Sunday, April 30
Today Fred Bridges and I went with the Bible Mission team to church in Almaty, Kazakhstan. It was Communion Sunday which is very important to them as they don’t observe Communion very frequently, and it was also a combined service with the other Baptist/Evangelical churches in the surrounding regions. Since this was the first united service in many years, the place was packed and there was even video provided in an overflow hall.
The service started at 10AM and went on to 1PM when we broke for a bag lunch in an open tent before the second session from 2-4PM. Most of the people in church were of Russian origin and all of the preaching and singing was in Russian. The natives in Kazakhstan, Kazaks, speak a separate language.
Each church contributed in some way. There was a joint choir that sang accompanied by piano in addition to a number of solos, quartets, etc., and drama presented by a group of youth. Several interpreters translated for us throughout the day via headphones though I didn’t always listen to the translation!
There were to be three speakers throughout the day and I was the first. I had been asked to speak on the theme from Isaiah 41:10, and I centered my message on the challenge to Be Strong and Courageous. The woman translating for me liked to translate as I continued to speak. Keeping up with all of the Scripture references was at times a challenge for her, but none the less everyone listened very intently and I felt the Lord’s help.
After an interlude with a choir piece, the second preacher had just begun– and an elderly woman came and knelt on the hard floor just below the pulpit. He immediately stopped and asked everyone to stand. One of the pastors of the churches came and prayed for her. At lunch time she came and spoke to me through a pastor whose English was quite good. She explained that she had come to Christ some time ago but was not very sure of her salvation and had fallen into sin. When I was speaking she felt convicted and felt she must immediately respond and ask God for his forgiveness so she had come forward. Apparently that procedure is not entirely unusual. Though it was strange to have someone coming and kneeling during a message I was struck by the importance of immediately responding to the work of the Holy Spirit and the reverence with which the congregation stood while she was prayed for.
As I was getting up from lunch to go back into the Sanctuary, an old woman in tears approached me with her daughter-in-law. My translator was there to act as interpreter. They explained that the elderly woman’s nephew had died in tragic circumstances very recently. I understood that he had taken his life by going into a garage and sitting inside his car with the engine on. They were heartbroken, sobbing with tears rolling down their faces, as was my translator who had not heard of this before.
I had spoken of God being with us and being strong and courageous. Why would God have allowed this? How could they be strong in such devastating circumstances? I was humbled that they would interact with me and I tried to explain the importance of trusting in the Lord even in these hard situations. Part of their distress was that the man who was in his thirties had professed salvation in Jesus Christ as a teenager, but had drifted away from the Lord and was not going to church. Was he truly saved? Had he gone to be with the Lord in heaven? These were some of their questions which I could not answer definitively other than assuring them of the justice of God and of Christ as the hope of our salvation. With the assistance of my translator, I prayed with them.
We were warmly welcomed at the end of the service. I and the other pastors (including the two pastors supported by Calvary) stood at the front. A number of the younger people speak English but the older generation does not, so it was a bit limiting for communication. Fred and I got back to Bible Mission after 5PM and ate a light dinner with the team before going to our rooms.
It was a great day and a reminder that Christ is truly the Savior of the world. While people worship God in different ways we have the same Savior and the same need for salvation. It was a privilege to reach out to these people with the hope of the Gospel!