Russian Christmas

Merry Russian Christmas!!

We woke up to another white Christmas here in Russia, which was beautiful. We started the day with a devotional by Sarah and Elena about praise and wants versus needs. We then went to church for the Christmas service. The service started by the praise band singing in both Russian, English, and Portuguese. It was an amazing experience to be apart of worshiping in multiple languages and praising one God. Then, two six year old girls were baptized. Pastor Doug then gave a sermon that posed the question “will you hold the baby” or in other terms will you accept the love that God showed us, which was followed by communion. After the service, we all ate lunch together in the youth space. Throughout the day, Jeff helped to cook the meal for the soup kitchen, and the Arnold’s helped to serve it.

Afterwards, we all went our own ways to different meetings and ministries. Elena, Sarah, and Linda went to the gypsy ministry with Ivan and Tania. This ministry helps to provide Sunday school and education for the gypsy children. There are 200 children out of 500 in the gypsy village. It was sad to see the conditions that the people lived in, but we saw what heart they had. The church has made a significant impact since it helps children learn to read and write Russian when they did not know their colors a year ago.

When everyone’s ministries and meetings were over, everyone gathered for an American game night. Then, we had a wonderful last dinner together. It is hard to believe that the week has lasted by so quickly. We are all so sad to leave our amazing Russian brothers and sisters, but we know that we will meet again. The people here are the most genuine, passionate, and generous people. While they learn from us, we learn much from them. They have such zeal for the Lord that we hope to take back to the United States with us. A big thank you to the, for so graciously hosting us and dedicating so much time and energy to our visit.

Thank you to Kevin for organizing another wonderful trip. This would not be able to happen without him or his expertise.

Currently, we are waiting for out early 3 a.m. bus to the airport. Some of us are awake playing cards while others are fast asleep. Thank you Pastor Doug and Pator Cathy for teaching us euchre.

Thanks for tuning in to our Russia experience. We can never truly do this special place justice.

 

(This is currently posted as we wait for our flight to Dayton, we are almost safely home!)

Seeing Samara Through Our Hosts Eyes

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.

Merry Christmas!

 

 

Growing the Fellowship

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves. – Philipians 2:3

We saw this verse several times today brought up by multiple people. Starting the day, Linda did a wonderful devotional on Philipians 2 where we discussed the meaning of this passage. A theme of what we have seen here is humility, so this verse fits perfectly. When we arrived at church, we were greeted with Anna and Alla rehearsing to “Here I Am to Worship.” Once everyone entered the sanctuary, we joined them in song. The praise songs were sung together in both English and Russian, a powerful experience that embodied the feeling of the unity through God on our unique individual faith journeys.

Today was filled with interactions where we got the chance to discuss and share these faith journeys with small groups. Pastor Cathy led a leadership workshop that felt like a bible study. Something important that Cathy focused on was our spiritual gifts and how we use those to grow our communities. We were able to learn about each other’s gifts and understand how the church communities have fostered these gifts. In the small groups, we found ourselves being inspired by hearing where people see God interact in their life. At the end of the spiritual gift conversations, people in our small group said what they thought our gift was and we shared what we though each person’s was. It was incredible to highlight other people’s talents as well as hearing what people thought our gifts and other’s in the circle were. Then, we came together as a big group, and a few people shared their testimonials to the whole room, which was incredibly brave. It was inspiring to hear their walk with Christ.

Something important to discuss is the food. There is no such thing as to much food. First was a coffee and tea break with pastries in the morning. An hour later, we were fed a delicious three course lunch. Two hours later, we had our second coffee break. Personally, the two of us couldn’t handle another meal, so we played foosball with a some “professional” Russian players. Before dinner, Alla and Anna led us in more songs.

Before dinner we worked in small groups led by Aliona to decorate doves with a certain theme in mind. We worked on the same dove with our new friend and tireless interpreter Misha and a young member of the church, Maria. We agreed on a theme of Jesus as king to start but it quickly became something else. We apologize, Misha, that we couldn’t keep up with your perfectionist vision. However, we all took from that a lesson of finding beauty in chaos. A common theme of the doves was the love and unity between the Russian and American communities.

