Tuesday, June 08, 2004

Thank You, Ronald Reagan

Jeff and I arrived at the Dulles International Airport customs counter at about 10:30 p.m. on Saturday to the news that former President Ronald Reagan had died. It seemed fitting that Reagan, the U.S. president who crushed the "evil empire" of the Soviet Union, died the very day we returned from a religious trip to now-independent Russia.

All praise for the change of events that made our trip possible ultimately goes to God, the ruler of all nations, and we certainly could not have gone to Russia without the financial support of our brethren in Centreville. But Reagan's policies opened doors that let me preach in Russia, without a doubt one of the greatest privileges of my life. I thank God and all of you for the wonderful blessing of the past two-plus weeks, and I thank Ronald Reagan for his leadership of this nation during the Cold War.

The few souls in Russia who are committed to God may seem insignificant in a nation so large and still so committed to its traditions of atheism and Orthodoxy. But just remember that as far as any of us knew only a decade ago, not a single Russian was a Christian. Now the men and women who we once saw as "godless communists" are known to us as brothers and sisters.

I hope you enjoyed reading about them on this Web log as much as I enjoyed meeting them and telling their stories.

I believe God has used the United States of America to create new opportunities for spreading the seed of the gospel. But I also believe our nation has begun to lose her way, and God just might use some other nation to humble us lest we turn back to Him.

If that ever happens, we might face the kinds of obstacles to serving God that are now before brethren elsewhere, including Russia. Our trip there strengthened my faith and determination to please the Father, whatever circumstances may befall us as a nation or me as a child of God, and I pray that God increase that strength within me.

I pray the same for all of you, my brethren at Centreville and throughout the world. "Watch ye, stand fast in the faith, quit you like men, be strong" (I Cor. 16:13).

Saturday, June 05, 2004

Time To Fly

This will be my last post from Russia, unless I get inspired again after I hit the button to publish it. We've checked out of the hotel and are relaxing briefly at the Internet cafe before heading to the airport. It's about noon now, and I figure we'll leave here at about 1 p.m. The trek to the airport is about an hour, so that will give us three hours at the airport before departure time.

I'm not looking forward to the 12-plus hours on airplanes and the changeover at Heathrow. I hope the shorter leg from Moscow to London will not be too bad. On the way here, there were very few people on that flight, so Jeff and I each had an entire row to stretch our legs and relax. We may not be so lucky today, however, because it's Saturday, potentially a busier travel day.

The leg from London to Dulles will be dreadfully painful on the legs and back, if our first experience is any indication. We flew a much larger jet on that trip, but almost every seat was taken. The movies didn't serve as a good distraction, either (you can only watch "Welcome to Mooseport" so many times, and the other selections were pitiful). The selection for the return trip looked much better -- the first two parts of "Lord of the Rings" -- so I hope that hasn't changed in two weeks. Maybe I can watch both episodes. I'll be thinking of you if I do, Mom.

This morning, I went back to the streetside shopping area near the mall. We went there yesterday and I bought my hat for a mere 150 rubles ($5), plus the guy threw in an extra pin for the hat. Jeff took my photo, and the man at the stand jumped in and threw his arm around me. Guess he wanted to be in the picture with the Russky Redneck, too!

I came with suitcases full of vitamins, clothes for a young boy and other gifts for the brethren in Russia, and I'm returning with my suitcases even more full of trinkets. Everything is so cheap here I just couldn't help but buy. I'm not even sure who will get all of the gifts yet. I'll probably have extras.

I couldn't find a t-shirt or sweatshirt for you, Dad. They had a really cool "McLenin" t-shirt. It featured one of Russia's most infamous leaders cast against the famous McDonald's "M" on the front and the phrase "The Party Is Over" on the back, with an image of the Soviet symbol cracking and going up in flames. But they only had medium and extra large at every stand, and neither looked like they would fit. I got you another souvenir, though, and I'm pretty sure you'll like it.

And I got you a cool book, Mom. It's in Russian, so you won't be able to read it. But you probably know the book by heart anyway, and I thought it would make a nifty conversation piece. Maybe I've given it away now.

Well, I'm about out of time on the computer, so I better post. Love you all, and I can't wait to see everyone.

Friday, June 04, 2004

Two Different Worlds In Russia

The tour of Moscow today offered a completely different view of Russia than the one we gained during nearly two weeks in Nizhny.

Although it is the third-largest city in Russia, Nizhny is dirt poor ... and very dirty. Moscow is very much like capital cities in the United States, including Washington -- prim, proper and polished. We saw the seedier side of the city our first night in Russia, when we made an impromptu overnight stay with a Christian because we couldn't get train tickets to Nizhny. But Moscow appears to be very much like Washington: pockets of poverty (probably broader and more extreme than in the District) but also areas of great wealth and stunning architecture.

Moscow has beautiful apartment complexes, including one where it costs $2,000 to $3,000 to rent a small space, according to the guide on the bus tour. They have an embassy row. And the campus of Moscow University rivals any of the big schools I've seen in D.C. or throughout the United States (save the West Virginia University campus, which is unrivaled in the world!!!). My photos won't tell the story because I had to take most of them from the bus, through glass windows and with electrical wires and car tops in the foreground. But I hope they will provide some insight.

Masha said the reason for the disparity between Moscow (as well as St. Peterburg) and other cities like Nizhny is the control Moscow has over revenue in the nation. Most of it goes to the two biggest cities, and most popular attractions for foreigners, and the rest have access to limited funds.

Sounds a bit like the pork-barrel political system in the United States, only on a much larger scale and I suspect with fewer people pulling the strings.

The 'Foreign Tourist' Surcharge

Thanks to the genorosity of Tom and Masha, Jeff and I managed to make it through most of this trip without spending much money. But that all changed today. Not only is Moscow about twice as expensive as Nizhny (for food and everything else), but we also have faced the "foreign tourist" surcharge.

I read about it briefly in the book Kimberly bought before we left. I don't think I really appreciated the impact it would have on our wallets, though. To tour the Moscow museum, we paid 60 rubles each for Tom and Masha (about $2) ... and 150 rubles ($5) each for Jeff and me. The difference in the surcharge was even greater to tour the Kremlin -- 70 rubles ($2) for Tom and Masha, 350 rubles ($12) for Jeff and me, including an extra fee to take photos. And because backpacks are not allowed inside the Kremlin, I had to pay 60 rubles ($2) to put my backpack in a bin. Masha's tab was half that.

The free market at its worst, Russian style.

Thankfully, there have been no surcharges for meals, public transportation or for the bus tour of Moscow (150 rubles each, or $5). But we ruled out taking a taxi straight from the hotel to the airport both because of the price and the surcharge. I personally hate the idea of lugging three bags each through the subway system tomorrow, but we will save quite a bit of money as a result.

For anyone who is curious, the tourist tab for our trip is coming from our personal funds, not from the money provided by the church for us to do the Lord's work here. And that is as it should be on such trips.

No Photos Of Lenin's Body

We toured Moscow today and ended up with a splendid day of blue skies and white clouds. But I had really wanted to take a photo of communist leader Lenin's preserved body and didn't get to do so because Red Square is closed.

The city is prepping the square for Russia's Independence Day (from the Soviet Union in 1992) on June 12. Bummer. I did take a couple of photos of the square from the perimeter, but they won't be as good as they could have been had we been able to walk the square.

Jeff also was disappointed because he did not get to see the New Testament manuscripts in the Moscow museum. They have manuscripts from the 9th and 12 centuries, and he had sent an e-mail a month ago asking about making an appointment to review them. He never received a response, though, and try as he might today, he couldn't persuade the administrators to arrange a viewing. It looks like he may be able to request photo facscimiles of the pages he wants by mail once we return to the states.

The highlight of the day was stepping inside the Kremlin. The interior itself wasn't all that great, save the giant "tsar bell" and "tsar cannon." But just the thought of Americans being able to walk inside the Kremlin still amazes me.

As for the sites on the inside, visitors are not allowed to get near the facilities used by President Putin, and once you've seen one Russian Orthodox church -- there are several inside the Kremlin walls -- you've pretty much seen them all. I was actually more impressed with the church we saw in Nizhny Novgorod than the one we entered inside the Kremlin. The one in Nizhny is an active facility, while Masha thinks the ones inside Moscow's Kremlin are just museums.

After we toured the Kremlin, we took a bus tour of Moscow. We made two stops along the way for photos. One of them was outside the Kremlin and across the river, and the view of the walls and the churches from there was much more impressive than from inside. The other stop was at the highest point within Moscow. They had two ski jumps there, just as they had one in downtown Nizhny, with a makeshift beach below the ramp area. Kinda cool to see ski jumps inside the city limits.

The bus tour was about two hours, and all of us were exhausted by then (about 6 p.m.), so we returned to the hotel. We finished dinner at about 8 p.m., and I headed straight to the Internet cafe to update everyone before I head to bed.

I needed this busy day in Moscow. Took my mind off of how much I want to be home. I'm not thrilled about the hours ahead of us on airplanes, but I am very thrilled about the prospect of seeing all of you and telling you more about Russia.

Thanks for reading the past two weeks and for commenting occasionally. Hearing from all of you made the homesickness more tolerable.

Longing For The English Language

In the list I posted last week of things I miss most about America, I forgot to mention perhaps the most obvious: the English language. It's interesting to try to speak Russian and to hear it as well -- Masha asked, for instance, whether we think she and Tom sound like they're arguing when they talk because of the intonations in the language -- but I want to hear my native tongue again.

I loved turning on the TV in our hotel and being able to find some channel other than BBC or VH-1 where they speak English. And I've been listening to CDs on Stephanies stereo -- thank you so much, Stephanie!!! -- for two weeks now. It will be so good to be home and know what people are saying everyday.

Even better, now when Kimberly tells me I have a "tone," I can tell her that's just the way we Russians talk. (Tone, intonation, get it?) Masha tells Jeff he couldn't possibly pass for a Russian, by the way, because he dresses like an American and is far too happy. I, on the other hand, fit right in. At dinner tonight, after I messed my hair up a little, Tom and Masha said I had the Russian expression down pat.

I am the Redneck Russky!!!

