Friday, June 3, 2011

Engage Russia is on the road!

Yes, these posts are in a bit of backwards order but we didn't want you to miss the excitement in getting here! First, our group! Marc Hooks is our fearless (but might should be fearful!) leader. Then there is Paul Schmittling, Alan Grimsley, David Albritton, Valerie Craven and your tour guide for today, Janet Wells.
We met at the airport at about 10am Monday morning with excitement and more excitement. Not only were we leaving the country for 10 days, but we were going on misson for Jesus! Some might say our "suffering for Jesus" trip was going to be a walk in the park (after all, we're not staying the the jungle, fighting fierce bugs, or crossing mountains or desserts on foot) but we found out otherwise!

Our first encounter was at "special services" in the airport. We had researched and planned for everyone to be able to take two bags up to 70 lbs each. Yes, a bit much for today's general standards but our fearless leader has traveled so much he has special perks and we were going to take advantage of them so we could bring LOTS of goodies to our new friends we were to meet in Russia! The "special services" counter was quite special and Marc had to pull up on the website the "special" arrangements so we could get our bags free. After much convincing, we were allowed the bags and all was good. Time to get through security and find our airplane. Security wasn't too much of a deal-only two pat downs and the airplane was to be on time!

We loaded on the airplane and headed for Atlanta. No problems there-we got lunch quickly and then off for our airplane to Moscow! Again the plane was to be on time! We loaded up and found we were traveling with fellow Southern Baptists from Johnny Hunt's church who were headed to Moscow to work in an orphanage. We also had a native Russian (who now lives in Minneapolis) in front of Marc on the plane who was so happy to have someone to speak to in Russian. Now, Marc has been away for awhile but after 1 1/2 hours of conversation in the middle of the night, I think he thought maybe he was ready again for Russia! The lady was quite nice and very interested in why Marc studies the Russian people and wanted to know more!

Did you know when you travel to Russia this time of year that the sun never really sets? We were heading east and about the time we lost the sun from the west, it was rising in the east where we were heading! A very neat experience. Of course, other passengers trying to sleep were less than impressed when the positioning of the sun was checked during the flight!

There was also the issue of the flashlight! I am sure the man ahead of us thought a flashlight was a good idea on a night flight. I might have thought so, too before the flight. But, when one is trying to sleep (we really needed to sleep between our hours of 7-midnight so when we arrived we could be awake in our new time zone EIGHT HOURS ahead of Middleburg) and the one with the flashlight looses something and begins to look all over for it with the brighest flashlight I have ever seen, the flashlight idea is not so good! In fact, I might think that a good idea for the next thing added to the TSA no fly list! But after way to long in a little tiny seat with questionable dinner and items far too odd to actually try to eat for breakfast (thus why our fearless leader mentioned bringing granola bars on the trip!) we arrived in Moscow early in the morning. We were off to get documents processed, pick up luggage and then sneak through customs (don't look at the guards, don't smile, don't talk to each other, just be invisible so you don't get stopped was the direction!).

Time to tour Moscow but we have a problem. The car reserved to take all 6 of us, the missionary friend and all 14 of our suitcases to the train station has room only for people and one suitcase. So, we must wait 1.5 hours for new transportation. Welcome to mission tripping! The motto is "so flexible you are fluid" and this was our first test! We had to wait at a small coffee shop in the airport (had to take all luggage back through xray scans!) and had our first experience with Pepsi "light", no sweet ice tea and new coffee flavors! Oh, my not so fav-no ice! Like I said, fluid so we drank with a smile and thought of home and that great ice that Sonic has!

The new bus arrived, we stuffed and stuffed in suitcases and then got in with those of us who get a bit of motion sickness making sure to face forward. In Russian transportaion you face all kinds of way in cars and buses! And, no air conditioning except windows even on the hottest days! I should mention here that Russian people are somewhat superstitious about having air blowing on them so they would rather roll up the windows than have air making them cool with windows down. If you have ever been stuck in Blanding traffic in Orange Park, you haven't really seen traffic like here in Russia. Don't forget to add the heat with no air conditioning and all cars are standard transmission! Now, there's a stomach ache and head ache just ready to happen! Our short trip to train station was about 1 hour! Once there we dragged all the cases down the stairs (no escalators here!) and checked them with security (kind of a sketchy place in the bottom of the train station with a very odd odor-but they did keep our stuff safe while were were gone) and headed off to see Moscow!

