By Gennady Podgaisky
“It pays to know how to play Backgammon.”
This past January, my wife, Mina, and I were on extended medical leave in North Carolina. In one of those days, we met with a friend and ministry partner from a local Presbyterian church.
As a part of her church’s ministry, she was helping in a local rehab center. The center serves several adult men who are trying to put their lives back on track. In that center, she met a Russian speaking person who just came into the program. Our friend told him that she knows some Russian speaking people in the community (us), and asked if he would be willing to meet with us. He said that he would be interested in meeting us. Of course, we wanted to meet him as well, and see if we could help him or support him in any way.
We met with him several times while we were in the area. Andrew (not his real name) is a twenty-nine-year-old Russian speaking person. He was adopted by an American family from an orphanage in one of the former Soviet Union Republics. He has a very sad life story.
His parents were of different nationalities, from two different republics of the former Soviet Union. They were drug addicts, and both died from overdoses while Andrew was in elementary school. He, and his younger sister, became orphans and were placed into an orphanage. An American Christian family, which was doing ministry in that country and was visiting that orphanage, decided to adopt both of them.
Andrew came to the States at the age of 16. Being an older teenager and coming from an orphanage, he did not do well in this transition to a new country. He did not know the language and had hard time adjusting to his new family and high school environment. He was quickly drawn into bad company. Soon after graduating from high school, he got into a trouble with the law and ended up behind the bars.
Being in and out of the prison system has been his life for the past 11 years. Now he was out of prison and in a Christian rehab program hoping that this would be the turning point in his life. He was afraid, that if he did not change his life’s direction, his next sentence, being a habitual offender, would be a lengthy one.
Andrew was ready to see us and was eager to talk to us in his heart language, which is the Russian language. We listened to his life’s story, his struggles, losses and painful experiences, his hopes, and his fears. We prayed for him, supported, and encouraged him in his determination to start a new clean page in life. We shared our family’s and our lives’ stories with him. We particularly connected while playing backgammon games. Backgammon was his favorite game while in the orphanage, and my favorite game while in military service.
He asked us if we can find a Bible in Russian for him. We ordered it online and brought it to him. Andrew was estranged from his adoptive family after high school and did not have any contact with his adoptive father for several years.
While meeting with us, he was considering restarting relations with his adoptive father, which he did follow through later on. Andrew came to an understanding that without God, without support from the right friends and family, without a good Christian community, he will not be able to restore his life and live the life which God wants him to live.
We prayed with him and for him, for his future and entrusted him to his Creator, who is his Heavenly Father. Finally, who would have known that God was going to use my knowledge of how to play backgammon as a point of connection for ministry to someone.
Sometimes it does pay to know how to play backgammon!