As I begin to write, many thoughts are going through my mind concerning Yura's coming visit to America. In February, 1999 I knew with certainty that God was asking me to prepare the way for this mission. My response was immediate; I considered it a privilege to be a small part of the vision God has given Yura.
I have been content to share the vision with you and then wait and see how the Lord would lead and direct all the preparations necessary for Yura and Andrey to come. God gave me a quiet peace as He allowed me to watch Him open doors and hearts to create unity and purpose in all areas of planning. Although the visa process is not complete, it has become clear to me that it is time to begin to build the schedule God has planned for Yura while he is with us.
As I prayed about my responsibility concerning this phase of God's plan, I knew I needed to focus on Yura's ministry and his faithful service as God's ambassador to Khabarovsk and to the world. I remembered that my friend, Thais had saved all the e-mail I sent her during my time in Russia. She organized the letters in large notebooks and gave them to me when I returned in 1998. This morning I began to read the words I wrote as I shared each day's blessings with family and friends at home. I knew as I read that I must re-tell the story of Yura's witness to God's people in the Russian Far East. And so, until Yura comes or until God directs me to do otherwise, my newsletters will be devoted to Yura's ministry, service, and vision. As you read the stories, please pray that God will reveal His plan for your part in accomplishing His will through Yura's American tour.
Joyce and I met Andrey, a young Russian interpreter, during a church service at the Baptist Student Center in Khabarovsk. He asked if he could introduce us to a young Russian pastor who was struggling and needed encouragement. The team decided to invite Andrey and Yura to dinner and discuss the needs of the Russian church.
Pastor Yura explained that he was struggling to begin a church in an industrial district of the city. We were surprised to learn that the American couple who lived in our apartment before we came had been working with this same pastor and his church. Yura told us that he knew that home Bible Study was the way to reach the parents of the children who came to his church. However, he had only one person in his congregation who felt they could lead a study. He began praying that God would raise up someone to make the studies possible. He felt that God would answer the prayer within a month. He told us with a smile that it was one month and three days when Andrey told him he had met us at church. Yura was certain that we were the answer to prayer.
It is hard to describe how sobering and frightening it can be to have someone believe you are the answer to their prayer. It was no coincidence that the training we had just received prepared us to develop home Bible Studies and that the goal of CoMission II was to establish home Bible Studies and help prepare Russian Christians to lead the studies. We knew that God had arranged this meeting.
Joyce and I went with Andrey to the little Russian church that Saturday night where Pastor Yura was showing the "Jesus" film. The congregation had gone to their neighbors and invited them to come to see the story of Christ.
The church was located in what had been the dining room of a woman's dormitory when the nearby diesel plant was in full operation. The heating system wasn't working and the room was very cold. Yura invited us to meet his wife, Jenya and his three month old daughter, Nadya. The little family lived in a room behind the dining room which had been the kitchen of the dormitory in better times. The room was small, but warm and clean. Yura told us he was thanking God for the warm room for the baby.
We watched the Jesus film with members of the congregation and others who came to learn. In spite of the cold, the Russians were very attentive. They sat in silence and were perfectly still as Luke's account of the Gospel unfolded.. Several were weeping as they watched the nails being driven into Christ's hands during the crucifixion scene. I saw and heard the story again, but it was as though I heard it in a new way. I witnessed the power of the Holy Spirit in that little church. A new, overwhelming passion to serve God washed over me and with it came the sweet peace He provides when we are in His will. I knew I was where God wanted me to be.
Pastor Yura invited us to help with two Bible discussion groups he hoped to initiate. One would be in the home of Tatyana, a member of his congregation who began to study with Marjorie, an American missionary in Khabarovsk before we came. The other study would be in the home of a family whose five children were attending Yura's church. The parents did not attend, but they were willing to have a group meet in their home.
We began to attend the little Russian church each Sunday evening at 6:00 p.m. As we entered the first evening from the frigid outdoors, we were greeted by warm, smiling faces. We were urged to sit near the front and Andrey sat behind us where he could quietly interpret conversations and the details of the service. The sanctuary was furnished with rows of chairs. Each chair had a handmade covering which fit over the back. The coverings were navy blue with a red satin cross stitched on each. The right side of the room had windows draped with white lace sheers and gold panels. The same gold panels were hung across the front of the room and a large wooden cross hung in front of the gold panels. A white sheet hung from the panels to serve as a screen for the overhead projector (a gift from CoMission). There were no hymnals and the words of the songs were projected for the congregation to sing. The songs were led by Yura's wife, Jenya and several girls from the congregation. Music was provided by keyboard, violin, guitar, and other instruments played by Yura and young members of the church.
The first service we attended was a Service of Holy Communion. As Pastor Yura began to speak, Andrey leaned up between us and very softly interpreted for us. I have never heard a more meaningful sermon explaining the Sacrament of Holy Communion. Yura began with an explanation of the Passover and the importance of shed blood to atone for sin. Then he brought us to the Cross and to Christ, the ultimate sacrificial Lamb of God who died for our sins. He reminded the congregation that God loved us so much that He was willing to send His Son to die for us.
