Report on My Trip to Khabarovsk, Russia
Patrick Drudy, Ph.D.
Do you know that Russians send their kids to camp during the summer?
Do you know that Russians are concerned about having their cars broken into when they park them in the city?
Do you know that Russian Christians pray for world peace?
Do you know, in other words, that Russians are much like us?
Most of you probably haven't given it much thought. Even though in high school and college I studied the Russian language and learned about their culture, that lesson really didn't come home to me either until I went there in June. Unfortunately, too many years had gone by to make my language studies of much value. However, I can still sing the Song of the Volga Boatmen in Russian, but I'm not going to do that because then Clyde would try to recruit me for the choir!
After college I went into the army for two years and was lucky to be assigned to a post in Germany. This was during the Viet Nam era at the height of the cold war. NATO forces were facing off against the Warsaw Pact nations lead by the former Soviet Union. As in virtually every confrontation, the soldiers of the "Evil Empire," as President Ronald Reagan later characterized it, became a faceless enemy bent on destruction of our own way of life.
This past June I met one of those Russian soldiers. Grecia is a devoted family man and a devout Christian. His wife, Sveta, and nine year-old daughter, Mosha, are every bit as loving and wonderful as he is. They impressed me as being an ideal family who work hard to bring the message of Christ to other Russians.
Let me give you an example. A couple of days before we were scheduled to return to the states, we short-term missionaries and a few Russians, including Sveta, were heading downtown to buy some souvenirs. I noticed that Sveta was wearing a cross around her neck made of some polished, black stone and I remarked about how attractive it was. Sveta immediately removed the necklace and handed it to me saying, through an interpreter, that she wanted me to have it. I was quite embarrassed about this, because I didn't realize that, in Russia, when you pay someone a complement about something, he or she is likely to give it to you. I protested mildly so as not to upset her, but she persisted. My mother is wearing that cross today; take a look at it if you get the chance.
What to do? On our last evening in Khabarovsk we had a special dinner at orphanage #8 to commemorate our visit. Before it began I went over to Grecia when Sveta was not with him and mentioned the necklace. (He speaks English so I didn't need an interpreter.) Naturally, Sveta had told him about it. I took out a $20 bill and handed it to him, telling him to buy Sveta another necklace with the money. I also asked him to wait until I was gone to say anything because I was afraid she would give the money back.
Grecia said he wanted to use the money toward his ministry, which is to spread the word of God among Russian soldiers. But I insisted that he buy Sveta a necklace. Then, exhibiting a faith that I wish everyone including myself could have, Grecia stated simply that God would double the money to finance his ministry. During the dinner my thoughts frequently returned to his words. In a country as poor as Russia, where does a sum as great as $20 come from when many Russians have difficulty coming up with the two rubles (equivalent to eight cents) needed to ride a bus. My thought was that Grecia was being unduly optimistic to think that this would happen, but I silently wished him luck. Then it occurred to me that I had the means to fulfill his faith in God. And so after dinner I went back to Grecia, gave him another $20 bill, and told him to use that money for his ministry.
In telling this story I am making two points: One is the goodness of the Russian Christians in particular and Russian people in general. The other is how God works, sometimes in unexpected ways, when you have faith.
I have alluded to the fact that the Russians are poor. The figures I have heard or read is that the average Russian makes between $40 and $55 a month. This means that every American who goes to Russia is comparatively wealthy even if he or she is not in our own country. In some respects, though, the situation is much different from what it was during the Soviet era. Because of the current economic instability in Russia, the future is very uncertain and this seems to result in a sense of hopelessness among the people. On the positive side, however, there are no more lines and just about anything you could want is available if you have the money to pay for it. Unfortunately, very few Russians do. Despite this, the Christian community is very vibrant and alive. Their faith and enthusiasm for doing God's work more than make up for their small numbers.
The government itself is also very poor. Even making allowances for the corruption that exists, there are virtually no public funds available for anything. The country was literally disintegrating before our eyes. Almost every apartment had peeling wallpaper and cracked linoleum floors. And large potholes existed even on main thoroughfares ready to swallow the unwary motorist. Nothing is repaired unless it's absolutely necessary.
In spite of the dire economic straits most Russians find themselves in, I was impressed with the seven orphanages that we visited or worked at. On the whole, the children were more disciplined than our own and overall appeared to be in very good health. The staff was sincerely dedicated to their welfare. Some of them can be adopted through international agencies if anybody you know is interested.
The buildings the children lived in were serviceable, but frequently in need of lots of repairs. That's where our team of short-term missionaries and long-term missionaries like Jan come in. We and our Russian friends (including interpreters like Andrey and Klavdia; our driver, Volodya; and Grecia and Sveta whom I spoke of before) all pitched in to paint, wallpaper, build a volleyball court, and tear down a large shed. Jan even raised the money to replace a boiler in one of the orphanages. And supplies: our short-term team brought in childcare and medical items, sports equipment, and lots of other things that are not readily available.
One of my personal goals was to go to Khabarovsk in a professional capacity as a psychologist and I was fortunate to have Ari, another long-term missionary and Jan make these arrangements. As a result, I was able to make a six-hour presentation on domestic violence to a clinic that provides a variety of medical, mental health, and related services. I also made a two-hour presentation to teachers from the various orphanages on the subject of discipline.
Everyone I came into contact with-from professionals at the presentations to chance encounters with ordinary Russians on the street-lead to an experience that was both enlightening and positive. They were eager to know about America: how we live, how much money we make, and even why so many American men want to marry Russian women. (The newspapers are full of personal ads placed by American men.)
The whole experience was remarkable. There's a novelty song that sums up what I am trying to say very nicely-Father Abraham. Some of you may know it. In most of the orphanages we visited the children put on a show for us and we reciprocated. We always ended our show with Father Abraham. Since it calls for audience participation, it never failed to be a big hit with the kids. In fact, Jan here was the lead demonstrator for the motions that accompany the song. The words to Father Abraham go like this:
Father Abraham had many sons, Many sons had Father Abraham. I am one of them and so are you, So let's all praise the Lord.
All the peoples of the world are the sons (and daughters) of Father Abraham if they know Christ, or can become the sons and daughters of Father Abraham if they learn to know Him. The people of Russia where I served, of Kazakhstan where Melanie served, of Ghana where Sandy served need to hear about God. We can bring the message of Christ's salvation to them in a number of ways-directly through teaching the Word of God, but also indirectly through the good works being done by our short- and long-term missionaries. I trust your congregation will continue to support these efforts through its prayers and financial contributions.
Now let me turn the narration over to Jan Spurgeon, a long-term missionary in Khabarovsk, Russia. She's back in the states because her visa has expired, but she plans to return to Russia in the near future. It was largely through her efforts that we were able to gain entry into the orphanages of Khabarovsk. But enough from me, I'll let her tell her own stories.
The address is:
E-mail: AIC1177@aol.com .