Inside, Pastor Nadya gave a heartfelt sermon. She speaks with passion and is very animated. It makes you feel like you can understand what she's saying - without knowing how to speak Russian. She is an incredibly talented person. The eyes of the congregation are fixed on her. Her message is obviously meaningful to them.
The church paid special tribute to Nancy Hoffmann. 20 years ago, she and her husband, Rev. Thomas Hoffmann, were missionaries to Ulyanovsk. Later, they were involved with church development and were leadership trainers. You could sense a deep, profound gratitude toward her from the residents who were here in the mid 90's. They haven't forgotten everything the Hoffmanns did. St. Luke's truly has a family of faith that stretches around the world.
Rev. Jeremy Sanders was asked to join Pastor Nadya to offer Communion. You could see how much it meant to him - and the congregation.
Jeremy, Nancy, Sam, Lauranne and Susan were all recognized in a special ceremony.
Susan had an opportunity to speak to the children. She has a special way with kids that transcends the language barrier. She gave them a fun project to work on, and let them know that Jesus loves them - always. The women who translated were absolutely awesome. So patient and talented. Then it was time for St. Luke's gifts... and unforgettable smiles.
Finally, it was time to Skype with our family and friends at St. Luke's. Our thanks to everyone who set up the video conference and made us feel like we were in the next room. What a joy it was to watch Pastor Nadya talk to her daughter, Vera, who graciously translated everything in English at the church in Oklahoma City. Both cities expressed their love and gratitude. You can really feel the sincere appreciation and deep respect we all have for one another. Eight time zones apart, the two rooms simultaneously formed smaller groups to discuss and share how their faith in God gives them joy, strength - and comfort during hard times. At the end of this international chat, our Ulyanovsk family sang into the microphone - and were applauded for their performance 6,000 miles away.
Have you ever singled out someone and said, "If the world had more (insert name here), the world would be a better place."? After just two days, I can honestly say that about every single person we have met in Ulyanovsk. They are the most gracious, loving and kind people you could ever hope to know. They make sure you're well fed, comfortable and safe. They go out of their way to make you feel special. They are truly people of God. I've heard others say, "the folks in Oklahoma are the nicest people in the U.S." That is the absolute truth. And so it makes perfect sense to call Oklahoma City and Ulyanovsk "sister cities." How lucky we are to know them.