Written by Celia Barlow
Episode 3 – The border crossing and Lvov church
Well, our leader didn’t tell us all the negative aspects of the conversation with our hosts, as I said at the end of episode 2. Neither did he tell us that the portable printing press, which we picked up in Poland to take to the Ukraine, could be a problem as it might be going to a subversive newspaper.
As we approached the border we started singing “My Saviour’s alive”. Suddenly here was the end of the queue but our leader swerved around it onto the hard shoulder. He had been told that westerners could jump the queue but the full fury of those waiting could be seen in the faces of roaming gangs of men with tree branches. Just then a little car in front decided to jump the queue too and the men were occupied stopping it. Three times the Lord allowed various gang’s attentions to be diverted from us and so we arrived at the border post unscathed.
We prayed that here would be a Christian Customs Official. First of all we came to a shed over a pit and waited ages before bribing them with soap, shampoo, razor blades, bananas and fizzy pop. We then went to the main customs desk where they unpacked one of our boxes of bibles. Our leader gave a set of commentaries to one man and he seemed pleased. Perhaps he was a believer or would sell them on the black market. They didn’t bother about searching the van so never found the printing press. In fact these officials told the original gang of men off for delaying us. It was probably David Alton’s letter on House of Commons headed paper which impressed them. We got through in an hour which was truly a miracle.
There was some discussion in the van on whether we should be bribing them but when we got to our friends in Lvov we realised how difficult it was becoming to live in a country which was changing to a market economy. The Ukraine had hyper-inflation from 1991-1995. This meant that in our money a beef burger costing £1.50 in ’91 would cost over £100 in ’95. MacDonalds was one of the first western stores to go in.
We marvelled at the queue trying to get into Poland. We were not far from Lvov but our leader was unsure of the way to the pastor’s house. Just then he saw a church member walking towards us and the man forgot where he was going and joyfully got in the van to direct us to the pastor’s house. During lunch there we played some worship tapes (no CDs then) and the pastor’s son in law took them away to copy. We had to turn a blind eye to copywrite infringement. Who could deny them the joy they took in the worship music which had not been available to them? (No Ipods or internet then).
The pastor wanted the men only to go to the church and unload the bibles. Our leader realised how hard it would be for the ladies to have to stay behind as this was the culmination of all our prayers so he told us to pretend to cry, which we did, and were allowed to go with them. We were still in shorts but never wore them again as we could see how strict their dress code was when we attended a meeting. As the men took boxes of bibles upstairs Marg and I just sang in tongues which echoed all around the church.
The pastor only had room to put up our leader and his wife so two other families housed the rest of us. They were chosen because they had cars and a phone. They tried to give each a translator but it didn’t always work out. Our host was a church elder. They proudly showed us some English classics on their bookshelf. They could neither read nor write English and I was undone and embarrassed that I had not read most of them and suddenly realised how precious our freedom was.
We all gave our testimonies at church. The women were on the right with their colourful headscarves and the men on the left in smart suits. Marg quipped that the Soviets had dubbed Margaret Thatcher “The Iron Lady” and was gently told afterwards that they didn’t talk politics. We think it was because there were informers in the church. Certainly the pastor had been told by a party member that when the communists got back in he would be in trouble. Praise God they never did.
We were told that Lenin’s statue had been removed from the town square so we went to the very spot to preach. Our evangelist set up his felt board and within 3 minutes I counted 70 people crowding round. Now in Trowbridge we had preached every Saturday but people went in the opposite direction even when well -known evangelist David Hathaway came to preach. Here they formed a line for prayer and would not disperse to let others come forward! No criticism of David Hathaway meant, as I went with him to Ukraine in 1993. But that’s another story!
We wanted to go to other towns to give out bibles and preach but our visas looked as if we were confined to Lvov. As I said in a previous episode the visas were for flying into Moscow then Kiev and Lvov. Tourists were only permitted to travel designated routes.
Watch out for the next episode to see if we escaped Lvov.