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Chechnya & the Coucasus Region

Dear Family and Friends,

Praise the Lord!

In August I carried the cross through Albania. Until 1990, Albania was the only officially atheist state in the world; and 40 years before that, it was a Muslim nation. Known for decades as the world’s most closed nation, Albania was the last of Eastern Europe’s communist states to fall. Under, Enver Hoxha, it’s former leader’s regime, Bibles were prohibited; cars were banned; and at least a fifth of the population was jailed or exiled. Those caught practicing Christianity were reported to have been sealed alive in wooden barrels, floated out into the Adriatic Sea, then shot by government soldiers. I write all this to say, never have I entered a country so easily and had such liberty once inside, of all the nations that I’ve been in!

Presently, there is a beautiful move of the Spirit of God across this, once, “closed” country. Churches and ministries are springing up, but there is still great need. The reception of the cross was absolutely glorious! All along the roadsides, people would come to see us and hear about Jesus and the cross. One day, an elderly Muslim man came up to us, at first, very antagonistic and wanting us to leave his village. After sharing with him for a short while, he began to weep, then committed his life to Jesus. As we left, he began to cry softly, saying, “I only wish you were my son.”

From Albania, I flew to the Yerevan, Armenia. Here, I began walking with the cross in near the Turkish border, under the shadow of snowcapped Mt. Ararat, and only about fifteen miles from the Iranian border. From here I walked through Echmiadzin, the Vatican of the Armenian Apostolic Church and on through the capital, Yerevan. Although, Christianity has been here since the fourth century A.D. there is very little knowledge of Jesus, and in some places, there are even animal sacrifices made each year. Here, I was invited to speak to the region by Armenian national television and I even had the freedom to give an invitation for people to give their lives to Jesus. From this place, I traveled north past beautiful, Mt. Aragats, then Spitak, the Armenian city that was swallowed by the devastating earthquake in 1988. I walked north through Georgia on toward the Chechnya region and, by God’s grace, even though I had no visas, I had no problems passing military checkpoints or borders! Only Jesus could have done this! Although we only hear of Chechnya, there are six or seven wars that are taking place – Dagestan, Abkhazia, Ingusetia, North Ossetia, Nagorno-Karbakh, and the different border wars. My heart broke to see the devastation caused by these wars.

Though this region is plagued by war, I only received love, kindness, and beauty. My biggest problem was how to say “no” to all the hospitality that I was offered. People were so hungry – they were hugging and kissing me; there were people touching and kissing the cross. One precious grandmother, with tears in her eyes, said, “Thank you for coming. I was healed when I touched the cross!” This is the answer to the problems of our world … love, smiles, giving, and forgiveness! The problems of war are so complex that they confound the wisest of the world leaders, yet the answers are truly simple and childlike – forgiveness and trust. Wickedness in the human heart – whether among individuals or nations – cannot be overcome by words alone. The cycle of hurt, anger, hatred, and revenge can only be broken by forgiveness. We can’t give something we’ve never received. That is why we must come to the cross – forgiveness for our own evil. And when we have received forgiveness, love and peace we have it to give out to others. Truly, the cross of Jesus alone is powerful enough to defeat the forces of cruelty, hatred and war. It truly is at the cross where the worst of man has met the best of God.

“Life on the road is always such a contrast … On this trip, I couldn’t promise that I would return, only that I wanted to. There was war all around, yet peace in my heart! The heat would bear down and the sweat would flow; my shoulders got sore, my feet burned, and sweat stung my eyes … but always there would be a smile on my face, God’s Word in my heart, and a song on my lips, and there would be people that needed to hear about Jesus just around the next corner. Sometimes, I would get so lonesome for my family and friends, and other times I couldn’t find any privacy; at times, it seemed that every place, especially home, was a long way from wherever I was; at other times, I never felt more at home than right where I was. This is the struggle of the road; this is the triumph on the road. This is the cross in the crossroads of life. Life at its best and life at its worst. Emotions of joy, peace, awe, and love; but also those of hurt, sadness, and pain. This is life on earth and life in the way of the cross.” I hope you don’t mind me sharing from my journal. I wrote these words while I was returning. You’re such an important part of what God is doing through our lives and the witness of the cross. Since I think of many of you while I’m walking – wondering what is happening in your life, and wishing you could experience, first hand, what is happening on the road – I just thought I would share it as first hand as possible.

We simply want to say thank you to each of you for all the wonderful love and encouragement you have given us. Thanks for loving us and being our friend. Please continue to let us know how things are with your life. We will be seeking to respond in these next weeks to those of you who have written us. Then, on November 8, our family will travel with me as we carry the cross through the nations of southern Africa. May we all be a witness for Jesus and care for those who are lost, hurting and suffering around the world. We truly love you all!!

Jesus Bless You!!
Keith Wheeler
Philippians 3:10