The English above does not do the Russian equivalent justice. In the Russian language, the English phrase "God-forsaken" is equivalent to медвежий угол, which literally translates to "a bearish corner." Now, I do not understand the logic of this phrase in Russian; however, the fact that a bear is a national symbol of Russia seems to fit the present state of affairs. Quite accurately, Russia often feels like it is living in a "bearish corner," almost as if it has been in hiberation for too long. Yet, as I found out Wednesday night, the oppressive spirit that you feel clinging to you as you stroll around the city is not a grim combination of the pollution, incessant cigarrette smoke, sunless skies, and frowns on typical passerbys. Rather, this country has not put its hope in the eternal. They have either been put or have put themselves in the bearish corner.
The group consisted of Pastor Dave and his wife Hannah (UK); Sasha, Zhena, Sveta, and Nadya (Russia); Johann (South Africa); Kyra, Kristin, and I (US). Sveta, Kyra, Nadya, and Kristin are around my same age. Sasha and Zhena are around 40 years old. Johann has already finished seminary so he may be in his mid-twenties. Nevertheless, it was an international group of students, young and older professionals, and commmitted church planters. Nadya served as our brilliant translator, who could fluently switch back-and-forth from translating our English/incomplete Russian to quick, gentle Russian equivalents, and then the other direction.
For the three hours that we did ice-breakers, prayed together, and read Scripture together, I continually was amazed at how much I have missed being in Christian community. We even went around to each person and used two words to describe his or her gifts, presence, and/or character. Surprisingly, from the facts that we gave about ourselves previously in the night, it was not difficult to come up with an adequate description. An hour into meeting everyone, the combination of words that were used to describe me were determination and patience. Pastor Dave commented on the latter due to the willingness to remain strong despite being separated from my "other half." It brought tears to my eyes. As I write this, it brings more. I miss my future husband.
After talking with Kyra and Kristin, who are pursuing master's and bachelor's degrees in Russian, respectively, we realized that it could not be a coincidence that we are each the only follower of Christ in our different program groups (with some thirty to fifty students each). It was both encouraging and discouraging at the same time to come to that realization. We talked about how since arriving in Russia, we have felt the joy of the Lord more than ever before, almost as if He knew that we would need the extra support in the "bearish corner" of once "Holy Russia." After two months, these brothers and sisters in Christ were the first people that felt like a piece of home, even if we were from different corners of the globe, spoke many different languages, and had just gotten to know each other.
On the second floor of a reclusive apartment in the heart of the city, it felt like we were in the upper room as in the early church. Incidentally, that night we read from Acts about what the first church was like:
"And all that believed were together, and had all things in common; And sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all people, as every one had need. And they, continuing daily, with one accord in the church, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart." (Acts 2:44-46)
In the midst of reading depressing news articles related to the violence, bigotry, and polarity in the United States over the health care legislation and greater fractures in the Church (denominations are up to some 32,000 now), I ached for both the concept and reality of singleness of heart.
Shortly after I arrived home, Kristin sent me an encouraging message on Facebook: “May you be strengthened with all power, according to His glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy, giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the light.” (Colossians 1:11-12)