by David Fleming
After some 30 hours travel and several time zones later, I extracted my body from my seat on the Aeroflot Ilushyan 62, put on my parka; and entered the stream of bodies pushing toward the open door. As I neared the door I put on my hat, covered by ears and pulled on my heavy gloves. As I pushed through the open aircraft door, my senses met with temperature shock. The wind was gusting from 15 + miles per hour and the temperature was about -35’F Suffice it to say, the trip from plane to terminal, on foot, was a short one. I began to appreciate the pleasant visit with the church in Anchorage and the near +32’F temperatures we had left some six hours previously.
Welcome to Khabarovsk, Russia! After two hours waiting we were finay through customs, with Christian friends, and settled into our hotel. We had left Nashville Sunday morning at 7 A.M. and were in bed about 3 A.M. Tuesday (we lost Monday somewhere).
On Tuesday, we met with the rest of our team; Jim and Ronnie Van Sandt (the missionaries from Southern Christian University who had graciously committed to a four month stay, on a moment notice; when David and Martha BinWey had to return to the U.S. for health reasons); Ronnie Morrison, Assistanf Director of World Missions, Southern Christian University; Van Swaim, an elder of the Martin, Tennessee church of Christ. The others with me there also were our interpreters: Tanya Popkova from Syktyvkar, Russia; and Dema Kolobov from Khavarovsk, Russia. (Both of our interpreters were also very fine Christians).
We met and planned the work for which we came: (1) to work with the church and strengthen its members and (2) search for property for a school of Biblical studies.
I will address the second item first. Before we (Van Swaim and I) arrived, the other team members had tried to find properties for us to look at. There were very few available; one was for sale at $45,000 U.S., but the floors were faing through; some others were about as bad. One we did look at and asked to be held until we could search for funds was within 3 blocks of the Central Square, and was ideal for our purposes. It was a four room flat (apartment) of approximately, 1200 sq. ft, It could be converted into a small apartment on one side with enough room for a beginning school and office on the other. The price tag was to be $55,000, plus another $10,000 for re-furbishing. We were only given 10 days to come up with the funds (all of it) by the present owners. The church at Martin had pledged $30,000 toward this effort. However, once we returned to the States we checked with several churches and other sources, but we’re unable to get the necessary funding. Al-though this would have (seemingly) been an ideal property and location it was not to be at this time. Perhaps, the Lord has a better plan in mind.
The reasons for needing a property are more than just for a Bible school. Beginning in January 1994, the church must now pay $300 U.S. for rental of a lecture hall at the Medical College (for church meetings); Jim and Bonnie Van Sandt are living in a flat about 10 miles from the Central area where the church meets. Their rent is about $300 or more also; and their lease ends in May and another home must be found. Also, since the apartment was so far from the church, they are in the process of renting a hotel room as an office close to the church for an adequate place to meet and study with people and perform baptisms. This would also be an added cost.
Now, for the first item. After the Binkley’s were forced to leave. This very young church had to rely on its own members. This proved to be a great task for many who were weak. The congregation began to shrink, but thanks be to God that many of its mem-bers did not leave, but continued to meet and struggled to keep the church family together.
About 2-3 weeks before Van Swaim and I arrived Ronnie Morrison and the Van Sandts were there and began to help strengthen the church and help it grow again. They studied and worked with the members and others interested in knowing more about the Bible, Christianity and the church. The week before we arrived the others had begun a two week Bible lectureship at the Medical College. I was privileged to speak twice (through an interpreter) during these meetings.
The church in Khabarovsk is young, and not free of problems. (it helps me to better understand the apostle Paul and his warning to young struggling churches.) It is not large in numbers at this time, but it has a few strong members who are studying daily and growing in God’s word. One of the most satisfying parts of my journey was to be with such a loving, caring people; who were not only willing and eager to learn and to share the good news with others; but were willing to stand up for the faith and defend it before others. We went to help teach the people in Khabarovsk, which was a joy, but there is so much we can learn from our brothers and sisters in Russia.
These people, curious to know, and eager to learn, are willing to share their faith in God with others and to stand up and defend their beliefs; would to God we were like them in this regard.
Very quickly, it seemed, Sunday was upon us, we had had a good week, made many new friends; visited the Van Sandts’ in their Russian home, were privileged to be invited and share an evening meal with the Poleschuks, a
family, Sasha, Nataliya, Anna and Ivan and it was time for the Sunday service.
The church met from 2 to 4:30 PM Sunday after-noon. There were about 46 in attendance (over 20 children). Jim Van Sandt delivered the lesson and Ronnie Morrison led our singing. It was a small group, perhaps by our standards, but I’m sure the worship was just as pleasing to God. At the end of the service, Eugen, one of the young men, told us his wife, Larissa, wished to be baptized. Larissa, had been studying with Bonnie, so Bonnie was very thrilled at this request.
We went from the church meeting to the hotel where the bathtub was filled to overflowing. We then asked Eugen if he wished to baptize his wife, which he was pleased to do. Now we not only have another fine young family wholly in the church, but also a dedicated young Christian man who is experienced to baptize others. Hallelujah!
Russian experienced to baptize others. Hallelujah!
Too soon! Our time is over and we are on our way home. After some anxious moments at the Aeroflot ticket counter we began our journey. We stopped for several hours again in anchorage, through Salt Lake City, then Dallas and on to Nashville.
I can only say thank God for those who care for the souls of others. Thank you who made it possible. Thanks to all those in Russia willing to share their time, hearts and homes with us. God willing, I hope to go back again.
Don’t forget — there is another trip to the Russian Far East planned for June, 1994. Steve Hale is planning to lead a group to Komsolmolsk (about 2 hours ‘from Khabaraovsk). Go if you can, help send someone if you can’t go and if you can’t do either pray for those who can — Slava Boga!