And then it was time to go home. In the end, it’s not the places, but the people who make trips memorable. Five years ago I reconnected with one of my Russian friends from mission trips years ago. She invited me to visit her and her family in Moscow, and I jumped at the chance. Little did I realize until many friendships later that “family” extends well beyond the borders of biological relations or countries of origin.
There are no real differences in the daily grinds regular families face on either side of the Russia/America divide. We all encounter the mundane, humorous, frustrating and aggravating, and normal ebbs and flows of daily living.
Before I began my trip, a friend who was supposed to pick me up at the Moscow airport said his 12-year old Mazda SUV had blown its engine, and he would have to replace it. Drive them until they drop, then repair them and drive them until they drop again. Life goes on.
The Russian economy has suffered in recent years, and that suffering has been passed along to the people. Russians understand that. The 2019 ruble is about half the value of the 2014 ruble. Americans don’t understand that a good economy benefits everyone and a poor economy hurts everyone.
While visiting friends in four cities and places in between, I learned about business problems that threatened a young family’s income, marital problems that threatened to leave a young mother alone to fend for her 4-year-old son and 2-year-old twins, and an older widow who had no family to help her buy food and provide a place to live. One friend had had to decide between buying gas for the family car or food for his children for months. And, yet, God is gracious.
I had contacted Christian friends here before leaving and let them know about challenges I might encounter. Immediately many of those friends gave abundantly more than I had ever imagined, to the extent that these gifts more than covered needs listed above. And, still there are more needs among Christians in Russia.
The Russian Orthodox Church is the dominant religious institution. Other denominations like Baptists and Pentecostals likely comprise less than 1% of the population, though there are no reliable census data for religious groups. Christians outside the Russian Orthodox Church must maintain low profiles due to recent crackdowns on “religious sects” by local authorities based on a new 2016 national law.
Of course my friends wanted to discuss politics, both local and national. Russian is the language of politics after all, much like English is the language of business. National politics are corrupt. That goes for both nations. Few rank-and-file Russians are communists, but communists dominate national politics and power, much like the Washington establishment dominates politics and power. The same goes for national media in both countries that spin narratives not always consistent with pravda, that is the truth.
My trip to Russia was the fastest long 11 days of my life. As we parted company, we all remarked how quickly time had passed. We exchanged many gifts I will cherish and share with others as “thanks” for their gifts to fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. Relationships with those in Christ far supersede temporal relationships. We’re all looking forward to better things.