Thursday, June 03, 2004

A Rainy End To Our Trip

Touring the sites in Moscow tomorrow probably will be cold and damp. The temperature was about 50 degrees when we left Nizhny this morning, and it's expected to dip as low as 41 tonight. The high for tomorrow is not supposed to top 60 ... and the forecast calls for rain and wind.

We're hoping for occasional breaks in the weather for photo ops. Our flight doesn't leave until 5 p.m. on Saturday, so if we don't get any photos tomorrow from Moscow, maybe we'll have another chance Saturday morning. I sure will be bummed if I come all the way to Russia and can't get any nice photos of Moscow. One thing working in our advantage is our location. Moscow is so far to the north on the globe that daylight starts between 4 a.m. and 5 a.m. and continues until 10 p.m. or after. So maybe we can find a good weather window in there somewhere.

In any case, we've had great weather most of the time here, so I am thankful for that.

Another note: Heard today that they had a major computer malfunction at Heathrow airport in London, and the air-traffic controllers had to direct the planes "manually," whatever that means. It caused major delays at Heathrow. So Kimberly, if you're meeting us at the airport, you might want to check our arrival time before you leave the house.

Second Lecture In Dzerzinsk

The same three people who attended the lecture in Dzerzinsk on Saturday returned yesterday, according to Jeff, and Sergei again came to Nizhny for the Bible study.

But it looks like Sergei's interest may be superficial, at least for now. He gave Jeff a note and asked him to read it later. Making sense of it through the broken English is difficult, but it does not sound like he has much interest in faith at this point. Sergei also had told us on Saturday that he thought his parents would attend a lecture if given more advance notice, but they declined. I don't recall the wording of the letter exactly, but his mother's attitude in particular was much like that Tom described earlier this week about most Russians: You can't trust preachers.

Tom, in fact, said he does not usually approach Russians by telling them he is a preacher. He gave us that insight after Jeff talked to a man inside the Kremlin in Nizhny. The man, who spoke broken English, told Jeff he does not like people in general and then added, "especially preachers." That's why Tom just tells people instead that he wants to talk about the Bible. That sounds like a great approach to me.

Back In Moscow

We arrived by train at about 6:30 p.m., checked in at Hotel Gamma (yes, named after letters in the Greek alphabet, and we passed Alpha and Beta on our way), and just returned from dinner and a walk.

Trust me, the walk wasn't my idea. I hate taking walks in the United States for "fun," and I definitely wasn't thrilled about the idea in a country where you walk probably an average of a mile every time you want to go somewhere -- even if it's just from flat to bus to final destination. Nothing is right at a bus stop; everything is at least a small hike. I am thankful to be feeling well enough to walk more than a few yards from a bathroom, however.

I'm writing from an Internet cafe in the lobby of our hotel, which looks like a high-class joint ... until you actually get to the room. We're on the 27th floor, only one floor from the top. The room has narrow and short twin beds and just mattresses with no box springs. The bathroom smells wreaks of raw sewage. We can't decide whether to keep the door open and hope it airs out or keep it closed to spare us suffocation in our sleep.

Jeff and I are in one room and Tom and Masha in another one on the other side of the hotel but the same floor. Masha warned us that the look of the lobby could be deceiving, and boy was she right. But Jeff really had her going at dinner. He asked her if she and Tom had tried the jacuzzi in their room yet ... or watched the big-screen TV mounted on the wall. Then I told her about our huge canopy beds. It wasn't until Jeff mentioned the kitchen that she realized we were lying through our teeth (always a good way to end a missionary journey, huh). She said she's always told her friends she is naive enough to believe any lie. We may just have some fun with that newsflash tomorrow.

We also had a chance to tease Masha a couple of nights ago for her English pronunciation of the word "bitter." It sounded like she was saying "beat her" ... and the context of the conversation was one of the Christians here whose husband was a drunkard, so that wasn't out of the realm of possibilities. We kept telling her how to pronounce it, using the word "bit" as a guide. She pronounced "bit" just fine, but when she added the "ter," the pronunciation just fell apart. Very funny stuff ... but probably one of those had-to-be-there moments.

Another pronunciation note: I love hearing Masha translate prayers because of the way she says "Our heavenly Father."

Wednesday, June 02, 2004

Signing Off From Nizhny

Jeff and Masha returned to Dzerzinsk today for the second lecture at the library there. Tom stayed home to prepare a lesson on Isaiah for this evening, and I stayed home because I've been sick at my stomach since the middle of last night -- nothing bad but bad enough to deter me from bus and train rides for two-plus hours out of the day.

We all return to Moscow by train tomorrow, and I don't expect to post anything else to the blog before then. The train leaves at 11 a.m. and should arrive in Moscow at about 7 p.m. I just hope I'm still not having stomach problems for that trek.

We'll see some sites in Moscow on Friday, and possibly on Thursday evening and Saturday morning, before we head to the airport Saturday. Our flight leaves at 5 p.m. Moscow time, and Lord willing, we will be safely on the ground at Dulles late Saturday night Virginia time. If we find an Internet cafe in Moscow and I'm motivated to write, you'll here more from me. But I don't have much to say right now.

I'm ready to come home.

Tuesday, June 01, 2004

A Post For Elli

Hey Sister,

Mommy hasn't sent a note from you to me yet, but I thought I'd write to say hello anyway. I sure do miss you. Mommy tells me you're having fun with Maw and Paw in Memphis. I'm very proud of you and brother for being such a good girl and boy for Mommy during the past two weeks in Louisiana and Tennessee. I can't wait to see you in four days and give you a great big hug!!!

I have a surprise for you, too. They have all kinds of pretty things here in Russia, and I bought you something. I think you'll love it. It's fit for the princess you are.

Be good for Mommy the next few days, and have her type a note from you to me. Ya tibia lablu (I love you).


A Bagful Of Russian Goodies

Jeff and I went shopping for trinkets in Nizhny today, and I filled my backpack with an array of items -- and without managing to spend much money. Everything here is so inexpensive.

It's easy to shop for girls and women because the stores of full of beautiful painted boxes and eggs, scarves, carvings, etc. The selection for little boys is not so broad. I think I managed to find something you'll like, though, Anthony, so Daddy has a surprise for you and Elli when he comes home in just four more days!!!

Masha had suggested that Jeff and I do as much shopping here as possible because the cost of living, and thus the cost of buying trinkets, is so much higher in Moscow. That will be the only place I can find one of those cool Russian hats, though. I hope I can find one so I can look like a true Russky Redneck. I'm also still on the hunt for an old Soviet textbook of some sort for Stephanie. Masha hasn't thought of anyplace yet where I might find one, and I haven't seen any used bookstores. And I hope to find sweatshirts and or t-shirts in Moscow.

They also have supersize shoehorns here. I don't even have to squat in the entranceway to put on my shoes, which is convenient because Russians don't wear shoes inside so we're always removing our shoes. I desperately want to find one of those shoehorns for Anthony and me. He has been fascinated with shoehorns ever since Maw and Paw introduced him to them while Kimberly was in the United Kingdom in April.

One observation about the shopping scene here: They sell women's undergarments at streetside stands and in the underground shops near the train stations. I saw one woman trying on a bra Saturday, presumably over her shirt but it's hard to say for sure because she had her jean jacket pulled out like a screen. I probably shouldn't notice such things, but it's kind of hard not to. Very bizarre.

Russians generally, and even some of the Christians here, are not the least bit modest in their attire. They seem especially fond of extremely tight clothing and low-cut jeans. That is one area where I see room for some spiritual maturing.

They Shoot Vegetables Here

OK, not really, but I did go "salad 'hunting'" at a cafe on the "walking street" in Nizhny. Salad hunting was the name of the meal I had. Not exactly sure what was in it. The menu said it had "the hen" (I'm guessing chicken) mushrooms, grapes, black olives and mayonaise. Let's just say I was thankful for all of the mayonaise because there was so much of it I didn't see much of the strange concoction as I ate it.

Jeff picked the cafe because he saw that it offered shishkabobs, but then he ended up ordering a pork chop with cheese on it. I was reluctant to order meat here -- never know how well they cook it in foreign countries -- but now I wish I had. I sample Jeff's meal and it was quite tasty.

Both of us got a kick out of the menu. It looks like the people on the cafe typed the Russian terms for their meals into an Internet translator and copied the automatic English translations word for word. One of my favorites read something like "language with a garnish." We're thinking that meant cow tongue because people asked us earlier this week if we had ever eaten cow tongue. I haven't -- and I don't plan to try it in Russia.

Monday, May 31, 2004

Things I Will Miss About Russia

As our time here nears an end, I think it only fair to mention the things I will miss about Russia, just as I mentioned those things I long for in America. America is, and I suspect always will be, my home in this world, but I have come to appreciate a few aspects of life, both spiritual and temporal, in this part of the world:

1) The bond of the brotherhood. Just as we do in the United States, the brethren here publicly pray for each other, but their prayers are different. They are specific and broad at the same time. By specific, I mean they pray for people taking exams in school, battling difficult personal circumstances at home, struggling to persuade their adult children to be faithful, etc. And by broad, I mean they pray for everyone and everything. Topics that we in America would consider too "sensitive" to air in a public prayer are written openly on prayer lists circulated throughout the congregation before every worship service here. Our brethren in Russia seem to fully appreciate Paul's teaching that we look out not just for our own interests but for those of our brethren, while too often in America we don't even like to talk about our interests with our Christian family. What a shame.

2) The frequent Bible studies. As in the United States, the classes are not as well-attended as they should be. But the Christians who do attend the classes cannot seem to get enough. This week, we have added classes on Monday and Tuesday to the normal Wednesday, Friday and Saturday routine. And we're also hoping to have that second lecture in Dzerzinsk on Wednesday. A normal week probably doesn't result in much more time together than we have as a church in Centreville because the church in Nizhny has only a worship service on Sunday morning and does not meet in the evening. But I have been greatly encouraged by brethren who meet four days out of seven to discuss the Bible -- and who clearly study their Bibles diligently on their own time because they know the word of God. They are a great example.

