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Dear brothers and Sisters in Christ! So much has happened in the last month it is hard to believe it has only been a month and a week since I last wrote! 


The biggest bit of news is that our long time coworkers, Andrey and Olya, got married on January 25!!! Praise the Lord! 


Andrey has been working with us since the Takuchet days, since 2013. He has been one of the greatest gifts of God in our work here that we have ever had. A trust worthy, honest, hard worker who has been invaluable to us in both the Takuchet project and now here in Altai. Olya joined us as a volunteer in 2017, just days after I was taken to the hospital with encephalitis and limes. After a month of volunteering and really striking up a good relationship with Rebecca, we asked her to stay on full time. 


Last fall, Andrey and Olya found mutual interest in each other and began to build a friendship that bloomed into a romance. They asked for premarital council and also honored me by asking me to marry them. So on January the 25th, they were married! 


This is a really wonderful change in the makeup of our ministry and the farm here. We now have three families as opposed to one family and a bunch of singles in orbit! Please pray for us as we navigate this new territory and work out the the new dynamics of life together as separate families and households. 


In January we had two outreaches in two towns near us. Again I am constrained by circumstances to not sharing details, suffice it to say that we worked for almost three weeks cumulatively in two towns, much seed was planted and the Word of God is going boldly forward.


We also have been doing regular weekly trips to both towns on both Saturdays and Sundays. Let the reader read and understand. These weekly trips have caused no little commotion in our local government and we have faced the first serious formal resistance. Unfortunately both schools and community centers which were open to us formerly, which provided us a neutral place to gather, have now been closed to us. Again, please forgive me the lack of details. However, this was to be expected. We are continuing to do work without these facilities. Please pray for men of peace in both of these towns, for fruit for the seed that has been sown, and for growth for the seed that has been planted, and for fruit from the seed that is already growing. 


Mid January I worked to get Tirzah's residency permit extended. We had actually started this process back in November but due to complications with extending her passport in the US embassy in Yekaterinburg, and internal issues with the migration department here in the Altai region, we were unable to submit her documents for extension till after the New Year which was technically beyond the last possible date for submission, even though WE had everything ready from our side by the 8th of December. We still have not heard back from the migration department on the success or failure of this project. Please pray that the Lord would make a way for this document to be extended and give us success. 


At the end of January and beginning of February, Tirzah and I traveled to Moscow for a slew of  conferences, media appearances and speaking engagements. I keynoted at a youth conference in Moscow, held a home education seminar in Kemerova, did interviews on the radio in Novosibirsk and Moscow, spent three days speaking at an Agricultural Expo in Moscow, did 6 internet and tv appearances and interviews. God continues to use me in the public arena and I continue to try and remain open in this area as well. I have made a conscience choice to speak very openly and boldly about the Lord, and this is harder than it might seem. Please pray for me, for continued boldness and courage to bring Christ in to everything I do. I am not ashamed of the Gospel...for it is the power of God unto salvation. 


The orphanage project we started back in 2008 is finally moving forward. The family that is taking on this project will be getting approved for children this week. Please pray for success. Again, forgive the lack of details. Please pray. 


Back on the farm things have been going very well. We have two huge chest freezers full of meat, lambing season is in full swing. Our two older girls, Tirzah and Adara, as well as Sonya (Olya's daughter) continue to be a major help in the farm work. They earn a salary for helping in the barn and yesterday they wanted to buy kid goats from me. I had to walk them through the math of why I usually opt not to raise kids but prefer to buy grown goats. It is so fun and gratifying to have this opportunity to teach the children about hard work and money and investment at this early age, ina venue that they can both understand and be involved in in such a hands on way. 


This year is our "proof of concept" year. When we finaly were able to procure land here in the Altai for the Next Step project back in the late fall of 2016, I had hoped we could be fully operational by the spring of 2019. As it turns out I was off by a year. However, we are now at that place where the project will prove itself. The lessons we have learned have been so valuable and due to them we are able to help others duplicate what we are trying to do here. Keep this aspect of the ministry in your prayers as well. 


Thank you so much for your continued prayers and support. What we are trying to do here is outside of the "norm" of overseas missions work, but I believe, for the future of village ministry in Russia, is vital. While I was in Moscow I had a meeting with the vice chairman of the largest protestant Church Union in Russia. They are starting a new work in Haiti and believe that our model can help them there. They will begin to implement much of what we do here in Haiti this year. So who knows, the seed planted in rural villages in Russia may reach out to have a global impact. Thank you for your continued and patient support. 



