Letter to Theologian, Pastor and Journalist, Dr. William Yoder
Dr. Yoder and his wife Galina worked in our deanery from April 29th to June 1st, 2018 in St. John’s Lutheran Church Khabarovsk.
Vladivostok, June 7, 2018
I am going to answer your report in a correct manner. First of all, I need to thank you in a two-fold manner.
1) That you have patiently waited for my response to your report and
2) That you did everything in a most precise manner, including financial matters.
I have pondered your report for a long time. It is very engaging and you learned and understood our problems here in the distant Far East. In spite of that I still must add my questions and remarks. You made arrangements with me that when your report became public that I could make comments regarding this report.
Did you always have in mind our complaint that money from the west takes hold of us in an unapproved manner and the East becomes forgotten? You don’t have to write in this manner, but you must make it very clear that we in the Far East are being neglected by our church.
For this reason it must absolutely be made clear and stressed that the two congregations where you worked, Khabarovsk and Komsomolsk, have been without a pastor since Pastor Marcus Lesinski, left 16 years ago in 2002. In the words of Marcus Lesinski, “it is a miracle that they are still existing.” It should be mentioned that at two different times, there were pastors being considered for these churches, but because of ecclesial strategic circumstances, they were sent to Tomsk. (Bishop Otto Schaude apologized to me for doing this.) And Pastor Vitalij Moor, who was a Vicar with us wanted to stay and serve us. The second pastor disappeared to Germany with the aid of the Hermannsburg Mission. What a scandal for such a mighty missionary work! This mission work was stopped by Pastor Helmut Grimmsmann who said,” We will not support Khabarovsk and Komsomolsk any longer since they are dying congregations.” In spite of this comment, a pastor should be sent to these brave people, whom you have personally become acquainted with. It is good and correct that you praised Pastor Marcus Lesinski! He is definitely deserving of praise!
You should praise our St. Paul’s Lutheran Church more in a quiet manner. It is not correct that at this time only 25 to 30 people attend worship services on Sundays. That was true on the day that you attended our worship service. However, on May 14, Exaudi Sunday, there were over 40 people in attendance. Quantity is not quality. You could see the quality of the people at St. Paul’s. You wrote in your report that our church is always open and that you saw people going in and out of the church. They do this because of the beauty of the church and also because it provides a place for reflection from the noise of the outside world. There are people who enter St. Paul’s who have nothing to do with organized religion. So we can surmise that the architecture of St. Paul’s and its central location can be considered a missionary factor. We allow groups to meet here at no cost: a choir for Seniors, Alcoholics Anonymous, Psychology Anonymous and a dance troupe. At times we have a children’s group that come here to play and we just started a Bible study group, which studies the Bible in several languages. We allow wedding parties to have their picture taken here and we rent our sanctuary to other congregations for weddings. All in all, a very easy-going life, but a life in the church.
And then there is our music. So many of the organists from outside this country who come here to give concerts have said they have never seen a fuller church anywhere else! So we come back to the numbers: a) 40 worshipers on Sunday morning b) 100 members but c) maybe 3,000 to 4,000 friends. Who knows, how God works? (Romans 11:33)
You shouldn’t write concerts, which sounds so commercial and also is not factual and even dangerous. These evenings are called “Spiritual Evenings of Music “and are considered such by the people who attend and they are accepted as a form of church service. For the people here, music is a consolation in their very difficult lives. The greatest reward for me are the grateful faces of the people as they leave our church after an Evening of Music.
And now on to the people you interviewed: Konstantin, Victor Baranoff and Nina Dmitrijeva. Okay and well represented. But didn’t you also visit with Edik? And what about our organist Stepan? My goodness, he plays for us every Sunday without a salary! He plays for every worship service! This is a rarity in Russia and demonstrates how people support our church here. You report about Svetlana was good. But you should also report that we held a camp for children this year.
And now on to “the Forgotten East”. We are not “Vladivostok that is the rear end of the world.” ( “Wladiwo an der Welt Popo” rhymes in German but not in English. Manfred made up this rhyme.) We are a new center, which the West can not understand. We are completely different from Omsk, Moscow or St. Petersburg. You emphasized this so correctly when you said that China is the “Kingdom of the Middle.” They are our neighbor and St. Paul’s has had a relationship with them for over a decade. Churchwise, there are some good things happening in China. Chinese Christianity is growing and this is alarming to the government there. Perhaps we are experiencing a “Constantinian turning point” there. We are closer to China than anywhere else in the Western World. On Pentecost Sunday 2018 Christians from the Three-Person-Church from the border city of Sun-Fun-Che celebrated their church service here at St. Paul’s. (see our website www.lutvosotk.com)
You wrote something quite good to me “Crossing borders and opening up things in a foreign country”. Perhaps you could also write, which I told you, that I consider myself more Augustinian than Lutheran. “Fecisti nos ad Te, et cor nostrum inquietum est, donec requiescat in Te” (You have brought us to you, and our hearts are disquieted until we find solitude in you.” That is why the cloister at Taize in France is so dear to me. We use some of the liturgy from there as a part of our worship service at St. Paul’s. And following a liturgy is especially important to us here, and that is what attracted our Konstantin and convinced him to join 25 years ago when he came to us. “We are on a journey, to find the source for our thirst and our thirst is our only light.” It is much stronger in the Russian language.
In conclusion, dear William, you are an interesting guy and a wise Christian. I send my greetings using the Bible text for this day, which has moved me greatly. It is one of the great stories of the resurrected Christ. “ When you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” (John 21:18-19) This was also the title of a book by Helmut Gollwitzer who was a Russian prisoner of war. There are many times that I feel I am a prisoner in Russia but with my own consent.