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Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Hot Water Today!

We have hot water today!

This might seem to an odd thing to be happy about, but we have had only cold water for the last ten days. In most Russian apartment buildings the hot water comes from a central heater which is controled by the apartment complex. In the summer the hot water is often shut off, sometimes for maintenance on the heating units and pipes and sometimes just because it is summer and why would you need hot water when it is hot outside? So, we have had our hot water shut off and on about 5 times so far this summer. Being without hot water makes us really grateful when we do have it. We are both looking forward to a long, warm shower today.
Here is a picture showing how we heat our water for dishes and bathing when we don't have hot water available. The cold water in our apartment is like ice water! it is impossible to shower in it. We plug in this big coil water heater and heat the water with it. It takes about ten minutes to heat this tub of water.


Recently we visited the city of Vladimir and the smaller town of Suzdal, as a part of our language and cultural studies. Both places were founded in the 900's and were major religious and cultural centers in early Russia. Both towns were conquered when the Tatars from the southeast, invaded northern Russia and subjugated it for several hundered years. Vladimir is now a large Russian industrial city, but still has many well preserved historical and cultural sites. Suzdal is in many ways a good picture of ancient Russia, retaining the small town feel and look. The town has numerous churches and monastaries some of which are nearly 1000 years old.
Suzdal Churches

We really enjoyed our brief visit and appreciated gaining some more cultural insight. We thought that you might enjoy a few photos from the trip.

Here are some Silver and Gold covered New Testaments

These are beautiful, but our thought was that if the Church had invested their time and money into teaching people to read, instead of making God's Word into an expensive piece of art then the whole history of Russia may have been different.

Cathedral inside of a Monastary

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Literature and Bibles for Zavolzha

New Testaments, Tracts and Gospel Portions
ready for distribution in Zavolzha

Today we will be taking the 1 1/2 hour bus ride to the town of Zavolzha where Eduard and Vadim are church planting. We will be taking a delivery of literature and New Testaments for the church plant. In the evening we will attend the house church.

Eduard and Vadim are tireless workers, visiting hospitals, orphanages and homes, distributing literature and inviting people to the cell group. Pray for these two brothers as we work with them to establish a Foursquare Church in their town.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

While in Vacha

Nadezhda with her grandson Daniel

While in Vacha Nadezhda and Zhenya Ribini were our hosts. This couple is in their mid 50's and Zhenya is a local soccer coach. His young girls “mini-soccer” team has won 2nd place in all of Russia last year. This is quite an accomplishment for a team from a small, impoverished town.

Oxana, their daughter, is a friend of ours who lives in Nizhny Novgorod and visited her parents the whole time we were there. Over the weekend her sister and brother-in-law came for a visit. It was such a pleasure being included in this extended family’s life for the week.

The weather was nice and hot when we left the city so on the afternoon we arrived in Vacha we went to the local pond went swimming for a while and just hung out. We had no interpreter on this trip, a first for us. We enjoyed spending time speaking only in Russian and trying to stretch our language skills.

While at the pond we met Galya. Galya is a believer who, before she came to Christ, threw herself off her balcony in an attempt to committ suicide. She survived the fall but damaged her spine and is now parapalegic. She has been told that she will never walk again, but she is determined that by God's grace and healing power she will. In the mean time, she is a cheerful and plucky woman who works hard at exercising her legs and praising the Lord for His goodness.

Imagine our surprise when we saw her at the pond! Somehow she had managed to get her wheelchair down the rutted dirt street and along the path to the pond and when we arrived she was in the pond swimming. Her swimming was quite a feat and we could see that she has regained some of the use of her legs. After the swim, we helped Galya get back to her apartment, pushing her up the hillside path by the pond, up a long dirt road and then down the rutted streets to her home.

Most of the week was very cool with wind and rain. We spent our time walking around town, visiting with friends, drinking gallons of tea, and being fed until we could not swallow another bite. Russian hospitality was at its best as we were treated like visiting royalty. Zhenya, the soccer coach, knows just about everyone in town. Wherever we went he would proudly introduce us as his friends from America. We visited a local metal factory, saw an exhibition of products made in the region and attended several soccer games. In the evening we would take walks, or sit outside and chat with the village folk.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Over the River and Through the Woods

Birch Trees in the Forest

Berry picking is a national pastime during the summer in Russia. This is done not for recreation as much as survival food for the coming winter. Russian people go to the local forests and gather wild strawberries, raspberries, gooseberries and other assorted fruit. While we were in Vacha we were asked if we would like to go the forest and gather strawberries. Of course we said yes, and off we went. First there was a 10 minute bus ride towards the forest, then we walked through a small village and down a long gravel road which led off into the countryside. On either side of us we could see rolling hills covered with oats, planted by the collective farm. Behind us, in the distance the village and the tower of the local Orthodox Church building were visible.

