Monday, April 19, 2010

clifton: Russia Trip-Day Seven

Editor's Note: Engage Russia's newest team member, Michael Clifton, made his first trip to Russia earlier this month. Michael is a media producer living in Kiev, Ukraine. This summer Michael will start leading Engage Russia production trips while Marc Hooks is in the States meeting with churches and others who are interested in becoming Engage Russia partners. The following is posted from Michael's personal blog.

Date: 3 April 2010

Departure day!! No one to meet, no where to go, except home. Our flights home weren’t until evening, so more tourist-y events would fill the relaxed day.

I missed my wife’s birthday this week, so I had some shopping to do. After some morning chat, our host, Ed, convinced us that we should go up to “Sparrow Hills” where Moscow State University (МГУ) is located, because it is the highest elevation point in Moscow. From this point you can see all of Moscow on a clear day. This day wasn’t completely clear, but we could see almost everything.

Russia's Harvard

Moscow State University is called the “Harvard of Russia”, because it is the premiere university of Russia. I was excited to see the campus myself as there was a picture of МГУ in my Russian language textbook. I thought that this main building was one-of-a-kind, but shortly after arriving and mistakingly pointing out every similar skyscraper as “hey, that’s МГУ”, I found out that there was a series of seven buildings with similar architecture built in Moscow. These are called the “Seven Sisters.”

View from Sparrow Hills

From an “observation point” in front of the university campus, we could see the majority of Moscow. The elevation drops off quickly into the rest of the city. Right in front of us was the Olympic Stadium (pictured at the top of this post) which was the main stadium for the 1980 olympics.

Marc and I still had shopping and packing to do before our flight, so we travelled across town to the Izmailovo Souvenir Market via Metro.

Above Ground Metro Station

The two main Metro stations we used were intriguing. The Metro at Sparrow Hills (Воробьёвы горы) is located below one of the main highways going into Moscow, yet is still above ground at that point (coming down from the hill). Instead of tiled walls, the sides of this metro were glassed-in for a panoramic view of the area.

Statue of Partisan in Metro Station

The Metro for our exit into the market is called Partisanskaya (Partisan) Metro that serves as a memorial for the Russian partisans who helped defeat the Nazis in Russia. It used to be named Izmalovskaya Park Metro station. There are statues “hiding” behind columns appearing ready to “ambush” intruders. Another unique feature of this station is the fact that it has three tracks running through it. Instead of a middle platform with tracks running on either side of the station, there is a third one running down the middle of the station as well. At one point, this particular metro line splits into two. Getting on the correct line here would ensure that you get where you intend to go.

Shashlik Chefs (Say it 5x fast)

The market was buzzing. A bright, warm Saturday saw all sorts of tourists and locals alike. I heard more English spoken than I had the entire week. There were fur hats, Russian toys, matryoshka dolls (Russian nesting dolls), soviet era pins, antique cameras, and most importantly to our stomachs at the time, “shashlik.” The shashlik chef recognized Marc at a distance of about 20 feet with smoke in between. His English was great. We ordered our food and looked for a place to sit. In the process, other people walked up and the chef switched easily into Korean and French. A-mazing! The universal language chef was cooking up the universal food of “shashlik” or shish-ka-bob.

Entering the Bazaar

We filled our stomachs and then walked around to fill our bags of trinkets to bring home to our families. I found a few pins of Kiev Dynamo soccer team for Nathan, a wooden snake for JoJo (that he named his “Ding Ding Snake”), and a traditional Russian doll for Abigail. Those were difficult to decide. What was easy was what I got for Angela. Marc had told me about Uzbek pottery before the trip, and I knew that would be the perfect gift. Many of the folks in this part of the world (particularly the women) rave about Polish pottery, but Marc preferred Uzbek pottery to Polish. I would agree with his assessment. As a returning customer, Marc garnered a 10% discount for himself and his friend, me. I picked out a tea set which included a pot, four cups and saucers, and a large platter/plate. The salesman wrapped everything up securely and we went back to the apartment to pack and get to the airport.

Ismaiolovo Bazaar

My check-thru luggage was full on the way over here, but it was going to be stuffed on the way back. I had to figure a way to get all that I had just bought safely back to Ukraine. I could not get the pottery in my carry-on bag, so it had to go into my (handle-less) suitcase. Amazingly, everything fit in snugly.

