Our day began at 9:00 AM when Nick arrived at our apartment to pick us up. We stuffed ourselves in to his tiny car (picture a washing machine lying on its side with wheels), and off we went into the blowing snow. The drive to Vacha took about two hours and was a bit harrowing at times as Nick’s tiny car has a top speed of about 50 mph. Other vehicles would tear by us and wind gusts would blow us across the road. Russian drivers are VERY aggressive. They often pass even when cars are headed at them from the other direction. Driving on the highway is like being involved in an extended game of “chicken.” You always hope that someone will make room as you careen down the wrong side of the road at top speed.
I noticed when we started out that the gas gauge was on empty and so I asked him, “Does that thing work”? He tapped it a few times and said “Sure.” About 20 minutes into the trip, as we passed yet another gas station the “empty” light began to flash on. I pointed it out to Nick and he said “Yeah, don’t worry. There’s a gas station up the rode a ways.” Karen, in her best Russia speaks up and says “Good, we don’t want to walk!” Sure enough, as the car was sputtering along on fumes, we saw the service station and Nick pulled in to fill the tank.
Despite a few moments of terror along the way and stiff legs and backs from being cramped in the car, we enjoyed the trip. We had no interpreter on this trip so we all stretched our language skill to the maximum as we made conversation. Karen and I are actually noticing some improvement in our ability to communicate. We now understand enough to actually know how bad we sound when we speak Russian!
The trip though the Russian countryside was beautiful, much like Northern New England in the winter. The towering Birch trees were glazed with frost and the rolling hillsides were snow-covered. Even though it had been snowing for the last ten days the roads were reasonably clear and we arrived in Vacha without incident.
Road conditions changed dramatically as we entered the village. The main street was clear, but the side streets were full of snow and deeply rutted. Nick had a difficult time negotiating the side streets as we drove toward the church. As mentioned, an Oka is a very small car, and it has 12inch tires and a clearance of about 10 inches. As we turned off the main street onto one of the side streets Karen (wearing a dress) and I had to hop out and push the car. As we got closer to the church we could see that the street (dirt in the summer) was now only a walking path, so we left the car where it was and walked in the rest of the way.
The church is both the missionary’s home and the chapel. When we arrived we were warmly greeted by Bogdan and Lena and immediately told to take off our shoes, put on some slippers and sit down to lunch before the church service began. Russian hospitality was at its’ best as we were stuffed with more food than we could eat, had hot tea and enjoyed catching up on each other’s lives. Lena is due to deliver their first child in April. We are in awe of these young Russian missionaries. They live in a small village home without running water and indoor plumbing, survive on a tiny salary and yet serve God with such joy and dedication
After lunch we made our way into the small chapel, being greeted warmly and as always, given the best seats in the room, an honor which always makes us feel humbled.
Because our purpose in Russia is to train leaders and make disciples, we asked Nick to take the entire service. He did a great job leading the people in worship and preaching a message. Right in the middle of the message he asked everyone to listen to a short piece of classical music which emphasized a point in the message. Everyone seemed to enjoy the service and were blessed and encouraged by the preaching. Total time of the service- 2 hours, which is an hour shorter than the church we usually attend in Nizhny Novgorod!
After the church service the church members pulled the benches together to form a table, covered them with paper and served an after-church light meal. This was less than 3 hours after we had been stuffed with lunch. We had a good time together. Nick spoke more about the Gospel and we passed around a photo album of pictures taken during the outreach in Vacha last summer for everyone to enjoy.
After an hour or so, we began to clear things away and pack up. Since Nick had the only car in the group he was asked if he would help to get Galena, a wheelchair bound lady, back to her apartment. We couldn’t quite figure out how she got to church to begin with. She lives ½ a mile away, the streets are deep in snow and there was nothing but a footpath to church. The brothers in the church carried Galena and her wheelchair down the path to Nick’s car, helped her into the front seat, strapped the wheelchair to the top, then squeezed themselves into the car and drove Galena home. Once parked outside her apartment, they got everyone out, carried Galena in and up 3 flights of stairs to her one room apartment. Despite her many problems, Galena is a very happy woman who faithfully follows Christ without complaining of her fate.
While Galena was being taken home, Karen and I and walked with one of the women of the church back to her apartment. Soon we were joined by Nick and Nadezhda’s husband, Zhenya and much to our surprise, we were fed yet again. This was our 3rd meal in 4 ½ hours. This time it “was only a small meal” to tide us over on the trip back home. We were given a huge bowl of soup and a pile of bread. Karen asked if she might have a smaller portion and was happily told with much laughter, “No, No, eat it all. You can do it.” So we stuffed the soup down, and drank more tea! (With a 2 hour drive in front of us!)
The trip home was uneventful despite the fact that it had been snowing all day and the roads were now covered in snow and ice. Nick’s little car struggled valiantly to make it up some of the steeper hills, and several times we were nearly forced off the road by drivers in larger and faster cars. If you think Americans with big SUV’s have attitude you should encounter a Russian with a big SUV!!! After the two hour ride through the dark snowy night, we arrived safely back in Nizhny Novgorod. After nearly 12 hours, another day of ministry in Russia came to a close.