Sorry to get this out to you later, but we had a very busy night.
Yesterday began with a moving devotional by Becky, which lead the group to open up about personal challenges. After, we all went to Novokuybyshevsk, where we visited a theater program for people with a disability. In Russia, people with disabilities are marginalized, and there are not any programs sponsored by the state after the age of 18. This organization gives a place for people over 18 with disabilities to have a sort of life. At the theater we learned that this was a group led by volunteers and mostly mothers whose children have a passion for acting. They have so much confidence in the shows they are putting on, and you could tell were completely happy to be performing. A highlight was watching Albina watch the children because she works closely with them through teaching them to sing and writing songs. Her pride for how well the children performed brought tears to our eyes. Afterwards, we had a reception of coffee and tea, where we could interact with the performers. They were filled with such warmth, and we could see what great friends they were.
Afterwards, we went to the church, where we were picked up by our host families. We went to their apartments for a late lunch/dinner. Albina graciously hosted us and Elena to a wonderful meal and some sledding. Fortunately, we had Maria there to help translate. However, some groups learned that Google Translate doesn’t always convey the right meaning.
We debreifed as a group about our different experiences at the host families, which were all very positive. The day extra was special because it was Christmas Even in Russia. Max and Stassi took Sarah, Elena, Pastor Cathy, Pastor Doug, and Linda to part of a Russian Orthodox Christmas Service. It was an amazing experience. While we did not understand the Russia, Max said that most of the service was in ancient Slavic, so even they did not understand either. The church was ornately decorated with beautiful scenes and idols painted on the walls, and everything shone in gold. It was an incredibly unique experience that we are fortunate to have seen.