Feels like... New Year's is in the air! Everyone is scurrying around buying up groceries, gifts, vodka and fireworks, getting ready for the Big Night of the year. And we're slowly recovering from our own personal "Christmas holidays."
We greatly enjoyed being able to slowly build up to celebrating Christmas with our family this year, as we daily reflected on the Advent of our Saviour. One of the nicer things about having two separate dates on which we remember Christ's birth is that one can be our own, very personal celebration, and one can be the 'Big Church Holiday.'
I thought this might be a good time to fill you all in a bit on the daily ins and outs of our involvement with our new church family here. I'll just hit the high points of the past couple of weeks, starting with:
Choir practice in the morning before church, singing in the choir, singing solos, and preaching from 1 Peter, 1 Timothy, and Titus on how the (older) women in the church can be an even greater blessing to us all. Home for a quick lunch and nap, then we all were out again to visit with the youth at one of their apartments. We shared a simple supper and had a good time just enjoying one another's company. Phyllis and the children stayed for quite a while, but I left early to be at church for the evening service.
Tuesday evenings are 'Brother's Meetings' which can be an evening of discussing solutions to different challenges in ministry, settling questions as to nuances of church practice or even teaching that have come up. It can also turn out be purely a 'work day', doing anything from working on building a bathroom, to moving benches and tables for a special service. This past Tuesday, I spent most of my time there helping with preparations and decorations for the Christmas evening service the next day. (A whooole lot of untangling Christmas lights, trying to re-wire them to function in ways their designers never intended.) After most of the work was done, we had tea and cake in honor of a 1-year anniversary of one of our couples.
Wednesday evenings are Youth prayer meeting/Bible study nights. I've been leading those more and more recently. Sometimes I'll ask one of the youth to prepare a short devotional as well. We are currently working our way through 1st John. We went through 1 John 4:17-19, reflecting on the wonder of all that we can have and hold fast to if we allow God's love to grow and be perfected in us and be displayed through us.
We wrapped up with prayer about what we had read; then had a separate time of sharing personal testimonies of answered prayer and personal needs that we prayed about together. Then one of the youth and I went to visit his brother who is in the hospital following an operation. We sat and talked, trying to encourage him a bit. I sang a few Christmas carols for him, and we left.
Well, that was Christmas Day, yes? That evening, our whole family was at church. Even though the 25th is not the 'Big Holiday,' we had an informal Christmas service for our church family. People invited family members who don't usually come to church, we had cookies and tea, a time for personal sharing, sang traditional Ukrainian Christmas carols together, and generally enjoyed the fellowship with one another. I shared very briefly, sang a couple of Christmas carols, sang with our children, accompanied another soloist, sang with choir... lots of singing, lots of fun, a good time.
We had a choir practice for a couple of hours - it's usually Thursday evenings, and then several of the youth went to a birthday party for the child of one of the young families ion the church. I hurried home and helped get Phyllis and the children over there. We were able to visit for a while with this young mother who we have not seen as much of as we would like, and hopefully were able to encourage her a bit.
The youth has a fellowship time every Saturday evening, and even with the holidays, we met as usual. I've been leading these as well, discussing random topics that the youth themselves have asked to study. We've covered quite a range of topics, so far: Great White Throne as distinct from Judgement Seat of Christ; Pagan Roots of Christmas (are Christmas trees ok in church? or: christian freedom and discernment in areas of disagreement); Why are we Baptists? (how our teaching differs from that of other protestant denominations and 'Christian' cults found here in Ukraine), etc.
This Saturday, we wrapped up our more formal fellowship time and then visited with a church member who had just returned from 3 months in a rehab center and was very glad just to see us all again. As we drank tea, we also were offering help and comments to those who were re-decorating the hall for the Christmas season.
choir practice again, taking Raia with me to help Phyllis a bit. Sang a song with the youth that we had practiced the night before. Helped lead the congregation in 'Hark the Herald Angels Sing,' a new song for most. Sang with the choir, of course, but had a 'light Sunday' in other respects, not being asked to share the message I'd prepared.
That evening, one of the girls from church came over, a true servant leader in our group. She worked with Phyllis for quite a while on a slideshow for New Years.
There you have it, a 'small glimpse' into our daily contact with and support of the church here. Please be praying for strength during the next few days! Tomorrow we meet at 10pm, and from 11pm to ...6am probably, the next morning, we'll be 'seeing in the New Year' together! I was asked to share a call to prayer as we meet the New Year in prayer at midnight, as well as being partly responsible for planning an hour of time - from 3am to 4am!! Then there's a trip to a church in a city a couple of hours away planned on Saturday. We're all going, and I'll be preaching and singing. Then Sunday as usual... and I don't know exactly what the plans are for Christmas Day, on the 7th - but I know we'll be involved!
Pray for stamina for all of us, and that Phyllis would be able to be as involved as is possible. This is a great time to get a lot of visiting in, and she has not been able to get to know people as well as I have, having her very own personal 'youth group' to keep up with!
Thank you for your prayers during this Holiday season, may the Lord bless you for the support of your love, friendship, and many prayers for our family.