INJ, 

Justus, Rebecca, Tirzah, Adara, Kirsten and Team!!! 


PS. Below are my thoughts about Christmas, the ones I promised back in January. Better late than never!! 


The Pagan Roots of Christmas

by Justus D. Walker


If you have been a Christian for more than a few years, you have doubtlessly ran into those zealous pursuers of true faith who equate holiness with ruining every one else's good time. Especially in the age of the internet, these spreaders of not-such-good-news, are hard to miss. They will be the first to inform you that Easter is actually the celebration of the fertility god Ishtar, that Valentines day was originally dedicated to ritualistic debauchery and that Christmas is a thoroughly pagan holiday (formerly known as Saturnalia) and was never celebrated by early Christians. 


Around Christmas time, I get asked this question more and more often. So I decided to give what I hope will be a satisfactory answer not only to those troubled by these tidings of woe but also to those who do the troubling. Is Christmas a pagan holiday and if so, should we, as Bible believing Christians participate in it? 


First of all, as a lover of history, I must admit to the indisputable fact that almost all pre-Christian, pagan civilizations and cultures in the northern hemisphere had some kind of festival based on or around the winter solstice. So depending on which "pagan" calendar you are consulting, the entire second half of December is potentially peppered with varying dates of pagan rituals from all over the world. And more specifically, the ancient Roman festival of Saturnalia was indeed held in the second half of December, albeit from the 17th to the 22nd, not the 25th. But such a minor detail as the inaccurate attribution of a shared date should be no means dissuade us from being dissuaded, should it? Of course not! 


And the accusation that the early church did not begin to celebrate Christmas until after Constantine (yes, the favorite whipping boy of modern protestant would be reformers) is also thoroughly factual. 


So there you are, Christmas was originally a pagan holiday, and the early church never celebrated it. And having established that both of these statements are (mostly!) true, I want to propose that we should celebrate Christmas exactly because of these facts and not despite them. 


Christmas, like no other of the high holidays of the Church,underscores the historic tension between the Jewish cradle and the Christian faith that was born into it. This tension begins, not with the Crusades or even with the Apostles seeming unwillingness to go to "all nations", but in Christ's own words and actions. 


Jesus comes to the Jewish nation as a Jew, preaches in their synagogues and heals their sick. He instructs His disciples not to go into any of the villages of the Samaritans or the gentiles, but to preach to the lost sheep of Israel. When He first publicly announces His ministry, His purpose for coming to earth, He does so on a Jewish holiday, sanctioned by God and the Law. "I am the bread come down from heaven", He cries out at the Feast of Tabernacles, and the significance of this is not lost on His hearers. They are celebrating the children of Israel's wondering in the wilderness, living in tents, when God gave them manna, bread from heaven. Once again the Bread of Heaven has come down for the people of God, the Emanuel to Tabernacle with His people. 


And to us, the gentiles, what does Christ say? "You do not know what you worship", Christ rebukes the Samaritan woman at the well, "Salvation is from the Jews", He reminds her. In one of His harshest moments, when a distraught woman, not a daughter of the Chosen People, pleads with Him for the sake of her demoniac daughter, Christ ignores her entirely. Finally, pressed by his disciples, He coldly tells her "It is not right to give the children's bread to the dogs." 


Linger here with me for a moment. Let the sting of that sink in. Don't jump to explanations. Don't attempt to sterilize or downplay this abrupt and offensive saying. You have traveled many miles, on foot. You have heard of Jesus, meek and mild, blessing the children, healing the lame and the blind, casting out demons and you believe. You have hope. He embraces the lepers and surely he will hear you. But He ignores you and when he does speak, He does not call you "daughter" but dog. You dog. You gentile dog. The children must not be shortchanged for the likes of you. 


How do we react when God speaks harsh truth into our lives? Do we take offense at these hard sayings. Most do. 


"You must eat my flesh and drink my blood, or else you have no part in me!" And most of the disciples, who had seen the miracles and believed and followed the Christ now falter for "This is a hard saying, who can bear it?" And this disgust, this distraught reaction from His chosen followers re-echoes through the ages in every misguided, modern charge against the Faith, "A butchers religion","Cannibalism","The last vestiges of pagan human-sacrifice from ancient times still practiced throughout the otherwise civilized world."


