“It is not cold enough for Oleg here in Minnesota, so he leaves for Siberia next Sunday. Let’s pray for him!” – announced our priest jokingly after the service. It is not, in fact, that much colder in Russia these days, and I feel well prepared for the trip. What does indeed give me the chills is the temperature of the political relations between our two countries that is most reminiscent of the Cold War years. I will have to be extra cautious not to engage in any potential confrontations or heated discussion with my audiences and to concentrate on the most important and meaningful subject of my presentations: the Word of God.[Read more…]
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.
Minus two, plus three – that has been my ratio so far between canceled and newly-arranged events. As always, the cancellations were due to the schedule mix-ups like, “Sorry, we didn’t realize this Friday to be November 26th!” or “We canceled it because you did not confirm it again last week.” The Lord, however, does not want my time in Russia to be wasted and opens new doors of opportunity almost every day. I got to teach two classes instead of one on Wednesday, Saturday, and on-coming Monday.[Read more…]
It will be snowing on the day I leave Minnesota, but most of the places I am traveling to in Russia this time have already been under snow for weeks.
I will, however, catch a taste of the wet and gloomy, “Dostoyevsky style” of late fall in St. Petersburg, before moving to the all-white and frosty Central Siberia and Northern Urals. I am still trying to avoid Moscow with its tight quarantine restrictions. I will only be changing trains and planes in this, the only transportation hub for the whole country. Most of my audiences in the middle of the fall semester will naturally be students and teachers in public schools and state universities.
I will be teaching on two new topics this year, while the country is celebrating the 350th Anniversary of Peter the Great: “Religious and Secular in Public Education” and “Social Liberty vs. Freedom in Christ.” I will make sure the clear message of the Gospel is presented in both of them to my academic and professional audiences. About half of my events will take place in, or will be set up by, churches and seminaries – Orthodox and Evangelical. Or, at least, this is how the schedule looks as of 36 hours before departure.
My prayer is that the Lord will honor my efforts to set them all up… and also to correct my plans where necessary according to His divine providence. I will as always, covet your prayers.
A major cancellation of the whole city-segment of my trip arrived on a very short notice. I was not going to Nizhniy Novgorod because three things happened on the same week: the local university dean passed away; the provost of the seminary resigned; and my host/facilitator got stuck 2,000 miles away on a family vacation with a broken car. Once again, I was reminded that in Russia your arrangements and schedules only hold as long as the people you set them up with.
Three extra days in St. Petersburg were not too difficult to fill thanks to the local ministry partners and, because most of the schools were open for in-person classes. An International Academy with students from fifteen different countries allowed me to teach a lesson on the Validity of the Bible in their IT department’s graphic design class. After a great discussion on the subject matter we had in class, each of them will also have to develop their own design of the PowerPoint® presentation of the topic. I am looking forward to applying some of their ideas in my future events!
As always, the last days of the trip were most intense in teaching and travel. I had to literally run from one to another of my teachers’ conferences in different ends of Samara and in St. Petersburg. I was truly blessed by their interest in and in their response to the material, which keeps arriving to me in their E-mails and their facilitators’ feedback. Nearly one third of my next trip to Russia is already filled with follow-up events in and around the cities I taught in this time.