Since our partnership with Hope Baptist began in 2003, we have seen improvements and additions to the worship space. The kitchen and office have been in multiple locations in the building, each one better than the last, and the sanctuary has been expanded. With the support of First Presbyterian, Hope Baptist purchased their worship space and gained greater stability.
Even with all of the remodeling and ownership of the space, the dream has always been to have a church building. Baptists are viewed as a dangerous cult in Russia, and having a space that looks like a church lends the congregation greater legitimacy and the ability to design their space to accommodate their growing programs. They have also struggled with current neighbors who are suspicious and harass the congregation.
We have been privileged to witness the next exciting stage of their church life. Hope Baptist had purchased land and drawn up plans for a three-story building. The basement will house the kitchen and a fellowship space for conferences, wedding receptions, and other celebrations. The ground floor is reserved for the sanctuary, and the Sunday school spaces and offices will be on the second floor.
First Presbyterian has supported this project financially and will continue to send funds through the Global Mission committee. Hope Baptist is very grateful for our partnership. Church members have also all pledged money for the church. During worship on Sunday, they took up two collections, one for the regular offering and one for the building. Additionally, church members are giving their time and energy to help build the structure. Our support is greatly appreciated, but this project’s heart is found in the investment of resources, energy, and sweat from the members.
This morning, we got to tour the foundation. It is so easy to look at the foundation and imagine the completed building, full of life and joy and grace. There are 160 members and children. It is undoubtedly a group that will fill the sanctuary with singing, prayer, and community.
Our trip to Russia has been filled with many, many blessings, but seeing the future home of Hope Baptist is one of the highlights. Scripture tells us that space to worship God and celebrate baptisms, marriages, and deaths is important. It is a joy to be part of Hope Baptist’s journey to build their new home.
We have been traveling around the state seeing town churches that cooperate together with Hope Baptist. So far, we have visited 4, all with different interesting and moving stories. We also saw a newly purchased camp and retreat site on beautiful land with a pond, wildflowers and a forest edge.
I could write paragraphs about each church but I’ll try to hit a few highlights.
The churches do struggle with discrimination, so that they need their own land and building to do much ministry. One home church, dating from the days of true persecution, just constructed a good-size two-story building from ground to roof — all done by Christian brothers from around the state in one season!
Another church just starting to grow had their donated space destroyed by fire one month ago. They have purchased land in the town center but need prayers to help them overcome problems with commercial pipelines on the property.
One older woman sums up the attitudes, saying, “We trust the Lord; in the face of evil, we respond with good.”
“And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these.” – Matthew 6:28-29
Monday, July 4
It has been a full three days in Russia!Our intrepid group (as Erika has described us) of me, Mary Elizabeth Coley, Barb and Rich Neidinger arrived safely to Moscow on Saturday afternoon and discovered that our bags hadn’t made the trip quite as smoothly as we did.
After meeting up with Ellen Smith, our PC(USA) missionary partner, at the airport, we took a train from Moscow to Ryazan and got our first glimpses of the Russian countryside.It was beautiful, and seeing Pavel and Olga waiting for us on the train platform in Ryazan was the best welcome!
It had been a long day (days, really) of planes and car rides and trains, and after we checked into the hotel, Pavel and Olga drove us to Hope Baptist for dinner.When I walked in the dining room of the church and saw the table set for us with dishes of pasta, chicken, rice, fresh vegetables, and bread, I couldn’t help but cry.Such a feast prepared for us — three of us strangers to the church but all of us sisters and brothers in Christ — it was humbling, grace-filled, and delicious.
The hospitality of our Russian sisters and brothers has been incredible.They’ve welcomed us in their worship, fed us homemade meals, prayed for us, and literally given us their clothes to wear while we are waiting (hoping! praying!) to hear something about our luggage.
In these first few days, it would be easy to get caught up in the fact that we are suitcase-less, and I’d be lying if I said there haven’t been some moments of frustration about that.But the bigger takeaway from the luggage debacle is the reminder that we are not in control.God is, though, and God is good.God’s steadfast care comes to us in all kinds of forms — a late night dinner with new friends in the back room of a church, a bag of clean clothes offered from those same new friends so you don’t have to wear the same shirt for four days in a row, a patient teacher helping us learn to sing “Happy Birthday” in Russian so we could celebrate our dinner hostess, and the embodied reminder that we are all one in Christ.Slava Bogu!Praise God!
“You are the salt of the earth…you are the light of the world…in the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:13-16)
If you want to see what church looks like when we are really being church, come to the campus of First Presbyterian the first six weeks of the summer.
We are about halfway through hosting the BELL (Building Educated Leaders for Life) program – a tutoring initiative that provides experiences in the classroom and the uptown community for 60 students from the K-8th grade Westerly Hills Academy, with whom our church has a partnership.
These six weeks our campus is buzzing: in the courtyard at drop-off, in the Wood Fellowship Hall for breakfast, on the third floor for classes, and through the hallways as children make this church their home.
Additionally, in the summer our church also makes a commitment to send children to Camp Grier for a total of 65 camper weeks.
Our summer program is one of the finest examples of where our faith and our stewardship become salt and light in our community. These programs make an impact. Reading scores go up. Parents are more plugged in. Children grow in confidence. And God is glorified.