This past week, I've been re-reading a book by Brother Andrew called God's Call. Towards the end of the book, he recounts a story which happened in the Republic of Belarus sometime after it declared it's independence from the former Soviet Union. As churches were permitted to meet more openly, a growing local church sought and was finally granted permission to build a church.
They had crossed a major hurdle only to be faced with another one. They had the permit, they had the manpower but building materials were extremely hard to come by. They were unable to start building. Then unexpectedly, the authorities granted them permission to tear down abandoned soviet barracks and a missile silo which was nearby. They could use the salvaged bricks, concrete blocks and steel as building materials for their church.
That in itself is wonderful but there is more to this story. You see, while the workers demolishing the soviet-built buildings, they came across a WWII artillery shell sealed up within a brick wall. This shell contained a letter which was written in Russian and the date on the letter was 1948 and was signed by several men. Here is what it said:
These bricks came from Polish Orthodox and Russian Orthodox churches. If this missile complex is ever torn down, we ask that the bricks be used to build churches.
The walls had been torn down under the orders of a government which declared there was no God. That government had used those materials which had been used in buildings dedicated to God to build structures which housed that which was intended to be used as a means to repress, torture and destroy. The regime which ordered this to be done had fallen and what was happening now? Their structures were being torn down and out of the "ashes" a house of God was rising once again... a place of freedom and healing, a place that love built.
After reading those words, I was silent for a few minutes just trying to absorb what I had just read. My mind flashed back to what Jesus said in Matthew 16 concerning the Church. Here's how it is translated in The Message:
...This is the rock on which I will put together my church, a church so expansive with energy that not even the gates of hell will be able to keep it out.
And that's not all. You will have complete and free access to God's kingdom, keys to open any and every door: no more barriers between heaven and earth, earth and heaven. A yes on earth is yes in heaven. A no on earth is no in heaven.
We cower in dark corners, afraid to leave the confines of our four walls. Our actions demonstrate that we believe we are as grasshoppers before the world. We proclaim our faith in God only when we feel it is convenient or "safe" and at the least bit of trouble we scurry off into a corner to lick our wounds and our faith lies in shambles around us because God didn't do things the way we would. Do things our way? Now why on earth would God want to do things according to our narrow and limited view? Why would He want to limit Himself like that? Take a careful look around you and you will get an eyeful of what happens when things are done our way. It's not a very pretty sight is it.
God is calling us to come out of our safe (and confining) corners and step out in faith like those Russian brothers did. Their homeland had been torn apart by two world wars and a repressive revolution. Attempts were being made to shut out the God whom they loved and oh, I believe with all my heart these men knew him! Anyone who thinks these men were not running a risk by writing and signing such a note needs to read up on their history.
Even as they were forced to build those walls which represented destruction, these men had faith. They had faith that one day these walls would fall down and from the rubble there would be restoration. May we have that kind of faith for when we do, we too will see the walls which imprison the world around us come tumbling down.
Source: Brother Andrew with Verne Becker, God's Call, (Grand Rapids, MI: Fleming H. Revell, 2002), 194.