We got things packed quickly and headed to the airport shuttle train. We arrived at the station and bought tickets within two minutes of its departure. Talk about close!! We had a comfortable ride back to the airport. Marc and I had to depart each other at this point, because my flight left two hours later and our flights departed from different sides of the airport terminal.

I feared a little that my check-thru luggage might have been overweight. I didn’t even check it on the way here. I was relieved to see that the scale read 19.5Kg (the limit is 20Kg). Breathing a sigh of relief, I got my boarding pass, went through passport control, and waited for my flight home.

Upon arrival at the Kiev airport, I saw something that I never knew would be allowed in an airport. People were carrying oil lanterns from a separate flight. Most of these appeared to be Orthodox priests. Apparently, I witnessed the Eastern Orthodox tradition where candles and lanterns are lit at a central Orthodox church in Jerusalem on the night before Easter and spread through a crowd who transport the flames to various locations around the globe.

My friend and colleague, Brad, was there to pick me up out front, and I arrived home safe and sound. My wife was glad to see me, and even more delighted to see the gift I brought back (that had no damage from the flight or packing). It was good to travel but better to be home.

Clifton: Russia Trip-Day Six

Editor's Note: Engage Russia's newest team member, Michael Clifton, made his first trip to Russia earlier this month. Michael is a media producer living in Kiev, Ukraine. This summer Michael will start leading Engage Russia production trips while Marc Hooks is in the States meeting with churches and others who are interested in becoming Engage Russia partners. The following is posted fromMichael's personal blog

.Date: 2 April 2010

I’m almost tired just thinking about all we did this day. For me it started early. For Marc Hooks it started early (just a couple hours later).

We got up to meet someone for breakfast at … you can guess it … go ahead … yes, you were right, McDonald’s. That does remind me of the t-shirts for sale here with the face of Lenin and the “golden arches” just beside. I’m not sure he would have appreciated the irony of his face (the icon of Communism) being placed by McDonald’s (the icon of Capitalism), nor would he have enjoyed the idea of McD’s in locations all over Russia.

Anyway, our day was full of work, and Marc’s ankle this morning looked like a swollen rainbow. He was a real trooper and kept a supply of Tylenol nearby.

Cathedral of Christ our Savior

Continuing with the theme of Russian Orthodoxy, we visited the largest symbol in Moscow of the Russian Orthodox Church, The Cathedral of Christ our Savior. It’s large golden dome with four surrounding smaller golden domes can usually be spotted from any picture of the Moscow skyline near the center of town. It is the tallest cathedral in Eastern Orthodoxy. I had taken a picture of this cathedral on Monday and didn’t realize what it was.

Cross on top of Cathedral of Christ our Savior

We were requested to put away cameras, and turn off cell phones upon entry (and our bags were checked by security). The inside of this cathedral was even more amazing than the outside. There were mosaics, murals, and icons all over the place. It was both breathtaking and eerie. People were lighting candles, crossing themselves, and even placing their head on and kissing some of the icons.

Just under the main hall was another in the basement. And there was a museum that told the history of this cathedral wrapped in a series of hallways around that. The museum was most interesting (well if you had a good grasp of the Russian language). It told the story of the site. You can read more onWikipedia, and don’t even have to know Russian.

Moscow River with the Kremlin in background

We shot some of the segments for Engage Russia on the footbridge over the Moscva River. We departed from there and followed the river over to the Kremlin/Red Square area. One funny thing was watch as chucks of ice from the recently thawed river were floating downstream.

We walked around the back wall of the Kremlin to the backside of St. Basil’s Cathedral in Red Square. Marc insisted that this was the best angle to get pictures of St. Basil’s rather than the front side facing Red Square. I have to admit that I think he was right. See:
OK, so I took a few pics of St. Basil's

We got some more segments of the various Engage Russia videos done along the way from St. Basil’s Cathedral, to Red Square, to the gates at the end of Red Square. We grabbed a lunch at, guess … McDonald’s. You must be psychic. This was the first time in a while that I had a Quarter Pounder with cheese (called a Royale w/cheese). Ok, so it was delicious!

