Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Marking 20 Years of Friendship

I took this photo Sunday after church of me with my friend Bonnie Beach. It was twenty years ago this summer that I first met Bonnie Beach. We worked together for 13 of those years. She taught my oldest daughter Hannah in preschool and later became my ministry assistant when I served an SBC church in Charlottesville. She now does the bulletin each week at CRBC as part of her member duties. Bonnie has been a blessing to me and my family in many ways (not the least of which is that she takes care of our dog when we're out of town!). She is a kind and generous friend with a servant's heart who has been like a sister to me. We also greatly appreciate her husband John, a graduate, as he tells it, of O.I.C. and the school of hard knocks, who's always been ready to lend me a hand when I've needed his expert counsel for home projects. I am blessed and thankful.


Friday, August 25, 2017

The Vision (8.25.17): For God so Loved

Image: Baptism service, Kostopil, Ukraine (8.13.17)

Note: Devotion taken from last Sunday's sermon on John 3:16-17.

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life (John 3:16).

Jesus begins, “For God so loved….”

God. This is the God of the Bible. The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The jealous God who will not yield his glory to another. The God who in the beginning made the heaven and the earth. This is not some amorphous God, some life force. This is Jehovah.

So. This is the adverb houto. I think there is a natural tendency to take the English word in the sense of “so much” or “to such a great degree.” We get the picture of love overflowing from God’s heart. But the word can also mean, “in such a manner” or “in such a way.”

Loved. The verb here is agapaomai, from the noun agape. This is the distinct word for Christian love. It can describe the love a Christian husband is to have for his wife (cf. Eph 5:25). It is the word Paul uses in his great love chapter: 1 Corinthians 13, when he says that love suffers long (is patient), is kind, does not envy, does not vaunt itself, is not puffed up, does not behave unseemly, does not seek its own, is not easily provoked, thinks no evil, does not rejoice in iniquity but rejoices in the truth (vv. 4-6). This is the word Jesus uses in the new commandment, when he tells the disciples to love one another and the term John uses when he says, “Beloved, let us love one another….” (1 John 4:7-8). God is himself love. He is the definition of love, the standard of love.

The God of the Bible is a God of love. We sometimes criticize mushy-gushy evangelicals for talking of God’s love and not his wrath, but we can become just as unbalanced if we speak only of his wrath and neglect his love.

The God of the Bible is a God of love.

Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle

Ukraine Trip Journal: Part Two

Friday, August 11 (Kostopil)

After breakfast we took a walk through Kostopil, taking in the local scenes. Many of the houses are neat and colorful. I observed that Eastern Europeans have distinct aesthetic sensibilities that do not necessarily match up with Western ones, especially with regard to symmetry and color schemes. The houses do not have grass yards, but vegetable patches, fruit trees, and flower gardens. This perpetuates a tradition from the Soviet era (or beyond) when home food production was a necessity.

Images: Houses in Kostopil.

We took a tour of Hannah’s school (Number 6). Like many schools, it has undergone a summer cleaning and the rooms were covered with a fresh coat of paint. The lobby had patriotic pictures of students with arms and dressed in camo, as well as a memorial to the 2014 uprising.

Images: Inside School No. 6, Kostopil.

We caught a bus to the city center where we had lunch at Hannah’s favorite pizza place, visited the central Orthodox church, and did some shopping for her apartment. After supper, we walked back to the city center, strolled by the river and then got some ice cream. The town center has a monument to the Ukranian poet Taras Shevchenko (1814-1861). Hannah says this is the norm in each Ukrainian town. It is busy on a warm Friday night with young folk and families milling about, sitting on park benches, talking, socializing, and eating ice cream. We ran into and chatted with a young family from Hannah’s church. By late evening we were back at her apartment where I did some work on fall semester class syllabi and Llew and Hannah watched a movie online.

Image: the Shevchenko memorial in central Kostopil.

Saturday, August 12 (Kostopil)

After breakfast we caught a bus to the outskirts of town to the “quarry” a local swimming hole. It was hot and scores of others had the same idea. Just about every space on the “beach” was filled. We met a young Christian couple and their children, who heard us speaking English. She is a Polish teacher and he works in an evangelical men’s rehab ministry for recovering alcoholics. Sweet people. They gave us a ride back to town in their van.

