What a contrast between Yaroslavl’s gloomy autumn skies and the Black Sea shore shining in the sun! Between my two presentations in Anapa’s popular cafés, there was plenty of time to enjoy the countryside covered by vineyards and the scenic views of the Caucasus Mountains on the one side and the sea on the other. My hosts moved there a few years ago from Siberia and were still excited about being able to sunbathe in early October. They were a bit disappointed and even tried to apologize to me, when attendance at both events was below their expectations. I was not disappointed at all as this is usually the case in the city where nobody has heard of our ministry. On the contrary, I am pretty confident we can start planning my next visit there some time soon as the word gets out into the church and teachers’ community.
An overnight bus took me straight to the border with Abkhazia but I had walk across the bridge separating it from Russia on foot with my suitcase and a backpack. A pastor from Sukhum picked me up on the other side after I passed the border checkpoint and passport control. Abkazian cars have to pay huge tariffs for driving in Russia and not many people can afford it.
My first destination point on the Abkhazian side was an Orthodox monastery that is now one of the outposts in the battle of bringing this formerly Christian nation back to its roots after several decades of Soviet era atheism and paganism. Abkhazia is known to have sent their bishop representative to the First Ecumenical Council in 325 AD after being a common exile location for many Christian of the first couple of centuries A.D. What a privilege it was for me to continue the work of the first of the apostles of Christ in this land!
This time, however, I was a little disappointed seeing only thirty out of a hundred people staying for my lecture after the Liturgy. The abbot smiled: “The rest of the people are just tourists and their buses are waiting for them outside the gates to take them further down their sightseeing route. We are grateful that most of the come for the service and it is our task to introduce them to the Lord during the Liturgy through reading and preaching from the Scripture, praying and singing hymns. It is your job now to teach those who wanted to know more, who are looking for the truth of the Word and asking difficult questions.” He also comforted me later that day by sending me a link to their Facebook page were the recording of my presentation has already been viewed 849 times and commented on in the most positive way.
Interestingly, the History Department of Abkhazia State University, being so proud of their country’s role in the ancient history of Christianity, does not teach their students much of anything of Christ Himself. When I pointed it out to their dean and suggested that I can help the fill that gap, the conference room could not accommodate every student and professor who wanted to attend my three-hour-long session.
Later that same day, a winding mountain road led me to a sanatorium for children with cerebral palsy where I had a privilege of teaching FaithSearch Discovery to a group of their parents and the volunteers from the local Church. Naturally, I spent much less time on New Testament archeology and paleography with them than I did in the university setting. The realty of Christ’s life, teaching, death, and resurrection, however, was presented to them with the same clarity and persuasiveness. Many of them shared their stories afterwards of how difficult it sometimes is for them to hold to their faith when the culture around them keeps sticking it to them by saying “how unfair their God is.” They thanked us for giving them a solid foundation on which to defend those attacks.
Last but not least! Right before leaving Abkhazia I recorded a seventy-five-minutes-long video of the FaithSearch Discovery presentation for their national, number one TV channel. It will air for the first time in November and will be seen by the whole country.
Only one day was left for me to enjoy beautiful Sochi and to visit those truly amazing sports and accommodations facilities which were built for the Winter Olympics in 2014. I was truly impressed by the scale of this whole project. My presentation to a regional pastors’ retreat was held in a hotel facing the downhill skiing area, while chair lifts and gondolas were going up and down the slope. Luckily for my hosts there was no snow on the mountainside yet, and I was fully able to concentrate on my presentation.
I am back in Moscow now with four more days of teaching here – two session each day, in separate locations, sometimes three hours apart. Your prayers for my energy levels will be greatly appreciated.