Saturday, April 14, 2012

Palm Sunday: First in Jerusalem, Now in Russia

Last Sunday, the Orthodox world celebrated Palm Sunday, known as Pussy Willow Sunday here in Russia and, as you might expect, Resurrection Sunday or Easter is right around the corner. What's interesting is how Western Easter - or Catholic Easter as it's called here - and Orthodox Easter are usually on two different dates. But not always.

Decisions, Decisions: How many bunches? How many rubles?
(Click images to enlarge.)

But what's way more interesting is the original event, the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem. This week, I've been digging for information and found it fascinating. (References follow.)

Above all, the Sunday before Passover was lamb selection day, the day on which a Jewish family would head toward Jerusalem and choose a lamb to be offered for their family later that week. And it was no coincidence that on lamb selection day, Jesus arrived in Jerusalem, the perfect lamb of God to be offered later that week for all people of all nations. Talk about God's perfect timing.

The Lamb of God: This rendition is simply breath-taking.

When word got out that Jesus was on His way into Jerusalem, the whole city became stirred up.Those in the crowd saw his arrival through very different perspectives, depending upon who they were.

For instance, to the Roman soldiers who occupied Jerusalem, Jesus' arriving in the city was hardly an event. They had seen real parades, ticker-tape-type parades for Roman generals returning from foreign conquest. By comparison, this parade - impromptu by all appearances - was of little consequence. Still, the Romans knew to be watchful. If things got out of hand, it wouldn't be the first time.

Jerusalem was always at its most volatile during Passover week. The Romans knew that. That's when Jews celebrated their release from slavery in Egypt some 1,200 years earlier. Now they longed for freedom anew. Occasionally a wild-eyed fanatic would come forward, usually around Passover, and claim to be the Messiah, anointed to lead the nation to freedom. The Romans were prepared.

But to the common folk who lined the street, this public demonstration was exactly what they'd been hoping for from a potential king. As Jesus passed, they welcomed him with wild enthusiasm. The crowd from nearby Bethany had been spreading the word about Jesus' most amazing miracle yet. Days earlier he had brought Lazarus back to life in front of them.

Folks from out-of-town heard about the miracle on their trek up to Jerusalem for Passover week. They were a powerless people, drawn to a man who could do such things. And then, in a statement of power not lost on the masses, Jesus entered Jerusalem riding a donkey. Since the time of King David, the donkey had been the royal mount of Israelite kings. Jesus was saying, Yes, I am a king.

So the crowd joined in the celebration, waving palm branches like patriots waving their flags. To the Jews, the palm branch was not so much a symbol of peace as it was a symbol of triumph and victory. They were shouting, Hosanna, that is, Save us! And Blessed is the King of Israel! This was the only occasion on which Jesus allowed such a display of devotion and He made no effort to quiet the crowd.

On the other hand, the yelling and commotion was upsetting to some of the Pharisees. For one thing, they were anxious about the Roman response, knowing soldiers wouldn't hesitate to use force. Beyond that, the Pharisees were enraged with jealousy, already plotting to kill Jesus - and Lazarus, as well - but not during Passover week with all the crowds.

What a difference a week would make. God's timing was so different from that of the Pharisees. According to His exquisite plan, God arranged for Jesus' death to happen during that very week precisely when the city was bursting with visitors in town for Passover. What better coverage for the event. What better way to get the word out to the widest possible audience that their king was coming as the ultimate lamb.

Dear friends, let's have a look at how Russian Orthodox believers celebrate the triumphal entry of Jesus. But first, here are the primary references for the post.

* * * * * 

From The Bible: Exodus 12: 1-6; Matthew 21:1-11; Mark 11: 1-10; Luke 19:29-40; John 12: 12-19.

"The Lamb of God," Death and Resurrection of the Messiah. (DVD, Discovery Guide) (Zondervan / Focus on the Family, 1998).

Matthew Henry's Commentary on the Whole Bible. (Logos Bible Software, 2000-2012).

* * * * *

So here's a quick look at Pussy Willow Sunday in Russia.

Grandparents: They're all the same, the whole world 'round.

Forking over rubles for pussy willow branches.

Video from Russia Today: Palm Sunday celebration among Orthodox believers at the Cathedral of Christ the Savior, Moscow.

Monday, April 02, 2012

Renewal in Kiev, Ukraine for Missionary Women

Spiritually, it's one of the best things I've ever been to, we just kept digging deeper and deeper into one psalm. It's amazing how they got us so close in such a short time. And they just lavished us with so much love...
That was Mary Lee Roger's impression of the Come before Winter renewal in Kiev, Ukraine. It was a Friday evening in mid-March and we were heading toward the train station. Within the hour, Mary Lee and friends would be heading back to Donetsk, Ukraine where she and husband Jay Don serve with Ukrainian Bible Institute. Later that evening I would catch another train back to Rostov-on-Don, Russia.

From left, Dawna, missionary intern serving in Kharkov; Mary Lee, Natalia and Natalya from Donetsk, Ukraine.
We were a few of 44 women who serve in ministry in Europe, most of us in Russia or Ukraine, who spent five days with a team of 14 sisters who had come from the US to provide us spiritual refreshment, known as Come before Winter.

The Come before Winter renewal team came to encourage, serve, challenge. What saints! (Photo credit: Mariana Long.) 
Come before Winter is the brainchild of Karen Alexander who saw the opportunity to encourage, honor and challenge missionary women.

