Awakening in a time of crisesRead More
“These are the Crossroads, the place where you need to make your choice.”
Turning my back on the Black Sea shore where seagulls mob an elderly woman offering bread, and painted dodgem cars lazily await the arrival of a new holiday season, I cross the busy road to a line of small stalls and wind my way through the local vendors. There is an uneven road, flanked by scruffy, Soviet-style apartment blocks. Overhead run raggedly insulated heating pipes and lines of washing strung out from windows.
I turn into a doorway, up some stairs, through another door, and I am in a small, rectangular-shaped room. The cross on the wall opposite me confirms that this is my destination for today: Crossroads Church.
Crossroads Church is the community of believers, planted and tirelessly supported by OM workers Stefan and Hensie van der Merwe. The church is in an impoverished and crime-ridden neighbourhood of Odessa.
Coming in from the freezing temperature outside it feels warm, though this hardly compares with the warmth of welcome given by the people. People, who come here to worship, discuss, share their lives together or simply ask questions about the God who can bring such light and joy into a dark and dreary place.
The congregation includes a number of people who have been set free from addictions and now act as magnets to others who have seen the difference in their lives. Can this God really set them free, bring new hope, provide comfort and support for their often chaotic lives? The answer is given lovingly, but clearly and directly: “yes!”
I think of those like Kostya*, who recognise that strength of will is insufficient, who come to God in repentance, asking for forgiveness, and experience a real power which carries them through withdrawal and reconciles family members. Others find joy in their pain, like Anya* who came to love God despite her alcoholism. Yulya*, who knows that, despite her disability and the loss of her son who was killed right here in Luzanovka after they fled the war in the east, ‘underneath are the everlasting arms’.
As well as Sunday meetings, twice-weekly Bible studies and prayer meetings which are open to all, and times where customary Ukrainian face-saving gives way to open and vulnerable sharing of lives, there are weekend groups for children and teenagers. Here they, too, are introduced to God and invited to enjoy games and snacks as they learn together.
I spent almost two weeks in Odessa, and was both encouraged and challenged by my experience at Crossroads Church. The enthusiasm and commitment by church members is great, whilst the need is huge. It’s so clear, however, that God is at work and steadily drawing people in. ‘The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness can never extinguish it.’ John 1:5 (NLT).
Published: Friday, 12 May 2017
Credit: Christiana Rose