Russia Diary 2007 (Long)

I returned from my most recent trip to Russia a week ago. This was my eleventh trip to Russia since 1993 where I did some type of mission work, and the relaxed schedule of this particular journey allowed me time to, among other things, read about half of The Brothers Karamazov and keep a diary of my experiences. What follows is said diary, with a few pictures included to show the wintry atmosphere and warm faces that formed the backdrop of this little adventure. It is quite a bit longer than your typical mission trip report, but in return for your investment of time spent reading it, I believe that you will gain a greater understanding of what these trips are like, including the humorous and frustrating bits. You will also see a progression in me as I try to work out my attitude towards Russia, a place I love as much as any place not called "Texas." As always, feel free to leave comments at the bottom, or to email me at hatahdogg@yahoo.com if you would like to respond...

(I just did a word count - 6000+. You might want to just print this baby out and set it next to the toilet, on top of that crossword you've been working on...)

20 February 2007, 5:00 PM, Washington Dulles Airport

Every time I look at a 747 like the one I will be flying on this time, I am awed by their mammoth size, and more awed that something so large can careen through the sky at 600+ miles per hour without ripping apart. As a structural engineer with a good grasp of the laws of physics, I understand the mechanics of air, the forces on the plane, and I even designed an airport for my final undergraduate design project...

...and still I'm convinced that airplanes are held aloft by magic, and for me boarding each flight is an act of faith. I even have a "take-off" prayer that I utter on each flight:

As we rise, we rise on Your wings,
And if we fall, let us fall in Your arms.

21 Feb 2007, 11:25 AM, Frankfurt

On the transatlantic flight, I sat next to a friendly young man named Dilip. Dilip was born in India, moved to the USA in high school, joined the army, and is now going to Kosovo to work as an air traffic controller. We had a good time talking about our lives, our travels, faith issues, and finances. We even broke out his laptop so I could show him that buying Whole Life Insurance is almost always a bad idea (Buying term life insurance cheap and putting the savings in a Roth IRA is much wiser plan that generates more income and makes that income more available, and don't let a financial planner tell you different.).

When the stewardess came by near the end of the flight, she took Dilip's laptop and stuck it on top of the luggage in the cargo hold. When I saw this, I stood up and told her "That ain't gonna fly," then took the laptop and carefully slipped it back into Dilip's bag, all while the seat belt sign was on. I think the passengers around me were mildly impressed with my willingness to stand up to the stewardess in the name of common sense. I guess if you need something done, just tell a Texan he can't do it...

At the end of this flight, I will be met at the St. Petersburg airport by my friend Natasha Baliasnikova, who I'm looking forward to catching up with. After I get settled in and registered, we will meet up with the team at a hockey game later tonight.

21 Feb 2007, 10 minutes into CKA v. LADA Hockey Game

The CKA fans are restless and voicing their displeasure, as the visiting LADA squad have staked an early 1-0 lead. There are scantily clad cheerleaders on each aisle that dance in unison at every stoppage of play (I feel like you need to know these things.). The CKA have probably shot the puck a dozen times thus far, but can't get the biscuit in the basket. I have the feeling it will be a frustrating night for them...

Addendum: CKA won 3-2 in Sudden Death OT. Ended up being a pretty good game, though I'm pretty sure I slept through most of it...

22 Feb 2007, St. Petersburg

I like this New York team that I'm joining for the first part of the trip. They are a bunch of plain-spoken, working-class folk from the Buffalo area. I'm rooming with Louis Fry and Roy Hendrix, the team leader. Roy's a retired schoolteacher with an adopted Russian son, and 18 grandchildren. I only spend two more days with them, but I'm looking forward to it.

Yesterday afternoon, Natasha Baliasnikova and I had a long, honest discussion about the effectiveness of American teams coming to Russia. Natasha's opinion is that short-term American teams that spend a day in an orphanage, bring toys, share the gospel and leave do little lasting good. The goodwill toward Americans in these places has given way to an attitude of suspiciousness toward "outside influences on the Russian culture." The kids have real problems, and it will require a real presence from someone committed to them to change that. For Natasha, she has three orphan girls that she focuses her energies on.

Whe she asked me if I had anyone from the orphanage that I had specifically focused on, I answered, "No." I've come on these trips as a team member, playing music and sharing the gospel through drama and in words, but the only deep, lasting relationships I've formed have been with interpreters. The kids in these orphanages may know me as a fun guy who plays guitar, speaks Russian badly and talks about Jesus, but not as someone who could be a transition figure in their lives. I have always looked at these trips as projects, and for all I talk about relationships with orphans on these trips, I don't have many truly meaningful ones to speak of. That leaves me with a lot to think about.

