The days are beginning to run together. It is Wednesday, day 3 of this module in Siberia, and we are very tired and it is good that we are finishing this module soon. With fewer students, we have been able to have more discussions and to move through the material much faster. We may finish a few hours earlier than planned on Thursday. The students and the OIC team will be grateful if that happens.

It is amazing how a “little leaven leavens the whole lump” meaning how 1 or 2 students who are oppositional to the teaching brings the whole group down. During our activities and interactions, when 2 certain students have not been there, we have had a great time of learning. It was still good when 1 of the students was present but I could tell that one had influence over the group early in the training. Despite the language barrier, I came on strong a few times to quell the rebellious uprising but I am at a disadvantage because he can communicate with the rest much better than I. Artyom is helping and we are still productive but it just makes learning strenuous rather than enjoyable. It really comes down to pride and a lack of a teachable spirit. But the good news is that the other students have begun to step up and speak the truth in love to these two students. So now, the other students are not afraid to oppose the ideas that may oppose the Bible and that is always a good thing.

Once again, the Genesis teaching on addiction and the case study in teams of two is a huge hit as it is in the USA. Students love counseling in teams of two and working through a case study and discussing it after working on it. It makes for an excellent learning opportunity and both groups have been greatly impacted by what they are learning. I have had so many come up to me at a break and say that they have already applied something they learned to their family and lives! That’s exciting to hear.

In our case study, a funny Russian saying came out when we were talking about how our counselee in the case study was making unwise decisions: “Even the turkey thinks he is taking a bath until the water begins to boil.” I like that one!

*****

If you ever plan to travel to Siberia, I may be able to offer you a few tips. First, do not come to Siberia in the winter. I think that is pretty obvious. It has only snowed in Siberia one day while we were here, praise the Lord. They do swim in outdoor, above ground pools in the summer which amazed me. Second, Siberia is very dusty, at least in this part. The air is not very clean. Maybe it is the coal mining or just the dirt, but your feet get VERY dirty and muddy. Your clothes get dusty, too. You never feel clean when you are outside and it is very rude to wear your shoes inside because they are always so filthy. The church floor had to be swept and mopped every day with the dirt that the 25 of us brought in from outside.

Third, there are no McDonald’s or Burger Kings. That’s a “bummer” as Artyom says. Artyom loves clichés and it is fun to hear him say, “You are the big Kahuna” or “You are the big cheese” or whatever phrase in his Ukrainian accent. I taught him to say, “You are the boss, Applesauce.” He had never heard that one. Also, we vote each day for the “pooper of the party” (I changed it from “party pooper”) and we have all won at least twice.

Fourth, the roads are awful. While not as bad as the roads in Romania (when we went there in January), the streets are terrible in Siberia compared to St. Petersburg. There is one interstate-like road that we took from Kemerovo to Lenin-Kuznetsky (sp?) that was really nice. One point had a fake, giant posterboard picture of a police car which looked real but was there simply to scare drivers into slowing down according to the bishop who drove us. He thought it was funny. I thought it was something out of the Dukes of Hazard.

Fifth, get a shish-kabob and Russian dumplings. Wow. I thought I would lose weight here but it has been just the opposite, unfortunately. They really feed us too well and while there are some healthy items to eat, there are many unhealthy ones, too. Artyom is craving Burger King more than I am right now – the food is that good!

Sixth, their houses and church facilities are in the perpetual state of “being built.” They work on their homes to improve them all of the time. For example, the pastor’s home in Lenin-Kuznetsky was in the process of finishing the fireplace. The bishop’s home in Kemerovo was in the process of putting railings up. The church facility was in the process of completing some of the rooms and they were working on the outside, too.

Seventh, after several days now of hearing Russian, I am beginning to hear Russian when the water runs, in my sleep, and even when the dogs bark and the birds chirp. Every sound seems Russian to me. “Schlah” and “Schlue” and “Da” and “Nyet” and “bombooch” and “nasta” and “briskie” and “zhe” are sounds I now hear everywhere and it all runs together. I accidentally said, “Buenas noches” to a man the other night and since that time of laughing at my obvious silly mistake, my son and I have decided to speak Spanish so we banter back in forth in Spanish as best we can to feel like we are participating in this foreign language; otherwise, we feel left out! You can go crazy after awhile. Thank the Lord for Ipods, MP3 players, and Itunes and English! Also, I find myself talking in English to Mark Jr. in a fake Russian accent while using English words. It’s weird and unintentional. For example, I said “very good” like “berry gued.” If you think I may be headed toward insanity, I would probably agree with you at this point and this is NOT the place to go insane, I assure you. Pray for me!

Eighth, this is not the place to vacation. Again, probably very obvious statement for me to make but I say so because I remember talking to a person who went on a short-term missions trip to some tropical location. To hear her describe it, it sounded like she was taking a vacation and I suspect that was a desire of her heart. As you can figure out, this trip is not a vacation. That’s why months ago we planned a little vacation a week or so after we get back. I started thinking about that place we will go when I return a small tear came to my eye of joy. I am so pathetic. Weak American…

Ninth, the homes do not look like much on the outside and I wonder how they do not freeze to death in some of the poorer looking homes. I’ve tried to take pictures but they do NOT do the homes justice in terms of capturing how rundown some homes appear. Of course, God is faithful to His children and these pastor’s homes are modest but very well kept inside. God is blessing these servants.

Tenth, I was moved to tears watching a video of the pastor’s family. To see this family with 8 kids and 1 more on the way so happy and loving, it just touched my heart. I almost “boo-hooed” right there in their home at how God is at work everywhere, even in a place as difficult to live as Siberia. God has precious, beloved children all over the world and He is accomplishing His will just fine. God is in the “love” business in this sinful, fallen world.

-Mark (starting the countdown of days left on this trip because I miss my wife, children, family, friends, and faith family, but recognizing that I will miss these people in our classes very much, even the two who have challenged the teachings at times!)

X