We got there by driving quickly through the Ukrainian countryside. The city of Odessa dissolved into pastures of wildflowers on one side of our journey while the sassy lapping of the Black Sea kept us company on the other side. I, my teenager, my 11 year old and my toddler sat in the back seat. Slavik drove with the typical Ukrainian pizzazz of a deft and daring race car driver; Alyona threw her sweet smiles and words to us from over the top of the front seat.
We were going to church.
The town was more provincial than Odessa. It was still. The bustle of thousands scurrying down sidewalks and brushing shoulders wasn’t here---we had left that behind in Odessa.
The church sat a bit distanced, buffered by a bit of green and accessorized with some beautiful shrubs that grew along the pathway to the bathroom. Yes, that’s right---to the bathroom.
Though the church building was new, and very, very clean---there were a couple of modern conveniences missing—one being air conditioning and the other being a bathroom! Well, as I made my way around the corner and into the outhouse, one building, two doors---one for men and one for women, my brain started skipping around…..
“Hmmm, this looks like a mission trip to me! No bathroom! Can you beat that? Yes, wouldn’t this be a great thing for Americans to do? I can just see a group of Baptist men coming here for a week or two and putting in a bathroom! Boy, if my friends could see me now! Hm, wonder if they would put a bathroom inside the building or would they have to build a whole new building outside….well, this is just such a great life experience…an outhouse at church…..who would’ve ever guessed?”
On and on my mind went about the bathroom until it switched gears again once I stepped inside. It was great! A big ole’, charming, simple, yet practical Place of Worship. Tall and lanky windows stood in ranks on either wall, titled open to give us the hope of a breeze, and keeping watch over rows of benevolent chairs.
As we sat down towards the back, I wondered how many would come...there didn’t seem to be many people there yet. The place looked big---I figured it had to hold several hundred people, but little did I know…...
However, rather quickly, in fact-- before I knew it, the rows were full!! They were full of people all waiting to pray, sing, listen and worship! The choir loft was full, too, and the preachers were ready! I could feel my heart’s tempo pick up just a bit. Weren’t these people just so interesting? I just had to find out how many people were there! I started counting how many seats per row and how many rows and how many times how many……….oh my goodness! This place held around 1,000 people! And nearly every seat was full!!
I’d been to church in Russia and wondered if it would be the same---two messages and a rag-tag choir that could blow Americans away? Yup—the same! How amazing was this??? There were two sermons and a rag-tag choir that opened their mouth and sang harmonies with silk as smooth as melted chocolate. There were Bible readings and prayers and choir specials and congregational singing---but there was decidedly no air conditioning and no bathroom!
As the heat wrapped me in sauna blankets, I gave in to various musings, again. My mind was a bit fuzzy and my neck was wet with perspiration and, without question, I was sleepy. I could feel myself begin to drift away…and away…...but then, I was jarred awake!
“Wait a minute! What am I thinking? They don’t need a bathroom after all! They’ve got it just right! In fact, it’s oh so perfect!”
It all became clear to me! Here was a church that actually had its priorities right! They built exactly what they needed---and nothing more! They didn’t waste money on what they couldn’t afford. They didn’t worry about having upholstered couches, coffee shops, indoor playgrounds, youth lounges, choir robes, state of the art sound systems, and…well, you get the idea. But, what they did and do spend money for is a very active ministry to children and the lost. These people don't have much money. But, they found a way to do missions anyway.
Not only that, but they have spent money on missions before they spent money on bathrooms!
And this is what I love about Alyona and Slavik. This church is just like them.
1000 people and an outhouse…..do we have that much faith?