Looking East

I returned recently from a trip to Eastern Europe, and I was amazed at the depth of Christian faith I saw there. I must admit, it was a bit of a let-down to come back to the States. What a contrast. Here we have so much--Bibles, churches, seminaries, and yes, even Christian radio programs--yet we do so little with it. Over there they have so little, yet they do so much with it. It's easy to see why Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn predicted that if spiritual renewal comes to the world, it will come from the East. Solzhenitsyn spent 10 years in the GULAG, the Soviet prison system, where he converted to Christian faith. He knows first hand what he's talking about when he says the strongest Christian faith and character are found not in the West, with its comfortable churches, but in the persecuted churches of the East. Let me give you just one example of the Church under Communism. Fifty years ago, Josef Stalin decided to destroy the Lutheran church in Russia. The Lutherans were to be a case study in how all the Christian denominations might eventually be liquidated. First, Stalin had the pastors killed or imprisoned. Then the church buildings were confiscated. Bibles, hymnbooks, and religious writings were destroyed. Lutheran families were broken up. Men were forced into the army. Women and children were loaded into boxcars like cattle and scattered throughout the remote regions of the Soviet Union--some to the deserts of the Islamic republics, others to the arctic wastelands of Siberia. In a shockingly brief time, the Lutheran Church of the Soviet Union was wiped off the face of the earth. Today, if you go to Leningrad, you can view the only remaining physical evidence of the once-flourishing denomination: a stately Lutheran church building. It's been turned into an indoor swimming pool. But that's not the end of the story. Not by any means. The Lutheran women worked stubbornly, painfully, to keep their church alive. They had no pastors, no church buildings, no Bibles or hymnbooks. But that didn't stop them. They sought each other out across miles of desolate countryside. They met in one another's homes to pray and minister to each other. They wrote down all the religious instruction they had learned by heart: Bible verses, Luther's catechism, hymns, liturgies. They held religious services. And, at the risk of imprisonment, they passed on the faith to their children. Over time, some of the husbands managed to rejoin their families. Some of the surrounding people converted. A community of believers was formed that appointed elders and deacons. The Lutheran church was reborn. Today, the Lutheran church in the Soviet Union meets in over 500 house churches. Western Christians have sent them Bibles. And they have recently established a seminary. Soon they will have trained pastors again. The church has outlasted Communism. How many Western churches would survive a deliberate attempt to exterminate them? Could your own church live on without a pastor, a building, even a Bible? Jesus promised that the gates of hell would not prevail against His Church. We in the West believe that by faith; the Church in the Soviet Union knows it by bitter experience. Will we have to learn it the hard way, too? I pray not.


Chuck Colson


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