Working with no Supplies
We had just arrived in Krasnodar when the Russian director of the co-mission project came to our apartment and informed us that we would be moved to Maykop tomorrow morning, Saturday, to begin our ministry on Monday in the new Bible College located there. We would also be able to help in the two small churches that were in Maykop especially in their Monday evening bible studies.
Our trip to Maykop came off as planned, with some slight variations, but we arrived at 2:00 A.M Sunday morning, preached in the new church on Sunday at 10:00 A.M. and enjoyed meeting and being with our host family very much.
I tried to explain to my host family that we had not received any of our boxes of supplies that we had sent into Russia, which contained the books we used for study and for teaching. All of our boxes shipped from America had been tied up in customs somewhere in Moscow and my books, computer, office supplies etc., had not been available so that I could prepare the lessons for the classes.
Open your mouth and God will fill it
The only thing that our host, Sergi, could say was, “You are a professional! Open your mouth and God will fill it!” I had been in churches where the pastor approached the pulpit on Sunday morning with that philosophy. This had not been my usual way of preparation for the previous 25 years of ministry and teaching, but, the moment of truth came suddenly and I “opened my mouth, “ and He did indeed fill it.
On Monday evening, as we walked to the Mission House of Prayer, Sergei informed me that I would be the Bible Teacher for the evening. As we walked and talked and saw the sights, I prepared the Bible study. This was the first time for me in that kind of a situation, but in Russia, I found out that it would not be the last.
Guests were often be asked to preach as they entered the Church building. The study tonight, I was told, was to be in the Book of Acts, with approximately thirty (30) believers who had been attending the Old Church. The Church took that designation because there was a “new” church in town, which is where I preached the day before. The old church, many of the older believers, were meeting in the mission house during the week and working with the mission in Maykop and the new group was meeting in a rented hall some distance away. Both groups were involved with the Bible College in Maykop where I was to teach.
They are singing the songs of redemption and
grace, many of them only having recently been released from
imprisonment and from their harsh,
godless communist masters.
The church building was taken over by the Communists some years before and turned into a city museum and storage facility. It was recently been returned to the people, and there was great rejoicing and hope that they could keep their building.
As we sat in the mission hall, which was the front room of a large home, the believers began to sing their hymns. There was a deep, almost sorrowful, sound in their voices. Not a sorrow based on unhappiness, but one that seemed to express stability and convictions based on years of persecution and deep seated beliefs, the songs of souls set free.
It was a new “feel” to me. It was not the sound of frivolous old people singing superfluous words without meaning. These words were rooted deeply in the persecuted soul of spiritually rich believers, big souled believers. The words of these songs had watered the parched landscape of Russian believers’ hearts and minds as they met in secret places all over that land. Their hymns were their lifeline to God. Now, they could sing them openly, even though they believed that they would soon be forced back in to the ways of the past. There was no confidence that the nation would remain free from religious persecution. But tonight, they were singing words which were welling up from their hearts and filling this room with praises to their Almighty and sovereign God.When the singing ended, there was a season of prayer and then the old Pastor introduced Sergei, and he introduced me. I felt as if they should be teaching me.
These believers had all been tested in the fires of persecution. They are singing the songs of redemption and grace, many of them only having recently been released from imprisonment and from their harsh, godless communist masters. I looked at them with a new appreciation of the freedoms I had enjoyed all of my life.
Making do with what you have
What could I teach them? The question in my mind was, “How can I learn from their deep and unique love for their Savior? They have graduated from the school of persecution. They have suffered physically and emotionally for the sake of Christ. They bear in their bodies the marks of the Lord Jesus? How can I teach them?”
I had looked in the room for a blackboard and chalk, but came to a fast realization that that was a thing of the American school system where supplies were readily available. But tonight, we would be “coming in on a wing and a prayer!”
In the small brief case, which contained my two Bibles, I had a permanent marking pen and a manila file folder. Those two things became my chalk and my blackboard. I had to make my marks correct the first time because, once they hit the “blackboard”, they were indeed permanent.
Bibles were hard to find in Russia. My two Bibles, and the old Russian Bible brought by Sergei, were the only ones in the room. The young translator had never before touched a Bible; he was 26 years of age and a brand new believer. We struggled together in our communication for over three hours, but I am convinced we were being heard! I could see the smiles, and tears, and joy on the faces of the believers in that room. When our time ended, it was with difficulty that we left the home.
My “translator” had never translated from English to Russian before. He knew some words in English and he could hear my words, but his difficulty was in saying them. Plus all the “religious words” were new to many of these believers. All those great theological terms and themes that I threw around in America had been removed from the vocabulary of the Russians for over 70 years. Terms like redemption, and justification, and propitiation, had been lost. Bible names and places and theological concepts had been forgotten and forbidden.
The grateful people were standing and talking and questioning
and ready for three more hours.
I had run out of blackboard space hours before!
As we stepped to the door to walk home, the elderly pastor, two years older than me, so bent over because of time spent in prison for his faith, loved by his people, clutched my hand with both of his large, worn hands. He looked deeply into my eyes, his eyes filled with tears and he said through the translator, “I have never heard what you taught tonight. If I had only known the information you shared this evening, I could have kept my church from splitting, but I did not know!” And he wept in my arms, and I wept in his.
He was sixty-two years of age; with over twenty years in prison. He was old and tired. He had been taught the Bible from men who had never been taught. But he was going strong with his Lord!
That night is etched permanently in my memory
I will never forget his eyes on mine,
or the clutch of his large hand,
or his tears on my shoulder.
Oh God, the pastors of Russia need Your Word,
So that the people of their churches can grow!
What am I doing here?