Sunday, January 10, 2010

Wrapping up in Karelia

Sunday, January 10, 2010 – Petrozavodsk, Russia – Republic of Karelia

We are wrapping up our work in Karelia today. As with most places in Russia, I really hate to leave.

This morning was disappointing. When we arrived in Karelia we had the address and phone number for a congregation of believers in Petrozavodsk. While we were able to find the church building, the phone number we had did not have enough digits, so we were not able to make telephone contact with the pastor.However, the church had the times of the services posted on the two and twice we tried to connect with the believers here, but to no avail.This morning we watched as 10:30 came and went and there was no sign of life at the little church building.

We don’t know what happened or where the believers were. But they were certainly not there.Their absence could have been due to the fact that Christmas was celebrated this past week and they chose to cancel services for the rest of the week. It could be that due to the expense of having electricity and heat, the congregation could be meeting in a home to save money. (I did notice one car parked on the street that had a “Jesus Fish” on the back of it. Common in America, very out of the ordinary here.) Wherever they are, will you keep them in your prayers? Will you also pray about how you might become involved in this area?

Photographs from our morning can be seen here.

This evening we will get back on a train headed for Moscow. We are due to arrive around 9am.We will then start making our way to the airport for the second leg of this journey – Sochi, which is located on the Black Sea and will be the home of the 2014 Winter Olympics. And, this may come as quite shock to our bodies which have adapted to the near 0F temperatures. Sochi is forecast to be 50-degrees WARMER than it is here!

Please continue to pray as we travel, not just for us, but for our families who are at home without us. Due to travel, I will probably not update blogs until Tuesday night. However, I will try to keep my Facebook and Twitter status’ current for those of you who like the “blow-by-blow” accounts of our adventures. Thanks for praying and for following along!



Saturday, January 9, 2010

Northern Stars and Well Water

Saturday, January 9, 2010 – Petrozavodsk, Russia – Republic of Karelia

It is a clear, albeit cold, night in Petrozavodsk. As we were walking back to the hotel I stopped by the lakeshore in the hopes to see the Aurora Borealis. However, we are not quite far enough north to see that amazing sight. Oh well, I guess I have to have a few things left on my “Bucket List.” Maybe during my next trip to Murmansk it will be clear enough; it was not last year during my first trip.

I am not sure that I have ever seen the stars in the way I did tonight. I must confess, I actually forgot about looking for the Northern Lights until I was walking back and something caught my eye. It was Mars. It is no surprise that I am pretty geeky anyway, but it was so cool to see this planet tonight. It just seemed to be popping out of the sky. And, there was no mistaking what it was. I have never seen it look so red. Really quite amazing. My favorite constellation is Orion, and he was easily identifiable as he crossed the northern sky. There is just something comforting about being in an unfamilar place, but seeing the stars from home.

I have been thinking a lot about water today. We met three women today as we were shooting stand-ups near the artesian well where the people from this part of town to get their water (yes, many places in Russia still do not have running water in their homes…fortunately, our hotel does.) One of them was sharingthe history of the 45-year old well and she explained that the lake (which was about 500 yards away) has very dirty water. And, that the water which comes out of this well is very clean.

For the rest of the day, my mind has been consumed with the thought of how important clean water is. These women certainly recognize the importance of getting clean water and what it means for their own health and for the health of their families.

Quite some time ago in a place far from here, there was another woman who came to a well for water. Like these women, she met a stranger - a foreigner - at the well who told her that what she needed was “Living Water.” Of course, that man was Jesus. The Message version of the Bible says Jesus told her, “When you drink this water (from the well) you will get thirsty again and again. Anyone who drinks the water I give will never thirst—not ever. The water I give will be an artesian spring within, gushing fountains of endless life."

One of the things that occurred to me today as I pondered the events of the day and the story from the Bible was this: our world is so polluted with religious messages. Many think they are getting what they need. They think that what they are getting is good for them. After all, who would think that water could be bad for you? Water is water, after all. However, these three women at the well todayreminded me of an important fact. Getting water is not enough. To be healthy we must have clean water.

