the final night

And so it ends.  Or maybe it begins.

This is our last night in Moscow.  Not long from now we will grab some sleep and awake to a long day of travel back to the US.  On a 12-hour flight to Atlanta, I will try to come up with an answer for the question most of you will be asking: "So, how was the trip to Moscow?"

I will be unable to give you an adequate answer.  Perhaps because there is so much here.  Perhaps because I will again hit the culture shock of the US.  Or perhaps because I do not know how trips such as this effect me until time has gone on.  In small moments my mind will fly back to an experience here.  Something that has burned on my soul but has not yet caught fire.  Later I will smell the embers and remember the experience.

Here are some things I do know for certain:

  1. Pat and Cathy Black are amazing hosts.  They treated us like family.  Cathy was an exceptional cook and Pat a fantastic tour guide and friend.  Note:  I realize the overuse of adjectives here, but these guys just flat out rock. 
  2. The Black family is solid.  Rebecca, Andrew, and James are impressive young people with a love for Jesus.  I would be proud to call them part of my family.
  3. The Black’s are a GREAT investment.  If you are a supporter of them (and MCC is), know that they are getting the job done in Moscow (Pat at RACU as an English teacher and worship coordinator and Kathy as a teacher at HCA).  How effective are these guys in cross-cultural missions?  Check this:  Tonight several friends of the Blacks dropped by.  At one point in the evening, a couple of American’s (Steph and I) were drinking tea brought from England while enjoying a french pastries.  We were talking in the living room with Rebecca, Andrew and James (Americans growing up in Russia), along with two Russian women.  In the other room were two African Christians who had moved to Moscow as missionaries.  It is just a taste of the life here.  Multi cultural.  
  4. The melting pot at HCA is incredible.  HCA (Hinckson Christian Academy) is the English speaking school for children of missionaries.  From 1st – 12th grade, there are 15 nationalities represented.  It’s like a UN of short people.  These students have a cultural world view that I have never seen.  It is compelling.
  5. The students at RACU (Russian American Christian University) are the real deal.  The are dedicated lovers of God.  One RACU student, Christina, came to translate for us during one afternoon of shopping.  As we left, Steph had a hard time saying good-bye; and she had just met Christina.  It is amazing how quickly you can connect with a person.
  6. Less is more.  This week we had 7 people in a two bedroom apartment and all shared one bathroom.  The kitchen was tiny (with no dishwasher) and we every breakfast and dinner together.  This is normal in Moscow.  We were not crowded.  Do I miss my space to stretch out, my yard, and my cars?  Oddly enough, I do not.  Confession time.  When we arrived and Patrick showed us the small apartment, I felt sorry for them.  Leaving, I feel sorry for us.

Time for bed.  Maybe I will write more later as I smell the fire.


Above:  Steph, Christina and I.


Above:  Hard Rock Moscow.  Note to Darel:  I had every intention of getting you a shot glass but spaced it :<  Bad brother.


Above:  Create your own caption.


Above:  The crew:  Steph, James, Rebecca, Andrew, Kathy, Pat, and myself on our final night.

My Fashion Obsession by Stephanie

101_2788 Before we left for Moscow I was obsessed about what I should wear while I was there. I asked questions of Patrick Black who we would be staying with. I also prodded Roxy Bertsch for information since she had spent a summer in Russia.

I was told that Russians tend to dress very nicely and in dark colors. Women often wear high heel shoes and skirts. I should avoid bright, flashy colors and tennis shoes. Oh, and I should wear comfortable shoes because we would be walking a lot. Dressing warmly is important as it is very cold in Moscow in March.

I assessed my wardrobe and noticed a lack of warm dressy clothes. This is when the obsession to find the proper attire for Moscow began.

Step 1: Buy clothes.

Step 2: Fret about clothes I have bought. Will this really meet my needs? Is this warm enough, comfortable enough, dark enough? Can I walk all over the city in these shoes? Will I be able to blend into a crowd? I really don’t want to draw attention to myself.

Step 3: Return clothes.

Step 4: Repeat

So the cycle continued until the day of departure. I left home with a suitcase full of warm, dark and comfortable clothing. So how did I do? Well, ok I think.

1. I have been plenty warm. In fact I have been hot at times.

2. I passed the comfort test. I found a great pair of comfortable black shoes for walking.

3. I may have over done it in my quest for dark clothes. If you look at all the pictures I am wearing the bleakest, darkest and most depressing clothes of anyone. Go ahead take a look back through the pictures. I’m hilariously depressing.

