When I close my eyes, I can remember it like yesterday. I was 11 years old living an almost Utopian life in upstate New York with my 3 siblings and my parents, Stewart and Chantal Winograd. We had a small farm with a beautiful house, and the comfort of predictability. My parents had just returned from an outreach in Minsk, Belarus with Jonathan Bernis. They sat us down and told us that in 6 months, we would be moving overseas to Belarus to plant a Messianic Congregation. God was calling them. Now, let me just say at the time it sounded crazy! None of us spoke Russian. We knew very little about the Former Soviet Union, except for the Cold War stories we heard from my grandmother, and we had just finished building our own little paradise in upstate NY.
My siblings were not happy. Our grandparents and other relatives said my parents had lost their minds. Thank God that didn’t stop them! Six months later, we moved from our home and predictable to the uncertainty of Minsk. To be honest, the first year was exciting but also somewhat miserable. Life as I had known it disappeared. I didn’t speak the language, didn’t have many friends, and my parents were busy. To make it worse, we moved about three times that year (once because we unknowingly moved into a mafia house that was distilling illegal vodka in the garage). We often had to wait in lines for hours just to get food like bread and eggs. I must admit my parents did a good job of walking in grace, but were definitely more stressed. As time passed, my siblings and I fell in love with the country, the people, and God’s calling for our family. We helped our parents with humanitarian aid, served in orphanages, loved on children with cancer, visited Holocaust Survivors, and led groups in evangelism. God was preparing each of us for our own calling!
Throughout the years, there was great joy and harvest. Other times, it felt like 40 years in the desert with the Israelites before they entered the Promised Land. There was the loss of every-thing when my parents’ house burned to the ground, sickness, a near death experience, and many other trials. But God kept His promise! He blessed the ministry and each of us individually.
At 13 years old, I became friends with a teenage boy who gave his life to the Lord in the congregation. He is now, not only my best friend, but also my husband and soul mate, and we have 4 beautiful children together.
My siblings and I are all grateful that my parents answered God’s calling, even when it was unpopular.
It was my parents’ example that helped me answer God’s call to adopt an 8-year-old boy, who at the time couldn’t walk because of cerebral palsy. I was still in college and knew NOTHING about adopting an older child and little about cerebral palsy and childhood trauma. But I knew that God didn’t always call the most equipped. He says, “follow me” and equips those willing to answer His call.
My family suffered with Yan as he unpacked years of trauma from his time in the orphanage, but today I can tell you that the blessings we continue to receive from welcoming Yan into our family outweigh any difficulty we have experienced. Now, after seven years in our family, Yan is thriving in every way. I spend my time caring for our 4 children and advocating for children in foster care here in the United States. The legacy I hope to leave for my children is the same my parents left for me—one in service to God. I know that only in giving my life to Him will I find true life and purpose.
The impact of my parents saying YES to God’s calling and the ripple effect is—thousands of Jewish people and others hearing the gospel on three continents, dozens of leaders raised and serving, and hundreds of people including Holocaust Survivors, widows, children battling cancer, and orphans who were loved one at a time into the kingdom of God.
I hope you will be inspired to continue supporting this important ministry through your prayers and resources. I am asking you to continue to join with our RII family in reaching those lost in darkness and in need of Yeshua’s love and redemption!
By Sarah Winograd (Rabbi Stewart and Chantal’s daughter)