Written by Celia Barlow
Episode 4 – Preaching and distributing bibles, then home
I left you with the dilemma of whether we should risk leaving Lvov, and I’m sure you’ve guessed…we did! Our leader knew of a house church in Rovno about 100 miles north east and wanted to take some bibles there. We travelled on the flat open country which forms the bread basket of the Soviet Union. These were the collective farms which had been so badly contaminated by the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Station explosion (1986). Although it was one of the main routes we suddenly came across a huge mound of gravel blocking the carriageway which we had to negotiate, with oncoming traffic, swerving around trying to get a grip and not fall over the edge – pretty scary. There was a work gang of women wearing their usual headscarves and armed with shovels. I don’t know of women doing manual labour in England so we were rather shocked.
When we arrived there was a team from Ulf Eckman’s church in Sweden. This was the first time this Ukrainian church had ever met westerners. The worship accompanied by guitars was just heavenly. We got back late for a meeting with the elders – they thought we had been stopped by the police and when we said we had the look of horror on their faces showed us that police out there were to be avoided, whereas we look on ours as helpful. Whenever we went anywhere from then on one of the translators came with us.
Later the Swedish team came to Lvov and hired an out- door stage with about 600 seats. Our evangelist was asked to give his testimony on being saved and delivered from drugs. When an appeal for salvation was given about two thirds went forward and were jostling to get tracts so much that the translator had to ask them to calm down. The loudspeakers were all over the town and we rejoiced that these, originally installed for Soviet propaganda, were now being used for the gospel.
Another time we went to pick someone up and a crowd of people came up to the van. Lvov had a population of about 730,000 mostly living in grey 10 storey flats grouped around squares. We started to preach and people asked for prayer. One lady pointed to her back so I laid hands on her. When I stopped she grabbed my hand and put it back, so something was obviously happening. Three young girls about 8 years old came and clung to us so we asked names, Ira, Ola, and Natasha. I felt the love of God flowing from me so strongly that I was weeping. Another lady had been so frightened by Chernobyl that she had been unable to go out. The people were so hungry for God.
One day we were walking through Lvov, following the elders, when someone stopped us and we asked how they knew where we were from. Their reply was that we were walking free like westerners without turning around to check if we were followed. Just then, as if to prove a point, the elders looked back and came to “rescue us”.
Just a little aside on food and eating times which were different as most of those who have been on mission will testify. We had brought lots of food with us but it got left in the van which was with our leader at the pastor’s house. Breakfast the first morning was tongues (with the roots and pimples) and radishes and spring onions. Then at about 11 we had fried chicken legs. We had strawberries every day as our host had an allotment. In those days strawberries were a treat in England, not like now when we can have them any time. Soon after we retrieved our cereals and LL milk.
One day we prepared a meal for the elders. One of our team was from Peru and she had brought a huge can of chilli con carne. The elders looked at it with concern so we rushed out to the van and got some tinned corned beef and ham which went down better especially when we made mooing and snorting noises to tell them what it was! They didn’t appear to have tinned food.
The importance of what we would call “the black market” was demonstrated when the pastor’s son in law had a phone call to say there was toothpaste available. We all dashed off to the shops but had to get off the trolley bus because of one of the frequent power cuts. This happened with the water too. When we got there it was literally an “under the counter” operation. Then someone came in carrying boxes of ice lollies and just opened the boxes and we all bought one – no thought of putting them in freezers as they were gone in a trice. Another load of boxes arrived and our host got in the queue. It was toilet rolls and one of the translators told me to go and stand with him but not to talk. This was because if there were two of you, you got double. Our host showed us the empty shelves in another part of the store and pointed to his shoes. We went for souvenirs and bought the distinctive white shirts embroidered around the collar and down the front and were told they cost the equivalent of a month’s salary which was $5. We did change some dollars into roubles but it appeared to be done on the street corner not in the bank.
Time came for our departure. We left a cold bag full of Bowyers bacon and most of our food as we realised it would be a hard winter. We had seen our host’s wife pickling eggs and putting them in a huge Kilner jar. When some of the team returned in ’92 and ’93 they found everyone a lot thinner. We went to another house for a meal but had left our remaining dollars in our host’s home for them to find. Suddenly they turned up as they had found the money, worth a year’s salary, and had gone out to buy presents and food for our journey. Tears were shed again.
We had an uneventful journey home but when we entered Poland a huge weight seemed to drop off us. Looking back I think it was the oppression those Christians had to live with daily. Marg and I got onto the front page of the Bowman, which was Bowyers newspaper.
The pastor and our hosts emigrated to the USA and built their own church. I hear from them at Christmas but never thought to write it all down until now. Thanks go to Helen Beecham for helping it all flow. Thanks also to the people who contributed and prayed including the Colliers, also to the prophetic team who encouraged me to share it. Most of all thanks to Almighty God who led and kept us throughout.