EDINA, MN (EP) – It was an unlikely scene – a leading Soviet network journalist sitting in the front row of an evangelical church in Minnesota, listening intently to the service. Her camera crew roamed the aisles taping the service – worshipping, singing, and even praying – for later viewing in the Soviet Union.
It was a sign of Perestroika’s heady winds of freedom, which are presenting unique opportunities for the Gospel.
Leading Soviet journalist Svetlana Staradomskya recently spent two weeks in the St. Paul/Minneapolis area filming scenes of American life to use in her Soviet news broadcasts, which have an estimated national audience of twenty million people.
Staradomskya and her film crew travelled to a public school, a shopping mall, a nursing home and even a professional football game, but it was the two hours spent among believers at Grace Church in Edina, that proved to be the emotional high point of her trip. “Svetlana said that she felt an outpouring of love from Americans all during her stay here, but none more graciously shown than the love of the people of Grace Church,” said Diana Pierce, an anchorwoman for the local NBC affiliate, KARE-TV.
It was Pierce who invited Staradomskya to attend a service at Pierce’s church. “I wanted to invite her to come to a church service in the United States, and I thought it would be really nice if she could join me at Grace.” After a second invitation, Staradomskya agreed to attend. According to Pierce, Staradomskya was intrigued by the modern facilities and by the congregation’s concentration of young, professional people – a sharp contrast with the old and largely empty church structures in the Soviet Union.
Following the service, Pierce introduced her to the church’s senior pastor, Dr. John Eagen. “God bless you,” said Eagen. “God bless you back,” was Staradomskya’s surprising reply. When asked by Eagen if she really meant that, Staradomskya said in her heavy accent, “Under Perestroika, we are much freer to talk about God.”
Eagen remembers her curiosity about the “differentness of this place.” When she expressed uncertainty about the reason for that difference, Eagen replied, “I know what you are experiencing, Svetlana. It is the Spirit of Jesus Christ.”
The worship service in the large, non-denominational evangelical church proved so captivating to Staradomskya that she sought permission to return with a film crew the following Sunday. The Church not only agreed to the filming but also called Pierce and Staradomskya up to the platform where Eagen presented the Russian journalist with an American Bible. Inscribed in the Bible was the wish that she would “come to know the wonderful freedom of Christ’s love and the tremendous peace that results from an intimate relationship with Him.”
In brief remarks to the congregation, Staradomskya said, “It is a privilege for me to just be here with you and tell you that now I think this is what lives in our hearts and our souls: that Soviet people really want to make as many bridges with you as possible, to get more close ties in every sphere of life – economic, political – and perhaps one day will come when we get together in such a solemn place as your church to pray together for our cooperation, our love, our understanding.”
Following the service, people of the church gathered around Staradomskya, welcoming her to the United States and to Grace Church. Tears welled in Staradomskya’s eyes as several people greeted her in her own language. One individual pressed a Russian Bible into her hand, while another presented her with a copy of Josh McDowell’s classic apologetic book, Evidence that Demands a Verdict.
Speaking with people and hugging their children, Staradomskya became almost overwhelmed with emotion. Perhaps finding old words inadequate for new feelings, she simply stated, “I feel so full of human love.”
“Svetlana was very touched and truly overwhelmed by the love shown to her,” said Pierce.
Eagen’s message on the morning of the Soviet filming – planned four months earlier with no knowledge of what was to occur- was entitled “Revolutionary Living for Revolutionary Times” from Acts 2. It contained a strong presentation of the gospel. October 23, was also “Friend Day” at the church. Soon after arriving, Staradomskya pointed to a large banner in the foyer that said “Welcome Visitors” and exclaimed to Pierce that it was nice to be welcomed in such a manner. It was an error that Pierce did not have the heart to correct.
In parting comments before returning to the Soviet Union, Staradomskya mentioned to Diana Pierce that of all her reports, it was her report of her visit to the church that she would treasure the most.