We had a great day yesterday! Will remembered at the last minute that it was Zhatva in the village of Bratskoe (pop. 408), and that we were invited. We tried to go with the group from church here, but we just missed them. So, we paid extravagant amounts of money for a taxi to take us all the way there. (Well, extravagant by Ukrainian standards, not American.) I thought it was kind of funny that we couldn't find any drivers who knew where Bratskoe is. I had assumed that everyone would know, since everyone in the churches around here talks about Bratskoe all the time. The driver we ended up with asked for directions over and over and still ended up getting kind of lost.
The church in Bratskoe is the "mother church" for many of the churches in this region, including the one we go to here in Dneprorudnoe. I knew that Bratskoe was almost considered a completely Christian village, but I didn't really know anything more than that. My favorite part of the service was the elderly pastor telling the history of the church and village. Like I said, it was Zhatva, and it was also their 85th anniversary! I wish I could have recorded the whole story, or at least taken notes. Here's what I remember, though:
Soon after the revolution, life started getting harder in some places. A few Christian men from a church in Belarus came down this way looking for work. They had to change trains at a station near here. They got off and started asking about other believers. The first person they talked to was another evangelical believer, and he invited them home with him. He "fed them Ukrainian borsch" (important detail, of course ), showed them Ukrainian hospitality and the incredible fruits of the fertile soil here. He also tried to talk them into staying, telling them about land available, for what we would probably call homesteading. They weren't sure, but when he took them back to the train station, their train had already left, so that took that as God's leading. The men chose land, planted it and started building homes. Then they went back for their families. In 1923 a group of Christians from Belarus came down on sleds and sleighs and whatever they had. (I can't remember how many. . . 40 families? 170-something total?) As soon as they settled into their new homes, they started evangelizing the region. 1924-1930 were the years when they had groups traveling, sharing the gospel, and starting small groups of believers. Then Stalin cracked down, and they had to stop. As the storyteller said, "Our church spent 110 years in prison, and. . . ." Again, I can't remember how many years in exile, but that was total for all the men who were sent off. Several didn't come back. But the church in Bratskoe didn't close down! They were pretty much quarantined, but they still kept on. Other visitors talked about how they had come to the 50th anniversary--thirty-five years ago--and had to sneak through the corn fields to get past the police blockades. As soon as perestroika came, the evangelists went right back to work, and that's how the Dneprorudnoe church was actually founded.
So, why am I writing all this in a post about thanksgiving? Because Zhatva is a day of thanksgiving, and because that was the overall sum of what was told and what I felt. I imagined that it was a lot like what Thanksgiving Day in America would have been like a few generations after the original Pilgrims. It was thanksgiving. . . .
513. for God's great love and mercy
514. for the time of grace that we have now
515. for the martyrs
516. for the incredible legacy of the Bratskoe church
517. for the day of fellowship
518. for the chance to hear these stories first-hand
519. for the harvest: physical fruits and vegetables of fall, and spiritual harvests in all the towns that this church has touched
520. for a fun day for our family
521. for Ukrainian borsch!
And so much more!