More of the Unfathomable Joy of Heaven
In 1997, and then again in 1999, some of the folks from our church went on a Mission Trip to Russia, in cooperation with Pastor Truitt Murphy, of Living Word Church here in Pelham. LWC was a small, independent, pentecostal church, and Truitt had begun making trips to Russia immediately after the fall of the Iron Curtain.
During a Community Thanksgiving Service at Pelham High School in 1996, Truitt challenged our music minster, Sam Neugent, to put together a small team of singer to go along with him, and some singers from LWC, the following Spring. After some hemming and hawing on Sam's part, he decided God was in it. So, when he put out the challenge for folks to sign up, I was among the first, and not just because I wanted to go to Russia.
I was 7 years old when WWII ended, and was keenly aware of the rise of the Soviet Union. When the US began routine flights of our B-36 Bombers after the war, by what later became the Strategic Air Command (as I recall), I could hear them plainly. They had a distinctive drone, and as I lay in bed at night, I wondered if they were USSR bombers coming to kill me.
In fact, that very fear led me to tell Dad I was afraid to die, which led him to remind me what I'd heard in VBS. And that led me to trust Jesus.
I grew up hating Russia and Russians. When we'd see USSR people in the Olympics, or other such events, I remember clearly the feelings I had toward them.
So, when Sam told us about the trip, I knew I had to go.
The trip was a life-changer for me. Words cannot describe the feelings I had, and it remains to this day as one of the ... well .. I just can't describe it. Sorry.
The first picture is of Alexai Stepanov, and his mom (I don't think I ever learned her name). When we went there in 1997, Sam and I were assigned to stay in their apartment. Only trouble was, they had a cat, and Sam is allergic to cats. So I had a room to myself. The apartment was exactly what old folks have seen in newsreels, namely high-rise concrete buildings in rows. Pretty small, without any built-ins (like closets, cabinets, etc). But it was warm and I loved staying with them.
Alexai and his brother Andrei were students in the Bible School, run by the Pentecostal Union of Russia, and located in the Church Emmanuel there in Pskov. Truitt taught there every year, and when they had a Pastor's Conference, our group went to sing for them. When I'd get up in the morning, Mrs. Stepanov had a nice breakfast prepared for me, Russian style, having worked overnight in a bakery. Then someone would pick me up and I'd go to the church.
The dog in Alexai's lap is Irma, the biggest sweetest dog I've ever met. She's also in the next picture with Andrei, Alexai's brother. When we went back for another trip in 1999, I stayed with them again, and that time Andrei showed me the bathroom, with sock strung up all across one wall drying. Andrei spoke a bit of English and said what sounded like "KAH - peet - ahl - EEZUM!" It took a second to figure out he said "Capitalism", and we both laughed like hyenas.
The bathroom was twice the size of the tub. The sink was adjacent to the tub and there was one faucet, between the two. You'd swivel the faucet between the tub and the sink, depending on where you wanted water. While I was taking a picture of the socks, Irma .. who weighed about 150# .. slipped past me, jumped into the tub, and sat down. While I was laughing at her, Andrei came in and laughed at me, then turned on the water in the tub. That was the dog's signal she was thirsty. So .. here they are:
Next, here's a photo of their Praise Team, there at Church Emmanuel in Pskov. They really showed us how to praise God; in fact, the Stepanov brothers both sang in the team.
One member in particular caught my attention. She was Galya Galkina, the lady at the left end of the front row. She seemed a very competent lady, and spoke English fluently. She sat down next to me during a break and we struck up a conversation. I gave her my impression of her as we sat; I told her she had a certain presence .. an "aura" of sorts, that told me she could well be a leader of women. I also said she needed to be careful of where she went, as women would follow her. She thanked me for that. When we went back there on another trip, two years later, she had graduated and worked for the Bible School, handling all their translation.
The whole team left an indelible impression on me.
Here's a lady named Yelena Belyaeva. She was a school teacher, and her daugher was with her there at the church. Her daughter wanted to make some presents for the Americans, so she'd been saving up chewing gum wrappers, and had made everyone a little bracelet out of them. She was simply precious.
Her mom taught English in the schools there, and had some worries that had been troubling her. God enabled me to minister some to her as we sat and talked.
Last is Ludmilla. She was the lady who showed up at the church every day and did all the cooking for us. And we were extremely well fed. We learned a lot about the Russian diet, which is heavy on the potatoes and a bit short on meat, but the veggies were just beyond description.
She was dedicated to serving God, a terrific cook, and a great hugger, too.
There were others. Lots and lots of others, and I'm looking forward to some day seeing them in heaven. But I'll close with these, and another thanks to God for taking me to a people I used to hate, but now love; with added thanks that, for some reason, I had most of these folks sign my Bible. It's about worn out, but I used yesterday to teach my Sunday School lesson.
It serves as a stark reminder that .. IMO .. God changed a nation, just to change my heart. And for their reaction to us, check out this (be sure and watch to the end):
Can you imagine an eternity with that sort of worship and praise of the Lord, being housed in bodies that won't get tired of things like we do here?
p.s. Stay tuned. I also have this video of 6 of us having church in this Russian apartment, at 1:00 a.m.......