Gateway Community Church Pastor John Pearrell and his praise team recently visited the European country of Belarus on mission to spread the word of God.
"Basically we went because there is an open door and a real need there," Pearrell said. "They've suffered for 70 years of not having God as part of their life. The people are looking for answers."
The team visited the Belarus towns of Bobruisk and Gomel from Sept. 12-21. The trip was the second to Belarus in two years for the mission team.
"The city is very beautiful," Pearrell said. "It's extremely clean. They don't even let leaves stay on the ground. The city is very colorful. The houses are painted very bright colors. They are almost Caribbean in some sense of the word. It's not like I would picture Russia."
Pearrell said he was also surprised by the freedom he and his team had to spread their message. Belarus has some of the strictest religious laws in all of Europe.
"By law, my understanding is that the only place that you are allowed to talk about Christ is in designated churches," he said. "You're not even supposed to talk about it on the street or in your home. Yet for some reason, we have been given a wide open door. It's interesting that in the place with the strictest religious laws in Europe I have more religious freedom than I do here."
The fact that the team had no political or social motives for the visit helped open some political doors. In July, a different mission team was thrown out of the country for overstepping their boundaries and spreading messages not related to the gospel.
The Gateway Community Church praise team helped introduce Christ to 290 people in their time in Belarus. Another praise team followed afterward and converted 140 more .
"This year when we went back, we were able to see some of the fruit from last year, some of the changes that have taken place because of decisions for Christ," Pearrell said. "Particularly two of orphanages are 180 degrees different in the atmosphere. This has by far been most fruitful of our trips.
When the team visited last year, they established a year-long program for the Christians in Belarus of witnessing and reaching out by giving away literature.
"It's like farming; you don't have a harvest unless there is planting and sowing and watering," Pearrell said. "So we have had a year of that and that's why the trip was so spiritually fruitful."
During this year's trip, Pearrell and the team traveled to hospitals, schools, prisons, community centers and orphanages to spread the word.
"There is a lot of need over there and we take gifts that would help them," Pearrell said. "If it is a school, we take school supplies. If it's a hospital, we take medical supplies. If it's the orphanages, we take clothes and toys."
The trip was funded through donations throughout the community. One very generous benefactor gave the team $20,000 for their trip. The group also received donations of medical supplies from hospitals, doctors' offices and a hospice in Atlanta.
"The message we presented was a very simple message," Pearrell said. "It's the message of God's love. We don't experience that love because of our rebellion and sin. God and his love reached out in forgiveness through his son Christ. And we can have light and life through Jesus."
To help illustrate his message to the Russian speaking crowds, Pearrell used a Russian interpreter and magic tricks. His best trick involved a candle and a glass tube. The candle represented the soul while the tube represented the body. Through some slight of hand, Pearrell was able to illustrate the story of man's fall and Christ's sacrifice.
"You're coming out of 70 years of communism where their forced religion was atheism," Pearrell said. "So you have a lot of unbelief. And we are taking them a tremendous message of hope. It's the greatest news you could ever hear."