4. I think the greatest test is whether I was able to blend into a crowd or not. I think I passed. A number of people have stopped me out in public to ask me a question.  In Russian. I assume they are asking me because I look trustworthy and like I know the language, but who knows maybe they are insulting me or asking if I need psychiatric care for my depression. I’ll never know.

Friday . . . so far

This may be the last post from Moscow.  We are limited in our internet connection.

Statistics to date:

  • Time change from Terre Haute: 8 hours (ahead)
  • Speaking/teaching: 9 times
  • Leading worship: 5 times
  • Coffeehouse concert:  1
  • Trips on Metro: 15
  • Feeling like a big dork in a foreign land: still counting.

We woke to some heavy snow today.  After another great breakfast from Kathy, we walked to HCA for the final chapel sessions.

To start the morning off I led worship and spoke to a chapel full of all their elementary students.  We explored the idea of compassion.  During worship I led "All in All."  I was told that the kids loved the song.  That was an understatement.  These guys lit the room up.  They sang full on with appropriate passion.  I had to step away.  I started to choke up.  Awesome stuff.

After the elementary chapel time, I spoke and led worship for a combined chapel of Middle and High School students.  We wrapped up the week well as we discussed the Cause of Christ.

Tonight is a coffeehouse time where Patrick and I will join some other musicians (including his son James).  We are looking forward to a great time.


Above:  Steph and Kathy leaving the apartment building.  It was snowing so hard that Stephanie used an umbrella; a common sight in Moscow.


Above:  Tim Wiley.  Chaplin at HCA.  Fantastic guy.


Above:  Leading worship for Elementary chapel at HCA.


Above:  Final chapel session at HCA.


On Thursday, Stephanie went with Kathy to Hinckson Christian Academy (HCA) and helped with school work. From tutoring to grading papers, she supported the teachers well.

Patrick and I jumped on the metro at rush hour for the 90 minute ride to Russian American Christian University (RACU). (See Steph’s post for the rush hour metro culture.) The ride was crowded but I felt what it was like to be a Russian as I had to literally push people into a train so that the door wouldn’t shut on me. If I did that in the US, I would certainly be staring a fight. In Moscow pushing is just a way of life.

Once at RACU, I was in a 2-hour class with Patrick. His class was an advanced English class for Russian students who were learning the English language. Always eager to talk to an American for practice, I was their fresh meat for the day. I spent the first hour answering questions from them. “What was America like?” “What is the craziest thing I have ever done?” It was good conversational practice for them. It was also a reminder of the slang that we use everyday. The 2nd hour we looked at a couple of current worship songs, and explained word that they didn’t understand. We wrapped up the class singing some of the songs. I suggested that we take a picture and they all headed outside for a snapshot with the pale American.

An open tea was scheduled. They hung a poster saying that there was an open tea with the bald American at 2 PM. Pat doubted that anyone would come. He blamed his pessimism on the lack of promo. I blamed it on the lack of appeal of one albino Hoosier. At 2PM we went to an office and set up a few cups of tea, just in case. Eventually we had about 10 people crammed into a small space sharing tea and snacks and asking questions. I was fascinated as I asked questions about what it was like to live in Communist Russia. These students did not have strong personal memories of communist times. However, their parents and grandparents experienced Soviet Russia first hand. The conversation was amazing. I had to step back and take it all in. Here I am, sitting around a table with a group of Christian-Russian students, talking about their real experience with the USSR. It was thin.

I was impressed with these students. Many of them travel over 1 hour each way to school. Some of them are sacrificing all they can to be in school here. They find it tough to work, because of the class schedule, homework, and commuting hours. They find their living expenses are extremely high (a one bedroom apartment in Moscow can rent for as much as $1600-$2000 per month). As we ended the time, I asked if I could pray for them. It was an honor to talk and pray with such a high caliber of people.

Patrick and I jumped back on the metro and headed back to his place. We were met by Tim Patterson who invited Steph and I to dinner. We had a great evening with Tim, Dawn, and their daughter, Catherine. Tim is the brother of exchanger Betsy Brown. Betsy is the wife of exchanger Larry Brown. You may know Larry as part of the worship team (you know, the hip keyboard player with the white beard). After dinner, we caught an electric bus and headed back to the Black’s apartment. An exhausting but wonderful day.


