Herald JournalHerald Journal, May 31, 2004

Local pastor visits, teaches in Russia

By Daniel Runke, Pastor,
Albion Evangelical Free Church

How would you like to live in a country that is rated last on a list of “the 65 happiest countries to live in?”

I don’t think that too many of us would choose to live there! But for the people of Russia, they don’t have any choice. That is where they were born and live.

Earlier this spring, with the gracious support of my church, Albion Evangelical Free Church, I had the privilege of visiting Russia for 19 days. I went with eight other Americans to teach at a short-term Bible school that is set up and sponsored by the Evangelical Free Church of America (EFCA).

I arrived in Moscow and spent the first three days doing some sightseeing in and around the city, while adjusting to the nine-hour time change. I had the opportunity to visit the Kremlin, but due to the upcoming presidential elections, some parts were closed to tourists.

I got to visit Red Square and see the place where all the military parades used to take place during the years Communism ruled Russia. I also visited a famous market where Russian dolls and other Russian goods are sold and bartered for.

While in Moscow, I visited many of the missionaries serving with the EFCA and saw, first-hand, some of their struggles and joys of living and serving overseas.

We took an overnight train about 500 miles east of Moscow, to a city near the Volga river in the Russian republic of Tartarstan. The Bible school that I taught in was set up in a Russian church affiliated with the Evangelical Free Church of Russia (a sister organization to the EFCA).

We arrived Sunday morning, just in time to check into our hotel and get to the church to join them in their morning worship service.

The worship services in Russia are a little different in that they do not have a regular starting time. Some of this is because public transportation is not always reliable.

However, once they are all there, you can tell they really enjoy being together as the services usually last two to five hours. They are filled with lots of singing, some testimonies, and depending on if there are visiting pastors, maybe two or three sermons. They might end by sharing a meal together (potluck).

While I was there, I taught from the New Testament book of James. The students appreciated that we had come to teach them.

Since most of my 25 students could not understand English, everything was spoken through a translator. The translators we used were Christians, and really enjoyed this opportunity to translate. It was their chance to be paid a salary that was much greater than their normal wages. They could also work on their English, which would help them get better jobs.

The translators were fluent in English and at the time, were taking a break from their normal work of teaching English at a local university.

As I talked with my students, I found out that many of them came out of some very difficult circumstances. Many came from families where the father was an alcoholic or there was some kind of moral breakdown in the family.

Some had siblings or parents that were opposed to them. They saw no need for having a relationship with Jesus or meeting together regularly with those who did.

Most of the students had undergone some kind of spiritual experience in the last two years, and knowing God had brought a joy into their lives that they never known before.

Some of them had grown up in Orthodox churches, but had not seen the need for any kind of relationship with Jesus.

I asked them what had brought about the change in them, wanting to have a personal relationship with Jesus? Almost all of them said it was the love they saw between the other believers in the church that made them want to know Jesus, so they, in turn, might experience that love in their lives.

The students were a real joy to spend time with, and taught me many things.

Traveling to Russia taught me that we, in America, are very blessed. It showed me that we have a responsibility to protect and ensure that we pass on those blessings to our children.

I was reminded that happiness is not found in lots of material possessions, but in relationships, first with the Lord, and with family and friends.

If the opportunity ever comes up to visit another culture, I would thoroughly recommend it, for the things you will learn and the blessing you will be to others.

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