An American Brother In Eastern Europe, January / February 2009
Brother Charlie Klennert of the Tacoma Ecclesia visited Eastern Europe and writes his impressions
Winter Bible School January 2009
The Ukraine Bible school in Poltava Ukraine was an amazing experience for all involved. Brothers and sisters from all over Russia, Belarus, Estonia, England, Moldova, Uzbekistan, Latvia and the U.S.A. all attended. There were around 90 present, including the day visitors from the local ecclesia. The accommodations were well planned by our local sister, Ludmila. The spiritual food was even better. Brother Scott Ketelsen from the U.S.A. gave a series of talks on the Tabernacle.
Photo: Brothers from throughout the former USSR discussing together Scott's model of the tabernacle
Brother Duncan Heaster from Latvia brought talks on the book of James and led the daily Bible readings from the Bible Companion. There was amazing discussion on each chapter.
Photo: Group discussion of themes from the book of James.
I brought a series of talks on the prophets. There was even a program with plays, poems, prayers and songs to celebrate the baptisms. Brother Alexei and sister Vera composed poems about the Bible School and recited them to us. One of the evening activities was based upon the list of names in Romans 16. Everyone was given a scroll to write, which they could use as a bookmark, listing the names of those whom they were thankful for. It was wonderful to see how truly a new family has been developed over the last 15 years of unceasing preaching and pastoral work.
Photo: Sisters from Ukraine and Moldova writing their scroll
The fellowship was amazing to witness. Brothers and sisters who see each other ever so briefly throughout the year cherished the time they spent together. Old friends were reacquainted and new friends were made. It was an amazing testament to what the kingdom will be like when our Savior returns to earth to establish the beloved truth throughout the earth. We sang, we cried, we laughed, we prayed, we discussed the scriptures at quite some length together.
At the middle of the school we had 3 baptisms: TIMUR from Uzbekistan, VALENTIN from Ukraine, both of whom had studied Bible Basics online, and MISHA also from Ukraine, the brother of our sisters Anna and Larisa. A loving reminder of the power of our doctrine, it is being accepted throughout the world. God is calling out a people for His name.
Sister Larisa's sister Anna was baptized at last year's school, and now their brother Misha was baptized. It's so great to see the Truth spread within these families, many of whom were atheists not many years ago.
The days together at the Bible school will be treasured and remembered throughout the year by all who were involved. If you have a chance to come and see the faith, hope and joy we all experienced, take it. There was young and old alike who felt the power of God at various times in various ways throughout the school. Though we all may be broken, and truly there are many broken lives in Eastern Europe, we have joy in the things of God.
Turkey January 2009
There are times when I read the latest Carelink email and just kind of nod and smile. Could people around the world really be that excited about the things of God? With that type of a mindset I headed to Turkey to see what type of progress is being made with the brothers and sisters in eastern Turkey. So I ask that you please read this and reflect upon it and pray about our brothers and sisters in these most awful situations and if you have any questions or desire to support to contact us.
When Duncan and I arrived in Turkey we went to the safe house to meet up with a couple of sisters. We took them out to eat and headed back to the safe house to wait for brother H, originally from Iran who is hoping to get to Canada this year. As we waited we talked about the Ukraine Bible school and shared pictures and videos of our Russian brothers and sisters. Then we prayed together and had a simple breaking of bread.
We arrived at our destination in eastern Turkey, an internal flight, we met up with our brother S. from Iraq who is living in Turkey waiting for the U.N. to clear him and his family for relocation to a western country. After a short visit we met another brother at this house, brother P. Brother P and brother S. would be our sort of tour guides as we went throughout the immigrant area visiting folks.
To convert from Islam is not an easy thing to do. Many times even family members will turn on you. One such case is of a sister who converted to Christianity and her own father has tried to kill her at least twice. She had to move to a smaller city in Turkey just so her relatives would not find her. In hard line Islamic societies, conversion to Christianity is even punishable by death. I bring this up, so that as you read the accounts below, you will see the faith of our brothers P and S and what they have to contend with as they preach the gospel.
Brother S and brother P have talked to brother S’s neighbor about the things of God. They are a young Kurdish couple, M and S, that have fled Iran. We were invited in and all given cups of tea. As we drank our tea, we discussed about the things of the Truth. They had many questions and we asked them many questions as well. We talked about the Kingdom of God, how there is only one God, that Jesus is His son, the importance of baptism, prayer and studying the Bible. The joy and excitement they had in finding a peaceful religion was evident not only in their words, but in their body language. After quite some time in discussion, they demonstrated themselves ready to be baptized, which we did.
This was just the beginning of what was to be the single most profound spiritual day I have ever encountered in my life. We wandered around the side streets to another house of friends of brother P to whom he has preached Bible Basics. Since his conversion he has spread the gospel like wildfire. These people are so strapped financially due to the demands of the Turkish government; Turkey makes it extremely difficult for any refugee that comes in to the country. They cannot work legally; if they do work illegally and are caught then they can be repatriated to Iran and the death sentences that await many of them. Plus they must pay a few hundred US$ each 6 months for residence permits, and also pay for their childrens' schooling expenses.