We really couldn't have arrived with nicer weather! Beautiful sunny day about the mid-80's and not much smog. Summer holiday was just about to begin the next day and we had a quick tour of some of the most notable buildings in Moscow! We can't wait to go back for more before we come home!

Now off to catch our train and get settled in our little (I do mean little) compartments for the evening! Believe it or not, these are co-ed (you wear "train clothes" not pajamas to sleep) and if you don't have enough folks in your party for four people, you get what you get (the reason Marc and Allan got two young Russian girls in their compartment!) We got settled in and the sleeping and snoring began! The next morning was here before you know it and it was time to get off the train, meet Marc's favorite Russian pastor and see Chuboksary!

Choksary is a beautiful city and we had a great time touring the city with Pastor Sasha and missionary Chet from Texas (where everything is bigger!) We were so excited to see McDonalds for lunch and since it was Children's Day and the first day of summer break so there was a festival taking place with lots of boths with crafts and native items and children dancing and singing! What fun! After a walking tour around town and the electric plant on the lake that was created, we headed for our transportation with "Fast Eddie" to Mari-El, our mission trip destination spot!

Wondering how Fast Eddie got his name? Let's just say that passing slower cars is his forte and joy and there isn't a pothole in Moscow that he is afraid of or misses! Oh, I should also mention that two lane roads have three lanes created when Fast Eddie drives and he has no idea was shocks or struts are! :) We made it safely (yes, after that trip we know God was already having a hand in this trip) and were so happy to see our hotel (which we did have to stop about five people to ask directions to). It is a nice hotel (no air conditioning but clean) but its best attribute yesterday was the hot showers! You should know that many Russian families don't have hot water in the summer (I figure the hot water heaters probably run 24/7 all winter so they turn them off to give them a rest for two months!) so we were thankful to find not only hot water but a clean towel for everyone. It is amazing how wonderful a shower can feel after two days of traveling without one! At nightfall, eating once again at McDonalds (yes, that is Russian food-we ate it in Russia!) we couldn't believe we had done some much and seen so much in so short a time!

Granted this mission trip isn't for whimps! Our mantra is sleep is for the weak and food must be carried at all times cuz we just don't always have time to stop! We have seen so many ways that God has been at work ahead of us and with us and we can't wait to see what the rest of the week has in store!

So, hope you enjoyed heading out on this journey with us and will stay tuned to see more of what God has in store for us this week!

Your blogger for today,
Janet Wells

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Yoshkar-Ola Believers

This is Valerie blogging. We are all taking turns trying to catch up on blogging so please forgive me for going out of order. It's Thursday evening here in Yoshkar-Ola and we are finally getting back to the hotel after a whirlwind day learning about the Mari culture and visiting with Mari believers. The day started with a Russian breakfast in the hotel. Afterwards we started a walking tour of the city. We had the 6 of us, our two translators Natasha and Zhenya and our guide Pastor Anatoly. We were a sight walking down Victory Park! Marc was able to get some great video for Engage Russia and the pedestrians seemed to enjoy the bloopers. Marc even had a very small co-host for one segment. After lunch we visited a museum dedicated to the Mari people. Natasha did a wonderful job translating for us!

Pastor Anatoly has been helping us connect with believers in the city and guiding us around town. This evening he arranged for us to meet some Mari believers about 30 minutes outside of the city. We were invited to their apartment and had the chance to talk and interview them. Afterwards they served us dinner and Janet has pictures of Marc enjoying his. We started talking about Mari music and before we knew what had happened, we were listening to them perform music, sing, dance and see the traditional Mari clothing. We enjoyed our visit with our Brothers & Sisters in Christ even with the language barrier!

Your Sister in Christ,