We come from all across the West Ohio Conference. From Ripley to Maumee to Cincinnati and even Northern Kentucky. There are eight of us and we started the journey to the Volga District of Russia on Friday, July 12. Four of us are returning to see old friends and make new ones and four are going for the first time to be in fellowship with our sisters and brothers in Christ across the Volga River District. You are welcome to join us on our mission of Christian love here on WOC Mission Mosaic over the coming days.
Today was our last day to spend with the church and church members. In the morning, we split up, Leisel and I went sledding with Masha (Maria) down by the Volga River. We walked around the park, and down to the Volga, where we –safely- walked out on the frozen water. While we goofed around in the park, Jay went to the hospital with Pastors Natalia and Olga to visit and pray with Tamara, who was the Headmistress at the orphanage. Tamara has been very sick, but was lifted to see Jay and hear the love that had been sent by people back in the United States.
We met up again a little after noon and headed out for lunch with Vlad, Natalia, Olga, and Masha. We went to a café where we had very large potato cakes and bellinis stuffed with various other foods like ham, cheese, cinnamon, cherries, chocolate, apples, and so forth. Conversations drifted around the table, in Russian and English. We talked about what we were going to do the rest of the day, as well as the next. We were prompted by each other to try all the different pancakes that had been ordered, and ended up with some left overs.
After lunch, we went to a craft fair, where one of the members of Samara UMC had a booth. We looked around and also learned how to make wool birds. After spending a good hour and a half looking at all of the handmade trinkets, we took the tram with Natalia, Olga, and Masha to the church. When we got there, we started setting up to make s’mores with the kids at the church. Now, Russia does not have marshmallows, and some of the adults had seen them before in America, but we showed them how to make s’mores, and they had a blast. After a while, they brought out sausages and started roasting them as well.
After the s’mores adventure, we took part in the leadership meeting for Samara UMC. The meeting was to help them figure out how to make leadership in the church work, and how they can make the organization of the church better. They have pointed out there is still a lot to be done for the church, but that the conversation helped them with planning ahead for the future. At dinner Pastor Natalia explained to everyone how to make a sandwich, because they had a buffet-style dinner, which is contrary to how they usually eat. The people at the meeting sang some praise songs, which even if we didn’t know the words, were still beautiful all the same.
When everything was said and done, there were many hugs and pictures. We thought we may not be able to leave the church, because they just kept providing hospitality and love, which is something I think all people should strive for, because there are a great many perhaps in life, but one thing that will always stand out crystal clear is the love and hospitality provided by people, through common bonds.
(posted by Allison Stickley-Miner)
Fellowship is really, really important.
Back home, Sundays feel special. Waking up to the Sabbath day in Samara inspired an especial joy. This is the day God hath made ~ let us rejoice and be glad in it!
Soon after waking to Jay’s alarm-clock-of-a-knock, my joy was tempered by plans for showering – a task so challenging I’ve reserved its use for once every two days. Hot water is available in limited supply; a handheld showerhead and close shower stall further complicate the process. If you have spent more than 2 minutes in a steaming shower, bathed daily, or flushed your toilet paper lately, consider the luxury of American plumbing. I don’t mean to sound petty… but I miss my bathroom.
Samara UMC is housed in what appears to be an older, historic part of the city. The church inhabits every inch (meter?) of its space, from a basement café-style gathering place to the ground floor meeting rooms, above to the second floor sanctuary, offices, and guest accommodations. If a congregation is a family, this church is a dynamic, inviting home that opens as if to say, “Please come, and stay for a time.” The warm, inviting presence that met us at the door this morning may only be described as radical hospitality; theirs is a hospitality so powerful that I find myself struggling to accept it. The generosity we’ve been shown by the good people of Samara UMC inspires me with a pressing desire to be more generous myself, and more loving, and I think this is how fellowship stands to help us all grow in our faith. We learn by the example of others how to put our faith into practice in the world. Here in Samara, I sense the depth of God’s grace through the kindness of our church family.
Jay delivered a sermon on Isaiah 43:18-19, celebrating the new thing – the new horizon – God has prepared for us. A new year, new relationships, new directions, new possibilities, and each day we ask ourselves not if but where God may have us begin. Though Russian and English languages share very few correlates, ‘Amen’ is a beautiful exception requiring no translation.