As the Come before Winter website notes, Being a minister can be a cold and isolating experience. . . even for the most seasoned worker. When that ministry occurs on foreign soil, the stress only multiplies. Paul experienced winter. On the field in the first century, Paul writes to his friend Timothy: “Do your utmost to come before winter” (NKJV, 2 Timothy 4.9). Paul is grieving the loss of fellow workers, one who has deserted the work. “Only Luke is with me,” he writes. . .“Bring the cloak I left in Troas, and my scrolls, especially the parchment,” he urges.

From left, Heather, Sara and Pam of the renewal team.
The first Come before Winter renewal was in Brazil in 2001. Since then, two or more renewals have been held each year and the statistics are impressive. More than 500 women from 50 countries on six continents have been served. The Kiev renewal was the 24th overall, the third to be held in the former Soviet Union: The first was in Novosibirsk in 2003 and the second in St Petersburg, 2007. Several participants have been to all three.

Tamika, left, who serves in Vienna, sharing family photos over lunch.

Come before Winter provides all accommodation for renewal participants which demands a significant budget. Supporters recognize the value of investing in the women who serve in ministry, especially those serving in a foreign culture. 

The Come before Winter website continues, Today’s missionaries can experience winter. Today’s women in ministry can experience winter. . . Ministry, especially ministry in missions, challenges the hearts and souls of women around the world. Today, just as in the first century, some workers will leave the work, tired and discouraged. Those who remain will on some days long for a familiar face, a conversation with a kindred spirit, tools with which to work, and the comforts of “home.” Our goal is to bring what is lacking and to arrive before “winter.”

Our renewal site, a sanitorium northwest of Kiev.

Charlotte Wright, team member from Austin said, We can not serve on the mission field but what we can do is come and encourage you women who do. A retired journalism teacher, Charlotte served as videographer of the event, her fifth renewal.

Charlotte, our expert on all things digital.
Charlotte encourages women to make the sacrifice to attend. Do whatever you have to do, beg your husband to watch the children for a week, just get there. You will go back home with so much more energy, both physical and spiritual energy, better able to handle what you have to do back home. I've seen it time and time again. 

Irena of Tomsk helps clarify the evaluation form.
Worship and intensive Bible study were centerpieces of the renewal. We began and ended each day with prayer and praise. We studied the Psalms, particularly Psalms 90 - 106, known as Book 4 of the Psalter. We focused on Psalm 103, which – it just so happens – I have committed to memory. But now, having plumbed the depths of that psalm together, I appreciate it infinitely more.

Esther serves in Crimea and Katie serves in Kharkov.
Our singing was magnificent and I was thrilled to follow accomplished altos versus being the only one. To top it off, the renewal theme song, Bless the Lord Oh My Soul, was composed by our own brother, Kostya Zhigulin composer and director of Psalom, a spiritual music ensemble, based in St Petersburg.

Each Come before Winter team includes a missionary ambassador chosen from the participants to attend the next renewal and pass along the cloak, a beloved tradition of the ministry. 
The Cloak held by Janet Allison, missionary ambassador to our renewal and Irena Rahminova, missionary ambassador to the upcoming renewal in New Zealand. (Photo: Mariana Long) 
Janet Allison, missionary in SwazilandAfrica was part of the Kiev renewal, having been chosen missionary ambassador at the previous renewal in South Africa. So then, at the closing ceremony of our renewal, Janet presented the cloak to Irena Rahimova of TomskRussia, who will serve as missionary ambassador at the New Zealand renewal in June.

The renewal wrapped up Friday afternoon, we said our goodbyes and en route to the Kiev train station, the Donetsk delegation of three sisters and I stopped by Arizona Bar and Grill, a favorite of Americans passing through the capital city. We walked in and gaped at the familiar faces already there: It was the renewal team. Our sisters from the US had stopped by for a taste of home en route to the international airport.
The Arizona Restaurant in Kiev. The word that looks like PECTOPAH is Russian for restaurant, the pronunciation similar to the English word.
We joined them and I grabbed the seat next to Stephanie Hamm, a first-timer on the renewal team and a faculty member at Abilene Christian University. Working to disassemble my nachos, packed tighter than petals on a rose, I remembered the voice recorder in my purse and asked Stephanie her thoughts about the renewal.

I really loved the women sharing yesterday. (Each of us participants had three minutes to stand in front and share our thoughts from Psalm 103.) I thought it was wonderful and loved every bit of it. I loved the prayer appointments, the women sharing. (Each of us had a 45-minute prayer appointment with a team member.) I loved this time, the one-on-one with women. I had four of these. I looove meeting new people and I hope they let me come on another one, she said with a laugh.

Masha from Perm visiting over lunch.
After dinner and more goodbyes, we departed the Arizona and continued to the train station, anxious to get through the city center before the streets were blocked for the Ukrainian president and his entourage. I asked Natalia Maliuga of Ukrainian Bible Institute, Donestsk, for her impressions of the renewal.
It was really different, it was a really fresh approach, she said. I received new insights that will be very helpful to me personally and to share with others.
And that's the whole idea, to have been refreshed and equipped to return to our ministries and serve anew.

With dear sister Jeanene Reese, right. Is there anyone more sincere, more genuine? What a tireless worker she is. Back in the early 70's we were classmates at then-ACC. And since then, I cherish each time our paths cross.