A Lifetime of Grace
Ahhhhh, grace. This word has been my constant companion throughout my life. This friendship is twofold:
- Even before the foundation of the world God foreknew the infinite amount of grace He would pour out on me, even while in the womb. Grace is a fact of the past, an ever present reality, and a future promise. There will never be a day that I do not experience God’s grace. Even when the life and breath have gone out of me, I will be with my Savior in paradise, and that, my friends, is definitely a big, heaping plate of grace.
- Since birth I have been immersed in Grace Community Church in Tyler, TX. I also attended Grace Community school from K4 to 12th grade. At my first college, Stephen F. Austin State University, the first church I attended was called Grace Bible Church. Other such “running-ins” with “grace” has happened since, but this by far is my favorite:
Grace Baptist Church in Ryazan.
That is in fact the name of the church that 1) Anatoly built, 2) is literally across the street from the transition home, and 3) is where I will be teaching English every single day.
I hope you can understand why I literally laughed out loud when someone translated the name of the church for me. It is times like these when I say, “Who says God doesn’t have a sense of humor!? I can prove you wrong.”
Anatoly gave us the “abridged” version of their church’s inception, and through the translation of his story, it is plain to see the theme is God being the stronghold against opposition. The government, people from surrounding areas, a rich mobster-like guy, more people, and even a protest group were all in opposition to them building a Baptist church, but no matter the obstacle (getting permission from the government, acquiring the land by getting over 1,000 signatures of approval from surrounding neighbors, money, materials, etc.) God provided, overcame, and He was glorified. Slava bogo! The entire story is just another testament to God’s incredible faithfulness when His people trust Him.
It may seem unusual to see such a painting behind the pulpit, but it is actually a gift from their sister church in Sweden. That in and of itself has a very long and beautiful story.
No matter what kind of flower we are, we are clothed and cared for by the Creator. Slava bogo!
Every aspect of our beautiful church has a cherished story. Take this chandelier for example: A friend of Anatoly said he wanted to contribute to the building project with his medium of art. He visited places displaying and selling chandeliers in hopes of drawing inspiration, but sadly, none came. I forget the rest of the story, but the last fact I remember is the chandelier’s name (yes, they named a light fixture): the bride. *Check please* I mean come on. If that isn’t the most beautiful thing you have EVER heard then please comment below with what you think is, because I think this is unbeatable.
We attended our first Sunday church service this morning and two aspects really caught my attention:
- Their “Body-of-Christ-ness”
Communion was sacred and solemn with polished silver platters, goblets, and an ornate silver pitcher. The Word was read, the congregation would stand, the element was prayed over, handed out as the people sang, followed by corporate prayer, and then the process was repeated for the wine. With the wine, however, the church shared two goblets which were gently handled and wiped after every use by one of the elders with a handkerchief. We were literally drinking of the same cup and wine, just as we literally receive Christ within the body — as a unit. The last word seems to be a typically forgotten or missed motif. We divvy the word in half and live out a “not it” mentality (un- + it).
Joanna informed us that the wine was in fact real wine. At my church in Chicago I normally drink wine at communion in one of those little clear, plastic cups. Now, I barely have any experience with or knowledge of alcohol, but I can tell that my church uses pretty cheap wine. It burns. First time I drank it I had to hold back chokes and laughter, though I’m pretty sure a cough or two may have slipped out. On the other hand, the wine served at communion today in Ryazan was actually quite tasty, and I think I may have actually enjoyed it (sorry Daddy:P). Nonetheless, the wine still had a burn to it. My mind began running with the concept of “burning wine,” and I couldn’t help but be reminded of the awful sensation of having a wound sprayed with some kind of aerosol Neosporin that seemed to sear the living Dickens out of that part of my body. Without that medicine the wound would have festered, it may have never healed, and an infection probably would have made a nice little home for itself. The Lord’s Supper is a reminder of Christ’s shed blood for our sins as well as a reminder of all He has promised to those who confess and believe. In communion we confess, repent, praise God, eat the bread, drink the wine, remember Jesus, and leave with thankful, contemplative hearts, believing that we have been forgiven. Without the process of confession, we fester in our sins and cannot be healed. It must be cleansed, burned off. The wine heals the wound. We have to burn to heal.
At the end of the church service they had a “greetings” portion. I hardly speak any Russian and was therefore completely clueless as to why four people had stood up for some reason. Thankfully I was sitting next to Joanna who filled me in. Members of the congregation who had visited friends, family, or another church would share greetings from those people to the church in Ryazan as well as share prayer requests. I was floored. I still am floored! I should currently be on the floor. THIS BRINGS A WHOLE NEW ASPECT TO THE BODY OF CHRIST. This is how it’s supposed to be! Family, community, spread apart but always joined in Christ. We are brothers and sisters adopted as sons and daughters of God Almighty. In my twenty-two years of life, this is one of the truest, most beautiful ways I have ever seen people actually acting like the Body of Christ. What a blessing to witness.
Sarah’s fun facts & random thoughts:
- I am convinced that one of the home’s cats has magical powers. With one look of those yellow eyes he makes you feel like the greatest thing to have ever existed. *EEP* In one day he turned a cat-hating person on my team into someone with a new love and slight obsession for cats. Also, he has big fluffy paws that I’m absolutely obsessed with.
- Russians really like decorating gardens with tires. Might sound strange, but it’s actually quite creative and beautiful the way it looks.
- ALL CUCUMBERS IN AMERICA NEED TO BE THROWN AWAY IMMEDIATELY. I REPEAT. ALL CUCUMBERS NEED TO BE THROWN AWAY. Italy “ruined” tomatoes, mozzarella, and olive oil for me; Russia has ruined cucumbers.