Calling out the Changing of the Guard

We went out just in time to watch the guards change at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Three guys stand guard. One of them only moves when people begin crossing the barrier, and that is usually only placing a whistle to his lips to alert of the infraction. The other two stand motionless for the hour on either side of a flame and monument. On the hour, three guys come “goose-stepping” into the scene. Only the two guards are replaced and the leader takes the two replaced out of the scene the same way. I can’t imagine standing still for an hour and then be expected to throw my legs to shoulder height in a march back.

Pushkin's House on Arbat

We wrapped up all the work for Engage Russia and did a few more tourist-y things around town. Our next stop was Arbat Street. This is the art district of Moscow (some compare to Soho). There is a New Arbat and Old Arbat. The Old Arbat is a stream of shops on either side of a cobblestone walking area. There were musicians, painters and the occasional sign advertising for tatoos. Thousands of people crowded this street from end to end. There are even two Starbucks on this strand (and I naturally already wanted a Moscow city Starbucks mug). On this street is also the former home of famous Russian writer/poet Pushkin.

Lubyanka Metro Sign

We decided to go back to the apartment to get the tripods for some night photography, but somehow got turned around on the all-so-simple Moscow Metro system. When it was evident that we would not have the time to get the tripods and be back on Red Square for the “magical blue hour” just after sundown, we scrapped that plan and checked out the Lubyanka Metro station (site of the first explosion in Monday’s suicide bombings. People were standing around praying and weeping around a make-shift memorial with photos of victims, flowers, and candles. It was a powerful expression by everyone who walked by. For me, there was some closure to see that something like this did affect people. Monday’s events left me stunned, but it felt weird to see people act as if nothing had happened.

We got back to Red Square just as the lights started coming on for the monuments. We spent a couple hours there, before going to TGIFridays (hey, it wasn’t McDonald’s) for a late dinner. This was our last night in Moscow.

Pray for those who are still feeling loss from the tragic events on Monday. Nearly 40 were killed, and over 100 were injured (some, including Marc’s Russian language teacher’s husband, were critically injured). As people may be faced with the thought of death, ask God to place people into their lives with the Truth.

Clifton: Russia Trip-Day Five

Editor's Note: Engage Russia's newest team member, Michael Clifton, made his first trip to Russia earlier this month. Michael is a media producer living in Kiev, Ukraine. This summer Michael will start leading Engage Russia production trips while Marc Hooks is in the States meeting with churches and others who are interested in becoming Engage Russia partners. The following is posted fromMichael's personal blog.

Date: 1 April 2010

I’m nearly kicking myself that I pulled a grand total of “zero” April Fools Jokes. I didn’t even attempt one.

Our train pulled into the station before sunrise. I had forgotten my tripod in our coupé and had to go all the way back from inside the station to our wagon (at the front of the train). Everyone had already gotten off and the doors were shut, but our wagon “stewardess” let me back in to retrieve. All I said when she asked was “Ya zabil” (I forgot).

Most of the Most

We were exiting the station when we heard a voice of desperation ask, “Does anyone speak English.” This lady had the name and address of the hostel (Godzilla’s) where she was going to stay, but had no clue how to even get to where she was going. Marc and I helped her out all the way out of the Metro stop where she needed to be. It was a little out of our way, but we were at least on a Metro line where a McDonald’s was located. Yes, McD for breakfast, again. As we emerged at our stop, the sun was showing off a clear sky.

After recharging our stomachs, we went to the apartment to recharge our phones, laptops, and various other batteries. We cleaned up from the travels and rested a bit before going out for the day.

Couple in the ГУМ

Since the Internet had been cut off at home, and both my phone battery and minutes were used up two days previous. I loaded up some money on the phone and finally managed to relieve the nerves of my precious wife. I used up all my minutes in that one call.

We met another colleague for lunch at a food court in a mall near our McDonald’s breakfast location. I had Sbarro pizza, which was much better than their counterpart in Kiev. They even had pepperoni pizza!! We sat around discussing things and strategizing how I might be used once Marc was going stateside for a year.

Tomb of Unknown Soldier in St. Petersburg

I then made my way out alone to meet up with another colleague, Tim, for us to videotape “man on the street” interviews with people to find out what they think it “means to be Russian.” I also needed to pick up the registration I had ordered three days prior.

