by David Sisler

Like spring flowers stubbornly pushing their heads up through the rich black soil, banners proclaiming "Pobeda!" were appearing all over Russia.

9 May 1945. The day the Great Patriotic War ended! Victory over the Fascists! And 50 years later, Russia, still applauding a more recent conquest--the collapse of communism--was once again preparing to celebrate. Pobeda! Victory!

Spring comes quickly to Russia. Before the last of the piles of dirty snow have completely melted, while the ground is still a quagmire of thick, clinging mud, something miraculous happens. You go to bed one night and it is still winter and when you wake up the next morning it is spring. Or so it seems.

I recently completed a five-week trip to my second home--Samara, Russia. For the second year in a row I was able to accompany an excited group of American teens on a mission crusade to the youth of Samara. When our group returned to the United States, my sons, Michael and Matthew, and I stayed behind. We rented a one room flat and settled in for an extended time of ministry and fellowship.

To say that the Russian winter is hard, qualifies as a major understatement. The skies had been gray for two weeks as the first snow of the 1994-95 season arrived in Samara on October 21st. The ground was still snow-covered on March 28, and the sun had forced its way through the clouds less than two dozen times in the preceding five months. But then, magically, it was spring.

Workers take to the streets with home-made stick brooms and ragged shovels to clear away trash which has been carelessly thrown into the streets. Once the snow is gone, months of accumulated garbage is exposed, but within a few days, crews have cleared it away.

This spring had the added excitement of the preparations to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the end of the Great Patriotic War, or World War II, as we call it. Banners were hung on fences and over the highways. Trams were decorated with patriotic slogans. Old soldiers pinned their campaign medals to faded, tattered suit coats, proudly declaring their part in the victory.

But having lived in Russia for eight of the last 24 months, and having watched the nation struggle to recover from 70 years of repression, I wondered, "Who won the war, anyway?"

Germany is one of the most prosperous nations on the earth. For years it was only the western half, but now that the Wall is gone, the reunited country is proudly moving ahead.

In Russia, less than ten years ago, there were severe food shortages. Indeed, when I made my first trip in 1993, there were still scarcities of many commodities. Today, the shelves are full, but the prices are five times higher than they were two years ago.

Here's something to think about. Everyone I know in Samara who is pinching rubles, and that seems to about half of the people I know, makes one revealing comment: "To stretch my money, I don't buy expensive cuts of meat, and I don't buy bananas." It is hard to imagine a budget so tight that fruit for 50 cents a pound is out of bounds.

And while the signs proclaim, "Pobeda!" many Russians joined in asking my question: Who really won the war? Joseph Stalin turned out to be worse than Adolf Hitler. Twenty-seven million Russian soldiers and civilians died. The Iron Curtain descended, choking freedom and crushing the spirit out of the survivors.

Alexander Tsineman is 73. Fifty years ago, he was a soldier, full of pride, a hero of the battle of Stalingrad. In 1986 he quit the Communist Party in disgust. When he was interviewed one month ago by the International Herald Tribune, he said, "The victors walk around hungry, while the defeated ones walk around happy now. Today, I look at the future without optimism. We don't have a firm program for how to go to the future. We don't even know what kind of society we are building."

The people of Russia paid a high price for Stalin's victory. The price of defeat may have been even higher. But still I think of another quote: "What shall it profit a man, if he wins the whole world, and loses his own soul?" Concerning eternal things, the price of winning can be too high, if Jesus Christ is not your victory.


Published in the Augusta Chronicle 5/20/95

Copyright 1995 by David Sisler

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