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Friday, February 24, 2006

Our New Apartment

On February 10 we moved to a new apartment. It is located about 1 mile from our old apartment. Our old apartment was a typical Russian apartment consisting of a small kitchen a living room and a bedroom. In Russia this would be called a two room apartment as the kitchen is not counted. We moved to a three room apartment and now have a small 10’ x 10’ room which we are using for an office/study. We have a place to keep a computer set up all the time, a desk and a real bookcase. The apartment is nice and sunny and has windows on both sides of the apartment, so that in the summer we will have a cross breeze. We also have full use of the small balcony, something we did not have at the old apartment because the owner had it full of his stored junk.

We liked our old neighborhood. For Russia it was reasonably clean and well kept. The two maintenance people worked hard at keeping trash picked up and our block was the only one that never had snow accumulate on the walks. Every morning you would see the two maintenance people (a man and a woman in their 50’s) shoveling the driveways and walks, and cleaning up trash. We had built some good relationships with several local people and will miss seeing the grannies who sell produce and flowers outside the building in the summer. The old flat was also on a convenient bus route where we could easily catch buses to nearly every area of the city.

The new apartment is in a pretty decent neighborhood but the view is not as good and the maintenance people don’t keep the area so clean. We need to walk several blocks to catch a bus and we don’t have as many options for bus routes. Despite this we are happy with the move. We are pleased that our landlord is a believer. We enjoy having the extra room and for some reason our two cats seem more relaxed in this apartment. We can walk to a small grocery store only one block away, and there are three supermarkets, and two small malls within three blocks of our apartment.

We hope to host a Sunday worship service here every other week in the near future as we work toward an official church plant in Nizhny Novgorod.

Concert Outreach in Zavolzha

On February 8 we helped Vadim and Eduard host a Christian concert in Zavolzha. We were able to rent a small hall in a local theater, where every Friday and Saturday there is a discothèque. We brought the Christian worship band “Fools for the King” from Nizhny Novgorod and they provided music for the evening. Eduard and Vadim had done some advertising and the theme of the program was centered on the Christian solution to drug and alcohol addiction.

Karen and I, Nickolai, and an interpreter named Sergei drove Nick’s very small “Oka” automobile to Zavolzha. An Oka is nominally a four person car, but that is really a stretch of the designer’s imagination. The entire car is about 7 feet long. Whoever rides in the back seat is crammed in and has no room to maneuver or stretch. Nick says the car is basically a washing machine with wheels! Despite the small size, there was not enough heat to either keep the windows defrosted or to reach an extra 12 inches into the back seat. Nick and I where comfortably warm in the front and Karen and Sergei in the back seat were numb with the cold.
We arrived in Zavolzha at 4:30 PM, found the theater and watched the band as they practiced for the evening concert. The hall was literally freezing. It was -20F outside and inside it was probably about 35F. There were long heating pipes running along the inside perimeter of the hall and we all sat on them trying to keep warm.

At 6:30 we opened the doors and people began to trickle in. The extreme cold and the Wednesday evening kept the crowd relatively small. We had about 40 people attend plus us and the band. The hall had been set up café style with tables and chairs. Eduard and Vadim had arranged with the bar to have hot tea and cookies available to those attending. The tea was welcomed by everyone as we tried to keep warm.

The band did a 1 hour set of music interspersed with some brief testimony and an explanation of who they where and why they did the music that they did. After the first set we had a young brother come forward and give his testimony. He talked about his life as a drug addict and a thief. At an early age he had begun using drugs and robbing and stealing from people. Finally he was caught, convicted and sent to prison. Prison is a horrible place in Russia. While in Prison this young brother realized his life was a mess and gave his life to Christ. Upon his release he began to attend church, became a disciple and today is a faithful follower of Christ, attending a local Baptist church.

The band played another ½ hour set then Nickolai; our pastor from Nizhny Novgorod preached a short evangelistic message and sang a song. Vadim and Eduard closed out the evening by inviting people to a follow-up meeting that Friday and encouraging them to take literature as they left the hall.

As it turns out, many of the attendees were believers from other local churches. There were about 10 young people who didn’t belong to any local church and we also had two men from a local hospital. These two guys had been to our two movie showings in January where they had publicly repented and asked for prayer. They are both struggling addicts. Eduard has been visiting them in the hospital and they had asked permission to leave the hospital and attend the concert. We are happy to see them both taking positive steps toward freedom. Pray for these two new believers and ask the Lord to give them the needed strengths and courage they will need to continue in their new lives.

Smelled an Odd Smell

We were riding the bus from our apartment out to the lumber yard near the edge of town. This bus trip was like any bus trip in Russia. The bus was crowded. We were packed in with people closer than anyone in America would feel comfortable with.