I can't say that I regret anything about my motives or actions in my time ministering in Russia, and I know that we've acted from a deep desire to show the love of God to these kids. That said, Natasha's comments are extremely relevant as we go about answering the question, "Where do we go from here?"

23 Feb 2007, 4:10 PM, Pavlovsk Orphanage #4

This is our second afternoon at Pavlovsk #4, the first orphanage for disabled children that we visited in Russia, and home to approximately 550 kids with a variety of disabilities. We started coming here in 2000, and have helped to bring a lot of positive changes to a place where conditions and attitudes were once harrowing and heartbreaking. Louis and Linda adopted their daughter Yelena from here (Pictured above with Louis is Luba, a girl who took care of Yelena when she lived here). On that first visit, the kids put on an elaborate series of dances and musical performances for us. As I write this, the music teacher and the kids are frantically preparing to give us another performance before we leave.

Today is Men's Day. The music teacher, an animated man of about fifty, seemed to have celebrated Men's Day quite enthusiastically today, if the scent of vodka is any indication...

24 February 2007, 11:00 PM, St. Petersburg

I've been involved in two more discussions about the future of our ministry to orphans in Russia during the last 24 hours. Late last night, a group of us sat around the table and talked about our struggles with the question, "Where do we go from here?" Roy, who has adopted a Russian son who still has family here, plans to come back as long as he is allowed to. Joe and Rose, a couple from Buffalo, came on this trip to discern whether to come to Russia full-time as missionaries from the Free Methodist church. Louis is wrestling with the same questions I am about the effectiveness of continued short-term ministry in St. Petersburg, and at the same time, we both came on this trip to look for further opportunities here. The two Russians with us, a young woman named Vita and a young man named Valeri, encouraged us to keep coming, and that it was important to continue these relationships. We ended the discussion with a time of prayer, and as I lay in bed, I felt in my heart that I still love Russia - that hasn't changed, and that's why I'm here again. I want to keep coming, but I need a reason...

This morning, Karen Jones and I talked, and Karen plans to keep coming as long as she's allowed to. She has worked with the Commission for Children at Risk, and when she's not caring for children in the orphanages with a loving touch, she is acting as an advocate for them. In talking to Karen, I was encouraged that the ministry to orphans in Russia will go on in some way despite all of the difficulties that we've encountered recently.

25 February 2007, 3:15 PM, On the Train to Apetityeh

Louis and I spent the last 22 hours traveling north on a Soviet-Era train to the town of Apetity; we should arrive in a couple of hours. We are joined in our sleeper cabin by a Russian couple who will teach foreign literature there. As we lay on our bunks and glance out the frosty window, we see a steady blur of snow, birch and pine trees, and small cottages.

When I was last in Apetity, in 2004, our team was placed in dramatic circumstances. Briefly, we were called on to administer emergency medical aid to a boy named Siroge who fell off a bridge onto an electrical wire just as we were leaving his orphanage (He died a week later from his injuries). On our three-hour bus ride to our hotel that very evening, we came upon three victims of a serious car accident (See the car above), and transported them to the nearest hospital in our bus. It was a stressful and heartbreaking day, but one where we saw Providence at work.

We found out about Siroge's orphanage through a man named Sergei Plushkin, a intense but kind Christian man in Apetity who grew up in orphanages, and made it his life's mission to help children in similar places. When the orphanage closed in 2006, Sergei petitioned the state to adopt three of the boys, and needed a flat to live with them in. Louis raised a few thousand dollars to help, and Sergei came up with the rest in the form of a loan and bought the flat. The purpose of this trip to Apetity is to check in on Sergei and the boys, and to look for future ministry opportunities in the Murmansk region.

We are now very close to the Arctic Circle, if not above it. I have passed the time by sleeping and by reading The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky. The English translation I am reading is a recent and acclaimed one by Richard Purvear. Dostoevsky's masterpiece faithfully (and very thoroughly) portrays the passion and complexity of the Russian people through its many colorful characters. With two more full days of travel ahead of me, I hope to work my way halfway through it. I enjoy this book the same way I might enjoy a juicy New York Strip or a Chocolate Mousse Cheesecake - very much, but only in small pieces.