Image: At the quarry.

After a shower we walked over to meet and have tea with the host family with whom Hannah lived when she first moved to town.

Image: With Hannah's host family, Kostopil.

Ukraine is seven hours ahead of east coast time. By the time we got back to Hannah’s apartment that evening and checked our email and the web we discovered the riots and violence that had transpired in Charlottesville that day. Sad.

Sunday, August 13 (Kostopil-Lviv)

We headed into town early and walked through the outdoors bazaar, where everything seemed to be for sale, from clothes, to food, to flowers, to used power-tools. In conversation with some locals at church later that day I learned the bazaar had been going for about 10 years and did not operate in the communist era.

Images: Passing through the bazaar on our way to church.

From there we went over to the river where Hannah’s church, Word of Life Baptist Church, was holding its annual baptism service. The service last from 10:00 am to 1:30 pm. 21 persons were baptized and the Lord’s Supper was served. I was asked to give a greeting, so I offered a few words from Hebrews 13:1-2, 24-25. My message was interpreted by the pastor’s wife, nine months pregnant, and who had begun having contractions that morning. After service a tasty lunch was served to the assembly which had been catered by a man from Belarus, and fellowship ensued. We got to meet many of Hannah’s friends and some of her students from the school and English clubs. I was also approached by a man (not a church member) who is part of an anti-Russia militia who wanted to talk politics. He told me he had talked on skype once with Senator McCain. With the pastor’s translation help, I tried to talk to him about Christians loving their nations but having their true citizenship in heaven. He did not seem much interested. An older woman named Alexandra, also not a believer, approached and asked me to pray for her as she suffers with breast cancer. I did.

Images: Scenes from Sunday baptismal service.

We got back to Hannah’s apartment about 4:00 pm, packed out bags and caught a bus to the city of Lviv. This is a beautiful city, formerly Polish, and largely untouched by damage in WW2. We checked into our hostel and walked to the city center where we grabbed supper at a patio restaurant that served breakfast food. It was downright chilly, but they provided blankets for patrons. The English menu was confusing. I ordered a drip coffee but it came in a wine glass so I got a cappuccino instead. Llew ordered “hot chocolate” which turned out to be a cup of hot chocolate sauce. It was delicious!

Images: Sunday evening at the hostel and restaurant in Lviv.

Monday, August 14 (Lviv-Krakow, Poland)

We had breakfast at the Lviv branch of Lviv Croissants and explored the central square, including the Opera House and the Shevchenko statue, before catching tram Number 9 to the train station and taking the noon train to Krakow, Poland. We reached Krakow around 6:00 pm. At the border crossing you could see a near immediate difference in tidiness and orderliness on the Polish side.

Image: Shevchenko memorial, Lviv.

Image: Opera House, Lviv.

From the train station, we took a ten-minute walk to our hostel, dropped off our bags in our room, and took a ten-minute walk up Copernicus Street to the city center.

The first thing we encountered in the city square was a festive crowd, a blast of music from a stage, and the sights and smells drifting from scores of pierogi stands. Yes, it was the annual pierogi festival. We loaded up with meat, potato, cabbage, as well as chocolate banana, strawberry, and raspberry-honey pierogis. Tasty! From there we walked through the square, taking in the sites, people-watching, and sites. By the fountain, we listened to the famed trumpet tune with the closing broken note from the towers of the church of St. Mary. We headed back to our hostel about 10:00 pm to go to bed.

Images: Pierogi festival, central Krakow.

Image: Towers of St. Mary's church, Krakow.

Tuesday, August 15 (Krakow, Poland-Lviv)

Before we arrived, we did not know that August 15 was a major holiday in Poland, the feast of Mary’s Assumption. Though most of the country was closed, Krakow’s city center was open and lively.

We met an English walking tour group at the Barbican, the old fortified gateway to the city, for a two and a half hour tour of the old city. Our guide, a young, out-of-work history teacher did a nice job.

He pointed out that Poland was founded in 966 and Krakow in 1257. The Germans occupied Krakow, which had a significant German population, in WW2 and did some redesigns to the city center. The city was spared destruction in the war and retains many of its medieval streets and buildings.

