I wish that I would have better chronicled at least one of my trips to Swaziland – or any other short-term mission trip that I have been fortunate to take in the past. What was I thinking? All of those times to Mexico or the inner-city of Chicago and Los Angeles. There is always so much that I wrestle with in regards to God, my nation, and especially myself when I have the opportunity to jump head first into a new culture.
Kursk, Russia is full of so much history. Adversity. Good times. Terrible times. We were given a tour today of the city. We were reminded that the great majority of buildings downtown were destroyed during the Second World War (or as they refer to it – the Great Patriotic War). We were shown the eternal flame which burns in memory of the thousands of Russian soldiers and citizens who lost their lives in their successful attempt to push the Germans back as part of the largest tank battle in human history. We gazed upon the monument that was raised in honor of the Jews who were taken to concentration camps to never be heard of again. We saw tank after tank after tank lined up in the courtyard. While standing there in front of these gigantic machines, I thought to myself, “There will be a day when these will no longer be necessary.” Kursk has been occupied by both Napoleon and Hitler. Generation after generation has lived to see revolution and recession. War has brought hell on earth for this community. I have no idea what any of these events would feel like. To my family. To my country. To my faith.
I could not stop thinking of the passage which reads, “Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever” (Revelation 22:1-5, ESV).
Later on that day I had the opportunity to ask my interpreter, a man that finds his faith in the Russian Orthodox church, to take me into a couple of their cathedrals and show me around. The experience is so far from the ordinary for me. I have been to Orthodox churches in the States but never in cathedrals with such size and scope. The images. The scents. The mixture of religion and patriotism (many pictures were of Saints who obviously looked Slavic in caricature – even Jesus himself – and then there were Russian military heroes amongst the biblical persons). I really do not know what to make of all of this. I cannot tell you if any of it aligns with biblical revelation or not. There is just cultural layer upon layer upon layer abetted in the rituals and rites. I wonder what the Spirit of God is trying to say to the Church in Russia. I hope that he can be heard despite the scars and sorrow and sacrament. I do know he loves them dearly. As should I.