Russia was certainly one of the most amazing experiences of my life. I have trouble writing about it I think, because I don't think I can ever really do it justice, but I'm gonna try anyway.
Most people probably expect the story to start at an airport, but for me, the real journey began long before that. I think one of the most significant things I took from the whole experience began with a letter. To be honest, I didn't even write the support letters. Chris did. I mostly just edited. We sent them out to friends and family, and began to pray that God would honor our commitment to His work in Russia by providing the means for the trip. It was a lot of money to raise, and we didn't have a dime to spare, so I was at least a little worried about how we would be able to raise all of it. At first we got some pretty bad reactions to our request for support. People who I had thought would be excited for us were actually offended by the request for help. It was pretty disheartening, but I held on to the thought that if God wanted us in Russia, He'd find a way to send us there. Then the support started coming in, and wow did it ever! I couldn't believe the generosity of some of our friends. We got funds from some very unexpected places, and prayer from all sides. By the time we were ready to leave Dallas, it was pretty much all there. It was really amazing to see how God was there even when I began to doubt and how He provided so much more than I ever had hoped for.
The trip over there was mostly uneventful, unless you count turbulence... there was plenty of that. We arrived in Ekaterinberg on Saturday night with 6 out of 7 pieces of luggage, but Phil's caught up with him by the end of the day Sunday. On Sunday, we got to spend some time with the members of the year-round team that Darin leads, and we also got a brief tour of the city. Every day of the week we went to one of the primary schools or universities in the city to speak with the students. There is a law in Russia that says that you can't try to convert a minor without their parents' permission, so we couldn't really talk much about God while we were in the primary schools. I was unquestionably impressed by the students we met. It seems like the Russian students work so much harder than their American counterparts. They were amazing! These kids knew more about America than most of us did I think!
In the evenings we got down to doing the real work of our mission. Basically our part was to introduce students to the Compas organization. (Compas is the international branch of Campus Crusade -- apparently some parts of the world aren't entirely comfortable with the word "crusade." Go figure!) Four days of the week we broke out into pairs and got to teach English to groups of university students using parables from the Bible. Our group was pretty open and willing to talk about spiritual matters and both Chris and I got a really strong feeling that the Spirit was working on some of these kids. I hope and pray that they will continue to attend the Compas meetings and will eventually make their own life-changing decisions.
Thursday night we got to attend the Compas meeting. It was so incredible to be able to worship together despite the language differences. The team played a video from a Stephen Curtis Chapman concert that Moose and I actually had attended a couple of years ago. The clip played was called "Beyond the Gates"and it is the power story of the Nate Saint and the group of missionaries who were killed in South America and the story of how the family of two of the slaughtered missionaries went back to the tribe who had killed their loved ones and introduced them to the love of Christ. It is a really moving story which has been made into a movie. Check out the site for more info. Anyway, long story short, the story really got to me the first time I saw it, and it got to me again that evening in Russia. Since I'm still not sure what exactly God wants me to take from this particular bit of history, I'm sure it will come up again at some point.
The most difficult part of the trip by far was when we had to say goodbye to our class and our helpers Friday night. I wish I could have spent a month instead of a week there, but all good things must come to an end, so we went our separate ways. I hope that we can go back next year, but even if not, the people we met in Russia will always have a special place in my heart.