Sunday, March 16, 2014

The Morning Breaks

Russia and the other Slavic countries to which it is closely tied are fascinating places and they are captivating across a wide variety of fields.  Russian history is interesting with its ties to Europe, Asia, and the Middle East; Russian politics, whether that be Putin or Stalin or Gorbachev, are intriguing; endless spellbinding tomes have been written about Russian spies, foreign policy, and military affairs; Russian food like pelmeni, bliny, and pirozhki is excellent; and the Russian people are equally engrossing and mind boggling with their mix of hospitality, Oriental-style ways, European sensibilities, and rude coarseness.  If one wants to study a particular angle, it can be done in Russia.  Russia also has a fairly rich religious heritage, the Soviet attempts at state-sponsored or state-enforced atheism notwithstanding.

In The Morning Breaks: Stories of Conversion and Faith in the Former Soviet Union by Howard L. Biddulph (ISBN: 978-1-57345-152-9), one can read about a relatively new chapter in that deep religious history.  President Biddulph was the leader of the first mission in Ukraine after the fall of the Soviet Union (his responsibilities actually started just before the USSR fell).  He describes the miraculous nature of the early missionary work in Ukraine, often incorporating the thoughts and experiences of the first, pioneering Ukrainian Saints.  Some of testimonies of these people, always simple, are very strong.  All the experiences show the loving guidance of a Father in Heaven who wants His children to succeed in all that they undertake.  He talked of the people who made the Church successful in those wild times because of their extreme faith and true willingness to be instruments in the hands of the Almighty.  There were some of the typical-for-Eastern-Europe struggles with infinite layers of bureaucracy that were resolved; there were smaller miracles such as the sun shining through as Ukraine was dedicated for missionary work; and there were the many individualized miracles that took place each and every time a missionary decided to open his mouth one more time or an investigator decided to follow through on a commitment.  After a long period of stagnation and darkness, the Iron Curtain had fallen and the light of the gospel shone through to take its place.

The book was written in a very informal style with many excerpts from President Biddulph’s journals, his wife’s journals, and letters from or interviews with the early Ukrainian Saints.  It was, of course, intriguing for me, a former missionary in the territory of the former Soviet Union, to read about how another one of those countries came to meet the gospel.  Ukraine is fascinating from the standpoint of Church growth because it was opened to missionaries right on the heels of Russia, and is much smaller, but seems to have done much better as they had a stake there first and a temple, too.  I liked the stories, a couple of them similar to things I experienced first hand.  Missions are something it’s easy to wax nostalgic about, but they’re also something that has the power to rekindle the desires for righteousness and obedience to God’s law that were so strong while serving, and that is probably the best part of the book.

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This work, including all text, photographs, and other original work, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial No Derivatives 3.0 License and is copyrighted © MMXI John Pruess.

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