Victor told us that Ivan had found us a place to stay, a place where it would be safe to park. He mentioned a pastor that Ivan had met through the LifeNets-sponsored childrens' camps a few years before. Bev and I began to worry, thinking that this would be someone's home--five of us! Uninvited! Meanwhile, as we drove, Ivan filled in some details. The man we would meet was a Messianic Jew. Through Ivan's aunt, this pastor's family had heard of the summer camps, and his wife had driven their children out one summer. It was only when asked about where we would actually be staying that Ivan was sketchy.
We arrived in Zhitomer and phoned ahead, telling them where we would be waiting. We were at a sort of rest stop, although I'm still not totally sure that's what it was. There was a building in the back, and a little parking place in front. We stayed near the vehicle, but we got out and stretched. It was nice just to walk around.
After a while, several people arrived in a car to show us the way. There wasn't a lot of talking, and then we were driving, winding through dilapidated neighborhoods. We came to a wall, behind which seemed to be the most dilapidated house of all--half-torn down and falling to pieces. But as we went past that house and the gate clanged closed, we saw a beautiful red brick church. It was a stunning sight.
The pastor, Mr. Arkadij Margulis, gave us a tour of the complex, which consisted of two two-story buildings, all done in beautiful polished brickwork. The sanctuary had wooden pews (which had been donated, I think, by some organization in Sweden?) which faced the front, where there were five arcs arching across behind the pulpit, symbolizing the five books of the Law. Twelve pillars represented the 12 tribes of Israel, and a stylized sunrise beneath the arcs symbolized God's word going out to the nations. In the center was a tall cabinet with doors of frosted glass, upon which were etched the ten commandments.
Next to the sanctuary was a dining area--a quite sizable one--with an attached kitchen. Upstairs was, in fact, a hotel! There was a huge suite, which was given to the Kubiks. There was a Star of David design on the light fixture, and the pastor joked that they called this their six-star hotel. The other rooms were set up with multiple single beds per room. Kassie and I were put in one that had four such beds and an attached single bath. It was lovely.
We had dinner with the pastor. He told us that the church has (I believe it was) 12 soup kitchens in the area that feed 540 people every day. This includes an outreach to the elderly and handicapped--a sort of meals-on-wheels delivery service.
I couldn't help but believe that God had provided this oasis of comfort and fellowship for us. It had been a long and stressful trip, and this was unanticipated luxury.
I realized anew during the conversation just how fortunate we are in the United States of America. The pastor, Ivan, and Victor talked about the horrible things that had happened here during WWII. We lost our fighting men and women--they lost their babies, their homes; whole families wiped out. In Poland, many Jewish orphans were taken in by Catholic families; they were never told that they were Jewish, and their lineage and history has been sealed by the pope, who will not release the information.
I am so glad to know that this world is not all there is. What hope could there possibly be if this sordid, worn, tired world was the best life had to offer? What comfort, if one thought that this was really the order of how life should be?
This region has been under the rule of so many peoples and it has suffered so much. People killed by their own government, misruled and oppressed. How can I help but stare at the ugly, ill-kempt Soviet-era apartments and long for a day when bloodshed is not even considered an option?