by Amanda Bieniek, senior
I step out into the busy streets. Darkness covers this beautiful city. The Jaffa gate stands visible as I pass through and continue on to my destination. My heart is excited; light in anticipation of worship. The group rushes on through the streets, along the meandering city wall and on towards Jaffa Street. Twenty minutes later we find a spot to sit. The group piles onto the ground, ledges and cobblestone steps. Tonight we consist of two schools: Murrieta’s Calvary Chapel Bible College and Concordia students have been staying at the same hostel, and tonight we find ourselves together on the cement stairs.
Our eclectic compilation of instruments are scattered between the two groups to form one worship band. Holy is the Lord, we sing. I close my eyes to focus on the words I’m singing out to God in this crowd of people with one purpose. I open my eyes after this first song and the largest group has appeared around us. Christians stretch their heads out of surrounding stores and restaurants, couples and families stop to see why we have gathered-to understand why we sing these praises.
Blessed be the Name of the Lord. Some passing tourists stay the full two hours, others stay for a song or two. Soon individuals shout out song requests with various accents of English. Forever God is Faithful. The three guitars rotate between several musicians to display their own style.We press towards the center of our contrived circle to accommodate the increasing crowd.
Between each song I hear whispers permeate this sacred space. Who are you? What are you doing here? Why do you sing? Several students wander the edges to answer questions and offer prayer. How Great is Our God. Most of us take off our sandals as a symbol of this holy ground. The concrete steps have turned into God’s dwelling place. Our hearts sing Him out, our voices lift His name in praise and adoration.
The community created there can only by formed and felt because of God’s presence and the Holy Spirit’s actions in our lives. Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound – this binds us together in perfect unity. May God seal up that worship time-the words sung, the prayers prayed, the witness portrayed, in Jesus’ name, in His City, among His People of Israel.
by Mai Vu, sophmore
Emmanuel Church in Russian city of Vladimir could be mistaken for a large boarding house. From the outside, the façade does not include stained glass windows or a large cross bearing its name. Instead, it blends in with the other simple apartment buildings that surround it. Sixteen identical windows cover the building’s face with a seventeenth window in the center tying it all together with six panels. The pinkish-tan paint color with a darker mauve trim reminds me of the convalescent home in Garden Grove that I used to visit and sing karaoke for the residents. The only thing that hints at its purpose is the colorful banner on the outside proclaiming, “Jesus Is Risen!” with a little icon in the corner saying, “ЗММАНУИЛ.” Yes, there is a sign, but in quick passing, the building does not scream Pentecostal Church.
As I pass through the iron gates and through the brown metal front door, I am greeted by two sets of stairs, giving me the choice of up or down. One set is made out of tile, bright like the road with sun rays piercing through the trees. The other is the worn down cement with cracks and uneven-footing like the dark road filled with dead trees and vicious animals. Sure, it only leads to the basement, but who knows what lurks down there. Choosing up, tile and light, I walk up the stairs, through a white metal door and into the sanctuary.
Some things about this room remain consistent. The floor is always cold and hard like the counter at a Cold Stone Creamery. It is speckled linoleum, the kind that can hide dirt so that it does not have to constantly be cleaned. It does get cleaned though every week. I found that out this morning when I wanted to have some quiet time in the main sanctuary. The men and women that live at the church clean it on Wednesday mornings. They push aside all of the benches and sweep and mop the floors just like they would in a normal house.
The lights of the santuary, when on, shine a bright money-saver white. It is the kind that burns your eyes when you look up at them. Luckily, the off-white, almost cream walls somehow change the light so that it reflects a sleepy yellow tint.
Another item that remains constant is the bench that I sit on. It is simple and practical in design. About six and a half feet in length, the bench is able to accommodate five people comfortably. The backrest and frame is constructed out of a light polished wood and it is carved at the top into crests and swoops like waves. The cushion is not fancy by any means, but it is comfortable. Its fabric, warn down and dirty, holds indentations from the numerous bottoms that have sat there. I am thankful for the wear and tear of the seats because the fabric is soft like a worn in sweatshirt or pair of old jeans. When I first look at it, it is inviting and tells me to sit down.
Sitting in the bench, I now face the front of the sanctuary. The drum kit, electric piano, and microphones still remain on the left, and the pulpit is off to the right. The carpeted stage is a darker, off-salmon color and it, un-like the linoleum, cannot hide stains. To my left are carved pictures of Moses and the Ten Commandments and a man knocking on a door — “Seek and you shall find, knock and the door will be open unto you.” At night, both paintings radiate because the white money-saver bulbs shine right on them and deepens the shadows and enhances the shine. In the morning however, the paintings go unnoticed because they are eclipsed by the brilliant rays of light that shine through the two windows that sit on the same wall.
In the morning the room becomes contradictory — its purpose shifts from being a sanctuary to a classroom, to a stage, and to an escape. The pulpit transforms into a podium where Professor Lee and Professor Norton teach on Stalin and the Cold War. Sergei comes to chat about growing up as a child in Russia and Marina lectures about her opinion of The Gulag Archipelago. Students sit in the benches just like they would sit in class with laptops open and books strewn around, pens everywhere. Today, Annemarie is wrapped up in her green FINNAIR blanket and I sit cross legged with my candy-corn Halloween socks. Macho has on his green hunting cap.
