symbols were not permitted. Three times during the Soviet occupation, the crosses were destroyed. Yet under threat of punishment, Lithuanian people continued to sneak in in the dark of night to place crosses at this site, proclaiming their faith in God and praying for peace.

Now, I am serving at LCC International University in Lithuania, and we have 16 students from Syria and Iraq. They have suffered the horrific events that we have only seen a glimpse of through news reports.

Recently, I was sitting with some students from Syria. We had the opportunity to speak with filmmakers who made a documentary about the Syrian refugee crisis. They asked the students how they are adjusting to Lithuania and what stereotypes they face as Muslims. One young man was quick to speak up. He said, “I will let my Muslim brothers answer, but first, I want to tell you that I am a Christian. Yes, Jesus is in Syria.”

And Jesus is in Iraq, also, evidenced by the small wooden cross one of my Iraqi students wears proudly around his neck.

Yes, life and missions are uncertain, but God is not. Wherever I go, God has already been there. The cross asks if I am willing to do more than love. Do you see the cross? What great joy and sorrow, what amazing love and suffering, what overwhelming hope and despair, what unimaginable peace and pain; but above all else, what an awesome God! I see the cross and because I do, my view of everything else has become tainted and shallow.

Do you see the cross? Look again.