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NEWS OF GNADENTHAU - JANUARY 2002

Betty Ashley received an email from Horst W. Gutsche of Canada titled "Our people in Gnadentau (Verchniy Jeruslan) on January 12, 2002. Mr. Gutsche enclosed the following reports which he said was printed under the title "Our Congregations" in the "Bote" (Messenger)l the official publication of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Russia and Other States (ELCROS). There are seven photos in the article of how the church looked originally and how it appears today. There is also a copy of the original church seal. It appeared in Issue Nr. 3, 2001.

This publication, in which all the reports are printed in both languages, in German and Russian, can be ordered by contacting: bote@elkras.org. 5,000 copies are printed. Gnadentau (the word mean: Dew of Grace) was written by Andrei Pautov, Moscow and translated by Horst W. Gutsche, January 12, 2002. In a later email, Mr. Gutsche said that he is in regular contact with Bishop Siegfried Springer of this church. The story of the Gnadentau church is really a miracle. It is only one of two former Lutheran church buildings being used in the Volga region; at least by a Lutheran congregation. the other one is in Marx (Katharinenstadt).

 

Gnadentau - Written by Andrei Pautov

I once dug through a pile of old publications Among them, I discovered a calendar with photos of Lutheran Churches on the Volga. Today, these churches are still standing on the steppes and in the settlements as silent witnesses of the era. In the pages of the calendar I saw the magnificent buildings (of churches) from Messer and Walter, Baers and Zuerich and many others as well which had been partially destroyed or desecrated, but were still standing proud and high; true feats of architecture. I paged on and I found a magnificent structure built in the new gothic style, a church built of red bricks, a steeple which reached to the sky with rows of windows, a high pointed steeple crowned with a cross in the midst of a beautiful blue sky. Under the photo, I read the: "Evangelical Lutheran Church in the village of Verchniy Jeruslan (Gnadentau)." I looked at this photo for a long time. It was as if an inner voice was calling to me to go and see it. I could not silence this voice. I decided very definitely, that at all cost, I would look for this village which had the name of Gnadentau. At that time, I did not know that my entire life would change radically and that at this moment in time, while I looked at the yellowed pages of the calendar, the future had dawned upon me.


At the beginning of August, 1998, I boarded a train with a ticket for the railroad station at Gemelinskay. The village of Gnadentau and "my church" is situated 30 kilometers from there.I traveled 1,000 kilometers from Moscow to a place where I knew no one and where no one was expecting me. But a certain sense of certainty took ahold of me - God was with me and He would take care of me during this trip.


Our small bus rattled across the dusty roads through the endless steppes of the Volga region. Here is where our ancestors lived, our brothers and sisters in the faith, worked, were born and died, built churches, invited pastors and it seemed back then as if nothing would overshadow their peaceful and tempered existence.... And... the high point of the steeple soon appeared around a corner and it was covered with a canopy of green leaves. It seemed to appear very dark and only the narrow, small windows of the steeple reflected the rays of the setting sun. This was the church of the calendar and a grand incomparable feeling of fortune filled my heart. Despite everything, I have found you...


I got out of the bus, ran down the little hill and came upon the former village square. The church stood before me and I stood before the church eye to eye, bedazzled by her supernatural magnificence. When I regained consciousness, I hurried to enter in. I saw a sad sight. The inside of the church was a ruin which could not be recognized (by the photo). There were no traces of the altar, the carved balconies and the high-backed pews. There were piles of rubbish everywhere. There wasn't glass in one single window. There were no more doors. The wooden, carved, ceiling was half collapsed. All the walls were covered with graffitti and the names of those who wanted to leave their names in remembrance in this way. A feeling of pain and bitterness pierced my soul. I took several photos with my camera and traveled back to Moscow in the morning with the decision to come back here again. Unfortunately, it was not possible to get to know the small congregation this time around. But the first step had been taken in order to do so.


The dew of grace had not stopped. It dampened the valleys and hills of this old German village anew.
Since this first visit, three years have passed by. What has changed? There have been changes and one can rightly be proud of them. Not I deserve the praise, for I have been called to serve; this means that we give praise and glory to Him, by Whom I was called and through Whose Hand I was led. The previously abandoned church covered with dirt has been, more or less, cleaned up in a humane way. The congregation has significantly grown, because I held the sermon and the worship services in Russian. Besides this, all the inhabitants of the village, Russians as well as Germans, have the unanimous desire that the church should be active again. When, on October 15, 2000, the dean of Saratov, Pastor Alexander Scheiermann, paid us a visit, the whole village of about 200 people came to church. There are just as many villages in the area where such people live, both Russians and Russian Germans, who have not seen a pastor for decades, have not heard the preaching of the Word of God and have not received the sacraments.


Thanks to Anatoliy Syakin, who lives in the village, the congregation was successfully registered. He became the chairman of the church council and thanks to him, a part of the church renovation project was begun. Windows and doors were installed, new steps and cement were poured around the church, the roof was repaired and other things were done as well. All of this is the personal work of Anatoliy Syakin. Without his help it would have been impossible to remove the rubbish, without even mentioning the other improvements. But we live in trying times, and without the help of the fellowship of our brothers and sisters in Christ, we cannot let this magnificent but damaged building be resurrected from its ruined condition.
The people wait and hope. Whenever I visit Gnadentau, they ask me the same question: What will happen with our church? How am I to respond to their question? I convince them to hope in God and to wait. And they wait, for they have been used to living their whole lives in anticipation - in the stalinist camps, under the whip of the overseer; anitcipatio is all that has remained with them and added to that faith in the Grace of God, who carried them through all their bitterness and all their suffering which was their portion in life.


We do not have the right to disappoint this holy anticipation. We do not have the right to take away the hope of people who were pursued and persecuted throughout their entire lives; people from whom everything was taken, even their own names. We are called to serve them with the deeds of faith and to preach the mercy of God to them and to teach them about the sacraments, serving them with love and with the peace of God. For this reason, we need this wonderful church in all its grandeur and beauty, so that, young and old, Russians and Germans, happy and sad, can gather under its arches as they used to do previously. We want to hear the Word of God so that God's Grace will be with us all the time. God bless us all.


Andrei Paultov, Moscow
Church Fellowship
Bad-Sooden Allendorf
EKK Kassel
BLZ 52060410
Account-Nr 2119 Note: Gnadentau