I’m not sure we ever got a straight answer on the “What it means to be Russian” question. It was difficult enough to get anyone to agree to answer on video, and another thing to break the language barrier. One lady helped us for a few minutes to find others that would do it. One couple of older men chatted with us for over 20 minutes. One of them was Russian and the other Belorussian. The Russian dominated the conversation (or shall I say monologue). Every time the Belorussian tried to speak, the Russian would cut him off and tell him he was wrong. An interview with a couple ladies produced some laughs, and another compliment on my Russian language skills. I must have the most convincing nod in the world. :)

Duck (Duh)

Tim had some other things to do, so he departed, and I made my way back to the apartment. My eyes shut for only a moment (more like an hour or more) when Marc hobbled in. He had sprained his ankle some kinda bad on the way home.

We still had plans to meet up with some of his former English Club students, so we headed out the door to meet with them. Only two of the group showed up, but we went to the nearest Schocolodnitsa Cafe for some coffee. We sat there for a couple hours talking and catching up with them.

Russian Flag

Marc and I said goodbye and went to Rostick’s (KFC) to get some real dinner to take back to the apartment where he could rest and wrap his ankle.

By this part of the trip, my habit at the end of the day was to take the card out of my camera and load them into iPhoto, but I had not shot a picture all day. How was that even possible? So, I’ve just included some random photos from the trip throughout this blog post.

Having lived in Africa, it was easy to make friends quickly. People there smile and greet everyone. This became our biggest Culture Shock upon entering a former Soviet country. People here don’t smile much, and often become suspicious of you if you do. Friendships take time here. People are just not as open to foreigners. However, once a friendship is made, it becomes a deep friendship. These relationships are the key to unlocking the door to sharing with people in this culture. Marc demonstrated that on several occasions during the trip, but this night, when we met the two English Club students, it was apparent that one of these was a real life-long friend. Marc got invited back to his home village to stay with his parents.

Pray with us that these types of relationships be made and continue. We also pray that when they invite us into their lives, that we live transparent enough that they invite Jesus into their lives as well.

Double Eagle in St. Pete Palace

Clifton: Russia Trip-Day Four

Editor's Note: Engage Russia's newest team member, Michael Clifton, made his first trip to Russia earlier this month. Michael is a media producer living in Kiev, Ukraine. This summer Michael will start leading Engage Russia production trips while Marc Hooks is in the States meeting with churches and others who are interested in becoming Engage Russia partners. The following is posted fromMichael's personal blog.

Date: 31 March 2010

We were roused from our deep (well deserved, I might add) slumber by the sound of our host clapping a wake-up call and the smell of bacon. It wasn’t early, but the previous day made it feel like we were waking well before it was time.

A wonderful breakfast of eggs, bacon, biscuits, potatoes and brownies (wait, did I just admit to having a brownie for breakfast) were waiting for us as soon as we could drag our bodies to the table. Our hostess really knew how to make us feel welcome, and help us start the day.

Today, we planned better, expecting to take public transportation again, we shed some weight from our packs and journeyed out for the day. We met back up with Clint at a men’s prayer time at the Baptist Union building. These men were on their knees and faces before God, praying for people.

Me @ St. Isaac's

They finished around 10:00am and greeted us heartily. It was a few days before Easter, so we responded to the “Kristos Voscress” (Christ has risen) with “Voistinu Voscress” (He has risen indeed).

I can’t say that I was disappointed to see the big, blue van outside that Clint drives waiting for us in the Baptist Union parking lot. We wouldn’t have to lug our packs around all day afterall. We were going to be able to take in a few sights for a few hours before we had an interview to videotape.

We got to see the Peter the Great Monument (pictured above), stand on the Neva River, and go up in the colonnade in St. Isaac’s Cathedral to get a panoramic view of the city. We paid “inostranits” (foreigner) prices for entry and made our way up the 200+step circular staircase that brought us to another set of steps to the top. With a fairly flat landscape, this perch at about 200 ft. helped us to see for miles in every direction.

St. Petersburg "Winter Palace"

We then made our way to the square in front of the “Winter Palace.” This large, pale green palace is now the site of the Hermitage Museum. We didn’t have time to visit inside, but I hear this is an amazing museum.

