[U’10] July 11, 2010 – The Half Way Point

July 12, 2010

Dear NHF Family,

What day is today?  Am I awake?  Are we really halfway through our trip?  You’re telling me we haven’t been here for 2 months already?

Yes, it’s been that kind of day — the Hump Day, the middle of our trip, the hinge between one series of activities and the next.  

First the funny: U10 performed its skit twice today, at 2 different church services, and each time was a tragi-comedy unto itself.  At 10a, we worshiped at a “daughter” church of NHC.  Because this church is much smaller than NHC (only about 30 people), its worship space is also much smaller . . . which means its stage is, well, near-miniscule.  Width-wise, it was probably about the same as the performance width at home.  But depth-wise . . . I could lay depth-wise, and my feet would hang over the edge.  =O

Needless to say, all of our motions & steps were SUPER-miniaturized.   There was a lot of bumping into each other – heads, elbows, knees, sides, rear-ends, etc.  During the Red-Sea scene, Chae had to walk clear OFF the stage before coming ’round to part the waters!  And during the march around Jericho, I got stuck between a chair and the back wall; I yelped, “What!,” Jeremey exclaimed “Whoops!” and then he used one leg to kick the chair out of the way so I could keep marching.  Nevertheless, the quenched-fire and the fall of Jericho got “oohs” and “aaah” and applause.  We take these reactions to mean that God spoke through our abbreviated actions and small foibles — more evidence of His strength displayed through our weakness.

In the afternoon, at 3p, we performed the skit at NHC’s own service.  During the big-Moses-water-wave scene, Julia got a little over-excited about the Red Sea churning, and butterfly-stroked me in the head with both hands.  It was just enough to send us both into a massive fit of giggles — that was the happiest parting of the Red Sea ever portrayed!  (And, fearful that her fingers pulled my bangs out of the bobby-pin that was holding them back, I spent the rest of the skit wondering if I was displaying a huge 80s pompadour, and if this would affect the congregation’s ability to take the skit seriously.  Turns out, my hair was fine, thank you very much.)

And now, the more profound:  The morning’s congregation was originally led by another pastor, the church shrank suddenly for one reason or another, and Pr Sasha was asked to come and preach for the remaining half of the group.  NHC members now come with a mini-worship team and scaled-down children’s ministry & fellowship snacks, to serve this congregation of about 30 people.  Being with them this morning was evidence to us that the strength of a church is not necessarily in her numbers.  This was a mixed group of old believers, new believers and non-believers.  Yet, there was friendship, love, care, friendliness, openness.  And this flowed not just between the gathered, but from the NHC servants to them, and back again.  Always, I’m impressed by this church, whose members seem — and indeed, are — so generous with themselves.  Though they must be tired with all the responsibilities of their own lives, they are yet able and enthusiastic to spend themselves further, for the sole aims of glorifying God, spreading into the city with His Gospel, and encouraging the body of believers.  It is happiness to watch, witness and partake in.

Being back at NHC in the afternoon was like being home; to me & Sunny, anyway, it felt the exact way we anticipate we’ll feel when we walk into NHF on Sunday, the 18th.  Wherever you go in the world, whatever room you walk into, there is no feeling that rivals what burns in the heart when you see the face of another breaking into a wide smile and rushing toward you with a hug and a warm greeting.  I felt like we were doing that all day . . . and even for the first-timers — Raimund, Jeremey, Chae, Rachel & Julia — the friendships & familiarity that was built up over the past four days was sufficient to merit the same warmth directed toward them.  (Personally, I’m so pleased to see that.  There’s nothing happier than seeing my precious beloved ones enter into each other’s lives and grow in mutual affection . . . )  Folks who were mere children last year — Roma, Sasha, Albina, Ela, Vlada, etc. — are now young adults, teenagers.  Anya and Karina are university students.  Igor has moved out and is living on his own, and is no longer the gangly, goofy companion from last summer.  And even in the eyes of our adult friends, the move and growth of God is evident in the groundedness of their stance, the steadiness of their gaze, the increased warmth & ease of their greeting, the faster inclination to look out for another.  I can only hope that you’ll know even a small part of how privileged we feel to be able to witness this over the years . . . 

Jeremey preached twice today (at one point, sweating so profusely that Sveta, the elder’s wife, had to walk back to where our team was sitting in the pews to ask if we had a handkerchief for the poor guy!  We handed her some Kleenex, but also chalked it up to “hot fire!”).  In the morning, he preached from Philippians 2, and demonstrated how Jesus’ full divinity allowed Him to become fully man, and what it meant that every tongue would confess Jesus’ Name as LORD.  In the afternoon, we heard from II Corinthians 2 — about how to become the aroma of Christ, how to cling to the Word, how to live unashamed of the Gospel so that we can smell like Jesus and draw people to Him, those who would find His scent tantalizing and delicious.  Both sermons touched many hearts; many people in both congregations so appreciated hearing the Word of God from this special guest & brother.  (And of course, as always, there was one point when Sasha, mid-translation, turned to the congregation and began speaking in English.  Again, tragi-comedy. =)  )  

Oh, before I forget: Raimund shared his testimony (the concise version, for he tells us that the “real” version will take at least 2 hours!) at the morning service, and Julia shared her testimony, as well as a greeting from James, at the afternoon service.  It was so lovely to see our brother & sister sharing in the ways they did, and our Ukrainian friends were blessed as well.  If you caught our prayer-request list in time, thank you for praying for them!!!

