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Saturday, June 24, 2006

Train trip to Sochi Conference

On Monday June 12 Pastor Nick and I boarded the train in Nizhny Novgorod heading for Sochi, located on the Black Sea in southern Russia. The trip had several purposes; to introduce Nick to the Russian Foursquare pastors and leadership in southern Russia, to speak with Jeff Roper, our supervisor who was visiting Russia at the time, and to attend the Southern Russian district Foursquare churches summer conference.
Picture left: Nick & Me at the train station Picture right: train conductors

This was the first time I had traveled in Russia without either Karen or a translator. Nick speaks about as much English as I speak Russian so our language skills were stretched to the maximum. Despite the language problems we both enjoy each others friendship and we were looking forward to the trip together.
Photo right: "Platzcar" compartment.
Below is the water heater on the train. This is exclusively for tea. Russians can not conceive of riding the train without hot tea being available

The trip to Sochi takes 36 hours by train. We rode via platzcar which is Russian economy class. The train car is 54 open sleeping berths where you sit by day and sleep by night. The accommodations are certainly not American but Karen and I often choose to travel this way. 36 hours on a train is not a lot of fun. Russian trains have no air conditioning so in the summer they can be sweltering, the bathrooms can be less than clean and the noise and rocking of the train can make sleeping at night difficult.

Picture left: Train bathroom
Picture right: Young teen I met on the train.

Nick and I spent two nights and a day riding each way. We ate food which we had both brought along and we purchased drinks and snacks along the way as we stopped in various towns. Whenever a train stops for more than a few minutes in a city, the train is meet by scores of local people selling everything from cigarettes and vodka, to home cooked meals of chicken and potatoes wrapped in plastic and on a disposable plate. June in Russia is berry season so at every stop babushkas met the train and offered plastic cups of local strawberries for sale.
Below left: Food vendor at train stop. Below right: Mountain scenery

When we awoke on the second morning of the trip we noticed a dramatic change in the scenery. We had left behind the rolling Russian countryside, filled with birch trees, streams and small villages, and we had entered the Caucasus Mountains. These mountains are small compared to the mountains in America, but they offered a beautiful contrast to central Russia. To add to the scenery we were soon riding along with the Black Sea on one side of the train and the mountains on the other.
Below is the guest house where we stayed

At 9:00 AM on our second day we arrived at the train station where we were met by a Christian brother who gave us a ride to our guest house in his van. The guest house is owned by a believing couple and was the location of our small conference. The house is located almost right on the seaside, and we could walk to the beach (Pictured here) in just a few minutes.

That afternoon, after the arrival of most of the couples who would attend the conference, we all walked to a local cafeteria where we had all of our meals on the veranda.
The conference continued over the course of the next two days, with several sessions each day, time for fellowship, and a time for the Russian pastors to discuss problems, questions about the organization of the Russian Foursquare church and procedural issues for legally registering their churches.
Pastors at the Conference

The conference was a good time of relationship building. Nick enjoyed his time there and is now firmly convinced that the Russian Foursquare church is what he wants to be a part of. He spoke with Pastor Slava Naniyants, the Russian Foursquare national leader, and was encouraged to begin the official process as registering his church with the Foursquare National churches of Russia.

On Friday afternoon Nick and I again boarded the train for the long return trip. Two nights and 39 hours later (the trip is longer on the return route), we arrived safely back in Nizhny Novgorod. I really missed Karen on this trip, and in thirty one years of marriage this was our second longest separation. Despite the separation, on my arrival back at our apartment it was difficult to decide if I was happier to see her or the shower after almost two days of riding the train!

This guy joined me for lunch and dinner every day.

Three Year Visa Received!

"Your are now officially residents of the Russian Federation!"

These words, which we have been waiting to hear for the last 12 months, were finally said as we received the official 3 year residency stamp in our passport at the local immigration office.

The process was long and at times frustrating. We completed and filed numerous forms. We retrieved documents and official paperwork from America. A local Russian church and pastor vouched for us and filed documents repeatedly. Because of delays we needed to leave the country twice to renew our current visa. Russian friends accepted legal responsibility for our staying in Russia, and several friends worked for hours doing paperwork, filing forms and visiting offices with us. Through it all we kept our focus on the long term goal – residency status, something which few missionaries receive.

We want to thank all of you who encouraged us and prayed for us throughout the process. Your prayers have made a difference and we now can hold the result of those prayers in our hands!