I was watching traffic as I sat at a bus stop in Zelenograd, Russia, and the late October air felt crisp and chilly. All of a sudden I felt these little hands rubbing against my shirt. I turned my head, and there she was, a beautiful 90 -year old babushka (grandmother) smiling at me. “Where is your coat?” My dear friend, Marla translated her question for me. “You are going to get very cold,” she went on. She rubbed my arms and smiled. It took me no time to put my arm around her and she cuddled right up next to me. I joked, “Mother didn’t catch me before I got out of my apartment.” She chuckled as she heard my translated reply. It was one of the most beautiful moments of my yearly trip to Russia.
I cannot begin to tell you about all the precious people I met in my short 11-day stay. Musicians from all over Russia and beyond journeyed from Norilsk, Omsk, Siberia, Atyrau, Kazakhstan, Astana, Kazakhstan, Chisinau, Moldova, Uzbekistan, Yaroslavl, Russia to name just a few. Some flew for three hours or drove for a day and a half to participate in the RussiaWorship Conference. The event was hosted by the founders of RussiaWorship, Gerry and Marla Schroeder.
The Russians are a hearty people, and in the urban centers have grown up with buses, trains and a whole lot of walking. I know this first hand, because the first day I visited the city center of Moscow and literally walked for 5 hours with additional bus and train rides. I could see the influence of the World Cup being held there, because most every major site and public transport were in both English and Russian. This was not so in previous years when I visited.
We hear so much about Russia in negative terms, but there is a major difference between political action and the actual citizenry. The welcoming spirit and kindness shown to me was persistently overwhelming. I think of my sweet friends, Kristina and Dima, who took Bob Clark and me to their home. We had the most restful and delightful time in their beautiful apartment. We talked of their life there, of family, of dreams we had for the future and our mutual love of God. I don’t know how it could have been a better day spent for me. At the conference, there was so much love shown to me as I spent time listening and exchanging ideas with the unbelievably gifted creatives.
It was the little things that meant so much, like the bar of chocolates from Tatiana. Tatiana is a wonderful musician, marathoner, translator, and pastor now living in Minsk. I have known her for years and she and her family have become so dear to me. She came to me and said, “Would you give this bar of chocolates to Pam., do you think she would enjoy it?” without hesitation I replied…”Does it get dark at night?” I gave her a most thankful hug. It’s these moments that being me back. These eager young writers, musicians and artists are so willing to listen and become more proficient. However, they don’t realize it is the US team who are the beneficiaries of their input as well. A glorious give and take to be sure. And how could I forget my brilliant interpreter, Marsha (Mahsha) Vikhrova. I can’t thank her enough for all she did for me.
I am never the same person I was upon my arrival, as I am when I leave. Looking out the window of the airplane on my way back home, I knew this. I need no language skills to love these kindly hearts…. and oh, my sweet “babushka…. Dasvidaniya.