Monday, May 18, 2009

A Death in the Family

Spring is rapidly advancing, everything has beautifully come to life, and for now at least, Dneprorudnoe is bursting with green. We are planning to spend more time at our dacha, or it would be better to say, most of our time. We won't be at the computer as much, so I thought this would be a good time to give a long overdue update on the ins and outs of ministry with the church here.

I'll like to give y'all a little overview of April. (See, I haven't forgotten how to 'speak Southern'!) Maybe better to say the end of March through the beginning of May... more or less in order. Since this time period was so full for us, maybe we'll do this in installments. =) So here's one event from that time period:

Part of being in a small town church is taking part in everything that happens, and with a church with half or more of the members well over 60, funerals are common occurrence. Since Soviet times and before, in Russian Evangelical Churches funerals have been seen as unusual opportunities to openly and publicly proclaim the Gospel, to reach out to unsaved relatives, friends, acquaintances who on their own might never choose to have any contact with any church whatsoever.

My assistance in this process began the day before the funeral when I ended up helping dig the grave. This babushka had no relatives left in town, so church members did everything that the relatives would usually have arranged for. I did think to myself that the extent of the church's involvement was truly remarkable. On one hand, yes, you can say that this was just a reflection of the Slavic-Soviet communal mindset... but what I saw even more was the purpose of the body of Christ being lived out in real life. This lady had only one distant relative who lived too far away to even make it for the funeral. From preparing her body for burial, ordering the coffin, arranging the church service, transportation to the cemetery, digging the grave, placing the grave marker, gathering and feeding all the old friends and acquaintances who attended the funeral, etc, on and on... it was all completely and spontaneously done by the church members. I just thought how truly shocking it would be to the average American christian. I mean, if someone just and up and died, no arrangements made... would there be such an outpouring of love? Or would it be a few people taking 'this unforeseen burden' upon themselves, while the majority would be taken aback that this babushka could have been so uncaring as to not set everything up ahead of time? Surely she should have thought, as a Christian, what an imposition this would be on others? I didn't hear even a hint of that, and what I thought repeatedly, was 'they will know that you are My disciples by the love you have for one another." This was just how things struck meat the time, I don't mean at all to imply that many American churches might not have responded in the same manner. It was a powerful testimony of the love of God being displayed through His children, and I was humbled to be there in the midst of it.

Back to my part. =) We gathered in the morning in front of the babushka's apartment building, carried out the coffin, and had us a church service. That is, we sang hymns, spoke of the sincere, simple belief and love this sister in Christ had displayed in here life. However, we spoke even more about the God she had gone to meet, and the Saviour whom she had believed in, lived with, loved and served for so many years. There were probably three 'sermonettes' in all, including mine. I shared about what the Bible says to be true of us without God: our nature, our life, and eternal destiny, if we turn away from God... and all of the wonderful, amazing changes that God works in us when we come to know Christ.
Naturally, people are more willing to think about eternity when confronted by death, but still, I am always amazed at how open and receptive the eyes and hearts of many are. Especially since they might not attend any church at all, with the possible exception of Christmas and Easter. Be praying with us for those who heard the Gospel clearly presented, who were challenged to think about their own lives, their eternal souls and their choice to acknowledge God, to choose to come to Him in faith and find salvation, purpose in this life, and the joy of living with God in this life and the next.

After the outdoor service, which attracted friends, neighbors and acquaintances, as well as our church members, we loaded up all who wanted to 'see her off on her last journey,' and drove out to the cemetery. Once there, we had a brief time of singing hymns and letting people 'say their last goodbyes' before we lowered the coffin into the grave. The majority then were taken to the church for a lunch 'in honor of the departed.' This is an obligatory traditional meal, usually supplied by the family, but again, the church members did all the preparation and serving for at least 60 people. I has stayed at the cemetery with some of the men to fill in the grave, and set things in order at the grave site. We rejoined the rest when we were finally done, thanked the Lord for the grace and strength He gave to serve His children in this way... and called it a day.

And there you have it. One Day in the Life of Vilborn Vilbornovich. =)

Thank you for your constant prayers for us, as well as notes, letters, encouragement. We appreciate each and every one of you, and thank God for your love, for your interest in our life and ministry.


Anna said...

Good update. Thanks!

Raquel said...

Hey! I just read that book for school! One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, that is. :-)

That IS what you were refering to, right? :-)

Mimi said...

May her Memory be Eternal.

Baba Julie said...

Thank you, Will... Very good insight into your life and ministry. Love you all! Mom