So then, back to food again, we had a wonderful dinner where Sarah barely ate a thing because she had several children all over her.

After dinner, we had an amazing and moving prayer service organized by Samara Methodist Church. They set up different prayer exercises based off Bible verses around the room that we could individually and leisurely partake in. Each person had their own powerful and unique experience that we cannot speak for, but it was a beautiful evening and the perfect way to end a long day.

Experiencing Russian Tradition

We started our morning early with a devotional by Jeff. Then, we loaded onto a tour bus to see and learn more about Samra and its history. We also visited Stalin’s bunker, which is now a museum. In addition, we saw the beautiful and partially frozen Volga River. Then, Max took us to a Georgian restaurant, where we had a sampling of the delicious cuisine before heading back to the church.

The Samara Medothodist Church prepared an elaborate and beautiful Russian culture night. They shared intimate details of their lifestyle, took our hands and led us in games and dances, sang traditional folk songs led by Anna and Allah, and prepared a magnificent buffet of traditional foods. We were blown away by the effort and presentation of their distinct national culture and the pride they have in it. It has been so special to be in fellowship with a community that has such a deep and genuine relationship with God. On behalf of Sarah and Gretchen, we hope that we can learn from their passion for our God and bring that back to Hyde Park.

 

Our team on the banks of the Volga River.

Pastor Doug in Stalin’s chair in the bunker.

Our gracious interpreter Max leading the culture night.

First Day in Samara

Privyet from Russia! It’s Sarah Krott and Gretchen Thomas writing to you. We are going to be writing about our adventures and experiences while here in Russia.

Most of the team arrived in Samara late last night (or early morning) after a long day of travel. Pastors Doug and Cathy unfortunately experienced travels delays but they arrived today just in time for lunch. The rest of the team was able to sleep in this morning gathering after a late breakfast for devotionals led by Pastor Laura. The focus of her devotions challenged us to look for suprises throughout our trip here.

After the devotion, we went to the church to meet everyone. Team members that had previously come to Samara were warmly greeted at the doors while first time team members were welcomed enthusiastically. We then had a wonderfully made lunch where we started to get to know one another while others caught up. Then, we took a tour of the church. We saw the current renovations of the youth space, which will soon be a youth cafe with heated floors so they can comfortably host bible studies and events with the youth able to sit on the floor. Last trip to Samara we painted some rooms and we were able to see the final product. We ended in the sanctuary where we were greeted with more members of Samara United Methodist Church.

We started with a series of ice-breaker activities lead by Max, our main translator. The first game we took a personal object and exchanged it with another person as well as our name. We continued exchanging for a couple of minutes, and then attempted to correctly return the object by saying their names. It was hard for us to understand and remember the Russian names as well as for the Russians to remember our names.  The next game that we played was snowball. For those of you who don’t know what that is, it’s when one person says their name and makes a motion. Then, the next person must repeat what the person before them did and recite their name. As it goes around the circle, it creates a list of names and motions. Shout out to Tanya from Samra and Pastor Laura, who repeated everyone’s names and gestures.

In small groups, we created a Russian and English dictionary.  In our group, Allah, a member of the church here spoke very little English but was an enthusiastic teacher helping us to pronounce each little word and phrase and curious to improve her English. Now we can at least reply in Russian when we do not understand the Russian being said to us. Gretchen and Allah spoke their English and Russian in front of everyone and got a round of applause.

Next, we went around the room and introduced ourselves and gave our expectations and hopes. Another shout out, huge thanks to Max for translating everyone’s introductions, so we could better understand each other’s lives. We are so grateful to be in fellowship with these amazing people.

We had a lovely dinner with some of our old and some of our new friends. Following dinner, we took a walk through the historic part of Samra. We ended in the town square where there is a festival for the new year. In the center of the square, there is a large New Years Tree and Sarama sign. They have many activities including ice skating, Christmas market booths, a mini-carousel, a tube slide, and a mini-train rides with music playing throughout. Our friend, Albina from Samara, took Elena, Eva and us on the tube ride. We couldn’t have imagined s better way to end the day.

We cannot wait to see what the rest of the week holds. We will keep you updated along the way!