Kiev, Ukraine

Yesterday Amy and I woke up at 4am, took at taxi to the Orvieto train station for a 5:05 to Rome, flew from Rome to Budapest (had a great pizza in the airport) and continued on to Kiev. Our driver picked us up at the Kiev Airport and drove us downtown. We arrived at the Central Baptist Church at 5pm, just before our choir sang in the sanctuary. As we opened the doors with our bags in hand, the choir broke into applause and hugs. It was a great reunion with our choir that we haven't seen for two months.

Although the turnout was small, the choir sang and the bells played beautifully for 90 minutes. Our driver held up his cell phone for the whole concert so that his wife could enjoy the music while she worked.

After the concert we were driven to the Matt and Tricia McMurrin's apartment, next door to the Music Mission Kiev offices. Matt and Tricia are in their early 30s with three children six and under. They moved here from suburban Richmond, Virginia, where Matt was Worship Director to work in the ministry here in Kiev. It was a huge transition for their young family, but Matt and Tricia feel God has called them to give leadership to this ministry Matt's parents, Diane and Roger McMurrin started 18 years ago.

Dan and the choir were in Budapest last week and enjoyed their time at the Budafolk church and the Word of Life Camp. Friday and Saturday they experienced MMK's ministry to widows first hand as they split up, took public buses and visited widows in their homes. It's fun to see Dan in this setting where he brings his love for music, his love for the choir and his love for God all together in his leadership of the choir.

Sunday Worship started at 2:30 in the afternoon today. In spite of the fact we all dressed for hot weather, our service was punctuated with rain and thunder. The service was all translated and included the orchestra from MMK and the church choir. They sang together, our choir sang a few pieces alone and everyone stood at the end to sing the Hallelujah Chorus. It was a beautiful service and a wonderful uniting of cultures around music.

I prepared to preach on Psalm 95, but 145 was printed in the bulletin and the choir prepared a piece before and after the message that bookended a message based on Psalm 145. So, I figured God had something in mind and I took 30 minutes out on a balcony to rework my message. As I saw the people coming in I noticed the vast majority were older women. What did they need to hear from me, from the Lord, from God's word today?
I talked about exalting the Lord together in spite of our language barriers and cultural barriers. When we come together we worship the Living God as we are and bring our own stories with us. Stories of pain, grief and loneliness that can't be hidden from God. We pass on to each other and to our neighbors and friends those stories that speak of God's faithfulness. I shared my own story of how the Lord met me in the pain of my brother's death and my parents divorce, but also how as a pastor God has given me a heart of emphathy for others are experiencing pain in their lives. I also shared that God is compassionate and loving and is close to those who love him. I shared about Geoff Haskell and his desire for people to know at his memorial service that God is good. In spite of the fact he wasn't healed and so many were praying for him, God is a good God. I shared about the blind man we saw at St. Francis' church in Assisi. We were all coming to be inspired by the art, the architecture, the beautiful frescoes and the awesome ceilings. But he came to be inspired by the presence of the Lord. He couldn't see the artwork, but knew he could meet the Lord there. The Lord fulfills our desires, and maybe our desire needs to be simply to know his presence and his comfort. I asked people to close their eyes and ask the Lord for what they needed.

It's a challenge to be translated--you have to wait to finish a story or a punch line and the flow is all broken up. But there is also a slow rhythm to the message that allows people time to think. A woman came up to me afterwards and said in broken English, "You are a good pastor. You love people." Another woman came up to Amy, and with tears in her eyes shared how her son died and today was his birthday. She gave Amy a needlepoint prayer cloth. Another woman gave Amy a hand stitched napkin and told Amy her story in unintelligible (to Amy) Ukrainian. Roger stood up and said he was returning to Ohio to visit his doctor and have some tests run to figure out what is wrong with him. I was touched by his eyes as I shared the message, but had no idea what he was thinking about or that he would announce this to the congregation. Apparently God was at work and had something to say to people.

Later we went to Roger and Diane's home in the country outside Kiev. It's a beautiful home set in the woods--beautiful windows that take in the trees and a deck and terraces that seated us all for a tasty barbecue pork dinner. It's great to be with the choir and to see them together in this setting. We sat around together sharing stories, Amy and I sharing with a few at a time about what we've experience so far on sabbatical. Many commented about how wonderful it's been to spend so much time together as a choir on buses, around meals and visiting the sites. There is nothing that replaces time together, shared meals and just conversation—it's been true on our sabbatical and definitely true for our choir.

Oh, I forgot to mention the coffee. It's good and there's a coffee house right below our apartment.


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