What a great day in Ust-Kamenogorsk! The sun was shining, and it was warm. I know at home it is Easter Sunday, and some churches here in Kazakhstan celebrated it today, but the church we attended celebrates Easter according to the Orthodox calendar. I believe Easter for the Orthodox Church is May 1st, but in my mind today was Easter.
I am always greatly encouraged when I attend church in another country. Every time I go to Honduras I will attend Pastor Donnie’s church, and I am always blessed by hearing believers worship in Spanish. Every time I do that I see the glory of God’s work in the Church, one that is international. Today I’ve added another country to that list.
Russian is a tough language to learn, but I am attempting to learn new words everyday. The students are helping me, which is great. I think they enjoy spending time with me as much as I do with them. I was with Sasha and Masha today at Church; Masha did the translating. Dasha, Masha’s sister, called her sister later and wanted to walk around with me today. She caught up with us and we all went shopping. I bought a few more things for the family, and then came back to the hotel to rest.
However, what I really want to write about today involves two moments of introspection that I experienced during my time in Church and ride home on the tram.
I have been troubled with all of the Facebook discussion about politics. I have seen postings that all Republicans are untruthful, and I have seen postings stating that Democrats are stupid. In fact, it seems like all of us are losing our minds and typing just whatever we want without any thought of consequences. Now I see a post about a small restaurant in Portland that is being picketed because it has the word Colonial in its name. Are these people going to fly to Williamsburg and picket Colonial Williamsburg? When I read that one I decided to give up on social media. I don’t like the hatred and bitterness.
All of a sudden we can’t disagree anymore, or discuss difficult subjects to find points of shared agreement? We have to demonize the other; you did this to me, this is causing that, you need to apologize for that. Everywhere I look I see angry hateful people.
As I looked at the simplicity of the worship in Russian, and listened to my wonderful translator as she shared the meaning of the pastor’s sermon I was inspired. I began to see the foolishness of all the animosity in our society. If you don’t vote for Trump America will not be great again. Or a little bird symbolizes the greatness of Bernie, feel the Bern, and you say that with great disdain. Even my writing this demonstrates a certain level of disgust for others.
There I was sitting in Church in a former Soviet Union country, listening to a Pastor who, as I found out later, was a leader in the local Communist party, very connected in Russia, who through his wonderful daughter, who I met today, had met Jesus. He changed from a Communist official to a Pastor leading the largest church in Ust-Kamenogorsk. I am overwhelmed by the power and hope of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
I watched both old and young sing songs to Jesus. I watched the old who suffered through the difficult times of the Soviet empire, and the young who did not experience that because of the tearing down of the wall. The young are so filled with hope, and a new life, all of which we in the West connect with, and the old have peace.
I also watched my new friend Daniel as he worshiped God. I eventually found out that he was arrested and deported from Kazakhstan in the 1990’s for leading a Bible study at the very Church we were attending. Here he is still serving God in Kazakhstan. There truly is hope, even in our anxiety filled nation. There is hope regardless of the futility we feel occurring all around us. There is hope because Easter has occurred.
The second event that caused me to think today was the bus ride home. Dasha and I got on the bus, and as I was standing there a young man and his daughter offered me their seat. It is important for a Russian person to care for older people. Before I would not have taken the seat, but when I heard how important that was in this society, I decided to sit down.
This young man had a little daughter who was six, turning seven in May. He figured out I was an American and asked a couple of questions. We chatted, Dasha translated, and eventually we got to the President Obama question. How do I feel about Obama? I told him he was my President, but I did not agree with everything he did. The young Russian accepted that, but it was the next thing he said which got me thinking.
The young man really liked Putin, and said that he had heard that Americans don’t like Russians. I told the young man that not all Americans dislike Russians. We are all different. This young man was being told something by the media, or was assuming something, because of certain events. I did not get the sense that he did not like me, and I may have been the first American he had ever talked to, and I hoped he learned that Americans are not bad people.
Both of these moments are connected. How easy it is for us to hate. How easy it is for us to remember old cold wars and start new ones. How easy it is to look for difference instead similarity; criticize instead of heal. But as I sat in that Church, and worshiped with Kazakhstan people, who in my lifetime were considered the enemy, I was overwhelmed by the power of God’s love to unite rather than destroy.
The Easter message is truly one of hope and new life. And I am so happy the God’s Holy Spirit chose to remind me of this lesson.
And that is my thought for the day!