27 February 2007, 9 AM, Watching Pocahontas at Sergei's flat with the boys in Apetity

Before we rode the train here to Apetity, I knew we would be staying with Sergei and the boys he adopted in a flat that Louis helped raise money for. What I didn't expect was the loving family atmosphere that Sergei has fostered here. Sergei and these boys are a family in every sense of the word. They work together to cook, to clean, help one another out with studies and throw snowballs at each other. There are four boys who live with him here, two named Vonya, and two named Alyosha. So far, I've gotten along best with the older Vonya, who speaks some English and is studying computer science at a nearby university, but I like all of these boys (Picture above is me, younger Vonya, older Vonya and younger Alyosha at the dinner table).

When we arrived in Apetity two nights ago, we were met by Sergei and Yura Belonoshkin, our interpreter and friend. Sergei and the older Vonya make a lot of home movies, and they showed us the one they made of their renovation of the flat. Over the course of two months, Sergei, the boys, and some volunteers from the local church transformed a delapidated flat into a beautiful home with a tidy kitchen, well-decorated bedrooms, and an intimate feel. Needless to say, Sergei has used his time and resources faithfully.

Yesterday, Louis, Yura, Sergei and myself visited an orphanage for disabled children that we visited on the 2004 trip. We again met a beautiful young girl named Olya who loves to sing (See picture above). The orphanage houses approximately 30 children, and between yesterday and tonight, we had the opportunity to spend time with just about every one of them. There is a kind and loving atmosphere in this place, and as was the case in 2004, we had a wonderful time there.

After our visit to the orphanage, the four of us walked to the office of the city government, and met with the city officials who assisted Sergei in his adoption. We were then whisked away to the office of the deputy mayor. There, the deputy mayor presented Louis and Red River Church with awards for service to the community in helping Sergei purchase the flat, then went on to explain how pure Communism was a lot like pure Christianity (Hours later, Louis quipped that "the problem is that mankind isn't very good at purity."). The visit was friendly on both sides, and was one of the coolest things I've ever witnessed during my time in Russia.

Today, we visited an orphanage in Manchigorsk, where Louis reconnected with a shy but lovely girl named Nastya. God has blessed Louis with a supernatural gift for fathering, and one of the true highlights of these trips for me is to see kids like Nastya respond to him. In these orphanages, strong and godly father figures are in short supply, and I believe that Louis's greatest ministry here has been to fill that role, at least in some small part, for dozens of these children.

For the first time on our journey, I am seeing ways that we might be able to be effective with future short-term teams. It may be that our best future ministry opportunities will be outside the hustle and bustle of St. Petersburg, and in far-flung locales such as Apetity.

By the way, did I mention that the temperature has been single digits Fahrenheit, and that we walk on snow and ice wherever we go? Just thought I'd let you know that...

We leave tomorrow at noon. I'm glad we came here.

01 March 2007, Back in St. Pete's

Upon disembarking from another 24-hour train ride, Louis, Milan and I went directly to Adult Facility #10. This facility turned away Roy's team a few days prior, but thanks to Milan's diplomatic talents, we were able to meet with the head doctor, and to spend a couple of hours visiting friends that we had met at Pavlovsk and other facilities. I finally broke out my guitar and shared a couple of songs with them, and an effusive boy named Misha in turn shared some songs he knew. It was a fun visit.

Louis inquired about a young man named Sasha that we know from Pavlovsk, and we found out that he is currently in another hospital where he is being treated for a heart problem. The doctor gave us the address, and I told Louis that I would go there with Milan the next day.

Tonight, Louis and I spent the evening with Milan, his wife Onya, and his son Phillipe. Philippe is a healthy and beautiful six-month-old baby, and Milan, being a strong, gentle and heavily-bearded Serbian man, makes a great father. We had tea for about the 20th time of the week, and I said goodbye to Louis, who returns to Texas tomorrow. We've had some great talks on this trip, and I appreciate his friendship as much as ever.

I will be staying at the flat of Yura Derbin and his parents for the rest of the trip. Yura looks like the bad guy with the spectacles from Raiders of the Lost Ark, but he's really a great guy.

02 March 2007, St. Petersburg

I began this day by meeting Milan at the local grocery, and promptly informed him that today was Texas Independence Day (Unlike the Dixie Chicks, I am exceedingly proud to be from Texas, as all true Texans should be.). I had also discovered that the Longhorns won a double-OT thriller over Texas A&M the previous night which brought to mind Proverbs 25:25 - "Like cold water to a thirsty soul, so is good news from a far country." Milan and I had tea and breakfast, and we took off for the hospital where we were told Sasha was.

