We Cannot Help But Speak........
...Of what we have seen and heard. At least that's what Peter said when the Pharisees told him and John to shut up. It sounded neat when he said it, so I will, too.
A group from our church, and from Living Word Church here in Pelham, went on a mission trip to Russia and Latvia, in 1997. We went back, to Russia, in 1999. Both cases involved our singing at Pastor's conferences and community outreach services.
During the 1999 trip, we went to a maximum security prison in Russia. It was probably as scary a thing as any of us had done up to that time, and three things about the trip stand out in my mind to this day. The first is what you see in the picture above (which is now the picture I use in my Blogger Profile, too). That's me ... the one not in uniform .. and three Russian Prison Guards. Standing there, we were a happy bunch of folks.
We'd gone to the prison to sing and testify to the inmates. When we mentioned that to one of the guards, he said (through our interpreter) "How about US? We enjoy this, too!" It's hard to imagine a "wake-up call" from a Prison Guard in Russia, but that was one.
The guards were so happy to have us come, in fact, that they'd baked up some cookies and candy treats, whatever they're called in Russia, and insisted we stick around a bit after the show, to fellowship with them at a reception.
It is, to this day, one of the high points in my memory.
They'd also had prisoners in the shop make up some wooden things to bring back home; a breadbox, a magazine rack, etc. We brought them back and they now reside in FBC's display case in the upstairs foyer, along with similar memorabilia .. well, nothing is really very similar to that, particularly in impact .. from other trips.
The party was one of the things that stick most prominently in my mind. Another is the prisoners' demeanor in the show. We sang several numbers, in English .. with one chorus in Russian .. and there were a couple of solos. One was by an attractive young lady in our group.
Now, she really knows how to belt out a tune, and when she was groovin', she was movin'. If she had an evil twin, there's no doubt in my mind the twin would have been a terrific lounge singer. But, despite her attractiveness and her demeanor, there was not one incident that I could see, among the 200+/- inmates, of whispered remarks, elbowing and pointing, nothing. NOTHING. They sat and watched, and applauded enthusiastically when she was finished. I can only imagine what the reaction of inmates here in the states would have been, or for that matter, how differently most church members would've reacted. Yet there, in Russia, in an unimaginably depressing setting, the men acted as model gentlemen.
The last thing really prominent, 9 years later, is shown in the following video. We'd arrived a bit early on the bus, and were sitting outside looking at those foreboding gray walls. Suddenly, without prompting, someone started singing "While You Sing Over Me", that song based on a passage from Zephaniah. Fortunately, I had my video camera on as I'd shot the walls, so I recorded most of the song. A snippet is attached and I hope you can grasp the intensity and meaning that went into that impromptu concert.
I know we did.