Let’s make sure that as we come into contact with people -- no matter what country, culture, or society you live in – that you are pointing people to a clean source of water, not just any puddle or lake. There are a lot of bodies of water that, on the surface, look clean.A walk through the streets of Prague will reveal many posters leading you to some of those different bodies of water as they offer better living through meditation, exercise, and a host of other religious options.

As Christians, we can put up signs and posters that lead people to Living Water. We can build fancy buildings that cover the well and hope that people will recognize that as a place to come to get the Living Water. We can build a water park and have events where we hope that people will be attracted to the fun and adventure of the Living Water. And, we can even spend our spare time updating our Facebook and Twitter status’ to talk about the blood of Jesus and hope that people will feel guilty for not having the Living Water. But, wouldn’t Jesus be happier if we just sat down by the well and invited our friends to join us as we share a drink with him? A drink of Living Water? Maybe then there would be more people coming to the well and less people pulling water from the lake.



Friday, January 8, 2010

This was a light day?

Friday, January 8, 2010 – Petrozavodsk, Russia – Republic of Karelia

Today was not as busy as others, but physically it seems to have taken its toll. As with most places in Russia, we walk almost everywhere we go, and the main section of Petrozavodsk is not very large. An average day consists of 3-4 miles of walking.Today, however, I think we put about double that amount under our feet. That is a lot of mileage under good circumstances, but add to that snowy and icy sidewalks and a couple of inches of new snow to that and the going is even rougher. Needless to say, tonight we are pretty worn out.

Temperatures here have also played a factor. This morning’s high of 14F quickly dropped and shortly after noon it was around 5F with wind chills below zero. Tomorrow’s highs are expected to be 3F.

We have spent the past couple of days collecting research on Petrozavodsk, the Republic of Karelia and the Karelian people.The task of the day was to shoot video of me in different places around town sharing that information. So, we did not cover a lot of new ground, but revisited a lot of familiar territory. That task will continue tomorrow as we ran out of sunlight faster than we wanted, and felt the temperatures dropping.

Of course, no day here seems to be without adventure and today was no different. Petrozavodsk is located on the shore of Europe’s second largest lake, Lake Onega. Right now the lake is covered with two feet of ice and another two feet of snow. What better conditions than to join the other ice fishermen on the lake? We trekked about 200 yards from the shoreline over the frozen surface and quickly struck up a friendship with Vladimir who allowed us to join him for a little bit. As we were talking we were able to pull a few small fish out of the ice and had a couple of others that got away. It was a strange experience to know that you were sitting in the middle of a lake and visions of the opening scene of “It’s A Wonderful Life” kept running through my head. However, it is an experience that I shall cherish and never forget.

More photos of Vladimir can bee seen here.

According to the sign on the door of the church that Tim found yesterday they were supposed to hold services tonight – a prayer meeting we think. We were hoping to make contact with the pastor and other church members so we could start working on a story about what God is doing in this part of Russia. However, when we arrived at 6:00pm tonight, the lights were off and the doors were locked. We are praying that was just because this week has been a holiday week that the doors were locked. I can’t imagine anything sadder than to find a church has had to close and lock their doors. To our knowledge, this is the only evangelical church in the area, and possibly the entire Republic.

Continue to pray for us as we work. We have more stand-ups and video of the city to shoot tomorrow. And since we are not used to the bitter cold it seems to be zapping our energy levels more than expected. Also pray for the church here. We hope the closed doors are not a permanent condition.



Thursday, January 7, 2010

An "Air-Bus", Wooden Churches and More...

Thursday, January 7, 2010 – Petrozavodsk, Russia – Republic of Karelia

С Рождеством Христовым (Merry Christmas) from the Russian north! Today is the day that Russians celebrate Christmas. We could talk about that, but will save that discussion for another day.

