We recently talked with professor, writer, editor, and translator Olga Lukmanova about her work in writing the first Russian-language biography of George MacDonald. She also shares what God is up to in Russia and invites fellow believers to prayer.
Tell us about yourself and how you got involved in writing, editing, and translating.
I became a Christian in August 1992, and in December of that same year a staff worker from the International Fellowship of Evangelical Students (IFES), who was seeking to provide good, solid Christian books for new Russian believers, asked if I could translate John Stott’s Basic Christianity. I said yes, even though I was a baby believer, had barely started reading the Bible, and had no computer skills – the audacity of youth is truly amazing!
This was followed by many more books, articles, and other materials commissioned by IFES and then other people and organizations. Editing comes naturally with experience in translation and teaching English: I get asked to look at other people’s translations all the time. Writing is still a fairly new undertaking: even though I write scholarly articles as part of my job, writing a book was never something I envisioned for myself, so we will see how it goes.
You are writing the first Russian-language biography of George MacDonald. Why are you focusing on him? What does he have to teach us today?
Along with C.S. Lewis, I count MacDonald as one of my masters. He saved my sanity when believing and being part of the church were very difficult, and I even started translating bits and pieces from his books for friends who also needed help.
MacDonald is one of the few writers who can write goodness in all its joyful splendor and beauty. We all need to remember that God is the great magnanimous Father, who is utterly good, utterly love, and utterly near, “more living and real than all suffering and all sin” (Baron von Hügel).
MacDonald was no stranger to suffering and sin, and his whole life and work is an amazing testament to his joyful faith in and intimate knowledge of the grand Fatherhood of God. I think that Russian-speaking believers would find in him to be a true inspiration and a heartening influence in hard times.
Why are biographies important for our own spiritual encouragement/Christian walk?
To me, biographies are a wonderful chance to meet the Church – those who have walked before us and are now cheering us on, confirming that it is all gloriously true – and so much better than we can imagine. They become friends and companions on the journey.
I see that their life circumstances were very similar to ours and that they possessed natural tempers they had to train themselves away from. They all heard and learned to obey, and their learning becomes mine – even if, for a time, only as a promise of glad things to come. How happy that all these stories got written for us, even though many of the writers could hardly have imagined their work would find a grateful response across so many lands and centuries.
What is God up to in Russia today? What are some of the challenges and blessings?
Russia is big, and it’s hard to generalize. I would say, though, that one of the challenges is trying to understand what to do in the atmosphere of tightening control, pressure towards ideological conformity, constant arbitrariness of the authorities, and an increasing feeling of powerlessness in the workplace and in the public sphere.
It is hard to know when to accept things as they are and when and how to protest. This tension is felt on all levels of life – although, from my reading of the saints of before, I understand that this has always been and will always be a challenge. One blessing I see is that we, Russian Christians, have come through our tumultuous post-Communist youth and are beginning to see ourselves as part of each other and part of the Church in all its expressions, and to enjoy its rich heritage as truly ours.
How can we be praying for you?
I am learning to live what I call a “seamless” life, a life of inner unity and abandonment, where all is embraced and done heartily and cheerfully, in God’s grace and presence, whether it’s work, ministry, leisure, or sleep. But there is one single overmastering desire: to welcome and adore God’s will, the “choiceless choice” and the one true freedom. I have good guides and all the necessary help, but there is always a temptation to shirk the right effort or pain and to opt for a less generous life.
I would also appreciate prayer for my colleagues and students (current and old) at the linguistics university where I teach. I want to have them all as my inheritance (Ps. 2) – as well as those in my family who so far refuse to believe. And of course, pray for the Russian Church to be faithful in our day.
Dr. Olga Lukmanova is a professor of English Language and Literature at the Linguistic University of Niznhy Novgorod, Russia.