We met our interviewee at a mall in town. We went in different directions in the food court. Subway was the first thing that caught my eye. I ordered in Russian with what must have been a distinctively American accent. The cashier told me that my “Russian is very good.” This statement made me wonder that if my Russian was that good, why did she tell me in English? I enjoyed my 30cm-long Italianski sandwich with a Mountain Dew to drink. No chance of me getting that in Ukraine. :)

Singer Building

From the mall we decided to go to the Singer building (former headquarters for Singer sewing machines in the Soviet Union) for the interview. The coffee shop there looks directly across to the Kazan Cathedral. We got permission to shoot the interview inside and enjoyed a cup of coffee or two.

The interview went great. We talked a bit about the “Russian mind” from the perspective of a Russian. Winston Churchill said “Russia is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma”, but is Russia really that complicated? I would verify that the Russian language is that complicated and more, but our interview shed some light on the “Russian mind.” He said that Russians value “safety” which is in direct contrast of the typical American answer of “freedom.” There is a sense of pride in being a Russian, just as there is in being American (or any other nationality for that matter). Safety really helps explain why certain things are done (and why I had to go through all sorts of hoops to enter and stay in Russia to begin with). But it not only affects the overall mindset in government affairs, it also affects personal, family decisions. For example, a man might turn down a job that pays better in lieu of a job that appears more steady and “safe” for his family. It also explains why people are more willing to give up freedoms if they can feel safe.

Kazan Cathedral

We left there with excitement (either from the great interview or from coffee or both). We did a little souvenir shopping before turning towards our next destinatinon, dinner. Clint and his family had invited us to dinner before we got on the train to go back to Moscow. Clint’s wife had fixed chicken pot pie. This meal put my Subway sandwich to shame.

We got our stuff together and made our way back to the train for our return trip to Moscow. Unfortunately, this leg of the journey was not in as nice a train, and we had companions in our coupé. It wasn’t so bad. Neither of them talked much, so getting to sleep wasn’t an issue.

Spilt Blood "Onion" domes

Of the three interviews we got a glimpse of the Baptist organization in Russia, theological perspectives of Russian Orthodoxy, and the Russian thought process. All three were crucial in understanding the task of getting the gospel to the average person in Russia. Especially when understanding the idea of “safety” in their context, one may see their traditional practice in a new light. Those actions are like an “insurance policy” or a “safety net” in case everything else doesn’t work. We need to communicate the gospel as something that is the ultimate “safety” provided by God, but in a way that shows that God is the initiator (not man, nor by anything man does). In fact, starting with man’s sin, we could show how we are ultimately in an un-safe situation with our Creator. Pray with us as we continue to share this Good News with the people of Russia and surrounding countries.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Clifton: Russia Trip-Day Three

Editor's Note: Engage Russia's newest team member, Michael Clifton, made his first trip to Russia earlier this month. Michael is a media producer living in Kiev, Ukraine. This summer Michael will start leading Engage Russia production trips while Marc Hooks is in the States meeting with churches and others who are interested in becoming Engage Russia partners. The following is posted from Michael's personal blog.

Date: 30 March 2010

I woke up early (as usual – and to the disdain of my friend, Marc Hooks) as the train was still making its way through the country to St. Petersburg. The sun was just beginning to peek over the horizon and dashed in between the trees as we continued down the tracks. It appeared to be a beautiful morning, and we had another hour before we arrived at the station. It was at this moment that hoped that the blue sky would continue throughout the day.

The train pulled in at around 9:00am. Marc and I immediately noticed that it was much colder than in Moscow. The sky was white with cloud cover and the chill in the air was heavy. Our friend, Clint, met us at the station and guided us through the metro to our first stop of the day, McDonald’s. I enjoy McD’s at breakfast than at any other time. I worked at McD for 3 years, and my favorite shift was morning shift, and I was in charge of making biscuits. According to my manager, I baked the best biscuits that she had ever tasted. However, they don’t know biscuits here, so everything is served on english muffins. I digress.

Central Baptist Church in St. Petersburg

Our first video shoot was at Central Baptist Church in St. Petersburg with the pastor there. When it comes to understanding the history of the Baptist Church in Russia, one must start with this church. Nearly all of the Baptist churches in Russia (that aren’t new church plants) can be traced back to Central Baptist Church.