A beautifully-prepared lunch energized us for an afternoon trip to the Samara Philharmonic concert hall where we enjoyed a very Russian production of ‘Cinderella’ along with a group of younger boys from the orphanage. The performance was lovely, and considering how enthusiastic most 8-year old boys are about holding still for any length of time without getting involved in mischief, we’d consider this activity a success…
Our evening concluded in worship shared with a community of Korean immigrants brought together by Pastor Vlad, a UMC pastor in the Volga District who (along with his wife) has organized this new and needed ministry. Following prayer, Scripture-based message, and testimony, we shared a common table and broke bread together. On this occasion, bread took the form of Korean dumplings, rice noodles, sushi-like rolls, and plates of other curiously foreign-to-me dishes that spoke of rich cultural traditions and made for a delicious adventure in dining. Unexpected and wonderful, as I would describe many of our experiences in Russia. Fellowship is really, really important. All over the world 🙂
Words can not begin to express the joy that we shared with children today. Our simple introduction into the lives of the orphans allowed for interaction that overcame the barrier of language. As in previous years, curiosity and uncertainty began the day while we shared names and the children desired to share more information, but realized our command of the Russian language poorly lacked.
Coloring and games of thumb wars broke the ice on what would become a progressive adventure into relationship. Later the children became more animated to show us their acrobatic skills, which were astounding, and encourage our physical interaction. As usual, turning my camera over to the children brought great joy and some amazing images.
We are dearly thankful for the kind supporters who have allowed us this opportunity to share the love of Christ and God’s care that has encouraged our faith and cared for our travel.
We spent our day at the orphanage with the youngest kids there. In the morning we went to the sewing class, instructed by a woman named Tamara. The class was mostly the older girls (14-16) and was very small. We helped make fleece tie pillows for the girls as we attempted an English-Russian conversation. They told us about themselves, and tried to say as much as they could in English, with some help from our wonderful translator, Masha. While we were helping, the girls tried to learn how to say ‘This is a present for you’ so they could give us the pillows they made. Four of them gave us pillows they otherwise would have used in their rooms. It is very humbling to receive a gift from someone who has so little to begin with, but then for them to give you something that would mean more for them, shows how much hospitality these kids have. You learn a lot from spending time with people who lack a majority of what we have in our lives, and it shows you how much the simple, small things, matter most. Because when you think about it, we could live a full and healthy life without a lot of what we have, but we do not think so, because we are so used to having all of that stuff to assist us in our day-to-day lives.
In the afternoon we went to the gym in the orphanage, where Pastor Natalia organized games to play with the group of young boys we got to know the day before. Despite the language barriers, games and play were an absolute blast. After finishing the games Pastor Natalia organized, we had free play time in the gym, during which we played various games together, creating an even stronger bond with the kids. The energy these kids exhibit did not diminish once while we played, they continued to create new games to play with us, whether or not we knew exactly what we were doing. Even though, by our standards, their care is poor, they are still the happiest people I have ever met. They are incredibly athletic and love to run around.
Whilst playing in the gym with the kids, we were able to understand the incredible relationship that the United Methodist Church in Samara, Russia has with the orphanage and the kids. Even though there are a lot of what-ifs and unknowns for the church, the orphanage, and their relationship, the presence of faith, hospitality, and God, are astoundingly present with these amazingly wonderful people.
(posted by Allison Stickley-Miner)
I get anxious just thinking about planes.
I have an aversion to cold temperatures, adhere to a vegetarian diet, and demonstrate not the slightest appreciation for Russian culture nor aptitude for the Russian language.* In sum, these many factors suggest I am among the unlikeliest of candidates to participate in this year’s UMC West Ohio Conference mission trip to Samara, Russia. But a life of faith demands good courage! God’s call often meets us where we are and moves us to places where we are not.
The picture associated with today’s post captures the enthusiasm Jay, Allison, and me carried along at the outset of journey together. Our smiles shine despite an unanticipated flight delay and worsening weather conditions; a questionable beginning to what proved an eventfully uneventful 40-hour trek halfway around the world. Given the circumstance, my prayers for smooth skies were hastily abandoned in favor of a more widely encompassing ‘safe passages’ theme… recognition that prayer delivers what we need, not what we want (though if You were to intervene with smoother skies during the return trip, Lord, I’d be much obliged!). The trans-Atlantic flight afforded viewing time enough for three popular films (yes, friends, there are now three current-ish films which I can speak to in conversation!). We laughed, explored, napped, and evaded security suspicions across three countries. I am thankful for Jay’s experienced leadership, Allison’s willing heart, and for all who travel with but not beside us – for your prayers, your support, and your love we are lifted!