Having ridden the bus in Russia for several years, we are somewhat accustomed to the various odors which one can smell. Cigarettes and alcohol are the predominate smells. Though often you can smell garlic and there is always the person who either has really poor personal hygiene issues, can’t afford deodorant or both! We are so used to the range of odors that we only notice when the smells are particularly strong or different. It is a question of which is worse. Riding the bus in the summer, when everyone is hot and sweaty, and your face may end up in the armpit of the person next to you, or riding the bus in the winter, when the windows are ice covered, your bundled up with coats and sweaters and can hardly move and the floor is slippery with ice and slush.

On this particular winter day, while hanging onto the overhead rail, hoping to not lose my grip and crash into the person next to me, I noticed something different. There was a strong, sweet smell of incense. As I glanced around I noticed that there was an Orthodox priest riding on the bus. As you might be aware, the Orthodox Church uses a large amount of incense in their services. This priest, who served with His whole life in the church, offering prayers and incense to God, was literally saturated by the smell of the incense.

In the Orthodox Church incense is said to be representative of the worshippers offering prayer to God. The sweet odor is representative of how those prayers are received by God. He receives our prayers as a sweet smelling aroma which is pleasing to Him. This is a great illustration of what our lives as believers should be like.

If you do a word search in your concordance for the word “aroma” you will find about 50 references, depending upon the English translation that you use. If you add the words “incense” and “fragrance” you will come up with hundreds of references. Most of the references are in the Old Testament where the word aroma is used describes the smell of the sacrifices offered to God by the Jews in the worship in the Tabernacle and the Temple.

In the New Testament the word aroma is used in three different places

2 Cor 2:14-16 14But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and manifests through us the sweet aroma of the knowledge of Him in every place. 15For we are a fragrance of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing; 16to the one an aroma from death to death, to the other an aroma from life to life. NASU

Here the Apostle Paul is speaking about what kind of “odor” we should have as believers. We should have about us an “aroma” of faith, making it evident to those who come in contact with us that we are different. As I write this I am convicted of the many, many times in which this has not been true in my life. My life often has the same aroma as those around me who have no faith. Lord, make us different! Help my life have the aroma of Christ the Savior.

Eph 5:2 2and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma. NASU

In this passage Paul tells us that we should be as Christ, reflecting the love of God to those around us, giving our lives to serve others. Christ did this and because of that sacrifice He was considered as a fragrant aroma to God. Our lives, lived as an expression of the love of Christ should have the sweet fragrance of Christ.

I think about how often in my marriage that is not true. Marriage is a great place to expose bad smells! Every day we have the opportunity over and over again to either stink or smell sweet. Our actions and reactions to our spouse and other family members are an indication of how well the “incense” of Christ’s love has permeated our being.

Phil 4:18 18But I have received everything in full and have an abundance; I am amply supplied, having received from Epaphroditus what you have sent, a fragrant aroma, an acceptable sacrifice, well-pleasing to God. NASU

This verse speaks of money. When you read the verses preceding this you will see that Paul had received a monetary gift from the believers in Philippi. This gift was given to Paul to allow him to continue ministering as an apostolic missionary. Paul tells the Philippian believers that this sacrificial gift was a sweet, fragrant aroma, which pleased God. Money can have a sweet smell or a rotten smell. Money, when used in a way that glorifies God has a fragrance like incense. Sacrificial giving, to missions, to the poor, to support the preaching of the Gospel is an acceptable sacrifice to God.

Our money, sacrificially given to help further the preaching of the Gospel, both in our local area and around the world is pleasing to God. These gifts are accepted by Him as if they were a sweet smelling aroma.

When people are near you what do they smell? What odors are you giving off?

Heard A Funny Story

I heard a Russian joke the other day. We were in Dzerzhinsk, a city about 30 miles from Nizhny Novgorod. We were attending a church meal where all the ladies of the church got together and cooked “pirogue”, a Russia pastry that can be filled with meat, fish, cottage cheese or anything else. This is not one of our favorite foods as they are deep fried and the pastry is thick and not what you expect when you think, McDonald’s apple pie.

That night as we sat at a table we were the only Americans in a group of Russian believers. The pastor who was there said, I heard this story on TV. A Russian journalist was interviewing an American. One of the topics of the interview was food. The journalist asked the American woman, “How often do you eat meat”? “Oh”, replied the woman, “only about 3 days a week”. “Only three days?” asked the journalist incredulously. “Yes” replied the woman. “Well, what do you eat the other days” asked the journalist? “Oh, we eat chicken or fish or turkey” replied the lady.

Get it?

All the Russian at the table laughed hilariously.

If you’re an American you, like us, probably didn’t get the joke. The joke is that Americans are so rich and eat so well that they don’t think of eating fish or poultry as eating meat, only beef and pork counts as meat. At least that is the view of Russians. Why is this funny? Well, Russian humor is “black” humor. They see the irony in things that are not really funny and laugh at them. Most Russians that we know only eat meat for a few meals during any week. Why? Because they can’t afford meat on the poor salaries they earn. They think it grimly funny that Americans are so blessed with material goods and don’t even recognize it.

Think about it the next time you eat a nice thick steak.