We trudged from the Metro over a snow/slush covered walkway with our heavy, equipment laden packs to the church, which at first glance neither appeared “Baptist” nor “Central”. The church building has similar elements (like an “onion-shaped dome” on top) to an Orthodox church. In fact, at one time, it was an Orthodox church. Evidently, the Soviet government desired their former location in the “center” of St. Petersburg. Around 1960, the government was successful in occupying that location, but provided this “new” property complete with a (run-down) Russian Orthodox chapel somewhere on the outskirts of town.


For the past 40 years, Central Baptist Church has met in this location in a formerly remote place nearly out of the city in a formerly Orthodox church building. Now, the area around Central Baptist Church has experienced a boom of new people, buildings, and houses. Despite the government’s efforts, the church thrived and is continuing to thrive to this day. Evidently, the Russian Orthodox want their property and building back.

The sanctuary had large boards on the walls that explain church history in general, as well as their specific church history. The photos and information kept there was amazing. We met the pastor there, and video-taped a long interview in the sanctuary of the church. We then shot a few more scenes to make the video work together. This video was to be about the history of Baptists in Russia for Engage Russia.

Ice Fisherman

Our next stop was lunch. We made our way back up the snow/slush path that skirted along a lake. There were still several ice fishermen on the lake. That should explain how cold it still was in St. Petersburg. Rostik’s (KFC)was nearby, so we settled on that.

Lunch ended and we headed towards the center of town to video our second interview. Or subject concerned Russian Orthodoxy, and our interviewee has a Master’s Degree in the subject. He also served as our translator for the previous interview. We decided to shoot this section near the most famous Orthodox cathedral in St. Petersburg, the “Church of Our Savior on Spilled Blood.”

Church of the Savior on Spilt Blood

This cathedral is reminiscent of St. Basil’s Cathedral on Red Square in Moscow in architecture. The colors were not as bright, but the detail work on the building was amazing. The church is located next to one of the many canals in St. Petersburg on the location where in 1881 Czar Alexander II was mortally wounded in the last of a series of assassination attempts. His son, Czar Alexander III, commissioned the church to be built there. It took 24 years to build and was funded almost entirely by the “royal family.”

Church on Spilt Blood Silhouette

Our hostess was busy in the kitchen cooking up something with one of the best aromas imaginable. The host of the house was out doing other things and wouldn’t return until late that night. Fairly soon, dinner was served to Marc, Clint, and myself. This meal included a cream of broccoli soup and was followed by some of the best sweet & sour chicken I have EVER (and I don’t use that lightly) tasted. It was all I could do to save room for a mint brownie.

Kazan in B&W

Marc needed to get some editing done for the “Special Edition” Engage Russia video we shot the day before and get it uploaded. I remember talking through a couple things when I heard Marc say, “Just go to bed!” Evidently, I was sitting there snoring. Anyway, it was just enough of an evening nap for me to stay up for our host to arrive home and stay up beyond midnight chatting with him. Marc got the video uploaded and I went to bed.

If the previous day was emotionally draining, this day was physically exhausting. Our packs felt like lead when we finally were able to put them down in the apartment. We learned quite a bit about Russian Orthodoxy and about Baptist History in Russia. It is amazing to research history that is hundreds of years old (when our own country is just over 200 years old). There is such a rich history here. Traditions run deep in the culture and their religion.

More Crowds

Pray for the Russian people. A deep history is great, but if traditions lose meaning, then the people fall into a “works” mentality. Pray for the continued work of Baptist churches and specifically Central Baptist Church as they minister to those around them and lead more to Christ as a result. Pray that they not be content in being the “Mother Baptist Church”, but continue to desire to plant other churches in the area and in various parts of Russia.

Clifton: Russia Trip-Day Two

Editor's Note: Engage Russia's newest team member, Michael Clifton, made his first trip to Russia earlier this month. Michael is a media producer living in Kiev, Ukraine. This summer Michael will start leading Engage Russia production trips while Marc Hooks is in the States meeting with churches and others who are interested in becoming Engage Russia partners. The following is posted from Michael's personal blog.

