The Russia 2019 ministry trip began on Sunday, April 28, when the elders of First Central Bible Church laid hands on me and prayed for me during our morning worship service. I count it a privilege to be sent, prayed for, and supported by my church, as well as by supportive and encouraging friends around the world.
I left Boston on Monday, April 29, and flew overnight to Amsterdam where I had a four-hour layover. I connected with John & Naomi Musgrave, the missionaries I work with, in the KLM Business Lounge on Tuesday morning. I have known and worked with John & Naomi since the early 90’s when I was on staff at Crossroads Bible Church in Bellevue, WA, and John was one of the elders. We were able to reconnect and get caught up with one another during the layover.
From Amsterdam, we flew to Moscow and arrived Tuesday afternoon. We spent the night in Moscow and then flew to Anapa on the north coast of the Black Sea Wednesday morning. Since John & Naomi had meetings in Anapa on Wednesday afternoon, I relaxed in my room and read. We connected later for an early dinner.
My class on the Harmony of the Gospels took place on Thursday & Friday. The class met at Pastor Vanya’s home. There were 20 people in the class, counting my translator, Lena, and myself. On Thursday, I taught from 9AM – 5:30PM, with breaks in the morning and afternoon as well as for lunch. On Friday, we went from 9AM – 4PM. John asked me to condense the class into two days rather than three since the church leaders had a meeting scheduled for Saturday morning. That meant I needed to be selective on how much depth and detail I added as I went through each section and which ones I skimmed through.
We began the class by discussing the preclass assignment I had given them. They were to read through one of the four gospels and identify how that author portrayed Jesus. They were also to write down the questions they had as they went through the book. In addition, they were to answer two questions: (1) What does it mean to worship in spirit and in truth? (John 4:23) and, How do we do that today? (2) How did Jesus fulfill the Law? (Matthew 5:17-20) and, Do Christians need to follow the Law today? It was a good time of discussion.
Prior to the class, I used several resources to compile a chronological outline of the four gospels. It listed each event of the life of Christ and the reference where you would find it in the respective gospel. Lena was able to translate it into Russian and we gave copies to the class members so that they could follow along. In previous classes I went verse by verse through a book (Romans, Revelation, etc.) and followed my detailed notes. For this class, I simply followed the chronology and taught directly from the Scriptures without referring to my notes. (It helped that I had read through my notes at least four times, and that I had previously preached through the gospel of Mark and am in the gospels each year for Palm Sunday, Easter, and Advent.) It felt good to be able to teach without notes. In addition to explaining the story of Jesus, I also added short applications of how we could put the principles into action in our lives today.
At the end of the class, the group was very complimentary and appreciative of my teaching. Vanya said it was good to have the church in his home studying the gospels together. It brought greater unity to the church. I commented that that was one of the benefits of studying the Scriptures together. Viktor said he had never read through the gospels chronologically before. Nadia commented that it was hard on their bodies to sit for two days, but when she was rested, she was filled with joy from hearing the Scriptures taught. Another said that while she had read through the gospels previously, she still learned many new things.
Vanya’s mother presented me with a Thank You gift from the group. It is a piece of tree bark that has a scene painted on it. It carries the inscription of Matthew 11:28, “Come to me.” I found it especially meaningful since that is the theme verse of the SonScape Retreats that Carol and I attended in Colorado a few weeks ago.
As a closing assignment, I encouraged each one to use the outline to read through the gospels chronologically to help deepen their understanding of the flow of the life of Christ. I also encouraged them to use the outline in their personal studies as it would help them see what comes before and after each event in the life of Christ.
On Saturday morning, John & I met with the Anapa elders and leaders of the EXMS denomination, which Holy Trinity Church is part of. Part of the discussion revolved around the qualifications for elders and whether or not they need to be ordained. A second discussion focused on an issue of shepherding related to their church. It was a long and challenging discussion which we continued with some of the leaders over lunch.
Sunday morning, we had breakfast with Viktor and Luda Semukhin, and their son, Vanya. Viktor was one of John’s students at the New Life Bible College in Moscow and is a church planter. They are going through a difficult season and we were able to offer some words of encouragement. After breakfast, we worshipped at Holy Trinity Church in Anapa and then had lunch with Pastor Vanya and his wife, Tanya. In the afternoon, we drove to Krasnodar. On Monday, we will continue driving to Elista, where the second class will be held.
Thanks for praying. Mark Wheeler