Last year I gave the Sunday morning message in the Pestravka First Assembly of God church, where Pastor Sasha (a former drug dealer, gang boss, and addict) and his wife, Sveta (also a former addict) lead a growing congregation of villagers.
They met in a rented room and lived in a teeny-weeny one-room flat along with their 4 year old daughter. While there, I stood on the foundation of their church building where once a run-down shack (barely) stood.
This year, we stayed in their new home on the first floor of the two-story structure that now houses not only them, but another family, and their sanctuary, library, and future guest quarters.
It didn’t come easy. Lots of elbow grease, sweat, sacrifice, and community effort went into this spiritual “barn raising.” They have a ways to go. We would call the current status of the home and the church “roughed in” for the most part. But, it’s usable, warm, and has functioning utilities. Even Internet.
More important are the faith, passion, and the vision of this pastor and his congregation. A few weeks ago they found a house outside of town and scraped together the money to buy it (Sasha sold his car … ) with the goal of starting a rehab center there. I have no doubt it will be up and running by this time next year when I return. And the church and home will be finished by volunteer labor and materials that come from donations and the ingenuity of the church members.
In the service I attended at home just before leaving for Russia, the Scripture from Zechariah 4:6 was read: “Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit saith the Lord of Hosts.” The context was the rebuilding of the temple in Jerusalem after 70 years of exile in Babylon. In my words of congratulation to the Pestravka church, I shared this Scripture–seeing such a similarity between the returning remnant of Israelites and this church that has risen from the dust of a prison cell.
In both cases, the Spirit of God is at work.