How bizarre. This is a place of worship, not studying. Hats off, shoes on because I am in church, not at home on the couch. Every Sunday, Wednesday, and Saturday there is a church service full of believers praying out loud, some in tongues. Loud music and singing fill up my ears, the Russian language still not presenting itself as a barrier as I sing along to “More Love, More Power.” The love of God transcends all barricades, including language.
Yes, this is the room’s purpose, a room of worship and prayer. Though, as I sing along it shifts once again, this time transforming into a stage. In front of me I see Masha singing vocals for the praise band. Bright lights shine down on her cute skirt, shirt, and heels and she dances around with the microphone raised to her lips. Her arms are raised to the ceiling and her face is furrowed into a pained expressing almost saying, “Here I am, thank you for loving me!”
Then again, what is her motivation? Is the front of the sanctuary a stage to her where she puts on a show, closing her eyes singing and praying because it is the thing to do or is the platform an area for Christ to do His work and use her as a vessel? I want to look at her and think that she is truly in a state of worship and is singing in complete abandon, “Here I am Lord, thank you for loving me!” Only God knows the true desires of our hearts.
The room modifies itself once more, this time into one that is silent. I walk in to find Aaron sitting up on the off-salmon colored carpeted platform reading his Bible. The room is an escape for him who seeks solitude. Aaron does not look up as he reads his Bible, instead, quickly looks to the side, jots down a note and continues reading. It is late tonight and the white, money-saver bulbs shine just like the night before, giving the room a soft, sleepy, yellow tint. With a final sigh, Aaron closes his eyes and sinks into prayer.
The room transforms for the last time, back into a sanctuary. I sit staring at the wooden cross on the opposite wall with the soft worn in bench under my thighs and bright, white, money-saver lights glowing above me.
by Annmarie Utech, senior
Russian and I broke up yesterday. It was not pretty. He found out about Arabic.
We had met at the airport, as do most cliché and typical characters of the love stories. I had just made it through customs. I was jetlagged. I was tired, and in no way did I think that any spark would occur as I groggily made my way to the luggage carousel. But there he was, looking all cool and suave and I just had to stop and stare. He looked a bit dangerous – I always fall for those types.
He said his name was Russian. We started to talk and we realized that we had lots of things in common. We both loved sentences that followed the subject, verb, object pattern and we talked into the night of all the cognates we had in common like bus, television, internet, rose and coffee. He would make me laugh when instead of using “p’s” he would use “r’s” and instead of “c’s” he liked to throw around “s’s.”
I began to think, “Maybe this is the one. Maybe I would want to do this forever.” So I began to spend more and more of my free time with him. I poured myself into our relationship. I wanted to find out as much about him as I could. But when you do that, sometimes you find things that you don’t want to find… the skeletons in the closet. And Russian had a lot.
Russian really liked the hard and soft “b.” Of course I knew. I had seen them from the very beginning but I was hoping that it was nothing, that it was just a phase that would pass. And then there were the symbols. At first I thought that it was an interesting quirk about him, something that he was trying to do to impress me, so I let it slide. Then he started to use them all the time, pushing them upon me that at times I would get so overwhelmed and just throw my hands up in frustration. But yet he would not relent. I was bombarded to the point where I just withdrew.
As in any relationship when frustration builds and tempers are tried, we fought. He lashed out that I had stopped committing to our relationship that I was only spending minimal time with him. I was angry that he was constantly pushing me, telling me what to do and how to say things. In fact, it got so bad that if it was possible, I would find someone else to be the middle man, the messenger. That way I didn’t have to talk to Russian for days. It was horrible, a time filled of doubt, worry, and constant headaches, seeing Cyrillic letter as I dreamed, haunting me.
I had to leave and then the perfect opportunity came— an adventure to Turkey. Without telling Russian or even saying goodbye, I left. This is not my proudest moment and there still is a bit of guilt that lingers as I lie in bed at night, but I had to leave. I met this new friend named Arabic who showed me around. He looked, sounded, and acted in a way that was so unfamiliar that it was like a breath of fresh air, a new start. We hung out a bit, nothing too serious, deciding that it would be best to be friends.
But Russian followed me to Turkey.
He burst in on class one day, still having things to say to me. I thought we were over, I thought we were through. Apparently he didn’t. He clung to my side throwing more complex symbols at me and openly flaunting his friendship with hard and soft “b.” I was miserable. The first few exciting days of Turkey and my new friendship with Arabic were thrown aside. I pleaded for Russian to leave me alone, but he refused.
And then Arabic showed up, like a knight in the tales of Scheherazade. He just walked in the door calm and confident. He looked at me and smiled as if to say, “Do not worry, I will take care of this for you.” He went right up to Russian and calmly said, “Please leave.” They stared each other down, the room grew tense, my heart stopped beating. Russian looked from me to Arabic and then from Arabic to me and he knew, putting two and two together. So throwing one last symbol at me, he stalked out of the room, slamming the door shut on his way out.
And that’s when I knew that Arabic and I were going to be more than friends.