The Man Who Tried to Save Me Part II
On the first day of the new Russian school, the turnout was good. About 30 kids of all ages came, each accompanied by at least two adults. I guess the multitude of adults was because the parents and grandparents wanted to see the new school for themselves. We found a guy we knew, who brought his daughter.
Everybody was escorted to an auditorium. It looked just like school, except for the hymn books in Russian that were placed in every row. I picked one up to show my kids. To my surprise, I realized that I knew most of the hymns.
Before my conversion to Orthodoxy, in 1990, I attended a Baptist church in Moscow. I only spent one year there, and ran away screaming in early 1991. It was a very large church, and a very strict one. They had rules for everything – no makeup, no jewelry, no pants on women, no TV, no theatre… sure enough, no birth control. I remember leading a pretty exciting double life, acting all pious and rule-abiding while in church, and like a normal human for the rest of the week. For whatever reason, the Moscow Baptists hated the Orthodox church, which incidentally was one of the reasons I later decided to check it out – if those guys didn’t like it, it had to be good! I quit going after a church member chewed me out for making plans to go see a classical ballet performance. He asked me: “What if Jesus comes back, and you’re sitting in a theater watching ballet? What will you do then?” Right there, I realized that no power in the world could make me go back to that church again.
The hymns in the “Jewish Messianic” church were the same hymns that we used to sing in our Baptist church in 1990. Big red flag.
Ivan stepped onto the stage and the meeting started. It actually went well. The teachers introduced themselves, Ivan and his wife took turns talking about the school, everything sounded very professional. After a while, we were asked to take our children to their classes.
As we were getting up from our seats, Ivan said, “Oh, and by the way, since this is our first day, we have prepared a concert for the parents. You don’t have to attend, but we put a lot of work into it and you will probably enjoy it”. How could we turn this offer down without looking utterly ungrateful? So, to the concert we went. My parents and I sat next to our friend in one of the back pews.
I cannot for the life of me remember exactly when the concert became a Baptist church service. It just sneaked up on us. One minute, we were all listening to a (very nice) performance by a lady playing her violin, and the next moment, it was already Ivan giving us a sermon.
Slowly, the realization showed on everybody’s faces. We were tricked into attending a service we never wanted to attend, and could not leave without making ourselves look bad. Everybody just sat there, completely stunned, as Ivan went on and on in circles about God’s love.
Now I have probably heard a few thousand sermons in my life, but never anything as boring and pointless as the one Ivan delivered on that day. I don’t know if he prepared for it in any way, or how much background he had as a preacher. I have a feeling that he was used to just getting up there, opening his mouth, and assuming that God would help him through the rest. He repeated the same things ten times over without even knowing it.
Finally, Ivan said, “Now we’re going to sing a worship song, and after that, we’re all going to pray”.
I looked at my companions – my Atheist Mom, my mildly Jewish Dad, and our (Atheist, I think) friend. They didn’t look so good. From the looks on their faces, they really didn’t want to pray with Ivan. I couldn’t blame them. I got an idea.
In a very low voice, I said, “After he’s done, he will have to get off stage, and the girl that sings will get onstage. While they’re doing it… on my command… on count of three… we all get up and walk out”.
Ivan, in the meantime, finished the sermon. He is a big guy and it took him a while to walk to the end of the stage and down the stairs. I turned to Mom and quietly said, “one… two… three”. We stood up and left.
You’re probably not going to believe it, but the next Saturday, my parents went back and brought the kids to class.
To be continued…