17 April 2022
The sanctuary of the Ukrainian Baptist Seminary is empty as I compose this final blog. Two hours earlier, close to 140 people were filling these chairs praying, singing and listening to a sermon about why this holy day named Easter is important to Christians around the world.
They do so in a space that looks much the same as either a Baptist or non-denominational church in Raleigh. Simple structure; wooden beams reaching toward heaven that also form what could be the hull of a boat to carry parishioners through rough waters; glass without stain; and like most any church sanctuary, the seating. The back rows are packed. The empty seats? Where else? The front few rows.
Some things are universal no matter what the language.
Church seating appears to be tied or topping music on that list.
Speaking of music, a three-voice praise band began the morning with adoration songs. Without any real knowledge of the Polish vocabulary, there were familiar words and inflection.
You just knew.
The message is delivered in Polish by the pastor, flanked by a Ukrainian interpreter.
Many in this Easter audience are refugees seeking sanctuary in this sanctuary.
Today they have found it.
The Gospel of Luke is shared, with the message of the discovery, by women, of an empty tomb.
Also from Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, sometimes one needs to limit personal freedom for the sake of others.
The words fall differently on the ears and in the hearts of those present.
War does that.
A young Ukrainian named Stanislov spoke with me.
With his wife and daughters nearby, he explained how THIS Easter was different. He had just heard friends were able to escape their war ravaged neighborhood.
“They are in place of peace (sic). Clear sky and are happy,” he said.
A sky not bloodsoaked with rockets and bombs.
Afterwards, everyone gathered in the dining hall for a meal – traditional Polish with more sweets than a bakery. One of the delights: Hot Cross Buns.
It was time to leave and head back to downtown Warsaw. Most every business is closed for Easter, including many taxi companies.
The pastor, Piotr Czerwinski, spoke up. “I’ll be happy to drive you. Come on.”
What an unforeseen bonus.
We had interviewed Czerwinski six days ago, and since then there were so many other questions.
During the drive we talked of family. “I’m going to United States, Los Angeles, this week to visit my daughter,” he said. “She will make me grandfather, first time, in just two, three days.”
He spoke of his job and juggling the needs of his flock with the needs of the refugees. This former Navy captain has run forty-two marathons and added, “My life is a big marathon. It is run that never ends.”
On Wednesday, a Lativan orchestra of 20 will arrive at the seminary to play for the refugees here and at other camps in Warsaw.
“That should lift spirits, makes me happy for them,” Czerwinski said.
Before we arrived at the hotel, we talked of war.
“We don’t know what future, how war will be our future,” he said.
Asked if he is concerned about nuclear weapons being used, Czerwinski says, “No, not possible, I hope.”
He sighed, “But who knows. If the refugees have hope, I must have hope too.”
“Do you pray for Putin?” I asked.
The pastor points to his temple. “I pray for his head, his thoughts. And for his heart.”
Speaking of temple, the Temple family has worked with Baptists Oo Mission worldwide. Husband Bobby has led this group. His wife Wanda has worked diligently to make sure everything ran like clockwork.
Just before we left to go back to Warsaw Wanda said, “We’re going to pray. Hold hands.”
We did, the five of us creating a circle – Wanda, Bobby, me, the pastor and photojournalist Chad Flowers.
With a firm yet soft and nurturing voice, Wanda prayed for safety and the healing of the hearts of refugees.
Then, specifics for the two journalists in the ring.
“Lord, we know they can’t always report everything they know, but now they know. Guide them with truth and confidence to help the world know what is truly happening here.”
And there God is, in the midst of it all continuing the work of redemption.