Date: 29 March 2010

Without much planned, this day started out lazily. We planned to meet another friend for breakfast, go to an office for my Russian registration, and see a few sights in Moscow before getting on a late night train to St. Petersburg. We were all stirring around the apartment when the calls started. An explosion had occurred in one of the Metro stations. Our host then began a series of calls to check on each of the people he knew in town. Everyone under his responsibility was accounted for.

Lubyanka Metro Sign

Within a few minutes of hearing of the first explosion (at Lubyanka Metro Station), we started hearing reports of a second explosion. When the second explosion was confirmed, we knew it wasn’t some random gas line explosion, but rather a coordinated attack. Rumors had started surfacing of a third, but never confirmed. Two female suicide bombers had set off bombs within 45 minutes of each other at Lubyanka Station and at Park Kultury Station, killing nearly 40 and injuring over 100 others.

Breakfast plans were cancelled, and there was some concern about riding the Metro. The “Red Line” was almost completely shut down since both explosions were on that line. After a couple hours, it was clear that the attacks had ended. However, I still needed to get my registration filled out, and we had to cross town to do it.

Business as Usual?

Just before noon, we ventured out onto the Metro. We felt a little heavy going down to the platform to wait for the train. We stepped into the train, and began our journey. On our wagon, there were dozens of police officers. Under normal circumstances, I would have felt more secure with their presence, but their faces showed absolute dread. These young guys (mostly in their early 20s) appeared to have a job that none of them wanted. Several of them were carrying silver-colored, shrink-wrapped packages about the size of a thick notebook. Two or three got off at each station until all of them had gotten off. I don’t know what their assignment was, but I am sure I didn’t want it.

Park Kultury Metro Station - 2nd Blast

We surfaced from the Metro and wound our way to the GoToRussia office, where I would apply for and receive my registration. Paying another $45, I had officially paid more for visas and paperwork than I had for the airline ticket.

Along the way, we discussed taping a special edition of Engage Russia. We talked through it on the Metro and got out at the Park Kultury Station (which is an exchange station and the part we got out wasn’t closed). People were pouring in and out of the station. Many looked as if it was just any other day, but the police, fire, and television crews told a different story. We video-taped several segments and took pictures of the scene outside. We knew that while a terrible thing had happened, we needed to help people understand this in “light of eternity.”

Headed to the Metro station

Only a fraction of 1% of people in Russia understand the gospel from an evangelical perspective. Many are considered Orthodox Christian and go through the rites and practices, but don’t understand the meanings behind it. Tradition and mysticism garners the lives of the typical person on the street. While some were trying to make sense of the destruction of lives, others seemed un-affected and rather inconvenienced. Due to these acts of terror, many people entered eternity without Christ. Our job as believers is to tell the people around us the “Good News” so that they can be ready for eternity. Now more than ever, they need this message.

Gorky Park Carousel

We made our way from Park Kultury (formerly Gorky Park – mentioned in the Scorpions song “Wind of Change) back to the Metro to see Red Square. However, Red Square had been blocked off. It was a strange site for Marc Hooks to see the square empty of people. Temporary barriers were set up and guarded at every entrance. The gates to the square were closed. We grabbed a quick bite at McDonald’s before heading back to the apartment to pack for our trip to St. Petersburg.

Closed Down

It had been a mentally exhausting day. Our host had fixed us a wonderful dinner of barbeque chicken, mashed potatoes, broccoli, and salad. It was a great meal. We packed our gear and essentials into our backpacks and made our way to the train station, leaving plenty of time for disruptions.

We arrived at the station with plenty of time to spare, or so we thought. We picked up some supplies of snacks and drink and went to the train that we thought was ours. It wasn’t. Upon further inspection of our tickets, we had been issued tickets for a train that left two hours before the time that the issuer had written down for our choice. We scrambled around to get a refund (50%) on our tickets and get one on the soonest train from that point. We secured our tickets and departed just after midnight. Our mistake resulted in us getting on a new train and in a coupe without any other people.

Hilton Hotel near Train Station

What started as a lazy day turned out to be physically and mentally draining. The weight of this day sat on our shoulders. We were in Moscow on a day that will be remembered in history. We pray that such a terrible event gets people to start thinking about eternity, and that we would be sensitive enough to the Holy Spirit to share. God has a heart for the Russian people. Will you accept the challenge to pray for and share with these people?