Our training Monday-Thursday is in Lenin-Kutznetskovy (sp?), a city with a population of 250,000. It is centrally located for the pastors and rehab workers in the region and the church is large enough to house them. We were given a Sunday school room to sleep in that was converted into a room with a bunk bed. Surprisingly to me, the accommodations were very comfortable as we were able to spread out, have a desk for our computer and tablet, and the bedding was adequate. All day on Sunday we could heard the choir practicing and it was beautiful music though I understood very little (ok, nothing).
On Sunday, my son joined the youth group as 11 of them studied the Bible in a room with NO adult supervision. I checked in and took pictures because of how respectful, orderly, and serious the students were. My son said they were asking questions and interacting quite a bit and it was evident that they were serious about learning the Bible. How great to see young people studying the Word and they even invited me to teach them but Artyom and I both needed a break. I preached and he translated and it was again very well received. The sermon was short and sweet and it made a significant impact on many who talked to me afterward. One man brought me to tears by saying how thankful he is to the Lord for raising up faithful preachers like me all over the world and he cries out to God to save all souls. He was really precious and waiting in line to make these very special comments to me.
I told the people that though the environment of Russia was very cold, the people were very warm to my son and I. It snowed today in a way that Birmingham has never seen in my time there and it is April 11th. The people in this town walk to church, listen to 3 sermons (mine was the 3rd), and endure many hardships to come to worship the Lord. Their faith is sincere. They are not “seeker friendly” here by any stretch of the imagination and I wondered how many Americans, including myself, make excuses NOT to be in church for superficial or very weak reasons. Here it is just the opposite. They were persecuted for their faith at one time so now they value corporate worship greatly.
Unlike America, they do not want to hear from the same man sermon after sermon. I don’t blame them. Allowing qualified men to preach, not novices, is a great idea as they hear from more than one person providing balance. Romania had 4 pastors who alternated preaching on Sundays and it is a similar idea.
Life for us in the church is rustic. The food is wonderful: borsch (soup), homemade bread, fresh mashed potatoes, some meat, dumplings, desserts, and hot tea which is served after every meal, even breakfast. Lipton is making a killer living in Russia. Buy stock in Lipton tea!
The church showers, toilets, and wash rooms are open air meaning there is little privacy. If someone enters the room, then there is almost no privacy since there are no doors on each stall. We have a separate bathroom, praise the Lord, but not a separate shower. That type of openness takes some adjustment to be sure.
At the bishop’s home, we were invited to the sauna but said “no thanks” when we found out it was a similar deal. My son and I are too American, I guess, for that and too modest to pour lava hot water on ourselves with other men sharing the water. I’ll stay dirty for now. (longing for my shower & bath at home…)
We do not have to leave the church for basically five days so that is nice. More time to rest, less travel time, and everything is right here. It is a simple lifestyle and we are able to live quite simplistically. I am a simple guy at heart and this is perfect.
I was the speaker/preacher for the 5-7 pm evening service on Sunday. They had me teach on two topics: How to Reach the Community through Rehabs and then Family Life. I taught for awhile from the Scriptures and then it was a question and answer format. They asked good questions. It was nice to hear their concerns about rehab and asked what the Word has to say about helping those enslaved to life-dominating sin like alcohol and other drugs. They really questioned whether a rehab was worth it or not. Should the church go to the trouble of starting a rehab center? I was honest with them regarding the challenges of it and likened it to helping those who are least in society: prostitutes, tax collectors, and Gentiles. A transformed life is a powerful testimony of Christ. Rehab places here in Siberia have a poor reputation.
I taught on the family, too, from the Scriptures and they seemed to really be attentive and taking notes. We had a lively discussion and afterward, many asked me private questions about family life after the service.
We ate dinner and then played ping pong once again. Having played at the Bishop’s home, we were warmed up and ready to play now at this church. We played at least 15-20 games to 11 on Sunday alone. Ping pong has been a blessing to say the least, providing exercise, recreation time to bond, and a social outlet.
Mark Jr. was asked to spend the night at a Christian family’s home. He is a celebrity here and becoming the most popular person in the Oblast (region). Who knew that Siberia would be his launching place for stardom? 🙂
We were invited to the pastor’s home for dinner on Monday night. They have 8 children, 2 adopted, and are very solid believers: kind, tenderhearted, and gracious. Wow! I am amazed at the servants God has here in Russia. I am being humbled minute by minute and so thankful to the Lord for this amazing trip.
Our Monday module started after lunch as people were traveling to the church that morning. This is being written prior to the beginning of the module.
-Mark (missionary to Siberia, short-term only, I hope…) 🙂