3) The simplicity of life. Many people grow their own food here. The landscape is dotted with small farms that exist because people might not have food otherwise. The sisters in Pavlovo talked yesterday about how they garden and can vegetables. Jeff noted that it had been a good week for farming, but Valentina reminded him that they farm regardless of the weather. They have no choice. Then I had to admit that we didn't even plant any vegetables in our measly 12x12 plot in the backyard this year because we're always too "busy" to weed and tend it. If only I didn't have to commute three hours round trip every day.

4) The healthy lifestyle. I may have lost a pound or two while here, and not just because my money belt has fewer rubles in it now. Russians just eat healthier than we Americans. It's not like I've gone hungry, either (except briefly on the nights when we were expecting dinner and got only tea and sweets). Masha feeds us not three times a day but usually four or five. Russians also are prone to lecture Americans about our diets. Masha more than once has asked about our eating habits. And on Saturday, Sergei asked why Jeff and I ordered Cokes with our pizza instead of orange juice and tomato juice like he, Tom and Masha. I don't think I'll be drinking tomato juice with pizza when I get home because just the thought is repulsive to my taste buds. But maybe I won't eat pizza and fried foods so often ... for a week or two anyway.

5) The clean air. We've had absolutely beautiful weather most of our trip -- blue skies, puffy white clouds and spring temperatures. The air was quite cool when we arrived in Moscow, and I left my windbreaker in Virginia, but by last Monday, it was warm enough to wear just short sleeves. It's cool again today because overnight we had our first real rain of the past two weeks, and it's still raining now. What I've loved most about the weather, though, is the lack of smog. I think I expected Russia to be more like Guatemala, where the polluted skies are the norm because the poor, indigenous people have open fires going much of the time. But Masha had no idea what smog was when I asked her if they get it here. If it's not rainy, you can see great distances, both upward and outward, because of the clear skies. The weather can get hot and humid in the short summer season, but most families here don't have air conditioning. The cost no doubt is a factor, but Masha said they don't really need air conditioning anyway.

Controversy Over The Cup

We had a class this evening on the practices during the Lord's Supper. Leonid, one of the Christians here, believes strongly that the fruit of the vine should be kept in one cup until it has been blessed and then separated because that is how Jesus did in when celebrating the Passover before His crucifixion.

Jeff noted that I had said I would lead that discussion when we arrived, but I wimped out last night and said he could take it. After the class, he noted that I didn't say a single word -- probably a first for me. But Jeff handled the issue nicely, first stating the facts of what happened, then discussing the significance of those facts for us and finally talking about how to resolve differences among brethren when they cannot agree on such issues that do not matter to God (Romans 14).

It became clear very early in the discussion that Leonid was not about to budge on his viewpoint. Even when he conceded that the content of the cup, rather than the cup itself, is what really matters, he added: "Why don't we just do [it] how it is written? Why do we have all this discussion about significance and symbolism?"

Jeff tried to steer the discussion toward Romans 14 at that point, but the class deteriorated into a sometimes-testy debate among Leonid, Tom and Slava. I've seen more pointed exchanges at Centreville -- usually with me as at least one of the "troublemakers" -- but I was a bit surprised by the controversy. It's the first sign of conflict I've seen while here.

That's not to say conflict is bad, however. As Jeff noted at both the start and end of the class, it's always worthwhile to look at what the Bible teaches on any given topic, even when we think we're certain of the answers. We must be willing to study every aspect of God's word diligently to make sure we understand, and we don't want to continue a practice someone questions just because we've always done it that way. So I admire the willingness of the brethren here to discuss the issue.

When Jeff finally managed to get everyone's attention long enough to direct them to Romans 14, the tenor of the class improved. After summarizing the passage, Jeff asked each person his or her opinion about either continuing the current practice (many cups separated before the prayer) and about Leonid's proposal (separating the fruit of the vine into separate cups after the prayer). Only Leonid and Evdokia had strong feelings about the need to do the latter.

Jeff suggested that for the sake of the conscience of those two Christians, the church at Nizhny consider changing its practice for now as the brethren continue studying the issue to try to reach an agreement.

Evdokia quickly agreed. "Yes, that's the right suggestion," she said. And Stas added, "The suggestion is to study the Bible more."

That's a good suggestion for all of us.

A Post For Anthony

Hey Bud,

Thanks for having Mommy type me a note from you. It sure made me happy to hear from you 'cause I really miss you, sister and Mommy an awful lot.

I'm very excited that Uncle Glen got you a remote-controlled car. I can't wait to see it when I get home in a few days. I'm also glad you had fun at the Mudbug Festival. Sounds like they had lots of neat games. Did you eat some crawfish for me?

Mommy told me you're having fun with cousins Megan, Ethan and Mitchell right now. I'm glad you got to visit them. Tell them I said "hello." Tell Uncle Randy, Aunt Doris, Maw and Paw I said "hello," too. Sure wish I could be there with all of you. I've had a good time here getting to know new people, but I'm longing for my family these days.

I finally got to see the Crocodile Man on Russian TV here. I woke up from my nap, and there Steve was on TV, holding a poisonous snake while standing in the water. I thought of you and wished I was on the couch with you and sister watching the show. I couldn't understand what Steve was saying on the show because another person was repeating Steve's words in Russian -- kinda like when Ingrid talks to you in Spanish and you don't always understand what she says.

I have learned some new Russian words, though. I know how to say "thank you" (spacebo), "your welcome" (pajoulsta), "yes" (dah), "no" (nyet). And when we greet people here we say "previat," and we tell them "dasvadanya" when we say goodbye. (I'm not sure if I spelled all of those words right.) I even spoke some phrases in Russian yesterday when I preached a sermon. Sure wish you, Elli and Mommy could have been here to hear me talk. I miss seeing you in the front row at church when I stand up to talk.

Well, I better go now and write to other people. I miss you and love you, and I can't wait to give you a big hug when I fly home on Saturday.


Coin Heaven

As a coin collector, I very much enjoy seeing coins of other countries and other times, especially when I visit those countries (only Kimberly and Stephanie still dream of time travel). So I was thrilled last night after I returned from Pavlovo and Masha and some old tsar- and Soviet-era coins from her mother's collection. The oldest one dates back to 1861, I believe.

All of the coins Masha had were extras from her mother's collection, so I hope to buy some of them as my mementos of the trip here. Masha's mother plans to take them to an antique dealer to get a sense of their value -- neither her nor I know anything about what old Russian coins cost -- and then I will buy as many as I can afford. I want the oldest ones I can afford, but I'd also like to have one from 1985. That's the year I graduated high school, a time when the United States and Soviet Union were still at Cold War.

Also last night, Masha showed us video of her 1997 trip to the United States. Jeff and I got to see and her our wives talk on camera, and Amanda also made an appearance. It was good to see a glimpse of home and family.

Be Careful What You Sing

An experience yesterday in Pavlovo reminded me that we as Christians should always study and understand the words we sing from our hymnals.

As as closing song, we sang the familiar tune "This World Is Not My Home" but with an extra verse, and I noticed the verse not just because the words were unfamiliar but because of what they said. Here's how it goes:

I have a loving mother up in gloryland;
I don't expect to stop until I shake her hand.
She's waiting now for me in heaven's open door,
And I can't feel at home in this world anymore.

I stopped singing the verse because I thought it was talking about Mary, the mother of Jesus. I asked Jeff later, and he doesn't think the context lends itself to that conclusion. The songbook is compiled by Baptists, for instance, and the Catholic religion treats Mary as someone more special than the Bible does. Jeff thinks, instead, that the verse is a reference to our individual mothers after they have died and gone to heaven.

In either case, it reminded me that we need to be careful what we sing, especially here in Russia, where several of the songs we sing have extra verses than in our hymnals in America. We should not sing words that conflict with what the Bible teaches, and to avoid that problem, we must know both what our songs and the Bible teach.

My First Two-Sermon Sunday

I have preached only five sermons in my life, and two of them have now been delivered in Russia this week. Cool!!

It still amazes me that I am in Russia and able to preach at all, let alone that I was able to say openly yesterday that God's kingdom is better than Russia (and America). What a blessing -- and what great evidence that God still controls this world.

Both sermons seem to have been appreciated. For the one I delivered in Nizhny, I had Masha teach me a few phrases in Russian. Because the gist of my sermon was that America is no greater than Russia, I thought I might be able to reinforce the point, and make a connection with the audience, by speaking their language. I learned only five phrases in Russian, and it took me an hour. Masha said I spoke the words well enough for people to understand, though somehow I suspect that they came out with a redneck accent.

My only faux paux came when I tried to deliver a traditional American invitation. I couldn't understand why nobody stood to sing after Alexander translated. Only later did he tell me that he didn't understand what I meant, so he hadn't translated those words. He thought I was inviting people to repent while standing and singing and was confused by that concept. Once again, lost in translation.

In Pavlovo, I neither spoke in Russian nor offered an invitation. The setting there isn't really conducive to an invitation as we know it. It's more like a Bible class. The three women in Pavlovo and the men who travel down from Nizhny sit on the couch and chairs gathered around a table. I delivered my sermon while sitting.

The topic there was a bit more sensitive. In speaking about the "unfathomable riches of Christ" (Eph. 3:8), I sought to encourage them to focus on what they have in Jesus rather than what they don't have in this life. I started by noting that the love of money is the root of all evil (I Tim. 6:10), and that when Paul wrote that to Timothy, he also mentioned that such misplaced love had caused people to leave the faith. He wasn't writing about rich people in the world, in other words; he was talking about Christians who erred when they lost their focus.

And that is a temptation to both rich and poor. The rich can become greedy, and the poor can become covetous. We don't want to be like the rich, young ruler who loved money more than God, and we don't want to be the thorny soil, where the seed takes root but is choked out by riches and the worries of this life (like the lack of riches). Instead, we should store our treasures in heaven. I closed with the quote from Proverbs that I cited on the blog last week: Pray that we be neither rich nor poor because both can be great temptations.

After worship service, the ladies all thanked me for the sermon, even though it was hard for them to hear. Tom also said he personally appreciated the sermon, particularly the conclusion. I stepped on all of their toes -- albeit gently, I think -- and instead of yelling at me or kicking me, they just moved their feet and thought seriously about whether they were walking the right path.

I am so thankful to see that many of the Christians here have such good hearts.

