Posted by: ritagone | July 30, 2014

To Russia, with Love

Whole group in Red Square

In the past, when I’ve traveled, I’ve often found myself standing somewhere on foreign soil and thinking, “Gee, I wish I were home,” or “In four days I’ll be home.” Not enjoying or savoring the moment, forgetting to appreciate where I am right then and there. I think it’s a form of anxiety, knowing that home is comfortable and feels safe and secure.

More and more in the last few years I’ve made a conscious effort to stay connected to where I am instead of wishing I were somewhere else, usually home. I think about it, focus on it, and make it a matter of prayer weeks before I get on a plane to fly anywhere else in the world. It seems to work, at least for me.

I went through this routine over two weeks ago when we were preparing to fly to Moscow and spend two weeks in Russia, both sight-seeing and acting the part of a tourist and also doing ministry at a family camp gathering outside Moscow, along with meetings in Ryazan, three hours to the south of that city. I wanted – among all the other things I wanted for this trip – to come home feeling that while I was there, I was really there.

It worked.

I don’t think I’ve ever been as “present” on a trip as I was while in Russia. So much was going on, both fascinating and a little frightening. It was strange being in Russia when Malaysia flight MH17 was downed on the border of the Ukraine, causing quite a political frenzy around the world. I didn’t meet or hear a lot of Americans on this trip. In fact, there were only a few, which was different from our two previous trips there. Russia and the U.S. are not on the best of terms right now, you know, and many people questioned our going there because they feared for our safety. We wondered months ago if we would even be issued visas, but when they came in the mail, we felt it was a sign that we were supposed to go on the trip. I am so glad we pressed on and traveled when so many said we shouldn’t do it.

Ironically, I felt safer on this trip than either of the two previous times in Russia in 2010 and 2012. And there were no mishaps in terms of muggings or pickpocketings this time, unlike 2010 and 2012. It probably doesn’t have anything to do with anything; I just state it as an interesting corollary to the political situation at the time as a contrast. Maybe we were just more cautious this time around because of the previous two encounters with bad situations, or maybe we felt the tension and stayed closer to our team members and the two Russian guys who made it their business to herd us together safely, like Border collies doing their job. But whatever the reason, we remained extremely safe in spite of everything. And oh, the conversations we had!! I’ll tell you about some of them in the weeks to come.

In the next few weeks in this blog, I’d like to share with you some of the overwhelming impressions and emotions I felt on this trip. I hope you’ll enjoy them. They say that travel broadens you unlike any other experience in life, and I do believe that is true. This trip ripped open my heart and taught me how strong the human spirit can be in the face of great struggle and horror. I saw and heard it in the stories of young adults – graduates of the Transition Home in Ryazan — I listened to in a room, and in a museum in Riga, Latvia, our last stop before coming home, a museum dedicated to a nation’s struggle to remain free against all odds.

I’m still sorting through all of the experiences and people and stories, processing everything and trying to understand and embed it all on my brain. I don’t want to forget anything, not the slightest detail. I wish I had a photographic memory so that images would be forever with me, but I couldn’t even remember to pull out my iPhone regularly to take photos along the way. I’m fortunate to have the minimal number of pictures that I do have, when, lo and behold, I remembered to capture a moment or a person or a place digitally. Mostly it was Michael saying, “Take a picture of that!” which prompted me to do that very thing.

In the next couple of weeks I would like to take you to the people and the stories and the places we visited. So come with me to Russia, starting next week, and you won’t even need a visa!


*The picture shows our group in Red Square in Moscow: from left to right: Sergey, Dudley Callison, Molly Callison (age 14), Lesli Thornton, Shawn Thornton, Vanessa Katzenberger, Mike Katzenberger, me, Michael Warren, the “other” Sergey, or Sergey 2, as we like to call him.


  1. I can’t wait for my upcoming trip to Russia. I’m praying that you all stay healthy and safe. God bless you, Cathy

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