If anyone ever tries to tell you that missions work is boring, they are lying! Today was another day filled with fun and adventure. And, every time I think that this country can no longer amaze me, I am wrong. Mother Russia has plenty of surprises up her sleeves.

The day started before sunrise (9am) as I motored toward the airport in the taxi. Due to limited space for the excursion, Tim and I had to split up today, which meant I would be going to the ethnographic museum on the island of Кижи (Kizhi).

Since some have asked the question already, Ethnography aims to describe the nature of those who are studied (i.e. to describe a people, an ethnos.) In the biological sciences, this type of study might be called a "field study" or a "case report," both of which are used as common synonyms for "ethnography." (Thank you, Wikipedia) So, an ethnographic museum is a place that tries to capture and/or describe the nature of a particular people group. Often times these museums are outdoor exhibition centers. Many of you have visited Colonial Williamsburg in Virginia. This is a good example of an ethnographic museum. And, when we are traveling to new parts of Russia, we often seek these museums out so that we may better understand the culture of the native ethnic people of the area. It can sound a little boring when you describe it, but getting to see it first-hand is far from boring.

When I booked this trip, with the help of the wonderful workers at our hotel, I was told that I would be taking an “air-bus” to the island. But after walking onto the airfield from what had to be the smallest airport I have ever been in, I soon realized that our “air-bus” was a helicopter! And, after a 30-minute ride at 300 meters above the frozen lake below, we landed opposite one of the most beautiful Russian Orthodox churches I have ever seen.

This link will take you to more information about the island and the buildings found there.

Most of the wooden buildings on the island were constructed in the early 1700s. The churches are native to Kizhi, while the other wooden structures were brought to the island to preserve them and so they could be part of the exhibition. I had a wonderful, English-speaking guide who gave me a tour of the complex. We talked some about native Karelian life and she echoed what we have come to learn…the Karelian way of life is dying. The Karelian language never did have a written form, and fewer and fewer people speak Karelian in this modern age. She added that most young people were leaving the Karelian villages and going to live and work in the big cities, such as Petrozavodsk, St. Petersburg and Moscow. Consequently, only older people remain in the Karelian villages of the Russian north and as they die, their culture is dying with them.

A link to some photo highlights of the day can be found here.

While I was off exploring the island, Tim was up to his own bit of exploring. His task for the day: find the Baptist church. That task may sound like an easy one if you are living in the rural south of the United States, but here in Russia, that can almost always be like finding a needle in a haystack. We knew that several years ago Russian Baptist church planters had been able to start a Baptist congregation here. However, we did not really know where and how to find them. But, Tim succeeded! According to the sign on the door they will be having a service (of some sort) tomorrow night and we are hoping to attend and make contact with the pastor and other church leaders.

So, continue to pray for us as we brave the frigid temperatures in this area close to the Arctic Circle. But, even more, pray that we will be able to make contact with our Baptist brothers and sisters tomorrow night so that we can tell stories about how God is at work in this area. And lastly, begin praying now about how God can use you to minister to the people of Karelia.



Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Karelian Assimilation

Wednesday, January 6, 2010 – Petrozavodsk, Russia – Capitol of the Republic of Karelia

It is Christmas Eve in Russia. Not the Christmas Eve that you and I usually think about. However, Russians celebrate Christmas based on the Orthodox calendar and tomorrow, January 7, is Christmas Day. Most Russians have been on vacation since New Year’s Eve and we have seen many families enjoying time together in the city. Later tonight we will attend a midnight service at the large Russian Orthodox Cathedral in the center of town.

Our first day in a new city is usually spent trying to get ourselves acquainted with the people and the culture and this trip has been no different. It seems that no matter how much research you do before hand, there is always so much that you never know until you get your feet on the ground.

Worth mentioning, however, is how friendly people seem to be here. After living and working in Moscow for two years, it is often easy to forget that outside of the mega-cities people tend to be very friendly and willing to help strangers. The staff at our hotel has been invaluable in this regard and they have assisted us in numerous ways. We also received a warm greeting at one of the museums we visited this afternoon.