The stone of stumbling has come. To the Jews a scandal and to the Gentiles, foolishness. So how do we deal with this offense, this foolishness of God? While Solomon was building the Temple in which God's glory would dwell, our forefathers were running half naked in foggy forests murdering each other with reckless abandon. While the descendants of Abraham at least struggled for holiness, our forefathers gave themselves wholly to debauchery, the grave and fertility rites of many northern Europeans, if described here, might be mistaken for the scenario of some triple x horror movie.


So He calls me a dog. And maybe that is my pedigree. "Once not a people..." and yes, so very far from the covenants and promises of God. "Yes, Lord. But even the little dogs eat from the crumbs that fall from the children's table." The faith of the Syro-Phoenician woman. She does not "name and claim" her way into the Kingdom. She does not demand equal representation at the feast with Abraham. She states clearly "Yes Lord!" Yes, I am not worthy. Yes, my pedigree is canine by nature, foul and outside of the camp of God's people. I do not presume to be a child, but let me have a crumb. Let me touch the hem of your robe. I am not worthy that you come into my home. 


And even after Pentecost, even filled with the Spirit, Peter doubts the commission of Christ to make disciples of all peoples. Surely He meant to find Jews among the dispersion and to preach to them. To bring out the seed of Abraham "from all the nations." Not to go to those "pagans". "No Lord, for I surely have not eaten anything unclean from my youth!" But to this fastidious Jew, to this keeper of tradition and guard of the Law, the Scandelon replies "Do not call unclean what the Lord has made clean." And Peter understands, that these reptiles and unclean beasts of all kinds, lowered in the sheet from heaven, represent the gentiles he must preach to and somehow make room for in the flock which Christ entrusted to him. And Peter will struggle with the pagan nature of the gentiles his whole life. 


And how is this all related to Christmas? John, in his Gospel gives a typically mystique and divine interpretation of the Word being born into the World and declares "He came to His own but His own did not accept Him." Matthew treats Christmas in passing, dwelling on the genealogy of Christ as more important to his Jewish audience than the circumstances of His actual birth. Mark omits it altogether. But Luke, fully gentile and formerly pagan Luke, gives us the fullest picture of the birth of the Lord. It is thanks to Luke that the nativity scene comes fully to life for us. 


So how do we deal with this tension, with Christmas? Who are we and how do we see ourselves in the nativity? Surely not Mary or Joseph, daughter and son of the covenant, or even the shepherds, though poor and humble, full fledged member of the commonwealth of Israel. We are those of whom Paul spoke "though not a people..." "Estranged from God," "Servers of Idols." Might we then be the wise men having come from afar, having groped in times of ignorance and through the observation of creation found Him? No, look to yourselves before you came to Christ..."Not many wise, not many rich..." We might not be descended from fearful men, but hardly were our lines well known as seekers of God. 


Christ is laying in a manger, a feed trough, in a stable because there was no room for Him in the inn. The Light of the World shines in the darkness and the illuminated doctors of the Law, the gleaming and star studded scholars, the king on his glowing throne are proven to be blind guides. They can by their own dark light only point the way, but they can not draw near to the child. "He came to His own but His own did not know Him."  


And this is the great joy, the good news of the pagan roots of Christmas. That the Bread of Heaven was lain in a manger for all who will come to this lowly place. Come flock of Israel, but to come you must be a sheep or a simple shepherd, a poor carpenter or his betrothed! Come clean and unclean alike, come ass and camel and yes even the dogs, come to this primitive table, this first symbolic communion. The Bread of Heaven has come down, the feast is laid out for you, but to partake of it you must not pretend to be what you are not. Divesting yourself of every pretense to God's grace you say with the Canaanite woman, "Yes Lord, thank you that even the dogs such as I am, have a place at this manger." 


Christmas was pagan and so were we. "Once not a people but now the people of God!" "Once afar off, now drawn near!" "How great the Father's Love that we should be called children of God!" Christmas is a manifestation of the redemptive power of God. Taking those who were beyond hope and transforming us into the people of God. In Christmas we must remember, with humility and without pride, that we are the wild branch having been grafted in. And we bring our wild, pagan celebrations. We groped for God in times passed, in hope that we might find Him and all of our forefathers celebrated the victory of light over darkness in their own way in the winter Solstice. And when the True Light came into the World we changed our debauchery to thanksgiving; Christ is our tree of Life, the true Light that shines in the darkness, our Morning Star and the greatest gift ever given to man. 


If God can not redeem through Christ our holidays, how sure are you that He can redeem you? So celebrate Christmas as only a pagan can, that we too have obtained grace from God. That though we be the unclean beasts of the earth, Christ came for us as well!