Then he gently reminded us that (God) as Jesus, broke the bread during the Last Supper and told us that it was His body broken for us, and that (God) as Jesus passed the wine and told us that it was His blood shed for us. He read from Scripture that Jesus told us to do this in remembrance of Him until He comes again.
During the sermon, Yura reminded us that God supplies all our needs and he asked the people to explain what God meant by needs. They responded that they would have all they needed to survive. Then he reminded them that God wanted them to share what they have with others. This really touched my heart as I realized that Pastor Yura, who lived in one room with his wife and baby would be able to teach about sharing. I realized that the people sitting with me in that little church could not even imagine having what we take for granted and yet they were agreeing that they must share. I don't have words to tell you what happened within my soul as I listened. I have so much and have given so little compared to these dear saints.
Then the bread and the wine were passed and we took the elements with our Russian brothers and sisters. My heart was filled with the love and peace of God. I thanked God for the privilege to be included in this banquet in His honor with His children in Khabarovsk, Russia.
This little Russian church became "our church" while we lived in Khabarovsk. Each Sunday evening, we were greeted with the same warmth and love. Each week, God spoke to us through his servant, Yura, translated by Andrey's soft voice, and each Sunday, we went home with our hearts and souls strangely moved by God's Holy Spirit. We spoke often about the faith of this young pastor and the power of the Holy Spirit working in him. We wondered in what mighty way God would use this willing servant to reach the world.
As I began to pray about what to write from the pages of e-mail I sent home about Yura's ministry, I was led to share this reaction to the very first sermon I heard Yura preach. Many things have changed in this little church since my first visit. The church had to re-locate in the northern part of the city because the building was sold. Some of the congregation could not attend so far away from their homes. Yura's prayers and his willingness to serve God led him to establish the cell church model to reach those without Christ. Now, there are four groups meeting in various homes. Each has a leader who teaches God's Word and His love. Yura also preaches two services each Sunday. One in the northern part of the city and another in Tatyana's apartment which is located in the neighborhood of the original church. He continues to have special Bible studies to reach the children of the city as well as Bible based studies for marriage and the family. God continues to use Yura to "feed his sheep" with the Word and He uses him to guide those in his congregation to seek God's will for their lives of service. I will give examples of these ministries in future newsletters.
In the remainder of this letter, I want to ask you to pray about Yura's visit to America. I know that God is preparing the hearts of all who will invite Yura to speak in the churches, meeting rooms, and homes of our country. As God leads you to become a part of this special ministry, you may be concerned about what you must do. God has given us a very simple plan. All you need to do is write, telephone, or e-mail me concerning the desire God has placed upon your heart to have Yura visit your area, and Joyce and I will work out the details with your pastor, missions coordinator or any other person involved. God may be asking you to open your home as the source of fellowship in your area. Yura wants to go wherever God opens the door for him to go. I promise you that the group cannot be too large or too small to be a part of God's plan.
Please remember to keep this vision in your prayers. There are many obstacles to overcome. Visas are often denied, airlines are unpredictable, political views continue to be challenged, etc. Nothing can be done apart from prayer. Perhaps you are led to be part of a special prayer group to seek God's guidance for all that is done as we move forward. Please let me know if you are willing to be an active prayer partner for this mission.
Most of all, please pray for God's will concerning your participation and for all who are called to prepare for Yura's ministry in America.
I pray I have been obedient in sharing specific information concerning Pastor Yura's ministry in this letter. I will continue to share the vision God has given Yura and details of his work in my future letters. May God reveal His plan for your involvement as He connects Russian and American Christians to fulfill His will.
As always, I am happy to continue to tell the story of Khabarovsk, Russia. Although I am led to concentrate on Yura's ministry as we begin to prepare for his visit, the needs of the orphans and the homeless remain critical. Some of you may be led to send a gift for these ministries. If so, please make your checks payable to Fishburn UMC and tell us how God is directing the gift to be used.
In addition, I am beginning a new fund to help provide transportation and other costs of travel for Yura and Andrey as they make plans to come in September/October. God has assured me that He has called individuals to help with this ministry. Again, please make checks payable to Fishburn UMC and designated for "Yura's tour". This money will be held separately and when the Visas are approved, it will be used to purchase tickets, etc. In the unlikely event that the visit is canceled or postponed, you will be contacted to make a decision to receive your gift back or to use it for specific ministry in Khabarovsk.
Please continue to pray for our Russian brothers and sisters in Christ as they seek the will of God concerning the many needs in their country.
In His Love,
Fishburn United Methodist Church
1215 Fishburn Road
Hershey, PA 17033
web site: http://get.to/faith
(The web site is my Russian friend Andrey's site.)