According to statistics, there are around 130,000 native Karelians in Russia, and most of them live in the Republic of Karelia. However, that number only accounts for less then 10-percent of the population here. Karelians are one of two minority peoples who are native to this area (the other being the Veps who are more closely related to the neighboring Finns.) And, as a result of centuries of this land being shared between the native peoples, the Russians and the Finns, it is almost nearly impossible to identify native Karelians by their physical features. However, they more closely resemble Russians, than the fairer Veps.

As with most Russians, the majority of Karelian people identify themselves with the Russian Orthodox Church. However, we have found several Catholic and Lutheran congregations here. This is also a result of this land being occupied by the Finns and Swedes over many generations.

I suppose that at the end of the day, several things about Karelian people have caught our interest. First, and probably foremost, is that the Karelian people and culture seems to be a dying way of life. Most native Karelians identify themselves as being Russian. And the people, as a whole, seem to have been all but totally assimilated into Russian culture. One of our guides, a native Vep, said that she is unable to identify native Karelians during everyday activity.

We also learned that life in the villages today is almost identical to village life over 100 years ago. Most of the Karelian natives found in the northern villages are wheat farmers and still work the land using animals and simple hand tools. People in the villages earn a living by selling wheat, milk, and other byproducts of farm living. However, in order for them to have the money they need to survive the man of the house will usually travel to the city and find work there to help support the family. Once he has earned enough to last the family for several months, he will return home and then go back to find itinerant work in the city when that money has run out.

As with much of Russia, however, only a small number of people still live this way. Most are abandoning village life and are moving to large urban centers, such as Petrozavodsk – which explains much of the assimilation of the Karelian culture with the Russian culture that surrounds it. Only 25-percent of the people in the Republic of Karelia live outside of the cities.

As you are praying for the Engage Russia team, and our travels, take a few minutes to pray for the people of the Republic of Karelia on this Christmas Eve. Most in the city of Petrozavodsk will not attend a church service tonight, or give thought to the birth of a baby in a stable. Others will stand in the midnight cold in order to receive their annual blessing from an Orthodox priest. Pray that God will make himself known to the people of Karelia and that they would find hope in the manger tonight.



Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Engage Russia: The Karelian Odyssey

Tuesday, January 5, 2010 – Train from Moscow to Petrozavodsk

There is something majestic abou

t a train ride though the northeast of Russia in the winter. A thick blanket of clean snow wraps the countryside in a pristine calmness that I have yet to be able to adequately capture in a photograph or on video. And, it is a reminder of just how vast this country is.

In Russia, the most cost effective and efficient means of travel is by train. We usually travel in a “coupe”, a compartment with four beds – which means that we are usually traveling with at least one, and usually two strangers. This, in itself, adds flavor to every trip we take. We have had rides, like this one, where our traveling companions say little, if anything. However, long train rides have also allowed us to make new relationships, strengthen friendships, and often provide a very natural opportunity to share the Gospel.

You never can tell what kind of experiences you might have as the wheels clickity-clack against polished steel rails.

The most fun stops are in places where local vendors come out to peddle their wares. We have seen everything from sodas and candy bars to the absolutely ridiculous such as crystal chandeliers and taxidermy of local animals such as foxes and badgers.

This kind of travel is not for everyone and it is an experience that you either love or you hate. However it is a truly Russian experience as most Russians cannot afford to fly and driving across this country is impractical.

This afternoon we will arrive in Petrozavodsk, the capital of The Republic of Karelia. Due to its northern location, it will already be dark when we arrive and the sun will not rise until 10am. Tomorrow will be spent exploring the city, visiting museums, and collecting information about the Karelian people. We will also begin our search for groups of believers so we can talk about what God is already doing in this northern part of Russia.

Stay tuned as we Engage Russia!