On Sunday I was invited to come to this parish - St. Joseph, in Adrian, MI to present a training session for their lectors. I was just overwhelmed by the beauty of this church, which unfortunately does not come across completely in the [strange] photo. I didn't take any photos, but found this one on line. I cannot imagine why the organ is sitting there front and center! It is certainly not ordinarily there!! It was appropriately over to the right out of this view. Anyway, you can see the beautiful dimensions and the paintings, etc.
The really rewarding thing about this opportunity was the chance to be myself. How rarely we can just purely use the gifts God gave us, without "faking it" or being in some way out of our comfort zone. I am a good lector. I do love Scripture. I enjoy presentations. I adore the priest who asked me to do this, and all the attendees (the attendance was good, happily) were very pleasant, appreciative and gracious people. Best of all, the Holy Spirit took up my meager outline and allowed me to really do a vigorous and enthusiastic, well-spoken presentation. (That's frankly, what I most love about teaching and speaking in church - the sense that I do 40% of it, then the Holy Spirit takes over and I'm just the mouthpiece.) Altogether it was a very nice experience. I found myself envying the people who can call St. Joseph their parish. Such a beautiful worship space; wherever my eye fell there was something lovely and inspirational. This photo really gives no good impression of the bright loveliness of the windows, for example.
Then - how perfectly the timing worked out! - I had just time for the two-hour drive back to Lansing to pick up all the kids (Craig was teaching Koreans) to go to a very contrasting experience at "New Beginnings" - an evangelical church on the west side of Lansing. They were hosting Alexei Kotchan, the missionary who works with the Shuya Orphanage where Ilya was. Alexei is wonderful - so supportive of adoptive parents, and so good to the kids. He was very honest with us, and we were so grateful that he was there to "watch out" for Ilya before we could come to get him - to teach him about Christ. Alexei and Tanya were also so hospitable to us when we were in Ivanovo.....we joined in their Wednesday evening prayer at their home, and he treated us to a wonderful meal at a traditional Russian restaurant. I was so sorry that Tanya and their baby, Mary, didn't come to Lansing. But Anastasia enjoyed connecting with Liza, Alexei's sweet daughter. It was just so very good to see them again.
This is one of the first times I've experienced "contemporary worship" - at least in a church service. We might do something similar an informal prayer service, but I'm accustomed to a much more sober and reverent experience of Mass as the usual Sunday gathering. There was a praise band which led us in at least an hour of praise-singing. I actually enjoy this sort of worship, but had to laugh because my boys are so stodgy! They sat there, for all the world as though they'd been brought up in Quaker meeting! Of course, they are embarrassed when I sing "A Mighty Fortress is Our God" - or whatever serious and measured hymn we offer up at St. Thomas. So, the idea of arm-waving and belting it out mortified them. They could barely make themselves stand up. Anastasia, though, got into it a little more fully, and at least sang. There was a very brief message by the pastor, then Alexei spoke and showed a lovely video of some of the work he is doing. Ilya must have been interested to see "what he was missing", and how his friends were doing. It was so odd to imagine that had we not adopted him or Anastasia, they would have been there in those photos. How different their life is now.
Alexei's comments were echoed in my blog-friend Elizabeth's recent post on ministry in Russia. He reports a distinct cooling. Sadly, there is a new director of the Shuya School Orphanage. The new director says that Alexei and his church can do whatever they want to serve the children, but cannot share Christ with them. Isn't that sad?
The most beautiful idea that Alexei and his church have had is starting a farm for graduating orphans. Initially they'd hoped to start a "center" in Ivanovo where the 15 and 16 year old kids (so young to be out on their own!) could come to live or get support. But watching how many of the children fell prey to all the sinful influences of city life, Alexei and the former director in Shuya hatched the idea of a farm. So many of the kids already have the farming and animal husbandry skills from their earlier, pre-orphanage childhood. Of course, the farm can be somewhat self-supporting, and an educational experience all in one. It is a brilliant idea! I hope so much that one day I can support this project financially, as well as (perhaps, with luck!) in person. You can read more about Alexei's ministry at http://www.russia4christ.org/