We rode the bus for a half hour, then trudged through the snow for another half-hour to get to the hospital. Once there, we met a doctor who promptly told us where Sasha's room was, and upon hearing that I was from Texas, asked me where my pistols were. Sasha was not in the room, so Milan and I moseyed downstairs to pass the time over coffee.

I asked Milan the same question I had previously posed to Natasha about what we can do to be more effective in our ministry in Russia. Milan responded that we should network more closely with committed local Christians, relying on them to be our interpreters, help out in the orphanage, and to take care of logistical matters. He felt that this would benefit us because we would work alongside people committed to our mission, it would benefit the local Christians by involving them in these good works, and the local Christians would then be able to form relationships with kids in the orphanages, which would benefit everyone. Milan also said that he tells his friends that the foreign teams he works with are the ones that go to "extreme" places, such as Russian prisons and these orphanages for the disabled, and that what we do there is important.

At two in the afternoon, we finally found Sasha. Sasha is a very bright young man of 22, and grew up at Pavlovsk in the nonambulatory building there. He has acute scoliosis, so his back is severly bent over, which may be causing his heart problems. I presented Sasha with some gloves, a scarf, and a hat that Karen bought him, and we had an engaging conversation for the next two hours. Sasha recounted the many ways that he had been mistreated because of his handicap, and asked how handicapped people are treated in America. I told him that we generally treat them better, but that there are cruel people everywhere, even in America. Sasha told me of how many children died in his building at Pavlovsk prior to our arrival in 2000, and of the cruel and appalling conditions there. He felt that the visits from our teams and the presence of German volunteers changed the atmosphere significantly, and that conditions have improved (Tellingly, he gave no credit for the change to the staff there at Pavlovsk.).

Sasha then mentioned a girl at Pavlovsk named Natasha that he visits regularly. He loves this girl, and was upset that the workers at Pavlovsk were trying to prevent him from visiting. I told him that this was one of the sweetest things I ever heard, and that I shared his frustrations. If love can blossom in a place like the nonambulatory building at Pavlovsk, there might be some hope in this world after all. At the end of our time together, I laid my hands on Sasha, prayed for him, his heart, and for God's blessing, and embraced him. Sasha is a ray of light that has emerged from one of the bleakest places I have ever set foot, and I pray that he experiences some real joy on the road ahead of him.

03 March 2007, 11:00 PM, St. Petersburg

Today was the first day where I was able to spend significant time with Yura Derbin. Yura and his cousin Kostya began working with our teams in 2001, and Yura came to live with us for four months in the summer of 2003. He is a dear friend.

I woke up late, and after a quick breakfast of grapefruit and coffee, we caught a bus and walked through a brisk fog to the Piskariovskoye Memorial Cemetery,. It is one of the most haunting places I have ever walked. At the front, there was a small museum that gave an account of the Blokada Leningrada, where German forces surrounded the city and choked off all supply lines from 1941 to 1944. The conditions were harrowing - three million souls, very limited rations, with constant starvation and bombardment. The city withstood Hitler's army and broke the siege on the 900th day, but not without cost. Yura and I strolled through the fog along the central path of the cemetery, flanked on both side by dozens of mass graves that were each covered in snow and marked with a simple granite stone with a year (See above). After we walked about 250 yards, I saw the shape of a statue emerge from the mist. On a wall behind the statue, below embedded carvings depicting the many ordinary Russians who endured extraordinary suffering, a poem expressed how the ones who gave their lived to defend the city would never be forgotten. I have spent a lot of time in St. Petersburg over the years, and have often heard stories of the siege, but the reality of it never hit me until I walked among the dead who lay beneath the earth, snow, and soil today. May God have mercy on us all.

After the cemetery, Yura and I journeyed to the center of the city, passing a lively political protest on our way to the Russia Museum. The Russia Museum exclusively features Russian artists, and houses a millenium of art, from Orthodox icons carved in the 11th Century, to Renaissance-style works from the reign of Peter the Great, to modern and impressionist pieces that often express sympathy for the common man. The highlights for me included two paintings of moonlit night scenes by Arkhip Kuindzhi that reminded me of the Texas Hill Country, and the raging sea paintings by Ivan Aivazovsky.

