by Blake Purcell, SRS Field Director
In February of 1991 I was ushered into an ornately built but run down marble central room in the palace. My friend introduced me to the fifty or so people at the meeting. I was asked to share why an American with three children and my wife six months pregnant would move to the Soviet Union in October of 1990 right when everything in the country was falling apart, and thousands of Soviets were beginning to emigrate to America.
This was one of history’s last meetings of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union.
After I was done sharing why we came to their country and had explained Revelation 3:20 and how Christ had come into my life, and forgiven my sin, and made me willing with the help of other believing Americans to move my family to the USSR, one man raised his hand. I asked him to speak. “You came here for that?”
I could tell there was a major disconnect between me being forgiven for my sins, and my willingness to move to their country that was so bad off that the heating in the room we were in was not working. It was probably -20 C outside and + 2 C inside where I was speaking. You could see everyone’s breath.
I want to try to connect the dots that this puzzled older man could not connect. And in doing so I would like to set a trajectory for this blog that has one purpose. To Christ alone (Solus Christus) be the glory for saving us by Himself alone. Yes, I hope we have provocative discussions, and mind blowing articles, but my hope and prayer is that all of them lead us closer to Christ and to one another.
Most people in the world that come to Christ are “down and outers” meaning they have been so unsuccessful in life, and have sunk so low they have no where else to turn but to Christ. This is why most of our first seminary students here in St. Petersburg were former convicts. They had ruined their lives and were open to suggestions. Christ loves to save the desperately bad off.
I was an “up and outer”. That means I was so successful that I got to the top, and when I got there, I found out there was nothing there. The effect spiritually is the same, but the circumstances in life are different. I was born in 1958 to Graham and Betty Purcell in Wichita Falls Texas, and even though I was baptized in Fain Presbyterian Church, then, my family was nominal to non-believing.
In 1962, when I was four years old, my father, who had been a Major in WWII and fought the Germans in Italy, and became a lawyer and judge, was elected to the US Congress for the 13th District of Texas. You can see me shaking hands with Vice President Johnson, who within about a year would be president of the United States. You can also see here my father with President Kennedy and Vice President Johnson when he was elected.
(I warned him to avoid Vietnam, but you can see how much attention he paid to my advice by how much attention he is giving me, poor man.)
In the Washington D.C. area where we lived, we went to church maybe one time a month or less. I feared God, and revered the Bible, but had no idea what Christ had done for me personally.
I idealized the USA, the Democratic Party (my father was more conservative than most Republicans today), my family and myself. I humbly planned on being the President of the United States by 1980.
Vietnam destroyed my idealization of the USA, and my father’s defeat in the election of 1972 destroyed my idealization of the Democratic Party. My parents' divorce in 1968 destroyed my unqualified trust of my family (my father was gone traveling with the President and others almost all the time), and my selfish complacency once elected as president of my freshman class at Groveton High School showed me that I had something very real wrong in my heart and life. Of course I had more sordid sins that I hid well, such as shooting out all the windows of an offending house that was behind my mother’s apartment. (The Police came to investigate, but they found only my weak Daisy BB gun and were sure I could not have done the crime with that. I didn’t show them the gun I did the crime with, a Crossman 760 air rifle.)
I was literally an up and outer because in 1973 I had aimed at playing the main role in our Jr. High play, which I did. I was the king in The King and I, a Rogers and Hammerstein musical. I wanted to win more points in athletics than ever done at that school, and I did. Over 1400. That would be the equivalent in Russia of being a master of sport at age 14. I participated in every competition and was the county champion in the 120 yard hurdles. At the final awards ceremony of the whole school I was awarded the trophy of “Boy of the Year”. It sounds silly now, but it was big stuff then.
The following year I was elected president of my freshman class at Groveton High School. That spring of 1974, for the first time in my life I got straight A’s on my report card. So I had accomplished everything I had wanted to. But I can remember the feeling of panic and disorientation when in June of 1973 I was walking home with my Boy of the Year trophy in my hand and thought two things. First, the joy of attaining something I had worked all year for was not that great. Second, “what in the hell do I do now” I thought to myself. I did not swear, but I was so panicked, that was how I felt. I literally felt as if I had no direction in life anymore.
All my idols were exposed as being useless, and I felt I had no direction in life, nor higher purpose for my existence. At 15 years of age, I had already seen and felt the results of looking to man for answers.
In March of 1974 my father invited two men he had connections to through the Presidential Prayer Breakfast movement to come start a youth group at our Washington Farm United Methodist Church. The first weekend in town I sat next to Glen Mars, one of these two young leaders and began to weep. He shared the Four Spiritual Laws with me, just read right through them, and God showed me Christ on the cross for me, that while I was yet a sinner, Christ died for me.
He read Romans 5:8 to me, “But God shows His love for us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”
Like C.S. Lewis shares, I never “made a decision” for Christ. God just seemed to invade my life all at once, after he had taken about 8 years to pulverize all my false gods, and nothing was ever the same. My father wanted me to be a Christian, but I felt a call to share my faith from the day Christ invaded my life, and he thought this was over the top. My behavior did not outwardly have to change that much, but inwardly my priorities were turned upside down. I felt from then on that Christ was my purpose in life.
Later I graduated from Texas A&M and became an Army Infantry Lieutenant, married, and by October of 1990 had three children and a fourth on the way when we moved to Leningrad, Soviet Union. Cathy and I had been willing to move to a place that had less food in the stores, historians say, than they did after World War II. (That is, no food in many of the stores!)
How did Christ’s forgiving my sins, and giving me purpose in life lead me to move here? I think II Corinthians 5:15 sums it up. And He died for all that those who live should no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died for them and rose again.
Also, I Corinthians 6:19, 20, You are not your own, you were bought with a price, therefore glorify God with your body.
Once God made me understand that I was not my own and needed to be available to go anywhere and do anything for Christ, He also kept opening the doors to move to a country that many normal folks were trying to leave.
To me one of the Eastern Church fathers summarized Solus Christus. Basil of Caesarea (329-379): “Let him who boasts boast in the Lord, that Christ has been made by God for us righteousness, wisdom, justification, redemption. This is perfect and pure boasting in God, when one is not proud on account of his own righteousness but knows that he is indeed unworthy of the true righteousness and is (or has been) justified solely by faith in Christ.”
Christ alone has saved me and given me purpose in life, and therefore He is worthy of me and you to live only for Him, even if it means moving half way around the world to speak to men who when they hear about Christ say, “You came here for that?” Yes, we did, and 23 years later we are still here for “that”.