By Kathy Simpson
As we drove up to the church on Christmas night, the building appeared completely dark. Although the Turkish-speaking congregation doesn’t adhere to the Western concept of time, we were surprised that the building wasn’t open at ten minutes before the scheduled start. Then we saw a sliver of light through a gap around a window. The inside was fully illuminated, but we couldn’t tell that through the shuttered windows. No, the congregation isn’t trying to hide its light under a bushel. They are just tired of replacing broken glass.
The Stolipinovo church exists in a Muslim ghetto. Although the vast majority of residents are not devout followers of Islam, the church is still an affront. The building is a frequent target of vandalism. The Plovdiv congregation prays for peace with their downstairs neighbors. The Stolipinovo members have a different plan. In hopes of stopping the continual property destruction and theft, they want to surround their property with a wall, six-and-a-half feet tall, topped with two-sided, over-hanging barbed wire.
The image of a church surrounded by barbed wire is not very inviting, but inside, light abounds. Brothers and sisters enjoy the warm fellowship of the body of Christ. Serious believers in Stolipinovo understand the words of Jesus from John 15:19: “If you belonged to the world, its people would love you. But you don’t belong to the world. I have chosen you to leave the world behind, and that is why its people hate you”(CEV).
In North America, we worship without fear of reprisal. Think back. How did your congregation celebrate on December 25? The Plovdiv congregation gathered for worship at 10:00 that morning. The Stolipinovo group met in the evening. Their worship included songs by the children and congregation, a sermon, and an hour-long drama by the youth. The event concluded with food and conversation. When is the last time you spent four hours at church on Christmas Day?
We continue to learn from the people we have come to teach.
Watch a video of the congregation sing “Silent Night” in Turkish, Christmas night 2014 in Plovdiv, at the Stolipinovo church. Watch a video of children from the Stolipinovo church sing “Oh, How Joyfully” in Turkish.
This article was originally published in Plovdiv Perspectives, January 2015. Learn more about Church of God missions at www.chogmissions.org.