In the spring of 2002, I went with Keith Kasarjian, who is currently the assistant extension director of our Bear Valley Extension Program, to Kramatorsk and Slavyanagorsk, Ukraine. One of the first things I recall doing the day after arriving there was meeting to fellowship with the Christians from that general area of Ukraine. Several other foreigners in addition to Keith and me had travelled over for the first graduation of the first Bear Valley foreign extension in Kramatorsk, but they had travelled up to Slavyanagorsk to see the Christians there. That gave the small room of the house where that church met an international if an over-filled feel. It was decided that we sing some hymns. The first hymn sung, as I recall, was “Blessed Assurance.” Most present sang the song in Russian. The Americans scattered around the room sang in English. As Italian Sylvia Gaddio and French Canadian Sylvain Arsenaux were in the room, they each sang in their native tongue, too. At one point, I stopped singing to listen to the voices blending in multiple languages. I remember being completely overwhelmed and overcome at the thought of what tied us all together. People native to Ukraine, Russia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Canada, Italy, and the United States (we also had a Romanian and Chinese who came over for the graduation who might have been in the room, too) were hampered in their ability to interact by their language limitations, but the love, unity, and spirit of fellowship created by our common bond in Christ seemed to eclipse whatever our differences may have been. Never before that moment had I felt the power of the oneness Jesus causes.
In our congregations, we have different interests, incomes, spiritual backgrounds, education levels, temperaments, personalities, ethnicities, maturity levels, and dozens of similar variables that make us unique, even dissimilar. But, do we emphasize often enough how our service, obedience, and allegiance to the Lord is meant to overcome all these? The Philippian congregation needed the reminder that practical unity was necessary and not just desirable (see Philippians 2:1-4). We need to frequently emphasize the beautiful nature of unity in Christ (cf. Psalm 133). It’s as touching to think about how the Lord makes all of us in our local congregation one as to think about times like that special moment I recall from a tiny house in a tiny town across the world! That’s the power of Jesus, His blood, and His church. “O what a foretaste of glory divine!”