Two Attitudes About Russia

I have been quite interested by the different reactions Jeff, Tom, Alexander and I have had to various teaching situations during our brief stay in Russia.

I find myself in the strange position of being an optimist here. I tend to be a skeptic about the receptiveness of many Americans to the gospel, and I'm probably far too often very cynical. But in Russia I have been able to see the potential for the seed to take root in almost every situation and to accept the fact that my job isn't to try to gauge the condition of the soil anyway but to scatter it everywhere.

Jeff appears to have the same attitude, but I've also seen that attitude in him in the United States. About the only time I've heard Jeff be even remotely cynical in America is when we've talked briefly about trying to teach "liberals" in the churches of Christ, and I have developed a more optimistic attitude in that case over the years because of Kimberly's background in institutional congregations.

Tom and Alexander, on the other hand, can be quite cynical.

Tom expressed doubts, for instance, that Sergei will continue studying with the Christians here. Tom thinks Sergei was just interested in meeting Americans and learning more of our language. We also are trying to arrange a second lecture in Dzerzinsk for Wednesday, both in case Sergei's family wants to hear about God and because the older man at Saturday's lecture said some Jews who meet later that day might be interested in hearing what Jeff has to say. But Tom suspects neither group may attend. And you may recall Tom's reaction to the man and woman Jeff and I talked to on the bus last week. Jeff gave contact information to them, and we hoped for the best, but Tom insisted that the two were drunk and that we had wasted our time talking. He said we should not have given them contact information, especially Tom's home phone number in case they wanted to contact us during our stay.

As for Alexander, before deciding to schedule the first lecture, he acknowledged some doubts about holding such a forum in Dzerzinsk because so few people have attended in the past, and the lack of interest has discouraged him. Alexander also told me yesterday that it is hard to teach in Russia because two-thirds of the people don't even believe God exists and won't talk about Him, and the other third (save a handful of Christians) is content to worship icons and light candles in the Russian Orthodox church.

I don't mean any of that as criticism of Tom and Alexander. Tom certainly is right that it's a waste of time to try to preach to drunks, and only three people did attend Saturday's lecture. My point is that in America, I'd probably be making the same arguments as Tom and Alexander. And I suspect that were they to visit America, they might be just become as reinvigorated as I have here.

I can tell that it is much more peaceful to be an optimist than a cynic. I just hope I can bring a measure of that optimism back to the states with me.

Curiosity Opens The Door To Teaching

Several of the Christians here learned about Christ incidentally because of their interest in the English language. Masha and Alexander, the two who have been doing the translating for us this week, are among them, and Nena, who we had dinner with on Thursday, also met Charles Gant as a result of her interest in our language. Like Masha, she teaches English here in Russia. (Nena and her daughter, Katia/Katie, made a trip to the United States in 2000. They attended a singing school in Oklahoma and also visited Texas, Nevada and Arizona.)

Jeff's Saturday lecture in Dzerzinsk sparked the curiosity of yet another Russian who is interested in English, and we hope that it might lead to another conversion down the road. Three people attended the lecture. One was an older man who only spoke Russian, and another worked at the library where we held the lecture. The third was Sergei, a 20-year-old physics student who just happened to be in the library that day studying and heard English being spoken in the next room. He was curious, so he came to meet us Americans, and he stayed for the lecture.

After Jeff finished his talk, which focused on how we can know the Bible is God's word and not just a bunch of unrelated books written by nearly 40 men over 1,500 years, Sergei had several good questions about the subject matter. He clearly had listened to the lecture and was interested in hearing more. He also lamented that we had not advertised the forum in the newspaper or something because he thinks his family might have attended.

Sergei joined us for lunch at a pizza place (a relatively new but apparently popular dining option in Russia), where we talked more about both America and God's word. Jeff sketched his traditional timeline and gave a copy of it to Sergei, who walked with us to the bus station nearby and then actually decided to take the hour-long bus ride with us back to Nizhny for the Bible class that evening. When class began, Jeff gave Sergei an American Bible to try to follow the study, and Sergei asked if it was a gift. Jeff said if Sergei promised to read it, then yes, that's exactly what it was. He agreed.

The first questions Jeff addressed in class were ones Sergei had asked while on the bus: How long does it take for people to come to believe there is a God? And what does it take to believe the Bible is God's word? Lena's answer: "It depends on the heart condition."

Jeff agreed and cited two extremes in the stories of Nathanael and Thomas. Nathanael, who wondered aloud what good could come from Nazareth, believed almost instantaneously that Jesus was the Christ after he met Jesus (John 1:43-51). But after Christ was resurrected, Thomas doubted that fact and insisted on seeing and feeling the wounds in Jesus' side before he believed. He wanted solid evidence (John 20:24-29).

Jeff noted three passages that teach it should be very easy for an honest heart to believe that God exists. All of those passages -- Acts 14:17; Rom. 1:18-20; and Psalms 19 -- talk about the evidence of creation that is around us every day to prove that God exists. Only people with hard hearts fail to see it. It may take different people different amounts of time to accept the Bible as God's word, however. To reach that point, they must be willing to hear the truth and thus gain faith.

Of all of the Christians in Russia who first became interested in the Bible because of their interest in English, it took several years of teaching and studying before they were converted. It may take just as long for Sergei to reach that point if he sticks with it, so let's all pray that God is patient with him.

One positive sign is that at the end of the evening class Saturday, after Sergei had spent the better part of a day with Christians, he still seemed interested. Asked if he might attend future studies, he said this: "It is difficult because everything is so new to me, but I think I shouldn't stop now." Pray that he doesn't ever stop examining God's word and his own heart.

Friday, May 28, 2004

Complications To Come In Moscow?

Tom finally finished the registration process for Jeff and me in Nizhny today. He had been told, however, that the registration would be back dated to the day we arrived, and that is not the case. Our registration has today's date.

Tom and Masha said they may complicate our departure from Moscow next Saturday. The officials who look at the discrepancy in dates may want to quiz us about where we were the days between the date of arrival and registration. We were here, of course, and if they ask, we'll tell them we just had delays in the registration process because of new demands for blood tests, etc. But who knows if that will be sufficient explanation.

Please pray that everything goes smoothly.

Another Busy Weekend Ahead

I may not have a chance to make any substantive posts until after the weekend. I may be able to find some time tomorrow evening after our 6 p.m. class or after we return from Pavlovo on Sunday evening, but the odds are long for that.

Jeff is giving a lecture in Dzerzinsk tomorrow afternoon, and that's about four hours of taxi and train time round trip. The lecture is at 1 p.m., so I figure we'll return just in time for the evening class. And the classes have been running about two hours. I'm guessing I'll be pretty exhausted by the end of the day.

The schedule on Sunday is no less hectic, as you may recall from my post earlier this week, and I'll be preaching this time around. I'm thinking I'll need some good rest on both Saturday and Sunday nights.

So if you don't hear from me until Monday morning Russia time, you'll know why.

Two Sermons Ready For Sunday

Today was a quiet day of Bible study for me because I hope to deliver at least one sermon Sunday and possibly 1.5 or two, depending on whether Jeff decides he wants to do any speaking in Pavlovo in the afternoon.

I'm planning to speak in Nizhny in the morning. The topic, "A Better Country," will sketch the heritage of Christians in Russia, America and across the world as a holy nation and peculiar people. As an American, I was raised to believe that my earthly country was better than the one where I am writing from. But the greatest kingdom is the one all Christians occupy now in the church and will one day occupy eternally in heaven. No earthly nation will ever be so blessed.

If I speak in Pavlovo, the topic will be the unfathomable riches we have in Christ -- far greater than any wealth we could hope to find in this life, in Russia or America. If we lose sight of those riches, we may lose our right to claim them some day.

I sketched outlines for both of those topics today. That took the better part of the afternoon, and I spent the morning in the Internet cafe. This evening we had a Bible study where Jeff just opened the floor to questions, and our brothers and sisters here are curious about an array of topics -- from everything as simple as an explanation of how and where the gospel was spread in the 1st century to queries about the teachings on sin in I John, creation and Revelation.

The Plague Of Piracy

Yes, I am about to climb into my favorite bully pulpit and talk about the plague of piracy. The practice is especially bad in Russia, based on the knowledge I've gained from working at National Journal's Technology Daily, and as is the case in America, too few Christians grasp that stealing "intellectual" property is no different from stealing "physical" property. Theft is theft, and more to the point, it is sin.

The topic came to mind again yesterday when Tom took Jeff and I to a discreet room on the first floor of an apartment building, where a friend of his sells music and movies dirt cheap on CDs and DVDs. Earlier this week, when I let Tom listen to a CD of "Diamond Rio," he also said perhaps he could burn a copy of the CD for his use, and he offered to do the same for me with his copy of a Ricky Scaggs CD.

I avoided the topic on those occasions just because I know how passionate I am in trying to persuade my family in the flesh and in the spirit (you know what I'm talking about, don't you Darren, Dad and Mom) that even if we don't like the parameters of copyright law, we must obey them. I usually come across as a self-righteous blowhard when I talk about violations of intellectual property law. I suspect that's because I'm in the publishing business and thus make my living from my intellectual property.

When Tom invited us to peruse his friend's CD/DVD stock yesterday, however, and then wondered why we didn't bother to look, Jeff began to explain to him the concept of intellectual property law. We can't say for sure that Tom's friend is in the piracy business -- his stock of goods looks legit, and he could just be in the business of buying and reselling used CDs and DVDs -- but Tom couldn't tell us anything about his friend's suppliers, either. Tom also noted that the software he buys for his computers (he has two that he built himself) is not "original" material because it is too expensive.

Tom's thinking on the issue is much like many Americans: Why pay more if you can buy the same product for less, especially if paying more means that you are priced out of the market altogether? Tom clearly thinks intellectual property laws are unfair to consumers -- I would agree to some extent -- but what Jeff and I tried to show him is that it doesn't matter whether it is unfair. It is the law. And unless it conflicts with God's law, man's law is God's law, and we as Christians must obey it.

