The Ukrainian Baptist Seminary sanctuary is empty as I compose this latest blog. Two hours earlier, nearly 140 people filled those chairs praying, singing and listening to a sermon explaining why this holy day called Easter is important for Christians around the world.
They do this in a space that looks a lot like a Baptist or non-denominational church in Raleigh. Simple structure; wooden beams stretched skyward that also form what could be the hull of a boat to carry parishioners through choppy waters; spotless glass; and like most church shrines, seats. The back rows are crowded. Empty seats? Where else? The first rows.
Some things are universal, regardless of language.
Church seats seem to be related to or at the top of the music on this list.
Speaking of music, a three-part praise band started the morning with songs of worship. Without any real knowledge of Polish vocabulary, there were familiar words and inflections.
You just found out.
The message is delivered in Polish by the pastor, flanked by a Ukrainian interpreter.
Many in this Easter audience are refugees seeking refuge in this sanctuary.
Today they found it.
Luke’s gospel is shared with the message of women finding an empty tomb.
Also in Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, it is sometimes necessary to limit personal freedom for the good of others.
The words fall differently in the ears and in the hearts of those present.
War does that.
A young Ukrainian named Stanislov spoke to me.
With his wife and daughters nearby, he explained how THIS Easter was different. He had just learned that some friends had managed to escape from their war-torn neighborhood.
“They are instead of peace (sic). Clear skies and are happy,” he said.
A sky not bloodied with rockets and bombs.
Afterwards everyone gathered in the dining room for a meal – traditional Polish with more sweets than a bakery. One of the delights: the Hot Cross Buns.
It was time to leave and return to downtown Warsaw. Most businesses are closed for Easter, including many taxi companies.
The pastor, Piotr Czerwinski, took the floor. “I will be happy to drive you. Go on.”
What an unexpected bonus.
We interviewed Czerwinski six days ago, and since then there have been so many more questions.
During the trip, we talked about family. “I’m going to the United States, to Los Angeles, this week to visit my daughter,” he said. “She’s going to grandfather me, for the first time, in just two, three days.”
He talked about his work and juggled between the needs of his flock and the needs of the refugees. This former Navy captain has run forty-two marathons and added, “My life is one big marathon. It’s a race that never ends.
On Wednesday, a 20-person Latvian orchestra will arrive at the seminary to play for refugees here and in other camps in Warsaw.
“That should lift my spirits, make me happy for them,” Czerwinski said.
Before arriving at the hotel, we talked about the war.
“We don’t know what future, how war will be our future,” he said.
When asked if he is concerned about the use of nuclear weapons, Czerwinski replies: “No, not possible, I hope.”
He sighed: “But who knows. If the refugees have hope, I must have hope too.
“Are you praying for Putin? ” I asked.
The pastor points to his temple. “I pray for his head, his thoughts. And for his heart.
Speaking of temples, the Temple family has worked with Baptists Oo Mission around the world. Husband Bobby led this group. His wife Wanda worked diligently to make sure everything ran like clockwork.
Just before we left to return to Warsaw, Wanda said, “We are going to pray. Hold hands.
We did, the five of us forming a circle – Wanda, Bobby, me, pastor and photojournalist Chad Flowers.
With a firm yet gentle and nurturing voice, Wanda prayed for the safety and healing of the hearts of the refugees.
Then, details for the two journalists in the ring.
“Lord, we know they can’t always bring back everything they know, but now they know. Guide them with truth and confidence to help the world know what is really going on here.
And God is there, in the midst of it all, continuing the work of redemption.