I learned a lot in Kharkov, Ukraine. I learned that I can survive on Diet Coke when there’s no Diet Dr Pepper. I learned that I am the richest man most of the people I met will ever know in their lives. I learned that chicken-flavored potato chips are nasty, that the potholes out here on Cardinal Lane are nothing, and that no matter how many people are watching and cheering, soccer is still really boring. But this is perhaps the greatest lesson learned: We should never take for granted the great blessing we enjoy to be disciples of Jesus living with and among other disciples of Jesus.
Most Christians outside America know nothing first-hand about that experience. They live in isolation with family members who do not follow our Christ or in communities where the Son of God is not recognized, or worse, where followers of Jesus are persecuted for their beliefs and practices.
The physical presence of other Christians is a source of great joy and strength to a believer.
The imprisoned apostle Paul calls Timothy to come to him in the last days of his life. He remembers Timothy’s tears when they departed and longs to see his beloved son in the faith “that I may be filled with joy.” Remembering the saints in Thessalonica, Paul writes, “night and day we pray most earnestly that we may see you again.” John knows his joy will not be full until he can come to his own people and speak face to face with them instead of writing to them with ink “so that our joy may be complete.”
At times in their lives these great men of God did not have the fellowship with other believers that we enjoy daily, sometimes hourly. They longed for it. They relished it. They looked forward to it. And they savored it with great delight. Fellowship was everything. It’s what got them through.
We don’t value it nearly as much in this country because we can have it anytime we want. It’s always available to us. We don’t understand the importance of this fellowship with other followers. If we did, we’d have just as many people in our buildings on Wednesday evenings as we do on Sunday mornings. That’s the way it is in Kharkov. It’s unthinkable over there to miss a worship assembly. Or a birthday party in the park. Or a small group meeting. Or a prayer gathering. David and Olivia can announce a special meeting or assembly the day before it happens and every member of their core Christian community will be there. They don’t dare miss it. They need it.
I’m not trying to make anyone feel guilty. I want us all to understand the value of the gifts of fellowship in our Christian communities. Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote this about Christian fellowship in his classic work on the community of faith, Life Together:
“What is an unspeakable gift of God for the lonely individual is easily disregarded and trodden under foot by those who have the gift everyday. It is easily forgotten that the fellowship of Christian brethren is a gift of grace, a gift of the Kingdom of God that any day may be taken away from us. Therefore, let him who has the privilege of living a common Christian life with other Christians praise God’s grace from the bottom of his heart. Let him thank God on his knees and declare: It is grace, nothing but grace, that we are allowed to live in community with Christian brethren.”
We live together in and through Christ Jesus. The fellowship we share together is only in and through our Lord and Savior. Christian friendships should be treasured, never assumed. Time together should be cherished, never avoided. Opportunities to be together should be seized, never scorned.
Olivia has updated the Nelsons’ blog with a ton of pictures from our trip and lots of very, very nice things to say about us and Legacy and the work God is doing in Kharkov. Click here to read their latest post.