The Closest I’ve Been To The Fires of Hell
Sep 1, 2014 1442
I have preached the gospel in Ukraine over a period of five years. As you would know, and as is highlighted by the current conflict, a large percentage of the population in Ukraine are ethnically Russian, and they both speak Russian and follow Russian customs. I love the Ukrainian and Russian peoples and I pray for some resolution to the current troubles in Eastern Ukraine.
When I was in Ukraine I would try to visit the Russian “banya” at least a couple of times a week. That’s the Russian version of the sauna, except, as you know, those Russians are tough people! While the Swedes tend to have dry saunas, the Russians pour a lot of water onto a lot of very big burning rocks and create a lot of super-heated steam. It’s kind of like steam-boiling yourself. I’ve seen the thermometers in there get up to 115 degrees celcius – that’s 239 farenheit. You have to wear a funny felt cap that I think prevents your brains boiling and pouring out of your ears.
After you’ve done that for as long as you can stand (the heart is racing, breathing is getting laboured, eyeballs are getting scorched – that kind of thing), you then jump out and roll around in the snow, or else jump in a pool of ice-cold water (that’s my favourite part!) Then you rest for 10 minutes, during which, if you are really doing it properly you drink moonshine and tea… and then you do it all over again… over and over again – except I skipped some of the beverages.
Oh. and did I forget to tell you that if you are doing it properly you have to get naked and they beat you with rods in the sauna? I don’t know what hurts the most out of all of all that…
Anyway, it does wonders for your immune system (I skipped the moonshine and tea)… and I loved it because I never felt better after it… every time… I guess everything looks brighter when you’ve been through the valley of death… eh?
The Russians there thought it was unbelievable that a westerner like me would get into the banta so willingly. I have some health issues that are really alleviated by saunas. I remember a huge Russian bear of a man laughing at me when I arrived in a new city and I asked him where the nearest banya was. He thought someone like me would never survive. And when I assured him I would, he said that the only way would be if I did the bania in the evening (that’s the traditional time) so I could be carted home by real men and taken straight to bed. That afternoon I went straight from a marathon session in the banya to preaching at the evangelistic meeting – which is why I was in Ukraine after all. My preaching was smoking’ that day, let me tell you!
I remember in another session, as I was giving a naked Russian pastor (and, by the way – I was not naked) the flogging of his life in the fires of hell – which is not an easy thing to do in the midst of the fiery furnace….well… he said through labored breathing, “You… growl…. are a … groan…. true Russian…. groan… groan… growl.” That kind of made it all worthwhile for me – I had found a new identity.
Life will always have its “hots” and “colds”, and life will give you its beatings. The important thing is how you come of the other end.
I want to come out of the other end knowing that I am a child a God, a citizen of the everlasting kingdom of Christ.
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