I have done something that is now illegal.
At church last Sunday, they told us that a law was passed in Russia in early July making it illegal to share the gospel, unless you are an ordained minister and do so on property owned by a church. In the summer of 2005, I got to go on a missions trip to the region of Russia known as Siberia. So, when I shared the gospel in Russia it was not yet illegal to do so. The passing of this law has me saddened, but also has me reminiscing about my experiences in Siberia.
I was in Siberia for about two and half weeks. The first week, we ran a VBS-style program at a school an hour drive from Krasnoyarsk. The second week, we ran the childrens program portion of a Christian festival at a different location, which was also an hour from Krasnoyarsk. That took the form of English lessons, followed by a teaching time.
Below are a few memories that stand out to me still, eleven years later. They are in no particular order, other than the order in which I happened to think of them while writing this post:
– Spending time with the locals we were working with. Especially, singing worship with them during our worship service each evening. We sang a lot of hymns. Sometimes I only knew the first verse, and would sing it three or four times. It was really neat to sing with some people singing in English, and others singing in Russian, but all of us praising God together. It was a great reminder of how all Christians are one in Christ, because our worship of God was able to transcend language barriers.
– Getting to teach the Bible lesson one day during the 2nd week. I had been warned that teaching with an interpreter would make it difficult to keep track of where I was in my lesson. I was worried because that was a problem I had even without an interpreter. God was good, and my lesson went really well. It gave me the courage to continue to take opportunities to teach, and is part of why I am willing to teach now.
– Seeing the attitude of service of some of the people we met. There was this one lady (I think her name was Violet?). She came and joined the group for the sole purpose of cooking for us. Her food was really good. She spoke Russian, German, and about two words of English. But, those two words of English showed her heart of service. Every morning, I would go over to the eating area. As I sat there, waiting for other people to come over for breakfast, she would come over with a smile, and use her two words of English to ask: “Coffee? Tea?” She greeted everyone that way, every morning, using the little English she knew in order to serve. Looking back, it wouldn’t surprise me if she learned “coffee” and “tea” just so that she could minister in that way.
– Playing UNO in the evenings. I don’t remember who had brought the game, but it was a great idea. It allowed us to do something together – not just the team I traveled with, but the team of local Russians who we were serving alongside. It worked because it required so little translation.
– The first week, we were running a VBS style program at a local school. Before we went, the local team had made arrangements with the schoolmaster. He agreed to allow our group to use the school, but warned that we were going to have two problems. One, it was summer and the kids would not want to come to something taking place at the school during their vacation. That turned out to not be a problem. I think we had every kid in that town. The second problem that the schoolmaster warned of was the weather. It was supposed to rain all week, and that would prevent our outdoor game time. I didn’t see this happen, but my teammates did. One day, dark clouds were coming us. Then they split, went around us, and then came back together again. It never rained while we were doing ministry. (On the other hand, every evening around 5 pm, when we dug out the UNO deck, it would rain cats and dogs.)
– The Saturday between our two weeks of ministry, the local team drove us about an hour up the river. There, they had built two giant rafts, big enough to hold all of us. It took six or seven hours for us to float down the slow-moving river back to where we were staying. Their intention had been for us to get warm in the sun, jump in the river and cool off, and then lay in the sun again. Most of the week, it was quite warm (summers in Siberia have highs around 80 F). However, that particular day turned out to be cool, with a light drizzle off and on. It still turned out to be a fun relaxing day on the river.
– The Sunday between our two weeks of ministry, we attended a church service in Krasnoyarsk. Our main translator was not with us that weekend, and the other translators who were there did not feel comfortable enough with their abilities to translate the service. So, we sat through two sermons in Russian. (I have since learned that two sermons in the same service is not uncommon in Russia.) The tone of the second sermon stood out to me. I had read in books about hellfire and brimstone sermons. I had never heard one before, but from the tone of voice, the second sermon sure seemed to sound like one. I was sitting at the edge of our team. I looked over at the Bible of the churchgoer sitting next to me. She noticed me looking. Then she ran her finger over the edge of the pages on the right side of her Bible, behind where it was open to, as if to emphasize how few of them there were, and then pointed to the chapter number. With that, I was able to open my Bible to the appropriate chapter in Revelation, and read the text for myself.
– How green everything was. It reminded me of Oregon. I guess with all of the snow that they get 9 months out of the year, there is enough moisture to help things grow and just look beautiful.
– Our main translator, who told us the story of how God had changed her life. Right after our visit, she was headed back to go see her family for the first time in a year. She told us that if there was even any temptation to return to her old way of life, she would leave for as long as it took.
– The local Awana missionaries giving up their apartment for the weekend we were in the city. They stayed with another family member, and let the gals on my team use their apartment. Fun fact: In Siberia, apparently apartments are more expensive and desirable than owning a house, due to apartments having central heating.
I enjoyed the time that I spent serving in Siberia. I loved the people that I met, and the things I got to see, and the way that I got to see God work.