Jump is a nod to an adage I often return to in moment of fear and uncertainty – jumping into life means embracing opportunities, saying “Yes!”, and risking failure. So we jump now, into a mission thousands of miles from home equipped by God’s call and little else. You know something? I’m scared. You know something else? I’m going anyway. This is what it means to jump 🙂
A union between a man and a woman has its destination in creating harmony in relations through mutual perfection of both characters, with an intent to bring spiritual and moral image to this world («Victory of love»).
Michail Telepov and Nadegda Telepova «the ABC of family».
There are few people left believing in true love in this world full of betrayals, divorces and lies. Love can be only found in Hollywood movies and Mexican series. Unfortunately, lives of so many people now are driven by money, power and sex.
But there are still people who hope to meet their love, to create family, to get older together. Such kind of people became audience of a seminar that took place in Samara United Methodist Church. The name of it speaks for itself “How to find your other half and live with him or her happily the rest of your lives”.
Michail Telepov and Nadegda Telepova were our invited lecturers.To start with, they are a christian family who live together for 29 years and now have three children and two grandchildren. Secondly, they are professional psychologists with degrees: Dr. Telepova and PhD Telepov, who has been working in the field of family psychology since 1993. They are consultants at international organisation ACET (Aids Care Education Training), profess in “Centre of Study Development”, the city of Samara. The couple is also known for publishing their books in premarital and marital relations.
The seminar was held three evenings, during which we enjoyed lectures, asked questions, received personal consultations, had follow-up conversations nad informal time with tea and biscuits.
A lecture of Michail and Nadegda is always a lively and interesting monologue of a lecturer in two persons – spouses finish each other’s sentences, it seems that they read each other’s minds. The material is brilliantly and dynamically presented with good humour and examples from personal life. Amaizingly, it is was not “milk-and-water ”, everything was superbly prepared and sticks to the topic.
The first day of our course went under the name of “Marriage Design” and was devoted to the search of a partner. Michail and Nadegda helped the audience to realize that most commonly people enter marriage with deep selfish aspirations – “let us love ME together”. We have learnt that the genuine intention of marriage is “creating harmony in relations through mutual perfection of both characters, with an intent to bring spiritual and moral image to this world”. A complicated sentence which says about self-giving love, respect, creation, testimony to the world.
It is not that hard to find a life partner as it seems. According to Nadegda and Michail it should be a person of opposite sex, corresponding with these three requirements:
- He or she must be single;
- He or she must not be your relative;
- Both of you should have the same religion, the same spiritual and moral principles.
Yes, it is that simple. Other wishes concerning height, weight, nose shape, eye colour, car model, cooking and other abilities are our ambitions, which we can and should adjust.
A “triangle of love” was also under consideration this day. According to psychologists, it has three verteces: responsibilities (marriage), friendship and sex. More detailed information about “entering” each vertex of the triangle you can find in Telepov’s book “The ABC of family”.
Finishing the first lecture professors gave practical advice of building up premarital relations.
The second evening was dedicated to the topic of differences between men and women. These differences often become barriers on the way to healthy relations. Balks turn up on physiological, psychological and spiritual levels. One should know about them and be able to identify. The recommended steps on overcoming these issues are as follows:
Opening yourself before your partner (with an aim to get to know each other);
Sense of humor;
A willed decision to accept each other as you are.
During the third lecture Michail and Nadegda told about achieving family happiness. To do this a couple should get their own family system with close personal and sexual relations. As it turned out, that is the true meaning of a Scripture verse “For this reason a man will leave his farther and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh. So they are no longer two, but one flesh.”(Mark 10:7-8) These lines include three necessary aspects of building happiness.
To form the family system a family should to have physical (territorial), financial and social-emotional independence.
To fulfill the second point on the way to a happy marriage (i.e. creating close personal relations) the couple is to:
Realize the need in each other
Be open and avoid secrets
Interact with each other
Constantly grow faithfulness and respect.
Plasticine was used to illustrate the example of complete unity. If we mix green and red pieces we will get a brown one and it is no longer possible to separate them. But if viewed closer, red and green lines can be noticed. Spouses should be connected firmly, intimately, inseparably, though not dissolve, but remain bright full-value individuals. Unity should take place on every level:
Only then the harmony and true happiness of marriage may be achieved.
All that might seem to be unnecessary “scientific mess”. But personally I think , one can get down to this theoretical family “mess” in a positive sense and create a happy marriage everyone is dreaming of. A harmonic marriage that, unfortunately, is a rear case nowadays. The marriage that was bethought and designed by God when He created mankind “male and female he created them”. (Genesis 1:27).