I think more teaching on the issue will be necessary before Tom fully understands, but I think that is also true of most American Christians. As our world has moved further into the information age, I fear that too many Christians have forgotten the simplicity of the command against stealing, one of the Big Ten and one that is still in force today. Computers, the Internet and other technologies enable us to get many things for free or on the "black market" (music, cable, satellite signals), but that doesn't mean we are justified in doing so.

The Cost Of U.S. Support

Almost every monthly report from brother Arrigo Corazza, the preacher we at Centreville support in Pisa, Italy, notes the havoc that the poor exchange rate for the U.S. dollar in Europe wreaks on his family's budget. Arrigo's wife, Patrizia, has been looking for full-time work for quite a while now to try to offset the decline in their budget caused by the poor exchange rate, and he also has received additional support from other churches and brethren this year to help address the situation.

What I did not know until Jeff and I talked to Masha the other day is that the rubles-per-dollar exchange rate also has declined substantially here in the past year. Tom, for instance, is receiving $100 a month more in support from the United States this year to offset support lost last year from other U.S. sources, but if I understood her correctly, the equivalent by the time the money is exchanged for rubles amounts to only a $30 increase. That's a big chunk of money.

Lost In Translation

That's what I have been more than once this week. Many words simply don't translate well from Russian to English and vice versa, and sometimes as Jeff, Tom and I talk about topics both religious and secular (sometimes with Masha translating, sometimes with Tom doing quite well in English on his own), I am clueless. When I think I understand something, I will repeat a phrase or concept as translated into English just to make sure, and then I hear that I really didn't have it quite right after all.

My attempts at speaking Russian can be even more baffling for those on the other end of the conversation. Yesterday, for instance, I simply made up a word (you understand, right Kimberly?). I was sure I had heard someone use the word "meshtoika" to say whatever it was we were talking about at that point in the conversation, but when I said "meshtoika," every Russian and the one American in the room just stared at me. It was clear that I was speaking neither English nor Russian.

That's OK, though. Now I have invented a Russian word that I can choose to define as I please at any given moment. Don't be surprised if you hear me saying "meshtoika" all the time when I come home. Only I will really know what I mean, and that's the best part.

Thursday, May 27, 2004

Some Answers For Rick

Hey Rick,

You had a few questions on one of your posts, so I thought I'd answer them here for all to see:

1) Do Russians have cars? Some do ... but none of the Christians, at least that I've met. We got a car tour of Nizhny yesterday courtesy of one of Masha's English students. He owns a construction business and is a 50-50 partner (he called it a "sleeping partner"; we'd call it a silent partner) in a bicycle shop. He has a really nice car. There are indeed lots of cars on the streets, very European in style. I don't know who drives them, though. Most people seem to take public transportation and walk.

2) Eye color. Haven't really noticed. But I have noticed that Russians are just like Americans in that they come in all shapes, sizes, hair colors, etc. Obesity does not appear to be a problem -- how could it be when so many seem to struggle to eat -- and many of the women are quite tall, including the teenage Christians, but I'd say they're very much like Americans.

3) Favorite color. My guess is black. It's a common color of the clothes.

Well-Studied As A Teenager

We had a Bible class at Tom and Masha's home last night, and I was astounded by Tatyana Moskvin's knowledge of the Bible. Jeff directed the class, which was based on a sermon he preached recently at Centreville. The study focused on three statements that demonstrated great character, and after he read each statement, he asked the class to identify the speaker.

No one knew what Jeff was going to talk about in advance, so to answer, they had to know their Bibles. The paraphrased statements were:

1) God gives, and God takes away; blessed be God.
2) Even the dogs get the crumbs that fall from the master's table.
3) If I die, I die.

Tatyana, who is only 17 and has been a Christian since age 12, identified the first two speakers (Job and a Canaanite woman speaking to Jesus) almost immediately and without prompting. And after a hint or two from Jeff, she identified the third speaker as Esther. I supposed I was all the more amazed because I could recall only one of the speakers from memory when Jeff preached the sermon in Centreville, and just weeks later, I had forgotten that Job spoke the words about God giving and taking away.

Tatyana put me to shame and thus earned even more of my admiration.

Photo Page Posted By Jeff

For anyone who is interested, click here to link directly to the photo page Jeff has posted. If my body looks even wider than Jeff apparently thinks it is, that's because the camera adds 10 lbs. -- and the money belt full of rubles adds another five.

Degrees Of Poverty

Russia is a country where even a struggling middle-class lifestyle, let alone the luxury so many of us have grown accustomed to in America, is simply not possible. Here you see mostly degrees of poverty.

I am writing from an Internet cafe that is open 24 hours and that is located in a beautiful, modern mall. It's the Tyson's Corner of Nizhny, except the building is miniscule in size and few people can afford to shop here. Accessing the Internet is expensive by American standards, where we pay a flat rate for as much time as we want every month, but at 30 rubles an hour (a little more than $1), you just don't see many people here. Honestly, I am surprised to see anyone here at all based on what I have seen of the living conditions in Russia.

Most people live in two- or three-room apartments, or flats, and when I say rooms, I mean just that. The kitchen and bathroom areas (toilets and bathtubs/sinks are usually in neighboring rooms separated by walls and doors) are not counted in that total, but living and bedroom areas are. That means a two-room flat, like the one where we're staying with Tom and Masha, has a living room and a bedroom.

The living room is usually Tom and Masha's bedroom, which they have generously vacated for Jeff and me. They are sleeping on the floor of the bedroom, which is usually Tom's office. Tom and Masha do not own a bed, nor, according to Masha, do they have plans to buy one anytime soon. When they don't have company (and they play host to Americans somewhat regularly), they sleep on the pullout sofa that I'm using during the trip.

Most of the apartment buildings resemble public housing in America. We would probably consider them slums and refuse to live in them because we've become too comfortable -- nay, spoiled. I couldn't tell you when any of the buildings was last painted. The bricks in the walls and concrete on the stoops, stairs and interior walls have big chunks missing from them, and I don't expect they'll ever be repaired.

Some apartment buildings, including Tom and Masha's, lack elevators. I'm getting quite a workout just trekking up five floors every time I return to the building. And those that have elevators have tiny, tiny elevators -- and some have absolutely no lighting. We crammed four people, plus luggage, into one dark elevator in Moscow. When they move, the creak and make all kinds of noises that leave you expecting to plunge downward any minute.

Russians still wash their own dishes by hand; they dry their clothes on lines that hang on their balconies or above their bathtubs; they eat at tables that seat four people uncomfortably and leave little room in the kitchen for movement; furniture other than a couch can really leave the living area crammed; and sister Nadia in Pavlovo just got a telephone for the first time a few weeks ago (and it wasn't working when we were there Sunday).

And if that's not enough to make you realize how bad life can be here, take a look at the post below this one.

Some people, including Christians, have more than others. We've been in two homes with pianos, and five of the Christians here have computer access at home. Some Christians have really nice china for tea (it's apparently cheaper in Russia than other places), and they may have full bookshelves (often stocked with religious commentaries, Bibles or magazines). Cell phones also appear to becoming popular quickly. But my observation is that the people I've met here tend to pick one or two items they really want and splurge on those -- and others go without anything. We Americans have everything they could want and more.

My heart ached in Pavlovo on Sunday when one of the sisters there asked me about the homes in America. I told her about the home in Paden City, W.Va., where I was raised -- three bedrooms, two living areas and then some (and my parents have added on since we left home). The spirits of those women visibly sank. "Don't tell us such things," Ghalina said. "It only makes us sad and discourages us."

What they don't realize, and what I hope I can convey to them Sunday if I have the chance, is that they are just as rich as we are. All of us who are faithful have the "unfathomable riches of Christ" (Eph. 3:8), and all of us, Russian and American, would do well to remember the words of Agur, the son of Jakeh, in Prov. 30:8-9. "Give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with the food that is my portion, lest I be full and deny Thee and say, 'Who is the Lord?' Or lest I be in want and steal, and profane the name of my God."

The Things I Miss About America

This one's for you, Libby. Maybe this will scare Amy out of moving your granddaughter to Russia:

1) The expectation of a hot shower every day. Jeff and I have had to take two cold showers since we arrived -- and I do mean cold. When I finished washing my hair in Moscow the morning after we arrived, my scalp was literally numb. In Russia, the hot water is turned off by region at least two weeks at a time during the summer while officials do repair work to pipes, and Masha said the two-week process usually takes longer. (Sounds like Russia already fully understands some principles of the American free-market system quite well!) Russians also can expect to have their flow of halt water halted regularly at certain times in the morning (that's what happened today), so you have to hope you plan your showers right.

2) Cold Diet Coke (you know what I mean, don't you Rick?). The soft drinks here are lukewarm at best, and ice, as in most of Europe, is almost non-existent. And they don't really have Diet Coke. As in Guatemala, they have Coca Cola Light. My tastebuds are trained to the after taste of true, American Diet Coke, with all those cancer-causing substitutes, and I find the taste of Coca Cola Light completely unappealing. That's why I'm drinking the real thing here, if I drink any cola at all. I'd rather have all the sugar of real Coke or none of it in Diet Coke. Masha says that makes me a "maximalist." I like that.

3) Red meat. Rick asked about a food staple here. They eat a lot of dumplings, and some of it has red meat, but other than that I haven't noticed anything we have regularly. So far I've had curds (not as bad as I expected), millett porridge, hot dogs (nothing like the U.S. version), canned salmon, lots of rice and potatoes and homemade chicken soup (very tasty). The one staple I've noticed has nothing to do with the meal itself: tea and sweets, ranging from cookies and cake to chocolate bars. We also eat a lot of crackers. Twice we have been invited to people's homes expecting meals, only to have sweets and tea. And we burned off all of that walking home. Masha was with us both times and she was starving, too, so she was kind enough to cook us late-night meals. But what I want more than anything right now is a big steak ... or a plate of ribs ... or both!!!

4) Public transportation with breathing room. I am amazed at how many people cram onto the half-pint buses here (they call 'em taxis). I really don't want to get to know Russians that well! A few nights ago, one guy (Tom later told us he was drunk, but Jeff and I didn't notice any tell-tale signs) was convinced he had seen me on a TV show. He reached that conclusion after he asked me about my family, and I told him I have two adopted children. He had watched a documentary on adoption, he said, so certainly that was me on TV. Well, OK maybe that was the tell-tale sign that he was drunk. That should give you an idea of some of the clientele on the overcrowded buses/taxis here. I long for a Metro ride where I can have some elbow room.