Earlier this year, NHC began something called “Coffee House” — a 2-fold ministry of coffee & snack service, one evening to youth and one evening to drug addicts & alcoholics.  It’s held in a large hall in the building next door to the current church building, an annex that has been built over the past couple of years (and the construction of which each U-team has also been able to witness throughout the past summers).  Today, in celebration of the close of a fruitful Youth Camp last week (and the addition of 12 young people to the Kingdom), an extra coffee-house was held, and we got to hang out with the teenagers there.  It was joyful to sit in that room and feel the presence of the Lord sitting there too, smiling, so happy to have gathered more co-heirs.

Another thing I noted today, and I told Luda: each year, there is growing intimacy between the U-teams and the NHC members.  The one who was suspicious last year is warmer this year.  The one who was reticent last year is the epitome of conversation this year.  The one who was shy last year is our most gregarious best friend this year.  Greetings went from “Welcome to Kremenchug” to “I was waiting for the arrival of the American team this summer!”  Conversations went from “What is New York like?” to “Here are our prayer requests, what are yours?”  It’s just AWESOME.  Every year, another layer is laid in our sisterhood.  We are friends.  We are received as friends.  Our coming is anticipated by friends.  We are brought into conversations as friends.  Shoot, half of us even went without interpreters for a few days, and we survived — language barriers aren’t intimidating anymore!  It just makes me drool for next year, the next trip, our next reunion . . . 

Another small but sweet thing: we brought with us many Freeset bags to give as gifts to the NHC leaders and our close friends here.  It’s been awesome to tell the story about our trip to India, and the amazing, awful, wonderful things we witnessed there.  But the best part hasn’t been the sharing of the ministry or the giving of gifts.  The best part has been the reactions we’ve received.  Our friends here are so moved — some to tears — by the situation in Sonagacchi, and by the fact that there are fellow believers out there who would live Christ in the way that they are doing.  My sense is that our stories are not falling into the ears of people who are merely sympathetic, or even touched at a distance.  My sense is that our friends here are embracing this ministry as NHF has, and it will not surprise me one bit if in the next newsletter-update from Pastor Sasha, he writes to tell us that the prayer group here has been praying faithfully for Freeset and the women in Sonagacchi.

And so, the Kingdom advances . . . it’s too sweet, it makes my eyes water.

Our team had a good meeting tonight before dinner.  There’s a special set of challenges to team dynamics that comes with heat, humidity, cramped quarters, less than 100% comfort, unpredictable schedules and the stress of not understanding the local language.  But in response, there is also a special grace from God that flows, and He gives us quiet time with each other, to decompress, check in, share, pray, laugh, organize and re-organize.  And as always, we’re so, so, so incredibly thankful for Luda & Sasha, who are serving us now for the 4th year in a row, tolerating all our flights of fancy and lateness and American goofiness and un-translatable idioms and endless questions & interruptions and on and on and on.  All 9 of us together, this team, we are so thankful for tonight.

Incidentally, a highlight at dinner: hearing Chae say these 2 words: “Lady Gaga.”

And not incidentally, all the brothers have been great about guarding us ladies on the team.  But I have to give special props to Raimund in particular for being almost bouncer-like in his devotion to protecting us these past couple of nights, as we’ve been out walking late.  I wouldn’t want to meet him in a dark alleyway when he’s angry, and I’m glad he’s onour side.

Tomorrow, we head to Camp.  This is going to be something interesting — 85 people are signed up and we’ve maxed out the space the Campsite has allotted us.  There will be no showers or running-water facilities.  It will likely rain a bit each day, which means lots of mud and general humidity all around.  There will be nothing physically comfortable, or even clean, about being there.  But . . . I just feel like it’s going to be serious good times.  Please pray for us, will you?  Pray that we’ll adjust quickly & well to being totally out of our elements, and that more than merely adjusting, we will absolutely RELISH the time we have to relax, play, swim, worship, eat, lounge and get muddy with our friends here.  Pray that we’ll be protected in health, strength & spirit, and that our joint ministry to nonbelieving Ukrainian friends will be fruitful — by the mercy of God, may those nonbelievers who come be good soil, ready for planting, ready for watering, ready for adoption, ready to see, know and love Jesus Christ.

And finally, please pray for our health and rest.  For some reason, on different nights, different team-members have had a hard time sleeping; some of us are struggling with various random physical discomforts, and some struggle with waves of exhaustion and feeling near-sick-but-not-quite-sick.  Please pray for a total removal of EVERYTHING that would hinder us from knowing the pleasure of being with fellow brothers & sisters, and the greatest pleasure of being in Christ in a new and fresh and Ukrainian way.

Tomorrow also marks “the beginning of the end.”  There’s always that moment in any short-term trip where the corner is turned, and the team starts to look toward home, even if it’s yet a faraway blip on the radar screen.  Tomorrow is that moment.  So in anticipation of our return to NY and our re-entry to regularly scheduled programming, would you please begin to pray for us in that respect, too?

As always, thanks for coming along with us this day, and for praying for us & loving us as you do from afar.  We miss you, we love you, and we send to you also, loving, warm, enthusiastic greetings from all your brothers & sisters here at NHC.

(And for the U-alums, Luda sends you a special, “Alriiiiiiiight!”)

His peace & strength to you,
c., on behalf of U10

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