Every now and then, on this earthly path we trod, God pulls back the
curtain and gives us a fleeting glimpse of heaven. Tonight, in a
Baptist church in Yalta, the Mount Paran choir caught that glimpse.
More on that later in this post, though…
Today marked our first full-fledged day as missionaries, and we
started it at an orphanage about a ninety-minute drive out of
Sevastopol, our current port. We crammed a bus full of stuff that
would make us the envy of most elementary school teachers – art
supplies, balloons, face paint, balls from multiple sports, bags full
of pencils and markers and toys, and even Russian language Bibles.
Each orphanage visit during this week will follow a similar pattern.
Children will rotate among stations with opportunities for recreation,
photography, some arts and crafts, and face painting, all the while
being entertained by clowns. At each stop, we will stage an assembly
program complete with dramas that drive home the message of salvation.
And, of course, we will present gifts both to the orphanage as a whole
and to the children individually.
Throughout the week’s posts, I will try to detail these stations and
activities in depth to give you a better idea of the work we do.
For this post, though, I want to draw you directly to the nucleus of
our mission – the orphaned children of Ukraine. Imagine if, as a
child, all your worldly comforts and all of the safety and security
and stability you found in your family and home were suddenly stripped
away. Imagine being placed in a sterile, institutionalized setting,
devoid of color or imagination, sleeping, eating, and living without
the slightest inkling of privacy or personal property. Imagine being
told if you do ABC or if you do not do XYZ, you will no longer be
loved. Imagine turning eighteen and being turned out on the street
without nothing – no one, no direction, no guidance.
Now perhaps you can understand, at least in minute proportion, the
kind of despair that these children face. (And this is why Hope
House’s work is so vital and worthy of both your time and resources.)
Yet … somehow, some way … despite the mountain of odds against
them, these children smile. And not one of those polite “I’ve been
told to do this for camera, but I don’t have to like it” smiles, but
one of those “Plug this kid up to the grid and let him power Las Vegas
for a week” smiles. Ear to ear, full and bright, with usually a hug to
And when you step off the bus or round the corner for the first time,
and a smile from one of those sweet children hits you in the heart
like a laser beam, you really do understand why Jesus Himself was so
drawn to children and why those simple words – “red and yellow, black
and white; they are precious in His sight” – are so very true.
Later this week, I will write more about our specific work, but as our
partners in prayer, I wanted you to understand that as much as we
covet your prayers for us, think also upon these young children
starved for attention and love.
Now, as promised, the glimpse of heaven…
Tonight we sung at the Yalta Baptist Church. This city has seen its
fair share of headliners – Tsar Nicholas II and the last of the
Romanovs, Josef Stalin, Franklin Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, and,
now, of course, Mark Blankenship and the Mount Paran Choir. I feel
certain they will amend the next edition of the city’s history book.
We sang a full concert set list – praise and worship (mostly in
Russian), gospel songs, adaptations of scripture, and the like. Think
of a Mount Paran “Night of Worship” only in a Baptist church. And
traditional, this church was. So we did not clap or raise our hands or
even move our feet all that much. That, however, did nothing to dampen
the warmth exuded by the full audience, which clapped following
numbers and even did so with extra generosity to reward our attempts
But, as is so often the case, the moment of the night came when we
left the script. The pastor had prayed the closing prayer and then
invited the entire assembly of believers to sing “How Great Thou Art,”
a hymn that grew out of an 1885 poem by a Swedish poet and a song that
was translated first into Russian before it ever became popular in
So we did. The Americans in the choir loft sang out it English. The
Ukrainians on the floor and in the balcony did likewise in Russian.
And then something surreal happened.
The voices meshed. We were not two voices clashing but one voice,
singing to God, in one accord. And such a sweet, sweet spirit
descended upon that church.
That last verse – “When Christ shall come, with shout of acclamation,
to take me home, what joy shall fill my heart. Then I shall bow in
humble adoration and there proclaim, My God How Great Thou Art!” – I
began to think, “This has to be a preview of heaven.”
Then Mark asked just the Ukraine locals to sing, and we stood there as
these dear people with every ounce of sincerity and conviction they
could muster, sang, “Then sings my soul, my Savior God to Thee.” We
had no need of an interpreter, not because we understood Russian and
not because we knew the words to the time-tested hymn that still
speaks to our soul… but because we were brothers and sisters united
in corporate worship of Christ in that one moment in that one place so
far from our home. All that separated us vanished in the blood of the
one who saved us.
A glimpse of heaven indeed.
PS – I know many of you have left comments for us. I just have not
been able to log on and approve them for posting. I hope to find a
reliable internet connection tomorrow to do just that. Thanks for
your patience. And please continue to post them.