Sunday, March 05, 2006

Friends Before, and After, Russia 2005

Way back in the '70s I was the wife of a United Methodist minister, teaching in a Lutheran school, which is very near to the Presbyterian Theological Seminary, in Richmond, Virginia.

Enrolled in third grade that year was a nice little English girl, from London, and her father was a United Methodist student at the Seminary. She and her sister with their parents visited in our home several times, and after that year returned to England.We sometimes had Christmas cards, but Rachel became only a memory.

This year, 2006, I attended a missionary Convocation in northern Virginia, about our work in Russia. There were 100 attendees from distant US places--Florida, Michigan, Missouri, Ohio--and of course there were 30 or 40 persons from Russia. We listened to progress reports and needs of Russian schools and churches, most of which had to be translated into English. And I spoke to a tall young lady with the Russians. When she asked where I lived, she told me she had lived in Richmond years ago. She was Rachel's sister, who had returned to London where she was educated, and is now a United Methodist pastor of a church in Russia. She brought to the Convocation greetings from English Methodism, via Russia, to us. She told of new experiences and needs and travels, but the same old Story about Jesus.

Different people, different religions, different places, different ways of life, all gathered together in one place, to worship together as One in the Spirit. I like to think I was a missionary as a third grade teacher. And that's the way God works...

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Finale of 2005 Trip to Russia

And so we come to the end of my 2005 fantastic trip to Russia. I've told about our work and visits and meeting with the nice people--adults and childdren alike. Everywhere we were welcomed because of our United Methodist Church connection, and in public we were noticed and protected.

But all wasn't work--we saw the "sights." We rode local buses to the church and to a new luxury house being built for our director. We rode a cable car up the mountain and gazed at Pyatigorsk, then went to an Orthodox Church to see unbelievable icons. We went to the fountains to taste different kinds of healing water. We went to the Caucasus mountains, 30 miles south, and saw the Palace of Love and Treachery--the young daughter was denied marriage to an unapproved suitor and when they agreed to jump into the river, she jumped and he deceived her and ran away. Up the side of a dusty mountain local ladies displayed handmade sweaters, shawls and socks for impossibly cheap prices--but it was just too far up to explore the caves at the top!

Then we flew in a smaller Russian plane to Moscow one day to visit the Kremlin. In Moscow was the most beautiful mosque with bright colored domes and the streets were spotless and wet because it's continually being washed! On July 4th we went to the Russian Circus and were greeted with our Star Spangled Banner played by a small band on the front steps.

One more overnight train trip to St Petersburg where we saw famous paintings and statues at Hermitage Museum. Inlaid wood floors were not to be walked on and we wore slippers to cover our shoes. Took a boat trip thru the manmade canals, past old official buildings and mosques and on the Neva River past the Palace of the Czars and monuments to famous people. Then we went to the summer palace built for Empress Catherine by the Emporer Nicholas II--uncountable fountains and indescrible landscaping and flowers and trees. Fountains flow from the Gulf of Finland.

Our final lunch in the restaurant produced Pepsi-Colas with frost on the glass bottles!--one of the very few times we saw ice. (We were told that there are two ice cubes in Russia, one in Moscow and the other melting in your hand...)

For me this is probably the finale, but Sam, our director, has returned two times in these 4 months. A several-story building in Moscow has been rebuilt by some of our team members, for Methodist headquarters. Offices for the Bishop and leaders and safe living quarters for seminary students are being built. All of these things further God's Christianity in unchurched Russia, and make our ventures as missionaries---both long and short term--valuable.

We cannot forget the opportunities that remain, and as Christians we must continue our support.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

The Important Work In Pyatigorsk Russia

I guess the important work we did was to improve the building which houses the boarding students. The school is for handicapped children and we were there during their vacation. A long three story building, with many unusable rooms and "dorm" rooms on the top two floors where we stayed, beds for maybe 40 students. My room was on the top floor, with a view of the railroad tracks and town and far-away snowy Mt. Albertis (250 miles away.) Above the treetops, swallows constantly swooped looking for the mosquitoes that came into our screenless windows. Living rooms in the center had been redone several years before, again by our VIM.

The dining room and kitchen wing was clean and airy, panel-covered walls were completed by our team and furnished with tables and stools. For the summer school there were long tables and long lace curtains hung from the windows. We went thru a long hall, with a fairy-tale mural (painted by last year's team) and all kinds of potted plants. The rest of the hall was dark, with locked classroom doors on both sides. Some rooms had been renovated and were used for classes and those were the ones we worked on. We scraped old paint, repainted/wallpapered, installed linoleum in sheets. One room was used for sewing, one for dancing, two large ones for a gym, one for speech therapy. Very dreary, stairs unpleasant, but all cleaned often with the housekeepers on hands and knees.
I wondered how the rooms were chosen for cleaning because there are many unused. A crack outside, from top to bottom, came either from a small earthquake or excavation and one wing leaned a bit from the other.

