Monday, July 11, 2011
This past week, from Thursday-Sunday, a team of 8 Americans from Hurst, Texas along with Brad, Janet, Elizabeth, Dave (all missionaries in Perm) and myself led an English Camp hosting 14 Russians. Some of the Russians were students, some were working adults. The ages ranged from 17-39 years old, but it seemed that everyone that attended was full of enthusiasm and excitement, willingness to play and learn and grow.
Janet, a girl named Yuliya, and I went a day early to the camp held in Kalinina, Russia, which is about 2 hours away from the city of Perm. It is a beautiful rural village set high upon some hills. The Russian landscape is absolutely breathtaking. I am so blessed to have gotten the chance to see it and escape the city for a few days, meeting new friends and exploring faith and friendship with these Russians.
Part 1: Camp
The first day of camp, it seemed that the group of Russians seemed to click right away with us. The Texan team had not arrived yet and we played a MEAN game of Ultimate Frisbee. I don't ever remember that game being so fun and intense. I can't wait to play when I get back to Texas with people! We also went for a walk in the village, going in and out of tiny little stores. The stores still were reminiscent of Soviet Russia, one store being still communist in nature where everyone shares everything they own and sells it again. As soon as the Texan team arrived, though, camp was underway!
Bring on the small meal portions of questionable meat, lots and lots of chai (Russian word for "tea"), games, classes about American life, and more. Everyday we held classes for the Russian students to choose from, including American Holidays, Travel, University Life, Idioms, Cooking (Mexican! yummy), Texas Worldview, American Sports, and Makeup and Beauty class. The Russians really enjoyed all of these classes and were amazed to learn about things such as college campuses being entire cities and our recreation center having two pools-- they saw a virtual tour of TCU and said it looked like Hogwarts-- also they were so pleased to learn some fun American slang and idioms, try queso and nachos, and find out that everything IS bigger in Texas! They wore the bandanas that Sean, one of the Texans, brought for the class the remainder of the camp. It was awesome.
The Russians that camp to this camp were seriously the cream of the crop that I've met here. They were so friendly, funny, and full of life. Each day was an adventure, whether we were playing hardcore games, trying to explain the confusing rules of kickball, swimming in the "lake" in the village, or going to the beautiful Russian Orthodox monastery together. We sang everywhere we went, the guitar got a LOT of use from Mark (an American) and myself, and had a great time learning from one another. I also experienced what a Russian "bana" pronounced bahn-yah is! It's this crazy room inside a log cabin with a SUPER HOT furnace, and you sit there with little to no clothing on and sweat, then get whacked all over your body with large branches of leaves...it was insane!
Part 2: Missions
The first day of camp I sat across the table at lunch from a student, we'll call him R. He is 21 years old and comes from a Muslim family, mostly by name only (not practicing). R is an atheist and right away he asked me about my key necklace. I told him that it means that God is the key to my life and that I am a Christian. He told me quickly that he is an atheist and does not believe in God. After asking him why and talking for almost an hour on the topic, people were listening in and finding it so interesting that we were having such an intense conversation so soon in the camp! It was totally God's doing though, because even though he was very adamant about his viewpoints and seemed very hardened to everything, God began his work in R that was visible to everyone around that day.
R would sit in the back of the room when Brad would teach about truth and Jesus, playing on his phone, putting headphones in, or even falling asleep. He acted like he wanted absolutely nothing to do with the ideas Brad was presenting and made it quite evident that he felt so. He did not participate in singing and would plug his ears when we would worship! However, after all of this we began to watch the movie "The Parent Trap" when he came up to me and began an hour and a half's worth of questions about God, faith, everything from evolution and big bang theory to archaeology to the Bible being authority to different religions to sin, why people make up and create God because they need something to believe in, and so forth. He asked me question after question, hitting me on all sides where I wouldn't budge...asking me about original sin, telling me that he does not sin much and does not need to be saved from anything because he is a good person with a normal life, great family, and no troubles. He said that people create God for themselves because they are empty or have lots of troubles, and everyone that believes in Jesus seems to have done so because of some big event that happened to them first. It was really interesting and it continued for some time when finally I said, "You know, if you are saved R, it's not going to be by me. It's not going to be Brad, or any human being, because salvation is God's work. If he wants to save you R, he will do so. And I didn't bring any of this up...YOU did. Why?" Then he paused and looked at me for a minute and said, "Well, you know, I am wondering. I wonder about these things." There was the ticket...he was curious, he was seeking, and even though he defied everything I might have said, hearing that gave me a lot of hope.
The following few days R continued to ask me questions. We had lengthy conversations and he also spoke with other team members from America about these things as well. The last day of camp, R seemed different. His countenance had changed from hardened and stubborn to curious and open. He sat in the front row for Brad's teaching. He sang along at worship time. He continued to spend time with me and ask me questions, and when I invited him to our home church yesterday afternoon, he said he would think about it.
R ended up coming to our home church. He came and when Brad had us pair up with someone in the room to pray, he immediately looked at me and summoned me to come partner with him. He confessed that he didn't know how to pray, what prayer was like, and wanted to know. I explained to him how Jesus had taught the disciples to pray, acknowledging that God is a heavenly almighty being who deserves praise, glory, and thanks, but also a close and intimate Father whom we can talk to, go to for comfort and strength, tell our thoughts and feelings and desires to and be open with. There is no right or wrong way to pray, it's having a conversation with God, and so Brad and I took turns praying with R. After the service, R stayed after and asked me questions about salvation, sex before marriage, hypocrisy and why Christians continue to sin or do bad things even when they are saved, and eventually said to me..."Well, if certain things are sin, and I have done them already, then I cannot be saved. I cannot be a Christian because I've already done those things." It was so amazing to then look at him breathlessly and tell him that is the whole point of salvation and forgiveness-- that Jesus died and took the punishment for our sins so that if we believe in Him and put our trust in Him, then our sins will be forgiven and every sin we have ever committed is forgiven and washed away, we are cleansed and are new creations and God changes our hearts and lives...it was so amazing to see him and his curiosity, his questioning, and his demeanor towards Christianity change over a matter of 4 days. He then asked, "What if I become believer, and my friends banish me and no longer want me around?" I showed him the verse from John 12 where Jesus talks about if a grain of wheat falls along the ground but does not die to itself, it does not grow or produce anything, but if it dies to itself it grows and produces a good crop...that he who follows Jesus and leaves their houses, families, and everything they own will gain Christ which will be far better...
R is spending time with us tomorrow all day long. I ask you to please pray for his soul, that He will embrace the beautiful love and grace and salvation that Jesus is offering him.
It's funny, when I came here I did not expect to lead a Russian boy to know the Lord. God is so good, working out all things for the good of those who love him, and although the past week was extremely challenging and there were times I would cry and pray aloud to him to rescue me from the unbelief I had, I am so thankful for it. I'm thankful for the American team for putting on the camp so that 14 Russians can hear about Jesus and see him lived among their lives and ours. Praise Him!
Part 3: Monastery Pictures
Oh, we also visited this awesome monastery in Kalinina, very famous in Russia. It was breathtaking and beautiful and glorious, and I even got a bottle of "holy water" from a priest. Sweet!