20 September 2017

Wings of Joy!

raI stood behind a crowd of people and listened. My work colleagues were all here, some sitting on their chairs and some just standing along the side wall. I had been working here with this group of people for half a year. Some knew me well by now, others didn’t. That morning my supervisor announced, “Today at lunch time we are expecting a guest speaker.” Everybody was to gather as soon as we finished our lunches.

As I was working at my work-station, assembling the babies’ prams one part after another, I couldn’t stop thinking what kind of a guest speaker was coming. It was my first work place. I worked parttime, just five hours a day and I really didn’t know who to expect or why he was coming.

As he began to speak, it soon became quite clear. His words were directed against God and against the Bible. The year was 1981 and in those days in the former Soviet Union, believing in God and the Bible was strictly forbidden.

He talked for a long time, but I mostly couldn’t hear him as my mind raced ahead, wondering what people would think about me after such a speech. He mentioned black clothes that Christians supposedly wear and that they turn off the lights at their meetings. I don’t remember everything he said but what I do remember as I stood there behin  all of my colleagues, is that these sorts of lectures were common at those work places where Christians worked.

Towards the end of the lecture he raised his eyes and looked around at all of us. “And among you there are those who believe all this,” he said. As he locked his eyes on me I felt my heart stopped with fear and my hands trembled. “Lord, give me strength,” I prayed. It seemed that all of my colleagues turned to look at me. My head went dizzy and my throat went dry.

Everyone knew he was talking about me. What would they think of me now?

As he finished his speech, some work colleagues came up to me asking questions. What happened next surprised me. As soon as I began to talk to them, my fear was gone. For the next hour I was completely captured by the conversation. More and more new people came up to me and asked about my faith. Such interest from people I had never experienced before.

That day I went home rejoicing. For the sake of the Lord, I came through that shame, and afterwards, there was neither fear nor shame, only lasting joy. I remember to this day the verse that rang in my mind as I was sitting on the tram heading home. It was from Matthew, “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and speak all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven.”

I believe that day the Lord gave me such joy because for Him I experienced hatred and shame. But they were short-lived; the joy was lasting. God turned the intended hatred into big interest. After half a year working in that factory, people already knew that I was a Believer, but I had not had the courage to speak much about my salvation and my Saviour. The Lord used that horrible meeting to help me to speak about Him.

I don’t think I understood before that meeting the true meaning of those words about rejoicing. I knew many friends from my Church who rejoiced when they were taken into prison for fifteen days. Some of them, I remember, even came to Christian meetings with a spare set of clothes, just in case they were arrested and could not return home after the meeting. If the police would find the meeting they were fully aware that they might be taken. It happened often, even for my dad.

My dad was put into prison on one occasion for fifteen days for “singing loudly at an illegal church gathering!” At the end of this time I went with my mother to meet him; I was ten or eleven years old at the time. We waited at the door and when he came out, his face was so joyful. I was just a child. I cried and ran to him with tears, but hugging me he whispered into my ear, “Rejoice, this was for the sake of the Lord.”

Then some years later I went with the young peoples’ group to meet some other friends from our Church who had just finished fifteen days of such imprisonment. I stood on the sidelines and watched their faces. They too were shining.

Their joy was inspiring. I couldn’t fully understand their joy. How could they be so happy? They were imprisoned, slept on wooden bunks, didn’t have much food, were humiliated and put down. But they looked glad. I wanted that joy.

I wanted to be among them. And here, after the lecture, I understood a bit better what those words mean. “Rejoice and be glad.”

My humiliation was because of the Lord; joy and gladness are given as a gift from the Lord. I remember that night; when the house was quiet I was trying to sleep. Lying in my bed I was thinking about what had actually happened in my heart. I was still glad and felt happy, but my gladness wasn’t because I did well at the conversation or talked well about God. I definitely remembered my shaking hands and my awkward answers. My joy was not in what I did; my gladness was in the Lord. The Lord was so close to me, His presence was almost tangible. The joy was of Him.

I wasn’t a hero but He was; I wasn’t brave but my Lord was. To be identified with Him gave me gladness, to be humiliated because of Him gave me wings of joy – I was rejoicing in the Lord and couldn’t sleep!

It’s been many years since that day; the days of persecution are gone from Eastern Europe for now. But the Biblical truth is not gone. The word of God stands true forever. ‘Rejoice and be glad in the Lord,’ are words that have become even more dear to me and my family over the past months. But this joy and gladness in the Lord doesn’t ever come without struggle and suffering.

It was just over a year ago that we found ourselves crushed by the news that I had two aggressive cancers. “Lord, give me just fifteen more years,” I prayed with my husband the night before we were to get the biopsy results. In the next room our four-year-old daughter was fast asleep. My heart cried out to God begging Him to give me more years just to be able to raise her. We waited many years for her, and now, as she was in my life for just over four years, I was scared I might not see her grow up.

That evening in our bedroom we talked about the purpose of God in our lives, our plans to serve the Lord, and most of all about our daughter. We had waited a week for the test results, and our most important answer came that night, in the form of assurance that the Lord is sovereign. He is in control of our lives. Then came peace; it filled my heart so tangibly, that I was surprised. It was directly from the Lord. We are in His hands. Whatever the result may be tomorrow, this is from God, and God will help us through.

The next day we returned to the hospital for the results that would tell us if I had cancer. As we heard the sad news, and then throughout the following days of surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy, the assurance of God’s providence kept us from feeling anxious. But what surprised me even more during those days of treatment was this joy in the Lord, this gladness in Him, which was increasingly growing in my heart.

I knew the Lord for many years, I knew He is faithful, I knew that our peace was from the Lord, but I never expected that the Lord would give us joy and gladness throughout these times of illness. Once again, joy and gladness in the Lord didn’t come without struggle and suffering.

I don’t know if my body is free from cancer yet, and I don’t know if it ever will be, but what I do know for sure is that the Lord is in control; He knows everything. “Rejoice and be glad,” says the Lord, and I want to continue discovering more of His joy, more of His gladness.

Tatyana Ball grew up in the former Soviet Union in a Baptist Christian family. They were part of the ‘Unregistered Church’ that was persecuted by the Communists. She is currently writing a book about her family’s exciting spiritual history entitled, ‘The Bible in the Beehive’ and will be speaking at Bangor Worldwide Convention at the ladies’ seminar.

WORDS Tatyana Ball