Forward By Joni Eareckson Tada
Ask the new generation of young people today about the cata- clysmic events of the twentieth century and you’ll likely draw a blank expression. Lenin...Churchill...Stalin? In modern school textbooks, these are obscure names given a mere page or two of explanation. Ask high schoolers about the Cold War, and they might tell you it was a battle over where to draw the Arctic Circle. Try Googling the Iron Curtain and you could get a MySpace profile about a punk-rock band rather than information about the historical division between the West and the Soviet Empire.
Twentieth century history is all but lost on a generation more preoccupied with the CliffsNotes version. It’s time to revive the real story and take an up close and personal look at the lives of the people who truly made history in the last century. We need to hear about the stories of stalwart saints who crossed continents and cultures, surviving the brutalities of poverty and persecution in their quest for liberty and freedom. And of all the stories, none will grip your heart and invigorate your faith quite like Vanya Iliyn’s. It is more than a heart-racing account of an orphan boy’s escape from the ironfisted tyranny of Stalin, or his family’s journey from Ukraine across forbidding and dangerous lands into the desert of west China, or the unexplainable and miraculous encounters which the Iliyns experienced along the way. It is much more than that.
This saga is a story about God. It is the account of God’s unshakable faithfulness to those who suffer. It is the legend of how God hones and shapes each of His children into the image of His dearly beloved Son. It is a chronicle of grace. For only the Lord Almighty could enable Vanya to interpret the many bruisings he received as blessings; only Providence could enable him to view his disappoint- ments as heaven-sent disciplines and his trials as tests of faith from the hand of an all-wise and gracious God.
I need to be reminded of that. Even though I have lived as a quadriplegic in a wheelchair for more than four decades, I still need to be reminded of the tender hand of God at work in my own hardships. I need to be gripped by Vanya’s story of courage and faith. I must learn it, rehearse it, and model it. And so must you, friend. Too many of us have become complacent in a culture that idolizes comfort. We’ve forgotten what it means to suffer for the sake of Christ—and to do it with grace, valor, and dignity. We need to learn how to smile not in spite of our problems but because of them.
The twentieth century is behind us and it’s a different world now. Vanya would probably not recognize it. I take that back. He would recognize it. And he would know exactly what to do in the face of new wars that whisper of global holocausts: he would gently point people to the Savior, reminding them He is still the Way. He would remind us all of the old, old story that Jesus has conquered sin, no matter how ugly and pernicious it grows. And that soon—perhaps sooner than we think—He will close the curtain on hate and holo- causts to welcome home His survivors.
Finally, though you hold in your hands a history book of sorts, please know that the following chapters are as current and compelling as ever. is is why I am pleased to commend to you Out of the Far Corners. It is for every person whose soul is threadbare and fraz- zled, for every individual who is staring into the jaws of their own affliction. And if you’ve gotten this far, it’s for you. Go a little further and you will discover what I did...
If God’s grace could sustain Vanya through horrible persecution, then His grace is sufficient for us. With His help you can survive. And Vanya would say you will. It is my prayer that through the following pages, you will begin to understand how the God of all history is writing your story through your own suffering. Just as He did for Vanya Iliyn.
“To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps” (I Peter 2:21).
Joni Eareckson Tada
Joni and Friends