They housed me in Kolomna for three nights in a guest room of the facility for the handicapped – a charity of the local Orthodox Church. I will never forget the long conversations with them about our faith experiences and personal stories told around the dinner table. During the daytime, I was teaching in the local university, in schools, and at churches, but the roads were bad and the facility had no special transportation for their inhabitants. On one night, I did my presentation just for them – right in the dining-room using their TV set. “We totally rely on God’s mercy in our everyday life. It was good to know that there is a reasonable and historic foundation for our faith,” commented Olga.
The rain in Kolomna just started to change into snow when I left it for Novokuznetsk in Western Siberia. Their Pentecostal Church along with the Orthodox community filled the Baptist Church building (the largest in the city) for a six-hour long seminar. What a joy it was to see the Christians of different traditions and denominations gathering in one place to learn what makes all of us brothers and sisters in Christ!
I was also honored with a rather unique opportunity to speak at the traditional Siberian Cossacks’ conference. They are known to be simple folks and not much into rational and intellectual things. I learned, however, that they love history and value very highly authentic historic artifacts. That was my key to that specific audience. “Lubo!” [lovely] – they shouted every time I was making a point or presented a new discovery. “Let him speak!” – they shouted when the conference chair showed me the clock.
Crossing the Ural Mountains back into Europe, I found myself in the city of Perm and also travelling by car for four hours each way to the towns of Tchaikovsky and Kungur. Their teachers’ conferences were always planned in the afternoon which means participants have already had a full day of classes before coming to my event.Honestly, they did not look very happy as they were taking their seats in the room. I made it my personal goal to have each of them to smile at least once during my presentation by making eye contact with them – one by one – and presenting my material with as much joy, wit, and humor as I possibly could. As I was putting away my laptop and collecting my cables, one of the teachers said:
It was so important, especially for us, the younger generation of teachers, to learn about the historic evidence for faith! We have never been taught that neither in school nor in the university. Thank you for taking time to travel this far!
After that, the four-hour drive back to Perm in a Russian Lada on icy Siberian roads was completely worth it. By the way, in God’s perfect timing, I was always leaving each city or region on the day of their major snowfall or a significant temperature drop, but I never missed a flight or a train!
I am back in Minnesota now, and already planning my next trip, probably to Ukraine and Georgia for next February.