The playground has limited equipment again from our VIM, with hardpacked earth. The children like to play soccer and "wawleybawl" and anything else that got our attention. All surrounded by a fence that marked our boundaries which we were told to stay inside. We were told that city authorities are happy that we're "helping their children." I wondered how this Russian Initiative worked in the beginning, how the building was chosen for a school, how the children keep warm in the old old building, if there are kids with physical problems how they traverse the stairs, how they live in the dark building in the winter.

It was a wonderful venture into another culture, and something to be grateful for. We had opportunities to spread God's love every day and left evidences for the children to see when they returned to their school building. The VIM will endure, there will be other trips, other chances. And I wouldn't have missed it!

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Travel To Pyatigorsk, Russia, June 2005

Up early to finish packing, left Ginter Park church on church bus to Shady Grove church where we met Sam and three team members. We stopped for dinner, arrived at Dulles to meet the others with their mountain of luggage. Each person was to have one "personal" suitcase and one filled with supplies for the Russian people-weighing 70 pounds apiece-plus a carryon bag. Our bus driver was very efficient, and traffic was crowded southbound but w had no hang-ups. Corin, the other GP member, carried the heavy luggage for us both while I watched his lighter bag and we followed Jerry thru the crowded airport to board British Airways flight # 216, leaving at 6:50 p.m.

Beautiful plane ride over the Atlantic, high above the clouds. Good night's sleep and when I woke I could see water, then green Ireland. London airport was crowded, with lots of people going all different ways. We followed the wrong sign and almost missed the International line. We could only look out the glass to see all the parked planes, and we simply sat to people-watch. One team member used luggage for a pillow and stretched out on the floor for a nap.

We left Heathrow at 8:55 a.m. on BA flight 872, and again we could see little until we came down to see pretty grass and trees. Closer, you could see lines between all the trees, and I wondered if they were roads? Infrequent cars, on roads that looked like dirt. Moscow airport was not modern, and we walked to the bus on sidewalks made of lumber. Our 4 lane road was crowded with "parking lot" cars leaving Moscow for home. Driving thru Moscow, we saw wet streets that were continually being washed. Electric buses and trolleys, old mosques, Ferrari, Maserati and Lexus factories, Baum and Mercier watch billboards and ads. Our Hotel Rossia with 6000 rooms at one time was the biggest in the world, until someone built a hotel in L.A. with 6001 rooms! We did have warm showers and a room just large enough for 2 small beds. Stuffy, no air conditioning, we opened the window and I had a great night's sleep.

Before breakfast, we departed on Train 4 from the Moscow open-air station for Pyatigorsk. Our car had about 6 roomettes for us to share, 3 to a room with upper and lower bunks. Russia was ours to observe from the windows! Pretty country, with small villages, unpaved roads, small houses with corrugated tin roofs and most houses had enclosed gardens. Concrete fences, people walking and riding bicycles or motorcycles. I think we saw only the back yards and not too many animals. Cows, goats, geese and even a horse on the mostly flat fields, sometimes a small hill in the distance. We had boxed meals.

Stewards were there to help but of course the language barrier was there! We stopped several times for people to board; we could buy icecream and once a lady had paper cups of strawberries, small but good (after we washed them in our bottled water as instructed.) We saw a small river and a swamp, crops looking good because there must have been enough rain. A long bridge across the river, with traintrack in the center of 4 lanes. Once we saw a grave decorated with flowers and wreath, surrounded by a fence, right out in the open field. Had a hard time sleeping, one city with lights on the platform, full moon bright and beautiful and a noise train whizzing along going the other way.

We had breakfast, saw two huge rocks and alighted at 10:50 a.m. in Pyatigorsk, City of 5 Peaks, again with our luggage mountain to carry to a bus and our boarding school "home" for a week.

Saturday, August 13, 2005

Pictures Of Our Afternoons Of Visiting

We spent the afternoon at a Russian orphanage that houses 40 children. We toured part of the building, including the small children's dorm. There were about 9 little ones sitting with little legs straight out on a sofa, dressed in their best on their very best behavior, not really excited about visitors. One small boy finally brought us a truck to share and we were told it was "his." Evidently those in neat order on the floor were for all to play with. We saw a small room with beds quite close together, no space between some, few decorations or personal belongings. Tour guide said that the children were not all orphans; some parents left them there because of finances and took them home frequently. The compound included a very old church and we saw no play yard, only a hardtop drive where some big kids were skateboarding and a little one pushing a doll stroller.