We walked from the Barbican back through the square. The guide told us the story of the trumpeter of Krakow, having been hit by an enemy arrow as he played a warning note, was a legend created by American author Eric Kelly in his 1929 Newberry award winning children’s book, though the hourly trumpet call was indeed a tradition from the middle ages to report fires, attacks, etc.

The guide took us by the cloth hall and pointed out the knife posted over the entrance to warn thieves of the consequences of stealing.

From there we walked to the Jagiellonian University, founded in 1364, the oldest university in Poland. Noteworthy alumni include Copernicus (1473-1543) and Pope John Paul II (1920-2005). We watched the clock with moving figures in the university courtyard and then walked through the “professors’ garden” with memorials to various teachers, including a number who were sent to concentration camps during the Nazi occupation of the city. From there we walked to the Copernicus statue and then through the park past the “pope’s window” where JP2 greeted crowds who gathered to see him when he visited Krakow in the communist era. The guide told us that there are over a 1,000 monuments to JP2 in Poland and over 30 in Krakow.

From there we walked to the baroque church of Peter and Paul, alongside the church of St. Andrew, the oldest in Krakow. Then, it was up the oldest medieval street in Europe to the castle hill, where we explored the castle complex, palaces, and cathedral, ending the tour at an overlook over the Vistula River.

Image: Gathering for the walking tour at the Barbicon.

Image: The knifc suspended over the entrance to the cloth hall.

Image: In the couryard of Poland's oldest university.

Image: Copernicus statue.

Image: The "Pope" window, Krakow.

Image: Up the medieval street to the castle.

Image: The cathedral in the castle complex.

Image: A memorial to JP2.

Image: Overlooking the Vistula River.

From there we had lunch at a restaurant in the castle area and walked back through the city. At a bookstore, I picked up a copy of dissident philosopher Leskek Kolakowski’s selected essays Is God Happy? We got ice cream, toured St. Mary’s church, shopped, and took in more sites in the city center. We ended the day with supper at a Lebanese restaurant on the square and then walked to the train station where we caught a 10:00 pm overnight train back to Lviv, spending the night in a triple bunk sleeper cabin, awoken at the border to check out passports.

Image: On the train back to Lviv.

Wednesday, August 16 (Lviv-Kiev)

We reached Lviv at c. 7 am, stored our bags in a train station locker and took bus 31 into the city center (the ride cost 4 UH). We toured the Latin Cathedral (Polish church) before sitting down for a great breakfast at one of Hannah’s favorite cafes. From there we went to the city center to join an English walking tour. We got started with the tour but dropped out after about an hour to explore on our own.

We watched a Ukranian team filming a musical scene in the town hall square. We watched the Lviv trumpeter play his tune from the city hall (a tradition begun in 2011, probably borrowed from Krakow,, but not a bad tourish ploy!) and then payed 20 UH to climb to the top of the city hall building for spectacular views of the city. On the way down we ran into one of Hannah’s students from Kostopil and her mother.

We noted a display by the city hall noting the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. From there we toured an amazing coffee company where coffee is ground and packaged on site and donned helmets to explore its cavernous underground where coffee is served and prepared with torch flames. Then it was on to a chocolate company where we each picked a few pieces of chocolate (mango was so good!) and climbed to the roof top tables to enjoy our purchases. Lviv is a great city to visit. I predict it will be a major tourist destination of Americans/Westerners once things settle down in Ukraine.

Images: Scenes in Lviv.

From there we visited an outdoor marketplace and then an outdoor bookmarket. We had a late afternoon meal at a Georgian restaurant before heading back to the train station to retrieve our bags and board an overnight train to Kiev.

Images: The Lviv outdoorbook market with Putin "momentos"

Thursday, August 17 (Kiev-Vienna-Zurich-Virginia)

We arrived in Kiev at c. 4 am and took a half hour cab ride to the airport, checked our luggage, said our farewells to Hannah, and entered security to catch our 7 am plane to Vienna. It was sad to part from Hannah, but we had had a great time and are proud of what she was been able to do and accomplish in Ukraine, a country she now loves. We will see her back stateside soon. From Vienna we headed to Zurich and from there to Washington, Dulles. Our plane landed an hour early at 2:30 pm at Dulles. Hard to believe we had started the day arriving on a train in Kiev. The other Riddle children met us at the airport and we were back home to North Garden by 6:00 pm.

Image: In the Kiev airport: "We meet to part, but part to meet"