5) My car. Yes, I am a lazy American and proud of it. I WANT MY CAR!!! I hate walking and traveling by bus ... and train ... and tram ... and taxi. I want to drive. I want to be in control. I want to travel more than four or five miles in 30 minutes (D.C.'s evening rush hour aside). I'd like to say I'm losing weight from all of the walking, but Russians eat chocolate after every meal -- and sometimes as their meal. If Jeff thought he was more narrow than me when I arrived, wait until I get back home. So if I'm gonna gain weight while I'm here, it would be nice to be able to park my fat self behind the wheel of a car!!!

6) Clean streets. The amount of dust and dirt on the streets here astounds me. I've always been amused by the people in Washington, D.C., whose job is to hose down the sidewalks outside various buildings in the business district. I see them every morning when I walk to work, and I think to myself, "What a waste of water and money that is." I still think it's a waste ... but I have a greater appreciation of why they do it. The same goes for trash collection and pickup. Rubbish floats around the streets of Nizhny, and trash cans in public areas can be quite uncommon. If the wind kicks up, as it did regularly today, you may be eating dust and fighting off floating debris as you walk miles ... and miles ... and miles.

7) My daughter. All week in my head, I've heard her sweet little voice calling from the potty: "Daddy, I did it." How could I not want to be home to hear that? And I think of her every time Masha says Jeff couldn't possibly pass for a Russian because he's too happy and dresses too American. I, on the other hand, have the grumpy Russian look down pat, according to Masha. It's the one I taught Elli months ago so she can use it when boys start approaching my beautiful princess in her teenage years.

8) My son. I love coming home from work every night to watch Steve "The Crocodile Hunter" Irwin with Anthony. Tom and Masha have the Animal Planet channel as part of their limited cable selection, but I haven't yet found a time when Steve is on the tube. And let's face it, it just ain't the same hearing some Russian voice drown out Steve when he says of some reptile in his Australian dialect, "Isn't she a beauty?" It's all the more special when you hear it with your precious four-year-old son.

9) My wife ... my life.

Subjected To The Russian Needle

Jeff and I had to get blood tests today. That's apparently a new step in the process of getting "registered" in the primary location of your visit in Russia -- Nizhny Novgorod in our case. Tom spent the better part of two days standing in line at the local registration office, and he's not done yet. He'll have to go back tomorrow with our bloodwork and passport.

Let me say I was none too thrilled about having a Russian needle jabbed in my arm. I'm not a big fan of needles in the United States, but in a poor country like this, I was worried sick about the status of the healthcare system. The local officials first told Tom we could stay for a week without the blood test. That was on Tuesday, and because he had to return Wednesday to stand in line again, I wondered aloud whether we could just skip that step of the process. We'll be leaving Nizhny a week from today (Thursday), so I figured if we had a pass to stay through Wednesday, we would be fine. But the officials at the registration office then changed their tune a little on Wednesday (apparently a regular occurence here), so we had to get the test.

Both Jeff and I were a little more at ease when the doctor reassured us that each needle is used only once and that we would be able to see the nurse remove the needle from a sealed package. The test itself was painless ... and we're both AIDS-free. (I could have told them that since I just had the same test about three weeks ago for our ongoing adoption.) Guess that means we can stay in Russia a few more days.

Wednesday, May 26, 2004

A Cheap Thrill Ride

I am still amazed by how inexpensive everything is here -- and by the difference in American and Russian attitudes about the price of goods and services. We left Alexander and Irena's home in Dzerzinsk at about 9:15 p.m. last night, and we ended up missing both the train and the bus to Nizhny, which is about a half-hour away. That meant we had to catch a cab.

Jeff, Masha and I stood discreetly at a distance as Alexander negotiated with a taxi driver. (He was afraid the driver would jack up the price if he knew Americans were going to be his passengers.) Alexander had expected the price to be 300 rubles, and both he and Masha looked disappointed for us when it was 350 rubles. That's a difference of about $2, and the total fare was the equivalent of about $15.

Fifteen dollars for three people to take a half-hour taxi trip through the Russian countryside, and Alexander and Masha thought it was going to bust the budget for Jeff and me! (Is that the right usage of "me" vs. "I," Libby???) Several years ago, I took a cab by myself from the eastern edge of Washington, D.C., to Falls Church, Va., and it cost me $35!!!

There is one thing that is the same whether you are here or in America, however: If you step into a taxi, your odds of surviving the day rapidly decline. At one point on the open road last night, the cabbie was driving 140 kilometers an hour (about 87 miles an hour). That may not sound like much, but the roads are in the condition of those in West Virginia -- and the cabs travel between the tram lines, so if a tram just happens to appear, some serious maneuvering might have been required.

Peace That Surpasses Understanding

In Russia I have come to expect that there are but two paths that people travel before they become Christians: atheism, a total rejection of God's existence, or Orthodoxy, the "national religion." Alexander veered onto the narrow way that leads to life (Matt. 7:13) by way of the latter path; his wife, Irena, had a more complicated journey, moving first from atheism to Orthodoxy and then to Christianity.

Irena was curious about God much of her life, no doubt because "since the creation of the world, His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen" (Rom. 1:20). "I had a kind of notion or feeling that there is something," she said. But her parents, both atheists, and others aggressively discouraged her from pursuing the knowledge of God.

At about age 25, however, as she saw injustice all around her in the world, Irena began searching diligently for peace. "People are very full of evil, and they treat each other badly," she said. She saw everyone as an enemy and did not like that view of the world.

In trying to escape that way of thinking, she turned to the Orthodox church and was sprinkled at about age 30. She never liked the rituals of Orthodoxy. "It was a kind of inner feeling that there was something wrong with it," she said. And less than a year after her foray into Orthodoxy, Irena began meeting with the Christians in Nizhny.

While she was ready to serve God, she did not fully understand the teaching about baptism. She had the kind of zeal without knowledge apparent in Gentiles before they came to know Christ (Rom. 10:1-3). "But of course I have changed," she said. "You have to grow. You have to develop." Irena was immersed last summer, and she is no longer so distraught by evil in the world because she has found goodness in Christ.

"The only thing I can say for sure is that now I can say I have found peace for my soul," said Irena, whose name means peace. "And this knowledge is so important that I will not exchange it for anything else."

Always Room For Spiritual Growth

We visited with Alexander and Irena last night, and I used that time as an opportunity to quiz Alexander briefly about the spiritual state of the church here. Like Masha, he speaks Russian and English, and he was one of the first Russians to start attending Bible studies in Nizhny Novgorod in 1993.

Alexander, now 43, freely acknowledges that he became a student of Americans Charles and Kay Gant for linguistic reasons rather than spiritual ones. "I was looking to practice my English," Alexander said. "I came to listen." But he soon came to realize he needed religious understanding as well.

Alexander's father is Russian Orthodox and taught his son from a young age to adhere to God. "But he could not give me information, he could not teach me the Bible, because he himself was not educated." His father bought Alexander his first Bible in 1977 (he still has it and proudly showed it to me), but Alexander still struggled to learn. He said he read the Bible but did not understand it because he had little guidance from leaders within the Orthodox church, who focus more on ritual than Bible study.

After meeting Charles and Kay, Alexander began to see some of the Orthodox teachings as wrong, particularly the concept of infant baptism. (Alexander was sprinkled when he was 12 months old.) He came to understand the Bible truth that a person must be aware of his sinful condition when he is immersed in water for remission of those sins and must be able to vow himself as a slave to righteousness.

He did not gain that knowledge immediately, however. He wasn't baptized for about two years after he began studying with Charles and others, and when he neared that point, he first made a trip to the headquarters of the Orthodox church to discuss the concept of baptism with a leader there. "I listened to his argument, and I knew the argument of Charlie," Alexander said. "And then I compared things and made my decision."

About a decade later, Alexander still sees room for growth among the Christians in Nizhny. When I asked him to think about the descriptions of the seven churches in Asia in Revelation 2-3 and how Christ might describe the church here, he said this: "We have to be stronger because if we were strong enough, we would have the ability to attract more people" to the gospel.

Alexander went further by applying that belief to himself. He lamented that he does not personally have the "gift" to influence people to do what he right, noting in particular his lack of success earlier this year in convincing an erring sister to return to serving God. He said he lacks the "wits" to be persuasive.

At that point, I asked Alexander to read the first few verses of James 1, where talks about how we can gain wisdom, the equivalent of wits. The answer: prayer without doubt. Alexander has such a good heart that he saw the passage as a confirmation of his belief that his faith is weak. In other words, if his faith were strong enough, he would have no doubts and God would grant him the wisdom he needs.

I couldn't disagree more. Alexander's faith is obviously strong -- precisely because he knows it can become stronger. And just because his efforts to persuade an erring Christian to repent failed in one case does not mean he lacks wisdom. Some people simply want to sin. They want to pursue the pleasures of this life, and nothing that the omnipotent and omniscient God or mere mortal man says will soften their hardened hearts.

But I can tell you now that every time I think I am strong, I will think of Alexander. And I will think of Paul's words: "Let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall."

A Compassion Too Rarely Seen In America

Our trip to Pavlovo on Sunday was most edifying to me because I saw in the three women there -- Ghalina, Nadia and Valentina (still not sure of all the spellings, but I hope to get that straight by the time I get home) -- an abiding compassion for each other I have rarely seen in America, even among Christians. I have seen the same close bond in Christ among others here. Whatever faults the Christians in Russia may have, a lack a love for the brotherhood certainly does not appear to be among them.

I already had a high opinion of the three sisters in Pavlovo based on the reports we have received in recent months from Masha. She speaks often of their dedication to God's Word, and now I have seen it firsthand.

I was particularly touched Sunday by the scene of Nadia gently rubbing Valentina's back during Tom's sermon. I noticed during the service that Valentina was emotional, and I asked Tom about her circumstances on the bus ride home. In conversation just before the service, Valentina had mentioned that too many Russians fill themselves with wine, and seeing the effects of that lifestyle makes the few Christians in Pavlovo all the more determined to focus on filling their lives by focusing on God. I told Valentina that God spoke of just such a contrast in Ephesians, where he encouraged the brethren not to be filled with wine but with the Spirit.