We capped off the day by having dinner with Yura's grandparents, who live near Yura's parents in North St. Petersburg. Yura's grandmother was eagerly waiting for us on the stairs, and she may be the most enthusiastic grandmother I have ever met (and I have a pretty enthusiastic grandmother myself). At the dinner table, I ate three pancakes, black bread with cheese, cake, cookies, turnips candy, and eight cups of tea. She decided that this wasn't enough, and went to the kitchen to fetch some sauerkraut and sausage for me, and would have brought more if the rest of the family would have let her (I narrowly dodged the liver.). She also created a welcoming atmosphere that made for great conversation. I talked about Texas, how people talk funny, hunt deer, compete in rodeos and carry guns, and how we were once our own country. I recounted the respective experiences of my grandparents in World War II, and listened to the experiences of Yura's grandparents. His grandfather survived the Blockada Leningrada, and his grandmother was captured and taken to Estonia and Germany before returning to Russia. Yura's grandmother showed me family photos of Yura and Kostya. Finally, over five hours after we entered, I graciously bid goodnight, but not before Yura's grandmother sent me off with a stitched kitchen towel, a notebook, and pancakes for breakfast. I think tonight was the most fun meal I've ever had in Russia. Kostya and Yura are two outstanding young men and good friends, and after spending time with their family tonight, I see why.

Tomorrow, I visit Milan's church, and then pack for the long journey hope. I hope the air is warming up in Texas...

05 March 2007, 5:25 AM, Snowy morning in St. Petersburg

I'm here at the Pulkovo 2 Airport in St. Pete's, all checked in and ready to embark on my customary 28-hour return to America. I will have a 5-hour layover in Frankfurt this morning, and I'm not sure what I'll do with it yet. I'll try to steer clear of the casinos...

On my last day in St. Pete's, I did some light shopping in the morning, and after lunch, Yura and I visited Milan's church, near the Dostoevskaya Metro Station in the center of the city. It was my favorite service of all the ones I've attended in Russia. The room we met in looked more like a living room than a meeting room, and the worship leaders played medieval-style Russian hymns. This was the first Russian Evangelical service I've attended where the music sounded Russian - this encourages me greatly. The sermon was short, and it ended with a communion where a blues song was played in the background. In talking to the pastor Alexei after the service, he indicated that they incorporated a lot of "Emerging Church" ideas into their church. Great atmosphere, and something I hope to see more of in the future.

I said goodbye to Yura and his parents early this morning. They are a kind family, and I pray God's blessing upon them.

They've started boarding. More to come...

05 March 2007, 4:30 PM, Washington Dulles Airport

I am sitting at a restaurant at Washington Dulles Airport, after surviving a United transatlantic flight with no entertainment and bad food that ultimately found its way to the bottom of an air sickness bag thanks to a choppy approach. Therefore, I'm at a restaurant eating a tuna melt...

On all of my past trips to Russia, I poured my heart and soul into the ministry tasks that each day demanded, and took little time to reflect on their significance. The structure of this one, which included two 24-hour train rides, gave Louis and I time to discuss the current state of our ministry in Russia, and some possibilities for its future. We had the opportunity to spend a lot of personal time with Russian friends such as Natasha, Milan, Yura Belanoshkin and Yura Derbin, and to obtain their opinions on what we do. After all of this, I think we both agree that we still love Russia, and feel that God would have us continue to be involved there as long as we are able to. As long as the door is open, we'll keep walking through it.

As I mentioned before, I have been reading Dostoevsky's The Brothers Karamazov in my spare time on this journey. The three brothers of the title embody different facets that Dostoevsky observed in the Russian people. The impulsive sensualist Dmitri personifies the self-destructiveness of a culture where alcoholism and other excesses are historically epidemic. The rational atheist Ivan was a philosophical progenitor to the revolutionaries who toppled the Tsar and created the Soviet Union, which made Russia a great power as the people bore the terrible cost of atheism's practical application. Finally, the youngest brother, the humble and pious Alyosha, demonstrates the kindness and modesty inherent in a people who traditionally value relationships, family, and faith over material things. I believe that the path of Alyosha shows the best way for Russia to overcome the massive societal problems it faces.

It's true that a roaring economy driven by oil and other commodities has transformed Russia - there is a viable middle class for the first time since 1998, and fewer glaring humanitarian crises. When we first visited Pavlovsk in 2000, they had no money for medication; now the shelves are fully stocked. The problems that now plague Russian society are problems of conscience - rampant alcohol abuse (the eternal Russian dilemma), the unchecked spread of HIV/AIDS, corporate greed and government corruption. Problems of conscience can only be remedied by a change of the heart, and in my experience, that comes from an encounter with the living Christ. An encounter with Christ makes us aware of our helplessness in improving our condition, drives us to repentance before God, and enables us to overcome our remarkable disposition for evil by relying on God's help to practice divine virtues such as humility, sacrifice, charity, and friendship. In such virtues lie the hope for the redemption of Russia (and for that matter, America too).

