by David Sisler

For three months during the summer of 1993 I was the missionary pastor of Maranatha Christian Center in Samara, Russia. This column is an excerpt from my daily journal, written while I lived and worked in that city of 1.5 million.

Lena Borisenka is 19. I've never seen anyone win my wife's heart so quickly. There was an instant attraction between Lena and Bonnie. The young Russian Christian had long been one of my favorites. She is a precious young lady, full of life and the love of Jesus.

One evening we asked Lena to accompany us to the "Volga Kafe." It was the first time she had ever been to a restaurant. Over dinner I asked Lena if she had ever thought about coming to America. She said, "I don't think about coming to America. It is my dream!"

When we got to our flat Bonnie gave Lena some gifts she had brought from America. It was a small way of thanking her for all of her help to me. We gave her a jar of peanut butter, a silver hair barrette, a T-shirt with applique flowers, and four gospel tapes. Lena gave each of us a long, fierce hug. We got the better end of the deal.

It was almost 11 p.m. when Lena got ready to leave, so Bonnie and I walked her back to the tram stop. As we waited for the tram, Lena asked me, "David, why are you in Russia?"

I answered the obvious question, "To teach."

"No," she said, "why are you here and not someone else?"

I said, "When my pastor, Cesar Brooks, came here in April, he said he would start a church here, only if there was someone who would come to Samara for three months and help the new church get off to a good start. He prayed and God told him to send Bonnie and I."

At that answer, Lena smiled broadly, her blue eyes filling with tears. As she brushed the moisture off of her cheeks, she said, "Good. Very good. I am glad."

Before we could say anything else the headlights of Number 20 appeared down the street. Lena hugged first Bonnie and then me, telling each of us, "I love you." We answered her with the identical words and she climbed into the tram and rode to her flat.

During the last week of July, we were required to trade our pre-1993 rubles for new ones. According to the official explanation this was being done to combat counterfeiters. Foreigners were allowed to exchange a maximum of 30,000 rubles ($30.00) and Russians could exchange 100,000 rubles.

Lena volunteered to do our exchange for us. When she came to our flat that afternoon she was carrying a small bundle and holding it in a very secretive manner. After she gave us our money, Lena said, "And now, many, many gifts."

She had purchased a beautiful jewelry box for Bonnie and a small Russian doll for me. The doll is balding, has a beard and a small pot belly. Lena vowed and declared that she did not choose it as a representation of me. She said, "I want you to have some memories of me."

I do not think we have ever been given more expensive gifts. When her income is compared with the price of the gifts and then wrapped in her love, they are priceless.

The night before we left Samara, Lena stayed with us so she could accompany us to the airport.

When our plane was announced, there was no rush to move to the que. It was as if we understood with the same heartbeat that we were saying good-bye for a long time. Lena was sobbing as though her heart would break. We hugged for a long time, clinging tight, neither of us wanting to break the embrace.

When we moved back I smiled at her with the biggest smile I could find. "I'll see you soon," I said. With that, she, too, broke into a smile, realizing with me, that the parting is only temporary. "See you soon," Lena said.

Sitting in the quiet of the plane, Bonnie and I gave up holding the tears. I told Bon I did not feel this way when I left Augusta because I knew that in 80 days I would return home. This time there is no certainty. Only the certain trust that I want to return to Samara again soon.


Copyright 1993, 2000 by David Sisler. All Rights Reserved.

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