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Really enjoying this trip in many ways. First, the students are great. They are respectful, intent, serious, and biblically-literate which is a nice thing. We can go deeper into the content because of their knowledge of the Word of God.

Second, our translator, Artyom, is excellent. He gets what I’m trying to say and teaches very well. I can tell by the questions and comments that they are following along. It makes my job easier knowing he and I are on the same page and that he is probably teaching it better than I say it sometimes!

Plus, Artyom is very upbeat and fun to be around. We laugh and tease each other. He knows all kinds of American phrases like “I’m busting your chops, Man” and “the whole nine yards.” It’s funny to hear him say American cliches with his Ukrainian accent. We laugh a lot!

Third, the teaching time is going very well. Today was maybe the best yet and each day has gotten better. They are learning much and really thanked me at the end of today’s session for coming over here to Russia. I was blown away with their gratitude.

Fourth, we had fun finding a Burger King today. Artyom loves BK so I had to treat him to a burger and fries today! We actually hit a McDonald’s yesterday. Siberia has none of that to offer us so we are making the most of our time in civilization while we can!

Fifth, it doesn’t get dark until almost 9:30 pm here. Plus, it’s been very warm lately. Very nice weather and we open our window each night to let fresh air in without freezing.

Sixth, I find myself praying for all of these Russian people on the subway. 5 million people live in St. Petersburg and I think they all tried to fit into our subway car this afternoon during the rush hour home! I’ve never been closer to total strangers than I was today and Artyom had to push his way onto the car (which I think he enjoyed doing, but he would never say such so that is purely my speculation!). Like the USA, Russia needs God’s Spirit to pour out over all of these people so my prayer is just that: to grant repentance and bring newness of life (Rom. 2:4, 3:23, 5:8, 6:23, 10:9, 12:1).

Seventh, the students here are not rich, not spoiled, not serving God because of glamour. Preaching is not a stage show where a pastor shows off how good he can work an audience but it is a serious study of the Word and proclamation of the Gospel! Most of them pastor a church and work a full-time, bi-vocational job. They minister because they love God and they are most humble about their service to Him.

Things I don’t like:
a) Cigarette smoke in many public places and on the streets. It seems to make me cough every time I’m around it.
b) No one talks to anyone who is a stranger and they all have very serious faces. It was described to me that they have high outer walls to strangers but once you are allowed in, then their inner walls are very low and they open up. The person who said that then described Americans as just the opposite sometimes: low outer walls but high inner walls. I think there may be something to that…
c) Walking in mud, ice, snow, water, slush, and dog piles of excrement. Yes, you have to jump over dog doo all of the time on public walkways. My muscles are getting stronger due to all of the jumping I am doing.
d) Not knowing the Russian language. It all runs together for me and sounds like “schlah” a lot at the beginning and “ovsky” a lot at the end. I think I’ll just make up my own words tomorrow and try some sounds out that might be close. I do know “thank you” and “yes” and “no” and “amen” but that’s about it. Languages are not my forte to be honest and I really don’t speak English that well!

We have one more day of teaching to go and I am once again behind on my teaching outlines. That’s par for the course as I always have more that I want to teach than I am able to teach. Oh, well. I guess it’s a good problem.

My son and I are enjoying it and our time together though I’ve had to work a little more than I anticipated on cleaning up some things in the presentation and presenting well. He is writing songs and poetry and blogs. He’s a gifted writer and a great young man.

-Mark (gratefully serving the King of Kings in the land of the czars)

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