Angelito Garcia: Give thanks to the Lord

On November 27, 2011, the members and guests of Ark Church came together to celebrate Thanksgiving Week with fireworks of individual talents coupled with the usual tithes and offerings. This church is safely tucked away in a fine suburban location about 25 miles off Chicago’s northwest borderline. 

What's unusual and unique about this group is that they are predominantly composed of Russian-speaking peoples, coming as they did from republics of the former Soviet Union, better known for its political history than its Christian traditions.

Yes, folks, in those countries such as Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, and Georgia, vibrant and strong Christian traditions were forged together in the face of institutional persecution from their old governments up until 1991, which marked the break-up of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. Just as much, perhaps even more, because of what they have gone through, compared to kindred Christians from many parts of the free world, these people love to demonstrate their love for Christ in passion-rich ways. For this Thanksgiving week, they specifically expressed an outpouring of their gratefulness to the God who brought them into this country where they have received myriad blessings.

Indeed what a blessing as they expressed their thankfulness to God with their individual talents before an appreciative audience in the pews including this writer! People read, in poetic style, from the Bible, recited Christian poetry, sang out beautiful Christian hymns and contemporary music, played various musical instruments with fervor in Spirit-filled manner. The final offering was a breath-taking dance number from a group called Holy Ghost Dancers. It was obvious to the newcomer that these Christians have come from countries where spiritual dancing in Old Testament-style is a revered and favored art form generously incorporated into their worship choreography. It's simply enthralling to watch their dancing and banner-waving as they brought praise and adoration to the marvelous Adonai who was there, of course, at the very center of all of it, watching, supervising, and smiling. He was pleased.

Of the singers that performed, one may not expect the usual glitz like those that come off, say, a Chorus Line performance on Broadway belting it out like seasoned performers. What you would witness, however, as this writer did, was a heart-felt, joyous, godly performance that would put any one of them on God's Hallelujah Chorus at some appointed time in a glorious future when the real Superstar - Christ their King, Lord, and Savior - will come again. If they were auditioning off for that part, well, they passed with flying colors, based on their true-deep-heart sincerity and Christ-centered faith. Christ is knocking at the door of your heart, giving you an invitation to freely become a member of that heavenly chorus today.

Without a doubt, they brought honor and glory to God in that special and memorable late afternoon. And they will do it again next year, are you listening? If you are, do mark your calendar; it's easy. That day falls on Sunday on Thanksgiving week of next year. Or simply come and be in the pew in any of these coming Sundays and get to know them. Surely, they will graciously welcome you in and talk about their Savior. If you want to pick up useful Russian phrases, that’s a good place to do it too.

Of the dancers, they were some who clearly have professional skills. How these dancing numbers and styles were passed down from the Old Testament temple times to present-day Russia would surely inspire a deeply historical and fascinating study. We are talking about thousands of years of preserved biblical culture here. Russian-American Christians certainly have added to the richness and diversity of multi-cultural America. And to display it with outright boldness and virtuosity on Thanksgiving Day was a thrilling, tearful experience for this writer.   

Both young and old seamlessly blended together in this special time of thankful offertories. A family that prays together stays together. Well, they get that too, when they sing, clap their hands, tap their feet, and lift up their hands together, don't they? Surely, these are all integral parts of spiritual worship. You have to be there to really appreciate how these believers express their love to God.

Thanksgiving celebration won't be what it is without the culinary delights. Members brought dishes, salads, cake, and bread that added an exquisitely ethnic touch beyond the typically satisfying turkey and sweet potato. This writer is personally familiar with quite a few Russian dishes having visited Ukraine several times. Over there, he had tried with great contentment treats and repeats of mimoza, red ikra, borsch(of course!), pelmeni, kvass, and blinchiki. Except this time he was overwhelmed by the sheer number of new dishes he had not seen before, thus extending his knowledge of Russian food in a very, very satisfying way. His favorite new discovery was the stuffed cabbage.To round it off, an American male member married to a Ukrainian lady brought delicious ham!  

Pastor Mikhail Login, who came to this country 20 years ago with his wife Pastor Vera Login, gave out his sermon in Russian. In his usual manner, he used finely selected verses from the Bible. As part of the church standard operating procedure, his American-born and college-age children, Victoria and Steve - both naturally adept in both English and Russian - took turns at interpreting, while keeping in unison with their father as he spoke.  English-speaking Jack Puckett, a core church leader, shared a moving meditation from the virtues of tithing and sacrificial offering. Another church leader, Yevgeny(Eugene) Chikeyev, translated it into Russian. When you worship in Ark Church, you will hear the sermon and announcements said twice in rapid succession. First in Russian, then immediately following it, is the fluent English translation piped through the headphones provided to non-Russian speaking members and visitors. Line by line, easy! Even some worship songs are done bilingually by the worship team.

In his sermon, Pastor Login deplored the practice of some of us Christians who are filled with a complaining attitude. He quoted from scripture:

“But godliness actually is a means of great gain when accompanied by contentment." (2 Ti. 6:6 NASB).

He pointed out the sins of grumbling, finding fault in others, speaking arrogantly, and flattering people for the sake of gaining an advantage (see Jud. 1:16).

          He exhorted the listeners with:

“In everything give thanks; for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus.” (1 Th. 5:18 NASB).

Hearing these nuggets of gold from the Bible, it wasn’t right to leave the Ark Church that evening with a complaining spirit and it was just so inspiring to say:

Heavenly Father, many thanks for having tender mercies upon us and provisioning us with the gift of salvation through Christ Jesus.

 This article was written by Angelito Garcia for the Chicago Examiner

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