We walked about a mile and then cut through an oat field into the forest. Once in the forest you could hear the wind rustling through the tall birch trees as they swayed in the breeze. The forest floor was covered in small wild strawberry plants and everywhere you looked there were glints of red through the undergrowth.

We quickly settled into the rhythm of gathering. Bend, pick, drop into the basket, over and over again. While this might sound idyllic and romantic we soon realized that we were being served for lunch to the local mosquitoes and flies. The biting wasn’t so bad, but the constant buzz was certainly irritating and annoying.

We gathered berries for about four hours. By the time we were finished our backs and hips ached from all the stretching and bending, but we were blessed to be able to bless others with winter supply.
Karen Gathering Berries

Oxana, Karen and Marina

The Fruit of our Labor

To Grandmother's House We Go

While gathering berries, Marina, one of our friends told us that we had been invited to her grandmother’s home in a nearby village for tea. We would be walking there after we completed our berry gathering. Soon, with our baskets full and our legs wobbly from all the walking, bending, crawling and picking we had already done, we set off through the woods toward the village. We walked for about 25 minutes through the forest along a barely visible path and then came out on a dirt “road” which led off into the unknown. We walked down the road a bit, crested a small rise and before us, we could see the village.

The village consists of about 15 small 2-3 room log homes, most in disrepair. There is neither running water nor gas for heat in the village. Everyone carries water from a local well, and in the winter people heat their small homes with wood or the more well off might have bottled natural gas.

We arrived at Marina’s grandmother home and were greeted by her Mom and Dad, who were also visiting. Much to our surprise we were told that it was the birthday of Marina’s mom and that we were guests! We were shown around the garden plot, and then invited into the home. Grandma’s house has two rooms, a kitchen and a living/sleeping room. We where seated at the table, and the family began to bring out piles of food. We had salad, fish, potatoes and other foods. Soon we where all chattering, as our new Russian friends wanted to know all about us.

Marina’s grandmother is a bright and funny 73 year old who lives in the village by herself. Her family helps her with the garden and with other chores when they can. She really enjoyed our visit. After an hour or so of eating and chatting and drinking tea we made our way out to the dirt street and surprisingly a local taxi had been called to take us back to Vacha, about a 15 minute ride from the little village.
Village House

Dinner at Marina's Grandmother's Home

Sunday Church Service - Vacha

Entry to the Vacha Church

On Sunday we attended the small church located in Vacha. The church is pastored by a young Ukrainian missionary named Bogdan. Bogdan and I have become good friends over the past two years and he asks me to visit as much as possible. As our purpose in Russia is to help Russians in church planting and leadership development, I encouraged Bogdan to take most of the morning service, so that I could see him at work.

Nickolai Tsaryov, our pastor from Nizhny Novgorod, drove to Vacha with his family on Sunday so that they could participate in the service.

Here are two photos from the morning.

Pastor Bogdan, Lena and their baby

After the Service

Friday, July 07, 2006

Trip to Vacha

We recently visited the village of Vacha for several days. Vacha is the village where we minister upon occasion in the local Pentecostal church. Last summer we brought a team of Americans to Vacha for a week of evangelism. We and the Russians call Vacha a village, but with nearly 6000 residents it is a small town.

Here are a some photos of Vacha

Vacha is about 100 kilometers from Nizhny Novgorod, and you can either go by bus, taxi-van or a regular taxi. On this particular trip we decided to go by taxi as the fares are negotiable and we were able to negotiate a reasonable price.

Our taxi was a ten year old Lada, a Russian car which is neither pretty nor dependable. Our driver, a fireman who moonlights as a taxi driver was pleased to have Americans riding in his car. Taxi drivers in Russia are notoriously wild drivers. Ours was no exception. Usually when riding in a taxi Karen and I just lean back in the seats and close our eyes!

The road to Vacha is a two lane highway with lots of hills and curves. Once we left the city our driver began to drive as fast as possible. As with most Russian drivers, he would get right on top of the bumper of the car in front of him, alternately riding the brake and the gas pedal as he sought an opportunity to pass. At one point we where on a long hill going up and then around a curve. There were nearly twenty cars and trucks in front of us and that is when our driver decided to pass everyone! He jams the accelerator to the floor and jerks the car into the other lane. We begin to pass a few cars and then we see approaching traffic. Our driver tries to coax more speed out of the Lada as the oncoming cars approach, and then as he sees we will never make it he forces himself back into the line of traffic he tried to pass.

This occurred about ten times on the trip. By the time we arrived in Vacha we were pretty well mentally exhausted. For the return trip home the next week we took a local bus. The bus was much slower, but we felt safer and could relax more on the long ride home.