Today was our last Sunday with the church here in Kharkov. Not for forever, of course, but things will never be the same.
It's been quite a journey. In the last eight years I've learned a lot about who I am and what I believe. I've pushed and been pushed in ways I didn't anticipate. And I can't count the number of days I've wondered if we were doing anything good here at all.
But not today. Today I shared the history of our little congregation. I talked about the three young families who thought they were going to plant churches in Moscow but ended up in eastern Ukraine instead. I showed them a picture from the team's very first Sunday here. I explained that we are sitting where we are today because they sat where they did ten years ago. There was something very meaningful about that.
I can remember Sundays when there were more Americans than Ukrainians. I remember Sundays when there was almost nobody at all. There were so many periods when it felt like we were taking one step forward and then twenty-two steps back. But today, as I looked out over our group of around forty people, I thanked God for his faithfulness.
It's so easy to miss the growth when it's right in front of your face. Just like how you don't notice your toddler growing like a weed until you look back at photos from a few months back. We forget to look back. We forget to remember.
In the Old Testament, the people of God would often set up memorials to remind themselves of what God had done at a certain point in their journey. These were tangible symbols that pointed to the spiritual reality that God was with them. In 1st Samuel 12, Samuel marks a special occasion by laying a "stone of help," telling the people, "The Lord has brought us this far." From that day forward, it would be a physical reminder of God's faithfulness and power. I don't think we lay enough of stones of help today. Important moments of our faith are ephemeral.
Katie and I wanted to leave the church with a gift that would remind them of God's help, something everyone could look to and remember, The Lord has brought this far, and he will continue to lead us. After thinking on it a while, we came up with the idea to have someone build a custom podium and small table for the Lord's Supper. It was perfect. These were two things that our church has really needed for quite some time, and they'd be two objects that would constantly be in front of everyone's eyes.
At the end of recounting the church's story, I spoke a little on the story of Samuel and Ebenezer, and then we brought out the gifts. Everyone was excited and very impressed. As I closed, I shared with everyone the different hopes we have and the prayers we are praying for our congregation.
After I was finished, the leaders of the church called Katie and me to the front. They each shared beautiful words of encouragement and thanksgiving. They presented a beautiful hand-stitched banner that reads Church of Christ, Kharkov Ukraine. Then everyone gathered around us for a prayer. It was a beautiful end to a beautiful morning.
We stayed around for a couple more hours, sharing food, hugs, and kind words. So many beautiful people who have give us the honor to be a part of their lives.
There have been so many Sundays when I've wondered if we were doing anything at all. Sundays when I've wondered if we were making any difference in anyone's lives for the glory of our King. But not today. Today, God reminded us that he has been with us every step of the way. Today, I realized that our little congregation in Kharkov, Ukraine is one of my own stones of help—a physical reminder of the God's presence and power in my life.