Anatoly lives in Belarus where he pastors and travels to missionary families supported by HeartCry in Belarus, Russia, and beyond. Below he writes of a recent trip to visit pastor Zhenya. Read below of the lasting impressions and encouragement this visit produced:
What is your idea of an ideal holiday? What are the places and the environments where you will enjoy rest and comfort for your body and soul? Many people seek exotic places. Many people save up money to live in expensive hotels and enjoy sophisticated entertainment. We, Gospel preachers, are a strange breed though. Our delights are peculiar and difficult to understand for those who do not have Christ as their biggest treasure.
This month the Lord gave me a special treat as I visited pastor Zhenya who serves in a small church in a small town in the south-west of Siberia. He picked me up from the airport and immediately began to talk about his church. There was something special about the way he spoke. I felt like a visitor who is shown to a collection of treasures that his host carefully gathered over the years. “I was on drugs for 10 years and then the Lord saved. My co-pastor was on drugs for several years and then the Lord saved him. There is one more brother who spent 15 years in prison and then the Lord saved him. Here we are now, the core of our church!”
He went on to talk about the families and children of the church. Some of their wives are very seriously sick. Someone has 3 types of hepatitis all at the same time. Someone else suffers from liver cirrhosis. Then there was a wonderful family couple who loved the Lord. “They died in a car accident. Right on this road. Here, here… See this juncture? Their two kids survived. But our friends are with the Lord now. We didn’t see it as a tragedy. This is how the Lord willed to take them.” And then there was a story of Zhenya’s mom whom the Lord saved. She has spoken about Jesus ever since: everywhere she goes and with everyone she can. Zhenya enthusiastically continued with a story about a Russian lady with German roots who said she was Lutheran and didn’t want to “change her faith”. Once she got the courage to step into their church service she never turned back. And on and on he went! I realized I rarely saw pastors talking like that. I could see a shepherd whose life was about his flock. This small congregation is his biggest investment and his delight. What else is there to talk about?
For a recent video interview with Zhenya, click here to watch.
In the evening we came to the facility where they worship. One of the families in the church gave a piece of land on their property. The men in the church did their own construction work and put together a rectangular box that is suited to the needs of their church. As he gave me a tour of the building, he explained how the Lord provided every need. Sister “such and such” donated this clock. Sister “so and so” furnished the bathroom. And on and on he went!
On the next day we briefly visited Zhenya’s sister-in-law Tatiana. She is a Christian. Her husband abandoned her with four children. The church helps her as much as they can. She gives everyone free haircuts. Tatiana feels very strongly about doing it as a ministry. She says it brings her joy. We were invited for lunch by one of the ladies from the church. She is in her sixties. She came to Christ late in life. Before that she was a deceitful liar, an alcoholic, and a sexually immoral woman. She boasted in any sin you can imagine, really. She shares her testimony with us, with tears in her eyes. Three other ladies at the table told their stories. There is one and the same motif running through their accounts, “This is the church where we are truly cared for. Our elders care for us and we deeply care for one another. Our brothers are so diligent in teaching us the Word. We wish we had better brains and better memory at our age. But we still learn and grow!” One woman is said to be helping everyone even beyond her capacity. She says, “Well, yeah… That’s just the way I am. I am so happy our dear guest is here. I wish I could cover some of his travel expenses!”
On the second day in the evening, we gathered for worship. There is no musical instrument in this church. There is no musician. (Some of us may wonder how that church even exists this way). We sang “Before the Throne of God Above” in Belarusian, acapella. Then we moved on to study the story of Lazarus’ resurrection. I spoke to people who love their Savior. There is no higher delight than to deliver the Word of God to such a company. If only they knew how much their love, faith, and hope encouraged me! Even if I had told them they wouldn’t have believed me!
They think they are just a bunch of simple folks living in a place that is hard to locate on the map, struggling to be faithful to the Lord in small things, and making little “global” difference. Oh, no. They are Lord’s treasured possession. They are his chosen people. They proclaim his excellencies with all the might they have. The Lord is greatly exalted in their midst. It’s not in visible achievements. It’s not in externals. It’s in the life that feels like the book of Acts or a letter to Thessalonians.
On the third day Evgeny and his wife drove me back to the airport. With some effort I managed to persuade them to pay for their lunch. I can see that Oksana finds it uncomfortable as someone who is used to giving away rather than receiving. She married Zhenya, even as a drug addict. She believed that her love would change him. Eventually, it was the love of Christ that changed them both. She backed him up through all the years of his ministry. As Evgeny himself confesses she was faithful and patient through his terrible immaturity both as a husband and as a minister. She is an example. I was privileged to spend time with some of the greatest people in the world. And I don’t mean “fun” people or “interesting people”. I use the word “great” in its plain primary meaning: their greatness will become abundantly evident when Christ returns. What a blessing to be their partner in the Gospel! I am writing this for you, our friends, who pray, and give, and inquire about the state of Gospel work in faraway places. Together we are making a contribution to the most magnificent building, Christ’s Church. The Lord uses all of us to build up communities that serve not only as a beacon to their nations but at times even as a spiritual resort to a visiting preacher. God’s power and grace is made tangible across the world. Have no doubt about this!