Saturday, August 2, 2008

(This is a picture of me and American friends wearing large Russian hats. No one in Russia wears large fur Soviet hats.)

I love international travel because you lose any notion of time you ever had. My computer tells me that it is Saturday, and I simply have to believe it for lack of a better source!

Last Sunday I woke up after sleeping in for several hours. I rolled out of bed, brushed my teeth, and went downstairs to the Korean church. I had spent the night at the United Methodist Seminary and it is home to at least 4 different churches. The First Service Sunday Morning (some time around noon or thereafter) was in Korean. The Koreans re-started the Methodist church in Russia over twenty years ago. There were many United Methodist Koreans living in the Soviet Union and they petitioned the government to allow them to meet. They were allowed access to a small concert hall with a very large statue of Lenin on the front platform. Some Sundays the Korean-Russians would cover the statue with a sheet ... after the fall of communism they moved the statue off of the stage for Sunday morning worship. They invited Russian-Russians and eventually planted the first Russian-Russian United Methodist churches. So we owe a lot to the Koreans, and attending their church service was a fun experience.

(The Korean churches' Sunday School.)

The Pastors Shishkin from Syktyvkar happened to be in Moscow that Sunday and were the featured preachers for the morning. The Korean churches visit Syktyvkar every summer (they never visit during the 9-10 month snowy season!) and on their last visit they gave money for a new air-conditioner. Haha. (The church used the money to install central heating as their building had used three different wood stoves.)

After Korean worship, I went with my Seminary student friend, Katya Li, to Ludmilla Garbuzova's church. Katya doesn't speak a word of English, and she continually encourages me in my Russian studies. She speaks with simple words and sentence structure and it feels great to understand and be understood. She tells me I have a "hot heart." I think the same about her - but more so.

The art and design college where Ludmilla's church normally meets isn't available during the summer so they do home churches. This particular Sunday it was just the youth at Ludmilla's flat. More than twenty of them (not all, she assures me) gathered in her comparatively large flat (Ludmilla had been an important government official before she became a Christian pastor - one perk of government service is incredibly spacious apartments! 5 rooms!) for worship and preparation for camp. She teaches on trendy clothes and the idea that God looks on the inside and that it is our heart that must be adorned - by faith. She held the room's attention - effortlessly going into long discussions with different youth about difficult topics. Several of her youth are orphans. Most of them aren't necessarily Christian - they are just lonely and crave a loving atmosphere. Ludmilla is altogether a realist ... after the sermon, when we were discussing camp, she said, "How many of us smoke?" More than half the room raised a hand. "Well, this week would be a good time to quit, but if you're going to smoke be polite to others and the environment. Smoke in the woods as a group and don't litter the butts." Could you imagine a pastor in the states saying that?!

On Monday we went to the youth camp. Our friend from Kirov, Zina, came to the camp and I met her at the train station and I brought her to the camp. We spoke entirely in Russian and when, most of the way to the camp, I called Kira and spoke in English half of the train turned to stare. They had heard my heavy accent, but American accents are rare and they probably assumed I was from Europe. They were more than a little suprised to learn that an American knew more than tourist phrases! Zina laughed harder than acceptable in Russian and I joined her.

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