At the next house where the friends of our brother P lived and visited at times, were 5 people who have been talking to our brothers- P, M, K, A and F. Each one expressed there joy in what they have been studying and what they have learned from our brothers. We expounded upon the things of God at considerable length and heard their confessions of faith. Our lives were talked about, our struggles, the fear of Islamic persecution. One gal told us that she had baptized herself a few years ago when she first believed in Jesus and read the New Testament, understanding that this is what she must do! But now she had learnt more from Bible Basics she wished to be baptized again. All five were clearly ready to be baptized into Christ, we. Each little group we met, we talked about the importance of daily Bible reading and prayer to sustain us .
I was amazed at the pure joy these people had as they came to Christ. I reflected on my own life, would I have the courage to convert to Christianity if I knew what lay ahead? Next we met a family of a mother and father and two kids. We sat down on the sofa and drank tea and ate apples and oranges together. We talked openly about the scriptures and were asked all types of questions. The father at the house asked us a most pointed question, “How do I share what I know and believe about Christianity, knowing what the consequences of my conversion can do to me?” We prayed together, the mother was on her knees with her hands folded with her two kids doing the same. They wanted to be baptized so they to can be with Christ in the kingdom. We baptized them [M & F] and encouraged them to be strong in the word and prayer.
At this point we left and headed over to brother P's house. What lay in store for us at our brother's house will forever be etched into my consciousness.A man had come to us to be baptized. He was so excited about the things of God! He wanted so badly to follow Christ in all aspects of his life. Again as we expounded upon the scriptures we could see the “pure joy” talked about in the scriptures. The hope in his eyes, the excitement in his voice, an amazing witness to what the gospel is all about. This is when I truly felt the presence of God. After we baptized our new brother A, he burst into tears of joy. Just imagine being in an Islamic country and a grown man, only a couple of years older than yourself, hugging you while he sobs great tears of joy after he is baptized. He was so thankful and so happy.
As I sat on the bed in the hotel, I reflected upon all these things, trying not to forget any of the details. The people I met, the smiles, the tears, the joy and the pain that we all shared made me consciously aware of the fact that we are living in incredible epoch of time. The return of Christ could be any day. There is so much more that can and should be done. How do we help our new brothers and sisters? How do we encourage their walk in Christ? What can we do? The issues affecting our brothers and sisters are immeasurable. If you have any ideas please write or email us to let us know.
I took a trip to the other side of the world with no expectations. Instead I was given an opportunity to live my faith. To help others come to Christ. I saw the faith of others in trying circumstances. I have brothers who are so alive and excited about the things of the truth that they are not afraid to bring it up to others, even if it puts them in harms way. Please consider any help and support you can give. Come over and see for yourself what is going on throughout the world. I pray that God will keep this journey on the forefront of my mind, to help me be more open about spreading my faith back in my homeland.
Winter Heating Support
Brother Duncan and I drove to Eastern Latvia to bring firewood and warm clothes to a subsistence farmer brother and sister. The car ride was a good 4+hours each way, the temperature was hovering around -16 degrees. It was bitter cold, the roads were icy, but we were not deterred. We even saw wild deer running across the track and fields.
Sister Nina came running outside with her husband brother Gennady to greet us. We were ushered inside, since the time Duncan had informed her we were coming she had been preparing for us. It was amazing the food that she prepared. Here were people who had nothing, willing to share everything they had with us. We sat and ate, they were so proud of the fact that they had visitors and that God had blessed there crops so we could have some of there food. All of the food was food they had grown as subsistence farmers, except for a bit of ham that they had traded potatoes for from a neighbour earlier in the day.
After the meal, we gave them both new warmer coats, which they promptly put on right away. Sister Nina started praying right away about how thankful she was that God has not forgotten them out here in their frozen land. There was conversation of in the coming months when the snow melts raising some chickens for protein. They don’t eat meat because they cannot afford it (yes, the meat that we ate was truly a special treat). After some discussion on how best to raise chickens we sponsored their endeavour.
Sister Nina showed us her storehouse where she keeps all of the food that they have preserved to make it through such cold winters. The sustenance of their lives, their prize possessions were the very things that I take for granted more often than not. I thought of my own storehouse at home filled with exotic vegetables from all over, the meat in the freezer and the ease at which I can get food at anytime of the day at the local supermarket. They were very insistent to load us with their prized preserved vegetables. They were very proud of the fact that although in their 70s, God had given them the strength to still harvest the crops with their own hands. They said they had been blessed with a good harvest last year, thanks to the water pump and irrigation system which Br Steve & Sis Robin Jones [Cindy’s parents] had installed on their field.
After the “tour” of the storehouse we went outside and unloaded the truck of the firewood we bought for them. As I helped brother Gennady unload the wood, all we could hear was our dear sister in spontaneous prayer, thanking God over and over again for how much He loves them and for how He had sent us to help them. She had spent her entire monthly pension on buying firewood which had only lasted them three weeks. Two old souls, so very thankful that people cared enough to think of them and help them.
Photo: Nina overcome with gratitude, openly praying to God with thanks for the firewood. She's wearing the fleece we gave her
I have never seen poverty quite like this. They are about 5 miles walk over tracks and fields from the nearest shop, and there are very few houses in between. Doctors are out of the question, they simply have to trust in God. Nina doesn’t get to the shop the entire Winter. As we drove away heading back to a warm place with warm blankets in a warm car, I had to sit back and reflect at how wonderful our God is. In their poverty, God has called them to a greater service, as servants of a higher calling. He claims them for His kingdom. In their poverty they fed us what they themselves cannot afford to eat and loaded our arms with potatoes and pickled vegetables, taking the very food that they need to survive and giving it to us.