Above: Last two words in the fist box. That’s my name. I’m really big in Eurasia.


Above: On the steps with some Russian students from Patrick’s Advanced English class. I was “Professor” for the day. Stop laughing.


Above: Steph and I with Tim and Dawn Patterson.

Wednesday – some of it true

If Tuesday was crazy, Wednesday was insane. Steph took a day off and I trekked all over Moscow. The day started at HCA where I led worship and spoke for High School Chapel. 10 minute break then I led worship and spoke in Middle School Chapel. It is spiritual emphasis week this week, marked by multiple chapels.

As soon as the last chapel was over at HCA, Andrew took me to the metro and handed me off to an Albanian Student. In the metro (subway) we met this man previously unknown to us. This man, (my previously arranged contact) was to take me to RACU for the remainder of the mission for the day. He was to guide me through the maze of metro stops and silent people.

OK, maybe a bit dramatic, but facts are facts. I was in a metro in Moscow, with a young man who was to hand me off to an Albanian man that I had never met. This man would get me to my destination, should I accept the mission.

One and a half hours on the metro and we ended up at RACU where (at their chapel time) I led worship with their worship team and taught on worship. The teaching was with the use of an interpreter named Mia (my-ahh). Mia did a fantastic job. Working with an interpreter changes the whole communication process. My biggest challenges were speaking one sentence at a time. Stopping and letting Mia interpret, and then saying another sentence. So much for fast talking, hand motions, body language, and voice inflection. I was out of my element. However, the chapel service turned out well. We explored the way we are to worship in a worship gathering and the way we are to worship as we serve others (the overlooked and forgotten). Worship inside and outside.

In the afternoon we had tea and cake with some students. Tea is a big deal here. Kind of like coffee, except that instead of sitting around starbucks, they have tea and sit around wherever they are and have some conversation.

Pat and I ended the day with a late 90 minute commute back to the apartment. Another day in Moscow.


Above: Teaching at HCA. You know, sometimes you just have to yell and scream at students to get them to understand the tender and loving arms of Jesus.

IMG_4065 IMG_4062 IMG_4078

Above: Leading worship at RACU. Not pictured is my good friend and exceptional musician Pat Black. Or, as we say here in Russia, Patrick Edwardviech (Patrick, son of Edward).


Above: Teaching at RACU with Mia (the world’s greatest interpreter).


Above: Pat, in awe of my teaching. Stunned at the depth of insight. Speechless at the content. Frozen by the truth that is gripping his soul.


Above: Patrick somewhat confused by what I was saying. His intellect struggling to comprehend the speed by which wisdom was pouring out of my teaching. It’s OK, Patrick. I sometimes feel the same way when I hear brilliant people talk.


Above: I decide to go all in. Taking the international speaking to a “ho-nutha-lebel.” I’m pouring out wisdom like a freight train out of control. I know that Patrick is about to be blown away. I am pretty sure that revival is about to rain down at any moment. I am confident that we gonna have us an old fashioned USA tent revival meeting and we are comin’ to Jesus.. In preparation, I raise my hands. Yee-haw. Things are about to get all Jesus-ie.


Above: Pat’s reaction. Not exactly what I was looking for.


OK, seriously. It was a great chapel time and I was somehow able to make a good connection with the students. A few students even invited me to have tea and cake with them. The tea was actually in honor of Patrick. These guys just wanted to do something nice for him since he has been such a good friend to them.


Above: Makeshift table makes for a time of tea.


Tuesday was a busy day. We started at HCA (Hinkson Christian Academy). HCA is a school (K-12th grade) for English speaking foreign students. Most are children of missionaries. This is unlike any other Christian school I have been in. The students are top notch and solid.

I spoke in a High School chapel, followed by a Middle School chapel. Andrew Black, son of Pat and Kathy, led worship. Andrew is a great worship leader.

After the chapels, Stephanie did some tutoring with some students, filing in for a sick teacher.

Tuesday night we were invited to Tim and Ally Wiley’s apartment for dinner. We got to know them better and hung out with their new son, Silas, and their dog Kai.


Above: Speaking in chapel at HCA


Above: Tim, Ally, and Kai Wiley. Silas was snoozing. We had a great dinner with these guys. Thank you Tim and Ally!!


Above: Kai sporting some stylish doggie boot as well as showing her mad skills with the frisbee.

