Reflections on Russia: Challenges and Inspirations

July 22, 2016

group at Catherine Palace
Our group at Catherine Palace

The Russia mission group has been back in Charlotte for almost two weeks, and I’ve been grateful for all of the people who’ve stopped me and asked, “How was Russia?”

It’s a straightforward question, but I find myself having difficulty knowing how to answer. To say that the trip was good is true, but it’s also not an adequate description nor is it entirely accurate. Our time in Russia was good, and it was also challenging, hard, and inspiring.

For me, the trip to Russia was a practice of not being in control. Complications and hiccups in our travel became the norm: Our luggage was lost, the daily schedules and meals were set and made by other people, and the Russian-English language barrier required a translator for most conversations. (The entirety of my Russian vocabulary now includes ten words, one of which is the very helpful and useful Russian word for “napkin.”)

As foreign as all of that felt, it reminded me that I’m not meant to be in control. God is the Creator, and I’m the creature; Jesus is the teacher, and I’m the disciple; the Spirit moves as she will, and I am to pay attention.

Our Russian sisters and brothers at Hope Baptist understand this ordering of the world differently – maybe even better – than we do. They live in a community that doesn’t welcome or understand them and doesn’t really want to either. The Russian government threatens to restrict how and where they worship, and if they want to have their own church building, the members are the ones who have to build it. They share stories of their lives – stories of sick children and uncertain finances, stories of alcoholic relatives and lost jobs, stories of new homes and new church members. Their stories are punctuated by the refrain of “Slava Bogu” – “Praise God!”

What our Russian friends seem to trust more readily than I often do is the truth that life is uncertain but God is not.

We spent the last few days of our time in Russia in Moscow and St. Petersburg, which have a very different feel to them than the cities, towns, and villages we visited in Ryazan. It was eye-opening (and frustrating) to see the incredible wealth of palaces where the royals had lived, knowing how poor the majority of the country had been. It was the giant gold crucifix in the cathedral at the Hermitage that really got me. That crucifix seemed to be such an obvious indicator that Russian royalty, while calling themselves Christian and even attending worship services, didn’t get the heart of the Gospel, which is so much about the poor and the oppressed.

I think Jesus would’ve been disappointed by that gold crucifix, knowing that there were and are people who go hungry every day in that country.

Life in Russia is complex. Faith in Russia is complex. The same is true in the United States where it’s very easy to call yourself a Christian. What a gift it is, then, that we’ve been called into this relationship with Russian sisters and brothers in Christ who challenge and encourage us as people who call Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior.

~ Katelyn Gordon