by David Sisler
A few days ago I made my tenth trip to my second home, Samara, Russia. The occasion for this trip, my first in eighteen months, my longest absence since I first started going in May, 1993, was a mission trip with nineteen young people and leaders from Wesley United Methodist Church. The primary goal was to share in ministry with "Municipal Upbringing Educational Institution Orphanage Number One" (if the Russians have a choice between a long name and a short name, I think the rules are, you must go with the longer name).
Before we left, I told the young missionaries, "When you are in Russia, you must learn to go with the flow. There will be bumps and hiccups along the way and even those best laid plans will have a few detours." I did not know how prophetic that would be. When we arrived in Samara, we learned that our planned three night, four day visit at their summer camp in the Zhuguli Mountains had been canceled by government officials. So we rented a bus and drove to the camp to spend the day.
The changes in plan did not hinder the kids. Our team shared several witness performances in mime and spent time in fellowship. Even though we had six translators at the camp, there were times when the only communication possible, or necessary, were smiles and hugs.
I had hired the bus by the hour and when the driver said it was time to go I could not get the Americans onto the bus, nor could I get the Russians off of the bus. The overtime we paid was money well spent.
We joined Pastor Alexei Berezin and the members of Samara Christian Center in an exciting four service crusade. Slightly less than a decade ago, Russian Christians had to meet in secret and worship quietly. Today many celebrate Jesus in exciting, charismatic fashion. For most in our group, it was the first time to worship God with raised hands, hand clapping and dancing before the Lord. They started hesitantly at first, but soon caught the flavor. It was a never-to-be-forgotten experience.
One local radio station and one local television station gave us free advertisement, the first time they had ever made such an offer for a religious meeting. We did not keep score, but several hundred Russians made first time commitments to Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior and scores more rededicated their lives to His service.
Eighteen people left Evans for Moscow. Our plans were to be joined by the nineteenth member of the team arriving from Saudi Arabia. Chris Thornock's father was transferred there recently and the entire family moved on July 4. We had to use an international carrier to get Chris's visa to him and it only arrived the afternoon before he was to leave for Russia.
At the first stop on the way, the airplane had mechanical problems and Chris was grounded. Our lead translator and guide, Sergei Zelenski met us at the Moscow airport with an e-mail stating Chris would arrive late. The Aeroflot information desk told us he would arrive at 9:30 a.m., so we boarded the 8 p.m. train for Samara and dispatched Sergei to meet Chris the next morning.
Remember what I said earlier about bumps and hiccups?
Chris arrived, not at 9:30, to be greeted by Sergei, but shortly after midnight, alone in a city where he knew no one and could not speak the language. An hour later, in the vast and dark cavern that is Sheremet'yva International Airport, Chris found one man who spoke English. That man put Chris in a taxi for the Kazansky railway station. At the train station, he found one man who spoke English and that man helped Chris buy a ticket for Samara and slipped him into an empty train car to sleep until morning. Onboard the train, Chris was berthed in a compartment with three other men, one of whom spoke English.
When they arrived in Samara, the man asked, "Who are you meeting in our city?" Chris gave the man my name and the Russian called his neighbor, asking, "Do you know David Sisler?" The neighbor was Alla Gershburg, our lead translator in Samara!
Jimmy the Greek wouldn't have taken those odds.
When I recounted that story, one person remarked, "Your young man sure was lucky." It has long been my suspicion that Jesus' middle name is "luck." It has long been my confidence that steps of faith, ventured in Jesus' name encounter Jesus' blessings. That was what the Apostle Paul meant when he said, "All things — even airplane trouble in a foreign country — work together for good to those who love the Lord, who are the called according to His purpose."
Published in the Augusta Chronicle 8/23/97
Copyright 1997 by David Sisler. All Rights Reserved.
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