Remote Russian village
In his book, The Insanity of Obedience, Nik Ripken (2014, pp. 279-287) tells about meeting Dmitri in the former USSR. Born of Christian parents, Dmitri found himself and his family living under communism in an area where the nearest church was a three-day walk away.
He started teaching his family one night a week, reading from the old family Bible. It seemed a natural progression to sing, and also to pray. And a Bible study turned into real family worship. Neighbors began noticing and some of them asked if they could come and listen to the Bible stories and sing the familiar songs. A small group began gathering.
Local party officials came to see Dmitri. They threatened him physically, which was to be expected. What upset Dmitri much more was their accusation: “You have started an illegal church!”
“How can you say that?” he argued. “I have no religious training. I am not a pastor. This is not a church building. We are just a group of family and friends getting together. All we are doing is reading and talking about the Bible, singing, praying, and sometimes sharing what money we have to help out a poor neighbor. How can you call that a church?”
“I got fired from my factory job,” Dmitri recounted. “My wife lost her teaching position. My boys were expelled from school.” When the number of people grew to seventy-five, there was no place for everyone to sit. Villagers pressed close in around the windows on the outside.
Then one night as Dmitri spoke, the door to his house suddenly, violently burst open. An officer grabbed Dmitri by the shirt, slapped him across the face, slammed him against the wall, and said in a cold voice: “We have warned you and warned you and warned you. We will not warn you again! If you do not stop this nonsense, this is the least that is going to happen to you.”
A small grandmother took her life in her hands, and waved a finger in the officer’s face. She declared, “You have laid hands on a man of God and you will not survive!”
That happened on a Tuesday evening, and on Thursday night the officer dropped dead of a heart attack. The fear of God swept through the community and at the next house church service, more than 150 people showed up. The authorities couldn’t let this continue, so eventually Dmitri went to jail for seventeen years.
We must not take for granted the privilege we have to worship freely each week.
Philippians 3:7-11 — Whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ. More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but one that comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God based on faith. I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead.
Acts 2:43-47 — Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.
Heavenly Father, we pray for those who do not know you, and for those who hate you, and for those who hate us. Forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do; open their hearts to the work of your Spirit so that they may come to know Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior; and may they, and we, learn to love all people as Jesus did. In the name of Jesus we pray. Amen.