Posted by: ritagone | November 3, 2010

From Russia, with Love

“We’re home!”

Such sweet sounding words and emotions when you’ve been gone for 12 days to a country like Russia, where the alphabet is so different that you feel you’re on another planet, because you can’t read the signs and don’t know what anything says around you, which is a very disconcerting feeling.  Last Sunday night, after over 24 hours of air travel, three flights, from St. Petersburg early, early in the morning to Moscow, to Dulles in D.C., to LAX, four of our marriage retreat team made it home, weary, glad to be on American soil, yet changed forever by the experience we had had.

On the plane, somewhere over the Atlantic, I asked Michael, “Would you ever go back to Russia again?” sure I knew the answer would be “No.”  It’s a somewhat depressing country, bleak, colorless, overwhelming in its size and diversity.  Surprisingly (and showing me that after 40 years of marriage, I don’t know him as well as I thought I did), his answer was, “Yes.”  It is also a country whose people wins your heart and tugs at your soul.  It’s a country where you feel that truly you can minister with all the gifts God has given you.  I don’t think I ever felt so definitely a tugging to minister, a calling, a strong sense of God whispering in my ear, “You can find your place here and work for Me.”

There were so many little vignettes that come to my mind as I think about the experiences we had over the last two weeks.  Learning to work with an interpreter, pacing yourself so that he could translate with proper syntax and sentence structure, is a whole new way of speaking.  There’s a movement to it that becomes almost hypnotic as you find your rhythm, and you find yourself almost in a dance with him.  His name was Igor, and he was as nice a young man as I’ve ever met, and I noticed that he was literally exhausted after every session.  There should be an Olympic competition for translators, because it is no easy feat.

Then there was our visit to Grace Baptist Church, which has been supported by our home church, Calvary Community Church, for many, many years.  What a joy it was to meet with Pastor Anatoly (again, with Igor acting as translator) and to see in his office his beautiful Wall of Memories, where pictures of many of our dear friends from Calvary who have played such an important part in the history of this Ryazan church are displayed in honor and reverence, friends who have gone to be with the Lord.  How wonderful to see that across the world these men are not forgotten, that their work in helping to build the physical building is remembered and honored and that people still gather to worship God in that same building many years later.

While at Grace Baptist, we also met Lyosha, a young man who had spent his life in an orphanage, abandoned by both his parents as an infant, then raised at Grace Baptist’s Transition Home across the street from the church.  A few years ago Lyosha had attempted to track down his biological parents…only to be rejected by both of them once again!  Can you imagine?  Instead of despairing, he turned to the church and to Pastor Anatoly, who told him that the church people were his family.  When we were there, he and his wife Vera – now overseers of the Transition Home – were having their one-month-old daughter dedicated to the Lord.  You couldn’t look at this family without praying that the cycle of abandonment and discouragement be broken once and for all because Lyosha had met Jesus Christ in this place.

So many stories.  So many lives touched and changed for Jesus Christ.  It was so honoring to be a part of the married couples whose lives we were privileged to enter into for two days.  The laughter and the questions and the sharing were the same in Russia as they were in Southern California.  There truly are some things that are universal no matter where in the world you are.

And then there were the orphans in the orphanage we visited.  Words fail me.  I usually have no problem coming up with descriptions and sentences and phrases to capture what I’ve experienced, what I am seeing or have seen.  But I’m not yet prepared to put words to the half day we spent at Pronsky Orphanage, another place which our church has supported for many years.  If you’ve been to Africa on a missions trip, to Uganda or Kenya or one of the many countries where Americans have travelled in recent years to minister to children whose lives have been torn apart by war and disease, you will understand what I am unable to articulate.  Just add, in Russia, severe cold to the scenario, and you will have the beginnings of a comparison.  Instead of grass or wood, add cement or stone buildings.  Poverty takes many forms, but poverty is ugly and brutal wherever you see it.

The orphan situation in Russia is complicated, as we discovered in talking to Alexander, who is the Director of the orphanage we visited, about two hours outside of Ryazan.  There are “true” orphans, those children whose parents are actually deceased, who are true wards of the State, and then there are “orphans” whose parents are alive but who are unable to care for their children because of alcoholism or extreme poverty, and these children do not qualify for relief money from the State of Russia.  Naturally, the bureaucracy is thick and impenetrable, and of course the ones to suffer the most are the children.  Always, the children.

And then there are the sights of Russia: the Hermitage, the Kremlin, St. Basil’s, Red Square.  They are massive, because the nation of Russia is massive.  They are the stuff of postcards, yet when you see them in person, they take your breath away.

I am home now, jet-lagged but still mentally drawn back to the experiences we had in Russia.  Something will trigger a memory, and I will find myself thinking about a place or a person in Ryazan or Moscow or St. Petersburg.

And I will never be the same.


Blessings to you,  Rita

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