I wrote my August newsletter as an interview with my mother, who had visited here that month. Now that she has had time to reflect more on her time here, she has written a report that she gave me permission to post here.
The Missions Committee asked me to give a brief sketch of what I learned during my visit with Lyle and his family in Russia. That is a difficult task considering that every day was packed from morning till night with unbelievable experiences. However, I want everyone to know one thing above all else: these five people are happy, healthy, and content with where God has led them to serve.
Even Lydia, age 10, who had the hardest adjustment initially, has accepted that she has an important contribution to make in her witness with new friends. Art classes, her favorite new activity, have given her a new focus.It is almost impossible to realize that the boys, ages 6 and 4, have not lived there since birth. They love school, where they speak only Russian; and they are excited by each new experience. Simon, the four-year-old, recently found his services to be needed as interpreter for two new American boys in his class. Both are very compassionate toward people on the streets who are forced to beg in order to survive, and I saw them give up their spending money on several occasions. Lyle and Diana both feel a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment in their work with orphans and church leaders. When I asked whether there had been any point at which they had experienced second thoughts about their decision to be where they are, the answer from each of them was an emphatic NO!
I met a number of their devoutly Christian friends, and it was gratifying to see how they are all witnessing at every opportunity. It is not easy, as many Russians are not open to new relationships. They will pass you on the street and neither look nor speak. In Lyle’s own neighborhood it has been an uphill battle to get people interested in socializing. Even the children are unpredictable, being friendly one day and cool the next. One interesting observation, however, is that the elderly seem to warm up to you in public places (on streetcars etc.) when you have children with you.
In a nutshell, St. Petersburg is a city of contradictions. The main part of town is filled with exquisite, historic palaces, museums, and government buildings. With canals running throughout, it is truly picturesque. Many in the U.S. think of Russia as a gloomy and oppressive place, but this is not true today ( with notable exceptions) One thing that took me by surprise is an odd mix of the super modern and the antiquated. For one example, some of the streetcars look and sound like they might not make it to the next block, while many of the buses are quite new, sleek, and equiped with technology I’m not sure we even have here. Since the people have latched onto Western customs in recent years there are stylish and very expensive clothes, jewelry, and home furnishings in the shop windows. However, the typical young woman you pass on the street is more likely to be “over-dressed” in an outfit that is cheap and flashy.
Another change in recent years is the abundance of goods everywhere. There is a local market near Lyle’s apartment where some of the best fresh produce is sold. Oddly, most of it is imported from other European countries. Some items were more tasty than anything I’ve had here at home. There are many individual vendors who specialize in different types of produce. Lyle has made friends with all of them and they seem to enjoy giving him something extra with his purchases. They represent the exception to the typical “unfriendly Russian stranger”. We hear a lot of complaint in this country right now from some who say they have been forced to work extra hours to make ends meet. Each of these vendors works 12 or more hours a day, 7 days a week. It is a rare thing for them to take a day off.
Another store, called the O.K. is larger than any Super Wal Mart you can find. One whole wall is nothing but vodka. This is symbolic of a major gloomy side to Russian life. Alcoholism is epidemic and especially evident in the subway stations and tunnels. One challenge for missionaries is to try to steer teenagers into a life without addiction. The other major concern is that many of the elderly cannot get by on the pathetic government pension they receive. They see no choice but to become beggars. Again, you see them more often in the subway areas. First they carry their meager belongings with them and sell what they can. After these are gone they simply hold a basket out for donations. Lyle has made friends with some of the poor who are regulars and is trying gradually to provide some assistance in whatever form might be beneficial. His children are getting a real lesson in what it means to be compassionate and unselfish.
This merely scratches the surface, but I would be happy to elaborate at any time you might have questions. Meanwhile, I want to say again how grateful Lyle and all our family are for the prayers, correspondence, and financial support which has come from many of you, and for his “adoption” as a missionary of his home church. He and Diana are committed to being deserving of your trust. Please continue to keep them in your prayers, that God’s plan can be realized.