11 March 2007, 11:00 PM, Austin, TX

I have one last thought to finish this diary, and it concerns the ultimate reason for all the journeys I've taken to Russia. While walking with Milan on a cold afternoon in St. Petersburg, I heard the Lord speak the following words to me:

"I brought you here to help you know me."

Before my first journey to Russia in 1993, I was a well-meaning, dorky 15-year-old kid who underachieved at school and possessed little desire to pursue spiritual things. Thanks to the prodding of my youth pastor and the the support of my church, I found myself in Russia that summer, and experience the most significant month of my life so far. I was surrounded by 25 passionate young Christians who cared deeply about their faith and worked hard together to share that faith in the streets of Moscow for 12 hours a day. I found myself challenged on a daily basis by my teammates and by God, and I pitched in and served as I was given the opportunity to. The unconditional love and comraderie I experienced on that team was something I badly needed at that time in my life. The 1993 trip changed my perspective on life to a God-centered one, and set me on the spiritual path that I've continued on to this day (with the not-so-occasional stumble).

The ten subsequent trips were each significant in their own ways. In 1999, I left for Russia shortly after my mom went through surgery for breast cancer, with the knowledge that there was a high likelihood that the cancer had spread. When I received the news in Russia that it had not spread, and that her prognosis was excellent, I felt in my heart that God had intervened, and I spent a solid half hour thanking God for this particular instance of His grace. The 2000 trip, which I went on shortly after starting my career as a junior-level civil engineer at LCRA, began the ministry to the disabled orphanages with Louis and Linda, which I believe to be closer to the heart of God than anything I've ever been a part of. We shared the gospel of Christ in the bleakest of places, but we did so in the context of serving children and ministering to their needs, backing our faith with good works every step of the way. We formed lasting friendships that we maintain to this day, and helped to bring about real change in the conditions of the orphanages we worked in. This latest trip, in addition to everything else, has given me clarity on what I should value as I prepare to begin graduate school in the fall.

So what did this all come to? Why did God bring me to Russia eleven times? I think a clue can be found at the end of C.S. Lewis's The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, where the lion Aslan tells Lucy and Edmund Pevensie why he brought them to Narnia:

"Please, Aslan," said Lucy. "Before we go, will you tell us when we can come back to Narnia again? Please. And oh, do, do, do make it soon."
"Dearest," said Aslan very gently, "you and your brother will never come back to Narnia."
"Oh, Aslan!!" said Edmund and Lucy both together in despairing voices.
"You are too old, children," said Aslan, "and you must begin to come close to your own world now."
"It isn't Narnia, you know," sobbed Lucy. "It's you. We shan't meet you there. And how can we live, never meeting you?"
"But you shall meet me, dear one," said Aslan.
"Are -- are you there too, Sir?" said Edmund.
"I am," said Aslan. "But there I have another name. You must learn to know me by that name. This was the very reason why you were brought to Narnia, that by knowing me here for a little, you may know me better there." (italics mine)

The significance of Russia in my life is that it has been a sort of Narnia for me - an oft-snow-blanketed far-off country I go to take part in the Lord's work, to meet again with old friends, and to be swept up in whatever adventures await me. As with the Pevensie children in Narnia, my adventures in Russia have shaped my character, but most importantly, they have drawn me to the real Aslan, the Saviour of the World, whom I eagerly look forward to meeting face-to-face at the end of my adventures in this world...

Thanks to all the wonderful people who made this trip and all the others such fun and life-changing experiences, and to all who prayed or otherwise made it possible for me to go each time. I am ever indebted to you.

Praise God from whom all blessings flow;
Praise Him all creatures here below;
Praise Him above the heav'nly host;
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.


At 12:32 AM, Blogger Louis said...

Hey, Nate. Thanks for seeking Sasha out and going to see him in the hospital, and thanks for giving us a little insight into the lovely character of a young man who is striving to rise above circumstances unimaginable to most all of us. If you had done nothing else but spend this time with him on your trip, it made it worth all the effort and expense. May the Lord bless you and Sasha both.

At 5:39 PM, Blogger Laura said...

It looks like you had quite a Russian adventure. It also looks bitterly cold there! Gosh. Would you ever think of moving there long-term?

And ps. I saw some HSL shirts in there. Representin'

At 11:30 PM, Blogger jAr said...

Awesome Nate, thank you for the insight and perspective.


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