In the year 1941, the dreaded armies of Adolph Hitler were marching with astonishing speed toward the city of Leningrad—known today by its historic name, St. Petersburg.
Knowing how little protection there was between them and the German army, the staff of the famous Heritage Museum worked around the clock to try and protect their priceless paintings and sculptures. Their plan was to try and transport all of it to a safe place.
On July 1st, the director of the museum stood weeping at the train station platform as three trains—loaded with these treasures—prepared to leave for the Russian heartland. Not even the conductors knew the final destination of those railcars.
Two of the trains make it out. The third one didn’t. The German army surrounded the city and trapped 2 ½ million people there. For the next several months the conditions in Leningrad were appalling. Hunger and deprivation was everywhere.
The museum kept its doors open, believing that the citizens still needed a diversion from the poverty and pain of their occupation. There were only a few, minor paintings that remained, but the building itself was a work of art. The people came in large numbers.
Finally the day came when the Heritage Museum, itself, was in danger. Bombs were falling on the city and the building was being damaged. The museum enlisted war-weary soldiers and citizens to help shovel the debris out of the museum.
When the siege ended, the museum wanted to find a way to thank those volunteers for what they had done. Enter Pavel Dubchevski. Dubchevski was the long-time tour guide of the museum. He lead those volunteers through a most unusual tour of the museum. Every empty frame on those walls, he would stop and describe the work of art that used to hang there. It was remarkable that he had committed those works to his memory in such a way that he could describe them in such richness that years later those volunteers would recall how vivid and powerful his descriptions were. So much so that they claimed that they could almost see the works there.
The church needs people with Pavel’s kind of imagination. People who can create a vision of hope for those who can’t see it. People who know the source of hope so completely that they can conjure the full image and display it to anyone who needs it.
There is a word for that kind of person—Evangelist.
Kristin Clark-Banks is the pastor of Forest Hills UMC.