I did not realize until later, when I spoke to Tom, that Valentina was not speaking so much in the abstract as she was about her own life. Tom said Valentina's husband is a heavy drinker. He also deprives his wife of access to much of the money in the household, and he is unkind and uncaring to his wife in many other ways. She also has a 25-year-old son who is not a Christian. Valentina has a hard life, and her soul is tortured much of the time. That is why she cried during the services, which apparently is a fairly common occurrence.

Valentina, Nadia and Ghalina have been friends for many years, even before they became Christians, so she has a good network of support. But based on what Tom told me on the way home, she also appears to be spiritually weak at times. She talks often of leaving her husband. She does not understand why God would want a good woman to stay with such a bad man. I don't think I or anyone else really understands that, either, but it sounds like the brethren in Nizhny who travel to Pavlovo have done a good job of talking to Valentina about what the Bible teaches on the lifelong commitment of the marital bond, through good and bad.

Please pray for her and for those who seek to encourage her.

Tuesday, May 25, 2004

Masha The Amazing

Both Jeff and I have been impressed by Masha's talent for moving from English to Russian and back again. She is definitely a gifted translator, and our efforts here would be difficult without her. Last night in particular, she was able to listen to several people talking almost simultaeously and in two different languages without missing a beat. She deserves all of our praise for her work.

Meat For The Soul

Jeff, Tom and I had some good Bible discussions yesterday. Tom said he did not understand John's teaching about "a sin leading to death" (I John 5:16). The conversation lasted a good half-hour or more, but here is the short answer:

The Bible teaches that the wages of sin is death, and the only scriptural basis to distinguish between sin that leads to death and sin that doesn't is whether repentance exists. In other words, no specific sin leads to death, but any sin will if a person's heart is hard.

Jeff emphasized the context in I John 5 before the reference to the "sin leading to death." In verses 14-15, John had said that if we ask anything according to God's will, He will grant it. That might lead some people to think they could pray for all "good people" to be saved, regardless of whether they have repented of their sins and committed their lives to God. So John added vs. 16 to show that prayer for someone who has committed "a sin leading to death" -- i.e., a sin for which they defiantly refuse to repent -- is a pointless prayer. It is according to God's will that only those who repent be saved.

Tom seemed to have a better grasp of the issue after the study, and so did I. In any case, I think it's safe to say that we definitely dined on the meat of the Word.

A Family Reunited In Christ

The story of Slava and Leana Moskvin (I'll have to check the spelling of their names) is even more inspiring. They reunited as husband and wife in 1999 after about a decade of separation. Masha told Jeff and I their story Sunday, and I found it so inspiring that I wanted to hear it from their perspective. Revisiting the painful times in their past clearly was difficult, but I am so glad they agreed to share their story with me and with you.

Their journey together began in 1986, a year after they met at a youth organization and began dating. But not long into their marriage, and soon after Tatyana's birth, Slava was sent to prison and divorced Leana.

By 1995, after his release from prison, Slava was seeking the truth, and he found it with the Christians in Nizhny Novgorod. As he studied the Bible, Slava realized that he had been wrong to divorce Leana because God allows divorce only for adultery and that was not the reason for his divorce. "Our separate life was not right," he said. But because he was involved with another woman at the time, he did not immediately repent.

"I had to change my lifestyle that I was accustomed to," Slava said. "Then I was coming back and going forward from this lifestyle because theory and practice are two different things."

After two years of soul searching, he ultimately decided that his only option, if he were to be pleasing to God, was to reunite with Leana or have no other relationship with a woman. He credited the brothers and sisters in Nizhny with their patience and support in helping him accept the truth.

His acceptance of God's teaching was just the first step, however. Slava and Leana divorced when Tatyana was only three months old, and Leana moved to Voronezh, which is near Ukraine and about seven hours by train from Nizhny. Slava had contacted after his release from prison and before he became a Christian, but he never visited Leana or Tatyana and soon changed. She decided then that she did not want to meet with him or get any more letters.

After Slava became a Christian and decided to try again to reconcile with Leana, he wrote to her regularly. The women in the church at Pavlovo also wrote to say that Slava was a changed man. "When I was getting all these letters ... I thought that it was weird," Leana said, adding that she thought maybe Slava had joined a cult engaged in some bizarre kind of fornication.

But Slava was persistent, and because Tatyana wanted to meet her father, Leana contacted Slava when she was headed to a seminar in Moscow. She agreed to stop in Nizhny for a visit and let Tatyana meet Slava and Slava's parents, who also live in Nizhny. Charles and Kay Gant, the Americans who started the work in Nizhny, provided a place for Leana and Tatyana to stay, and several of the other brethren made a point of visiting. "Having spent some time with them, I could realize these were quite normal people," Leana said.

The decision to reunite took another two weeks, however. "I liked Christians, but I was still far from getting married," Leanna said. "You can thank Tanya for that because she always wanted a father, and you can thank the Lord because He changed Slava and I could see that he had changed."

Slava and Leana renewed their vows informally before the brethren July 22, 1999, and they made their marriage formal before men by registering in Russia a year later.

Leana did not become a Christ until three months later. She read the Bible from start to end, asking Slava questions when she was confused. But she emphasized that most of the Bible is easy to understand. She even attended classes at the church in Pavlovo. During one car trip to Pavlovo with some of the Christians in Nizhny, she decided to be baptized. "I remember thinking, 'I am quite a good person ... but if we have an accident ... they will be saved and I will be lost."

Slava baptized Leana Oct. 22, and Tatyana became a Christian Dec. 3.

"Slava is the greatest example to me," Masha said when telling his story. She recalled a time when Slava spoke to the congregation and Kay Gant told him that one day he would deliver a great sermon. Masha was doubtful then but no more. "Five years have passed, and he has delivered a great sermon."

'I Repent In Front Of God And In Front Of You'

I am amazed at the purity of heart I see in the Christians here, and the quote in this title demonstrates that attitude perfectly. Here is the story behind the quote:

Evdokia, the Christian who now lives in the Ukraine but who is back in Russia temporarily because of some problems in her family, is staying at the Moskvins and had dinner with us last night. The conversation turned to Bible topics soon after dinner, and Evdokia asked a question about eating blood. She said blood sausage, and even fried blood, is a popular dish in Russia and is very good. Yet she had read some passages in the Bible that made her wonder whether it is okay to eat blood.

Jeff's first response was to remind Evdokia of Tom's sermon on the conscience Sunday. "Your conscience is working well," he said. Jeff then referred to the passage in Acts 15 that says Christians should abstain from blood, and he explained the context of the passage dating back to Old Testament times. (Those of you who are in Jeff's Wednesday class at Centreville should be familiar with the topic because we discussed it recently.) He closed by answering Evdokia's question directly: The Bible teaches that it is wrong to eat blood.

Such bluntness offends many people, but it pricked Evdokia's conscience. "Then I repent in front of God and in fron of you," she said. "I did eat it." She had a smile on her face when she spoke, but tears soon welled up in her eyes. I saw the heart of a woman who knew she had done wrong, who regretted it and who was determined not to sin in that way again.

Hers is an admirable example for all of us.

A Few Words About Russian Teens (for Charlei)

Charlei wanted to know about Russian teens, and I had my first chance to ask last night when we visited the Moskvins. Their daughter, Tatyana (who also answers to the name Tanya), is 17 and will graduate this year. Students graduate earlier from high school in Russia than the United States.

Tatyana did not have much to say about Russian teens in general, except that those who are not Christians like to spend their time drinking and visiting discos. That may not sound too different than what many American teenagers do, but young people here more openly engage in such behavior. There are no social taboos -- and I don't suppose any laws, either -- against teenage drinking.

As for Tatyana, she said this: "I personally just sit at home and cross-stitch and make dolls." (I have a photo of her and two of the dolls she made, each one of which takes her one to two days to make.) She said she also likes to shop and take her young brother for walks. (He's the toddler who absolutely loved the clothes, light-up shoes and toys we brought to Russia for him.)

Tatyana became a Christian at age 12, after her parents had reconciled (more on that later). She sends her thanks for the gift of lotions, etc., that you all sent. She also would like to correspond with teenagers in the United States. I encourage all of you to do so. There are so few Christians here, and even fewer teenagers who are Christians, that letters certainly would cheer the spirits. "Old people" are welcome to write to Tatyana as well. I'm sure she would love to here from anyone.

Only five Christians here have computers, so "snail mail" is the only option for communication. Jeff will have Tatyana's address for you when we get home.

The Blog Is Now Open

Some people apparently have had technical difficulties in joining the "Mission To Russia" blog and accepting the invitations to post comments. It takes to long to send new invitations, so I have just opened the Web log to posting for anyone on the Internet. I think that means any of you in Centreville, etc., who are interested can post just by clicking on the "comments" link at the end of any post and then clicking on the "post a comment" link on the subsequent page to contact Jeff or me. Hopefully that will work.

Monday, May 24, 2004

Sunday Is A Busy Day Here

A little more about what the work here requires of Tom and other men on Sundays: He preaches at 10 a.m. in Niznhy, after traveling about a half-hour by bus and foot to the meeting place. He and/or other men (and sometimes Masha, if she does not have to work) then rush to grab some lunch in Nizhny before boarding the bus to Pavlovo. The bus ride is one-and-a-half hours.

Tom then preaches at a separate service for the three sisters in Pavlovo. If they have time, they eat dinner and visit before catching the return bus. They can get home as late as 9 p.m.

Tom no doubt is busy at work for the Lord on the Lord's day. The brethren in Nizhny also meet a few times throughout the week for Bible studies. Jeff and I are looking forward to a hectic schedule here. We're about to log off after two hours at the Internet cafe now and head back to Tom and Masha's. We'll have dinner tonight with the family of the four-year-old boy who needed the clothes. And as I recall from Masha's comments on Saturday, we already have classes and visits to homes scheduled for Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday.

