When Nailya Tokesh was growing up in Almaty, Kazakhstan, then part of the Soviet Union, she - like most people she knew - wasn't interested in spiritual things. It was a topic simply not discussed.
But that changed five years ago, she told the Annual Meeting of The First Church of Christ, Scientist Monday. In 1998, a Christian Scientist, knowing of family problems confronting Ms. Tokesh, gave her a copy of "Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures" by Mary Baker Eddy, the founder of the church and this newspaper.
Soon she experienced healing not only of the relationship difficulties, but also of chronic enteritis, she said. "My attitude to the world around me changed. I became a new person."
Tokesh noticed that she wasn't the only one whose attitudes were being transformed. Kazakhstan has "experienced spiritual changes," she said. "The kids at school learn about spirituality; they learn a little about the Bible and the Koran and different books.... This is just the beginning of spirituality in [the former Soviet] society. It's a wonderful transformation."
The church's June 1-3 Annual Meeting, held for the first time outside the United States as well as in Boston, highlighted this trend of widespread global interest in spirituality.
"Statistics are showing that 90 percent of people think that prayer or things of the spirit are important to them in their daily life. Prayer is no longer set aside for Sunday or for emergencies," said Virginia Harris, chairwoman of the Christian Science Board of Directors.
More than 2,000 people were expected to assemble in Boston for the three-day conference and meeting, and 3,000-plus people - from over 54 countries - participated from Max-Schmeling-Halle in Berlin. The two gatherings were connected by satellite and broadcast over the Internet - what John Selover, board vice chairman, referred to as "Boston, Berlin, and beyond."
Berlin was a logical choice for the first time the meeting has been held anywhere but Boston, Mrs. Harris said. "Berlin is a symbol of unity and the power of prayer to dissolve and abolish opposition." This year also marks the 100th anniversary of the founding of Der Christian Science Herold, the church's first publication in a language other than English. And Germans are the largest group of non-English-speaking church members.
In a panel discussion held Sunday in Berlin and simulcast to Boston and on the Web, five Christian Scientists related what life was like during the 38 years their religion was banned by the German Democratic Republic.
They recalled that the Christian Science church in Dresden was taken over by the government. After the Berlin Wall was built in 1961, no one in the East could obtain Christian Science books or literature. Homes of church members were searched. When police found religious literature smuggled from the West, it was confiscated and sometimes burned in front of the owners.
Harris, who was part of a delegation that helped negotiate the recognition of the church by the GDR, said that she stood in awe at "the remarkable courage and perseverance of Christian Scientists during those 38 years of oppression."
During the conference and meeting, attendees in Boston and Berlin had the opportunity to take part in workshops about Mrs. Eddy and her primary work, "Science and Health," and to hear reports from church officials.
Hans-Joachim Trapp of Berlin, incoming president of The Mother Church, told the group: "Perhaps more than ever before, the world is tangibly, urgently reaching out for lasting peace, security, health." He urged listeners to respond actively to this demand for spiritual answers.
Mary Weldon Ridgway, clerk of The Mother Church, related healings through prayer that had been reported to the church - among them cigarette and alcohol addiction, a dislocated jaw, bulimia, stomach ulcer, asthma, HIV virus, Alzheimer's disease, crushed vertebra, and a "life-threatening heart condition in a newborn, which was healed in two weeks."
During the past four years, Mrs. Ridgway said, the number of new church members has grown by 14 percent. In the past year, the number of former members reuniting with the church was the largest it has been in nine years.
Reporting on church finances, Treasurer Walter Jones said that total funds on hand are $236 million in cash and securities, a drop of $56 million from the previous year. The funds include $169 million in restricted funds and $67 million in the unrestricted general fund. The church has no indebtedness. Expenditures for past year totaled $123 million, a decrease of $49 million from the year before. Capital expenditures were reduced from $67 million to $19 million, as the Mary Baker Eddy Library for the Betterment of Humanity and the church's restoration and renewal projects were completed. Mr. Jones also reported that the library received more than $3 million in contributions over the past year.
Jones also announced a new fund, called "feed the hungry, heal the heart," a phrase from a poem written by Eddy. The goal is to raise $15 million during the next three years to "provide additional resources to support production, sales, and distribution of 'Science and Health,' as well as global communication of the book's healing message to more seeking hearts worldwide," Jones said.