These same little children, crowned with animal hats, gave a play with songs and dialogue. Though the language was not understandable, the enthusiasm was, and the behavior perfect. We were served cookies and tea, and a lecture by the directors, and learned about the expenses and bureaucracy which governs them. The director is allowed $50 a year for clothing and equipment, everything neat and clean. The supplies that we brought with us were valued and needed.

We visited a vets' hospital, with ten bags of supplies. Touring the building, we saw clean and orderly rooms, all with lace curtains and potted flowers on the window sills, and plenty of attendants and doctors. We were told about electric, water and laser treatments and acupuncture. Activity where we toured was very slow. Lots of retired veterans were sitting around inside and in the quiet courtyard and they all were friendly and smiling. One elderly vet of WWII told of seeing Americans two times-the first was when they freed him from a German Prison Camp in 1945.

We traveled to the Social Services Children's Day Care and were told how the organization works and how they care for the children in the city. Children on their summer break were happy to meet and perform for us-they sang, played piano and enjoyed our visiting with them.

Sunday, July 31, 2005

Another Small Picture

"Did you have a good time in Russia?" The question has many forms, but everyone asks it-"what did you do?" " See?" " How did you spend your time?" I have many answers, for the many questions-but I have to say that it was a good experience. I have "volunteered" all my life, in different places--in schools, churches, wherever I chanced to be, and there's always the chance to be helpful to another being.

My doctor asked if I were sure I was up to this and my answer was that there would be children to work with and that would always be possible. Assigned to paint walls, I did. Whenever that slowed down I could explore the big old building and grounds, clean up a bit, talk to other team members, "talk" to the Russian workers, see the goings-on in the Church School.

There were sometimes 60 children, crowded around tables and sitting on wooden stools before their crafts-for-the-day, just like our American children. One day they were given a new t-shirt to decorate with squeeze paints; one boy had an American flag on his back. One had "U.S." on his, one drew a map of the U.S. Micah drew a monkey in a tree-I called him "Micah Monkey." They learned to 'sign' Jesus Loves Me, something I had to learn. There's a playground with basketball goal, volleyball net, equipment for climbing and there were different kinds of balls. Not much actual structured phys ed, but balls would fly thru the air in different patterns. A plastic Frisbee and a beach ball were favorites, and if we joined in we were welcomed. On the last day the kids were allowed to take the balls home and so they were hoarded and deflated to fit in pockets, so that nobody could debate ownership. Each day they enjoyed crackers and fruit, snacks just like kids here and had small toys and crafts to do and take home. Everything furnished, I suppose, by visiting VIM workers, this year or earlier.

A weed-whacker, brought by previous VIM, was used on the dirt playground where there were foot-high weeds, no grass.

Children are children, I find, in states and countries other than mine, and they are happy to be taught new things. One little Hyperactive's hands were constantly in his next-door neighbor's craft making and constantly being restrained from "helping", just like home. Some would sing willingly, some had to be coaxed into participating, some were shy and some outgoing. The language barrier was always there, but our being helpful and interested could overcome any barrier. And watch out for the smiles!

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

VIM Russia 2005

Chuck's account is quite prolific, and quite accurate due to Jean's daily letters. I really can't add much to it except that it was a great experience.

Most fun to me was working with the children--which is the reason for my going. One of my regular Sunday School kids, in Richmond, asked me in all seriousness "What are y'all converting the Russians from?" My answer then was and still would be, "We aren't going to convert them FROM anything--we're just going to show them God's love because we understand that communism did not allow them to go to church to see that."

We saw children at the orphanage and Bible School and though we found it hard to really TALK we sure communicated! Whenever we returned "home" from a tour on the bus they were waiting because they knew we would be glad to see and play ball with them. We watched little ones performing and though they sang and spoke in Russian, we knew exactly what their subject was and we knew the fun they were having. We answered questions from the interpreters, and one really wanted to know at what age we baptized children; she had no knowledge of religion in her background and had learned little before we came--obviously she was not a church goer or a Methodist! We can only hope that now she knows God's love--because she worked in our midst and knows that we came to live with them and to improve their physical surroundings. They liked participating in our worship and loved to sing our songs. And they showed us how to dance!

Chuck has newspaper accounts of the I95 traffic accident, but he couldn't tell the anguish we felt on that bus from 1:00 a.m. til 5:30 when we watched the police, firetrucks, ambulances, lights, sirens and finally just went to sleep to wait. About 5:30 police helped the driver turn around and we drove back NORTH on the road shoulder and west to Route 1 with the other millions of stranded cars. Drove at 5 mph about 15 miles to a clear route and arrived in Richmond in time for lunch. Took us about 12 hours, longer than it took to fly across the Atlantic from London. And we were in London the night before the bombing and what must have been in confusion in Heathrow airport.

We worked with the World Peace Organization, and surely God helped us show His love and peace.