Jeff also will be conducting a lecture for non-Christians in nearby Dzerzinsk on Saturday, and we will visit with Alexander that day as well. He has some questions and doubts about the book of Revelation that he is eager to discuss with Jeff.

Until later ...

Spreading The Seed By Bus

I was enthralled on the bus trip to Pavlovo yesterday as I watched Jeff and Alexander, who was translating for Jeff, talk to a young woman about the Bible. It's the first chance I've had to see Jeff work on a personal level, and he is very effective at connecting with people in a way that they are receptive to hearing about God. The three only talked for about 20 minutes and I doubt she will accept the invitation to worship with the brethren in Nizhny (she works in Pavlovo but lives in Nizhny), but our work is to plant the seed and let God give the increase. The seed has now been planted in at least one more Russian woman's mind.

The conversation consisted of Jeff asking a series of questions and the woman answering. Each answer led to another question until Jeff eventually launched into a mini-sermon about the one gospel for all men. Here is a paraphrased recap of the question-and-answer conversation:

Q: Do you read the Bible?
A: Yes
Q: Do you understand what you read?
A: Some of it, yes, but other parts are confusing and mysterious
Q: Do you believe Jesus was raised from the dead?
A: Yes
Q: Do you believe we can be raised?
A: Yes, that is the teaching of the Russian Orthodox church, of which I am a member
Q: Do you believe it only because the Russian Orthodox church says it?
A: No, that is my personal belief.
Q: Have you read in the Bible how the apostle Paul says to worship?

As is the case with many Russians, the young lady suggested that religion is a cultural decision, that each culture has its own ways of serving God and that all are acceptable. That is when Jeff began to explain to her the emergence of the one true gospel in the first century.

He noted first that Jesus came and taught to the Jews, that Jesus' apostles then taught to the Jews and that the apostles finally went to the Gentiles. All of them taught the same truth about worship, regardless of the cultural differences between Jews and Gentiles. Paul taught in Asia, Greece and Italy, and he always taught the same thing. And today, while Christians in the United States and Russia have different customs in the worship service, all of us teach the same doctrine -- one body, one faith, one hope, one baptism.

That woman now knows the truth, and all of us should pray that she is curious enough to investigate further.

Once we arrived in Pavlovo, Tom stopped by a grocery store for food (the women in Pavlovo cook dinner each week for the brethren who travel down for worship), and he talked to a woman there about the church. They have had many conversations in the past, but she has resisted his entreaties to worship. She declined on that day in particular because she said she would be intimidated by the presence of two Americans. Pray that Tom, Alexander and others someday might influence her as well.

From Atheism And Cynicism To Christianity

After a brief nap on the train from Moscow to Nizhny on Saturday, Jeff, Masha and I talked at length about politics, culture and, of course, religion in Russia. (Tom didn't get as much sleep the night before, so he slept throughout most of the train trip.) The seven-hour trip passed quickly because we really enjoyed our conversation. I loved hearing about the things our countries have in common and the ways we differ. But I especially enjoyed hearing more about Tom and Masha and how they came to be Christians. Here's the scoop:

Masha's parents were both atheists. Her father left the family when she was 10 and her brother was 13. Both of Masha's parents were atheists, but she was exposed to religion by her great-grandmother at a young age. As young as age 7 or 8, Masha noticed when her great-grandmother, a member of the Russian Orthodox church, would pray and cross her pillows at night. Those traditions had an impact on Masha. Not until she was in college and trying to learn English in the mid-1990s, however, did Masha, who is 28 now, begin really hearing about the Bible. She learned from Charles Gant, who started the gospel work here, and eventually was baptized.

Tom and Masha met at a nightclub. Tom's band, which played a mix of rock and bluegrass, was apparently quite popular back then and even won a festival competition in Germany. Tom was quite familiar with the Bible before he met Masha but, as Masha said, was quite cynical. He had visited Pentecostal churches and others in Russia and was convinced that you could never find the church of the Bible on the earth today. He agreed to attend services with her but definitely had low expectations. Now he's a gospel preacher.

Two souls are on a completely different track than they were less than a decade ago, and the kingdom of God is benefiting by their commitment to faithful service. I am grateful to be a part of that work, if only briefly.

Making Melody In Russian And English

I really enjoyed the singing during worship services yesterday in both Nizhny and Pavlovo. The brethren use songbooks (made in the United States) that have the words in both Russian and English, so everyone can join, regardless of which language you know.

Jeff did quite well at learning the songs in Russian. I sang in English for the morning service in Nizhny and attempted to sing in Russian when we were in Pavlovo in the afternoon. I didn't do too well, but I worried that if I were singing in English in a small group (only six of us gathered around a table in the living room of our sister Nadia), I might distract the others. Fortunately, the three sisters who meet in Pavlovo (one or two men from Nizhny travel down every Sunday to lead the service) know a few songs in English, and all of us sang two of them in that language yesterday.

It was nice to participate in a worship that crossed language barriers. I don't think it's something that would work on a regular basis, but it was a worthwhile and edifying experience for me.

In fact, I suggested to Jeff last night that when we return to the United States, he teach the brethren in Centreville a few words in Russian. We sang two songs yesterday -- "Praise Him, Praise Him" and "Holy, Holy, Holy" -- where you repeat some phrases regularly throughout the song. It's very easy to pick up those phrases and then sing the rest of the songs in English.

One last thought: Masha said the brethren in Russia could use maybe 10 more copies of the songbooks. The name of the book is "The Russian-American Hymnal: Christian Hymns," by Daniel A. Jasko, and the publisher is the Russian-Ukrainian Evangelical Baptist Union USA out of Ashford, Conn. If anyone would like to check on prices, etc., while we're here so we can discuss the prospect of sending the songbooks when we return, that would be great.

A Fan Of The Kennedys

I didn't get a chance to note this in our rush to leave Moscow the other day: Lela, the Christian in Moscow who welcomed us into her home on very short notice Friday night, had a black-and-white photo of John and Jackie Kennedy prominently displayed in a bookcase in her home. I thought that kind of strange -- you know, the Cold War, Cuban missile crisis and all that.

When I asked her why she had the photo, she said she just liked Jackie Kennedy. She also noted that she was only 18 when Kennedy was shot, so the politics of that day didn't impact her as much because she was so young. She remembered very clearly, however, the day that Kennedy was shot. I was three years from the womb at the time, but isn't it interesting that even everyday Russians remember the day a U.S. president was assasinated? I can't say that as an American, I can recall the days that most other global leaders have been killed. I do remember the day Israeli leader Yithak Rabin was assasinated in 1995 ... but only because that happened to be my birthday as well.

Just Call Me Wide Body

I haven't had to sleep with Jeff at Tom and Masha's because they have a cot in addition to the pullout couch like the one we shared in the home of Lela, the Christian in Moscow. Apparently, I take up too much room. At least that's what I gathered from a comment Jeff made Saturday night.

He volunteered to take the cot, and I said we should take turns each night. He insisted on taking the cot. I was touched -- thought he was being magnaminous, kind of like washing a brother's feet or something. But then he said something about how he could sleep more comfortably on the cot than me because of his "narrow" body. Can you believe that? The preacher called me fat!!!

I am shocked and dismayed. I am heartbroken. I am crushed. I don't know how I can go on. Guess I'll just have to go eat some more dumplings and chocolate to soothe my shattered ego. :)))

A Note To Kimberly, Anthony & Elli

I miss you guys. I still can't access our e-mail account, even from the Internet cafe. I hope you checked the e-mail for instructions on how to access this blog. If so, Kimberly, please post comments to keep in touch with me. That may be the only way we can talk.

If anybody there in Virginia has contact information for Kimberly in Louisiana, please give her a call and let her know that I'm OK and that she can contact me through this site. I'd post her contact information, but I don't want everyone on the Web to have that.

Eat some crawfish for me, Anthony. And I hope you enjoyed your tea at the tea room with Mommy, Elli. I'm drinking lots of tea myself. It's a popular drink here in Russia. I'm not partial to hot tea myself and resisted at first, choosing water instead. But by day two in Nizhny I was drinking tea. Masha said there's almost always one American in every group that visits who declines to drink tea at first, but they always cave.

The Ways Of Russian Life

Well, we've been here for two days. I would have blogged before now but haven't been able to access either blogger.com or my MSN e-mail from Tom and Masha's apartment. I'm at an Internet cafe now. It's about 10:45 a.m.

It costs only 30 rubles an hour at this Internet cafe. That's about 33 cents -- amazing how cheap everything is here. It's much cheaper in Nizhny than in Moscow, where we paid 20 rubles for 15 minutes at the Internet cafe near the train station, but even Moscow is cheap when compared with the United States. It only cost 30 rubles to take a cab several miles in Moscow, and the Metro train is even cheaper. By way of comparison, a cab across town in D.C. is anywhere from $7 to $10, and an equivalent Metro ride would have been at least $3.50.

The D.C. Metro system is much cleaner, however, and people don't drink booze on the trains and buses like they do here. We were on a bus last night where four rowdy teenagers with a bottle of beer about the size of two liters of soda boarded and started wreaking havoc. You also don't see raunchy magazines at every other street corner in America (at least not yet, Jeff says). America certainly has her problems, but I'd just as leave not have to face that kind of open decadence on a daily basis.

Some other observations about Russia:

-- Stray dogs occupy the streets ... including the "dog church" (Tom's description) that meets near the museum where the Christians in Nizhny conduct worship services.

-- Most, if not all, of the the trees in the urban areas are whitewashed three to four feet up the base. Tom says it's to protect the trees from insects. I think it looks kind of tacky, yet it reminds me of my summer days in the country in West Virginia when I whitewashed the trees on my uncle's property.

-- In Russia, shoving appears to be something of a norm. If you're moving too slow, or you're trying to go somewhere that someone else doesn't want you to go, you may just get pushed out of the way. I saw it happen to three slow-moving people going through customs at the Moscow airport and to a woman trying to board a bus that had no vacant seats.

-- Smoking is rampant in this country. Reminds me of my youth, when I was subjected to secondhand smoke almost everywhere I went. I didn't think much about it then because that's just how Americans lived, but I've become accustomed to a society where smokers are cast onto porches and sidewalks or relegated to non-smoking areas. I like to breathe clean air!!!