Russian American Christian University

Yesterday we spent the day at RACU.  Steph and I were in a freshman English class and were interviewed by the students.  I spent the afternoon rehearsing with a Russian worship band.  We are scheduled to lead worship tomorrow (I will also speak in their chapel).  Some pictures from the day:


Above:  This is where RACU rents space.  Currently it is used as a church.  Under Soviet rule, it was a community hall for factory workers (there is a factory nearby).  It is surprisingly elegant.


Above:  Atrium at the RACU building.  Check out the marble.  Dang.


Above:  Old meets new.  An original chandelier from Soviet times with the addition of a disco ball. 


Above:  We spent some time in the office of the Vice President of RACU.  This is the view from his office window.  No joke.

moscow metro by stephanie


To get to RACU and sightseeing we take the Metro (subway). We have taken it lots since we have been here. It’s a great way to get around this very large city. Very fast and reliable. Yesterday we rode the Metro for the first time at rush hour. That was quite the experience. Pat told us it would be crowded. We had already experienced it during busy times and knew that you just have to literally push your way through to get to where you need to go getting on and off. They aren’t being rude. It’s just
the way things work here, but nothing really could
prepare me for what I experienced in this city of 15

I have been on crowded buses with standing room only. This was something entirely different. It
was crowded when we got on, but we made it in.
Standing room only. I was in the center area with no
seats. I couldn’t get a spot by a wall. I’m just
standing in the middle surrounded by people. Trying
not to stumble as the Metro quickly accelerates.
Every stop more people cram in. People literally
push with all their force against the people in a very
crowded car to fit more people in. Bodies surround me
from all sides pushing against me. Thankfully, I am face
to face with Scot. I’m hot. I’m sweating. It’s hard to
breath with all these people around me. How many more
people are they going to push in here?

The Metro stops a few people exit. I’m jostled. I
think I can take a deeper breath. No. No. The pushing
starts again.

I would never have said I was claustrophobic before,
but I was trying as hard as I could to not panic. I
was taking deep breaths and trying to think happy
thoughts. I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to take it
any longer. I just wanted to tell Pat sorry I just
can’t do this and get off, but getting off wasn’t an
option. I couldn’t see the door let alone push through
that crowd to get out of there. So I just continued to
take deep breaths and think happy thoughts like what
if this train breaks down?

No don’t think about that. Think happy thoughts. Take
deep breaths. Has anyone ever suffocated on here?
No don’t think about that. Take deep breaths. Think
happy thoughts. Ok. Deep breath.

I am lying an a beach. I can hear the surf and feel the sun warming my skin. Why are people pushing me on the beach? Deep breaths. Repeat.

Finally people began to exit. The crowd thinned. Pat
found me a coveted spot standing against a rail. I
wanted to cry. I really wanted to cry, but I didn’t. I
held it together and thought about relaxing for a few
hours before we had to go home. Home on the metro at
rush hour. Take deep breaths. Think happy thoughts.
It was quite the adventure. I’m glad I had the
experience. I know what Pat and other Moscovites
experience on a daily basis, but I would like to try
very, very hard not to repeat it.
—- Stephanie

church – moscow style

First a quick history lesson.  Until 1991, Russia was known as the USSR.  Pre-1991 is referred to as "Soviet."  During this time, communism was in full force.  Most everything was owned by the government.  The government sanctioned religion.  Meeting in a public gathering for worship was not tolerated (unless at a Soviet church).  The fall of communism changed all of that, but you don’t have to look hard to see the remnants of communist rule.

Sunday we attended a church in edovsk, a suburb of Moscow.  Typical church services here last 2-3 hours and have 2 sermons.  During Soviet times (pre 1991) a typical service had 4 sermons and would last much longer.


Above:  We grabbed a train from downtown Moscow to Dedovsk.


A typical street around Dedvosk.  From the train station we walked to the church (below).  It was a Baptist church, started by Russian people 60 years ago.  Under Soviet rule, it was an underground church and endured much persecution.  Recently, they were able to build a church building.



Above: Steph and I with Peter and Yana Smirnov.  Pete and Yana had us over for a traditional Russian lunch after church.  Peter and his family have a rich history in Dedovsk.  His father was a pastor and allowed the church to meet in his house.  Because of this, he was arrested and spent 15 years in prison.  Peter’s family founded the church we attended.  Peter and Yana both work at RACU (Russian American Christian University).