It is surprising that in the middle of giving His disciples a crash course in gospel work—including prospects of bloodshed, betrayal, loneliness, and fear—Jesus suddenly brings up the topic of sparrows. Though they’re small, insignificant birds, not a single struggling fledgling is forgotten by the Father. Jesus tells the disciples, “You are of more value than many sparrows” (Matt. 10:31). I’m sure the disciples never looked at sparrows the same way again, because in these unremarkable creatures is the remarkable reminder of God’s constant care for His people.
My friend Vera is such a little sparrow. She grew up in the Soviet Union, where Christians lived as “sheep in the midst of wolves.” Vera’s grandfather was a pastor imprisoned for his faith and then exiled with his family to Central Asia—a land of deserts and Muslims. What better place to silence these Christians? But his son Vladimir also was bold in his witness, arrested, and sent to the gulag, leaving a wife and six children—a seemingly abandoned nest of sparrows. The mama sparrow, Vladimir’s wife Lyudmila, was suddenly left to provide clothes and food for her fledglings. Vera was seven years old, and she recalls that many times after eating the last of their food, she lay in bed listening to her mama praying, calling on the Lord for their next meal. Like manna, breakfast came the next morning from the hand of their attentive Father. The timing was on an as-needed basis, and the means varied, but little Vera learned that God cared for the sparrows.
Vera came to faith in Christ as a teenager, and she wanted to be useful for her Savior. She found her gift—and her life’s work—in telling children about Jesus and discipling them. In 1991, the Soviet empire disintegrated, and the country where Vera lived became a Muslim-majority police state. Like her father and grandfather before her, Vera was arrested for her gospel work, but the interrogations and threats that followed did not stop her. She organized Christian camps to reach Muslim children with the gospel and shared the good news in schools, orphanages, and prisons.
Vera and I have been friends for more than twenty years, and she is one of the bravest women I know. Her courage has given other Christians courage too, so that some of the boys and girls Vera led to the Lord years ago have taken up the work with her. Besides camps, Bible correspondence courses are an effective tool of outreach. The militant Islamists know that as well, so Vera’s post office boxes were confiscated years ago. Yet, these correspondence courses continue underground as Vera’s team goes into neighborhoods taking the Bread of Life to hungry children. Vera calls these workers “sparrows”—a perfect name, because as they slip in and out of these risky places, their Father knows every one of them and is right there with them. Fear is conquered, and there is comfort in His company.