Greetings to all of you MWAM Supporters from San Marcos, CA:
When writing my last report to all of you on Friday morning in Moscow, I had to bring that report to an end sooner than I had hoped. We (Dan Bird, Pastor Mike and Amy, and I) had a 1:00pm appointment with Father Alexander Borisov, an Orthodox priest to whom Doug Burleigh had introduced us. I therefore found I had to cut short my description of our time at the Moscow Central Baptist Church.
Before that service began, a young man came up to us speaking good English. He asked about our choir and what we had been doing. He then walked over to the Tenor Section and introduced himself, hugging each of them in turn. He is very musical himself with a fine tenor voice. At the end of the concert when we surround the congregation singing, "When I. Survey the Wondrous Cross," he was singing right along with us. He stayed on bonding with our tenors.
Another significant moment was at the reception the church held for the choir after the service. Pastor Sergei told us more about the church, how they were the only congregation that had continual worship throughout the Soviet era. There were a number of years when they were the only worshiping congregation in Moscow. Dr. Alexander Kozynko, the founder and first president of the Moscow Theological Seminary and currently one of the preaching pastors at that church, shared with us what it was like growing up in Russia during the Communist years. he remembered one time when his mother brought him to attend a Sunday worship service at that church. When they arrived at the door, their way was blocked by some Communist figure who said that children were not allowed in church. Alex could not understand why they could not enter the church. They returned home where his Grandmother told him that as long as the government would not allow him in church, they would hold worship services there at home. These people suffered much for their faith; several told us about relatives who were imprisoned for years for their faith. And yet, they continue to worship the Living God! We have much to learn from them.
Regarding our meeting with Father Alexander, our small group was met in the church lobby by Yessa who is Doug Burleigh's Administrative Assistant there in Moscow and who speaks excellent English. She is the one who arranged this meeting with Father Alexander. I should mention that Doug told us that Father Alexander, who pastors a very active church, is considered somewhat of a "black sheep" by his Orthodox superiors. He had tried to get us permission to sing in his church only to be denied by those same authorities.
Father Alexander is a gracious, soft-spoken man in his early sixties with sparkling, intelligent eyes. After the introductions were made, he led us to a corner of the sanctuary where we could all sit. He shared with us some of the problems they experience and some of the ministries they offer to the congregation. One of the reasons he is under a cloud, is because he believes that belonging to a denomination does not make one a Christian, but only a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. The hour for our time with Father Alexander went by so quickly. When we had lunch together after our meeting, Yessa and her friend who accompanied us on our trip by Metro down to the church were asked what their religious background was. Yessa's friend said that she had grown up in a Baptist family, while Yessa said that her background was atheist. When Pastor Mike asked her how she became a Christian, she said that it was at a Young Life Camp. Doug Burleigh has been active in Young Life (even its president for 6 years) and ministry throughout the former Soviet states.
The choir was scheduled to arrive at St. Andrew's Anglican Church at 5:30 that afternoon for a 7:30 concert. Therefore, we left our hotel on the buses around 4:45pm in order to get there. There is always traffic on the Moscow streets, but on Friday it gets worse as many Muscovites leave the city for their dachas outside of the city. Traffic down in the city center where we were headed war awful! The bus driver and our guide were trying to get to the narrow street that the church was located on. They evidently missed it the first time, and then had to take a LONG circle to get back to that area. Finally, they thought that they were at the correct street, but had to let us off short of the church. We had to carry all of the handbell and audio equipment, English programs and our CDs with us. What they thought was only a short distance to the church turned out to be several blocks. By the time we finally found the church, everyone was exhausted.
St. Andrew's Canon, Simon Stevens, met us at the gate and led us into the sanctuary. He insisted that we all sit down and relax a bit (it was now closer to 6:00pm); our natural inclination was to get busy setting up for the Bells of Praise, and figuring out how the choir would form itself on the Chancel. When we tried to do this, the Canon again insisted we sit down and relax. He gave us no option. He then shared with us some of the history of the church which was originally founded there in Moscow by English traders. The church has ministered to the English speaking community in Moscow throughout all of that time EXCEPT during the communist era. The government took over the church buildings and used them for their own purposes. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, they were again allowed to begin open worship.
This church sanctuary provided us with one of the best acoustical environments on the tour. During Soviet times, the sanctuary was also used as a music recording venue, so you can see what is was like. We finally were able to get set up for the concert, but without much of a warm-up or rehearsal. Like everywhere we sang, it was HOT and sticky in the church. Eastern Europe was experiencing an unusually hot spell while we were there, and you must know that air-conditioning is not found except in some of the hotels - - certainly not in their churches.
After the setup and before the concert, we all met in an adjoining room and were led in a time of sharing experiences where we saw God at work. Many touching stories were shared. We then ended with a time of prayer. We definitely needed that time together before the concert. The concert itself went very well with the audience becoming more and more responsive as the concert progressed. We left the church with the knowledge that our being there was an encouragement to that community.
Following the program, we started bringing out all of the equipment to the 2 buses that now were parked fairly close to the church. We said our good-byes to Pastor Mike and Amy and also ten of us who would be taken to the train station for an extended 2-day tour of St. Petersburg. The rest of us ended up at a restaurant for an end of tour Reception (actually a full meal). That was loads of fun as we relaxed, shared stories, toasted the many people who had made this mission trip a success, and then closed with each of the bus groups singing their Bus Song (Yellow or Blue). Our song, sung to the tune of Blue Moon, was obviously the best, but the Yellow Bus also did a marvelous job. Actually, both groups should share the accolade for the best song.
On Saturday morning, the main group left for the airport around 7:30am for their flight to New York JFK and then San Diego. While I was not with them on that flight, I have talked with some who were and know that they all got back safely. While everyone is trying to get back on PDT from the 11-hour difference in Moscow, we recognize God's hand on our mission throughout the trip. Like every trip, there are problems and changes in schedule that have to be made, but in spite of all that, we can only Praise the Lord for his constant presence and care. So, with that, I will sign off on these reports and begin to think how we can best make our report to the congregation through stories, pictures and video.
Thank all of you for your prayer and financial support of this ministry; we could not have done it without you.
Yours with deepest gratitude,