Living in Orenburg has been quite an adventure. It’s funny though; I feel liked I’ve lived here before, like everything except the language is familiar. It’s strange – many things have been strange for me recently. This city is like so unique and yet… still familiar. I wouldn’t begin to say that it’s been easy (it hasn’t), but there is more than meets the eye, so to speak.
I am living in a row of apartment buildings on the street called “Чкалова (tchkalava) which here is lovingly called the Great Wall, because it looks like a big white wall along the major road. Myself and a retired American missionary couple live in a small flat on the 9th floor at the top of the complex. The flat is protected by two doors requiring four keys for five locks. Every key is drastically different from the rest. The flat is a comfortable and vibrant space which has quickly become a home for me. It is also a favorite meeting place for students! Out of my time here, we’ve only had hot water in the apartment for one of the weeks. The rest of the time we either boil water and mix it with cold or we do without. In the summer, most of the repairs to roads and houses and apartments gets done before the cold weather hits. But it really is not that inconvenient. Sometimes its even like an adventure! For good news: recently, a German intern named Alex has arrived for a two month stay and he is living in a room with me. Thank God; we connect very well and are both excited to be creative in our ministries here. Luckily for me, he wants to practice his English and also speaks Russian.
The weather has been quite terrible here. For the first two and a half weeks here, we had 38-40C temperature (around 100F) everyday! Welcome to Russia! It’s been super hot on buses and sometimes in the apartment. Most people do not have air conditioning. Russia has shorter but very hot summers and longer very cold winters without much of an autumn. The heat finally broke a couple of days ago, but then we briefly had 60F which is a big difference! We even got a little rain with the weather change (it has only rained the one time my entire time here). This is good because of the wildfires that have been running rampant in European Russia. Many of you have probably heard about them. Moscow has been a mess because of the smoke and many older people have been dying from breathing complications. The cooler weather this week has been helping though and luckily, the Orenburg oblast has not been touched by the fires as of yet. It seems like we should be okay. We heard that supposedly Putin took money from the funds for fighting wildfires to fund something else that he wanted money for…a program or something. Maybe the extra funds went into someones pocket? We don’t know. But apparently they fight fires like this every year due to the dry hot weather in the summers. This year was just worse and the money to fight it was no longer there. Please pray for the people affected.
Travel is one of the more frustrating activities to do around here. This is a city of around 700,000 people and most people cannot afford to either buy and upkeep a car or to drive it very often, so the city buses are the way to go. It costs about 10 рубль for any distance on one bus ride which is about 35cents. The city map does not list the bus routes or bus stops. The bus stop names are not easily seen unless you are standing outside of the bus on the other side of the street and the buses stop running their routes some time between 9pm and 12pm. The problem for me is that 1) I don’t know Russian 2) I can’t read the signs even if I did 3) I do not recognize the stops because I am a foreigner and because I have not lived in this city for very long and 4) because the students like to walk around outside very late because school has not started yet. So, while I sit on the bus, I try to get a good view of the street from my seat so I don’t miss my stop (using landmarks mostly) and I pray that I can find a way to my destination without too much difficulty. It has been great to get to know all the students here but I will be glad to not have to worry about late night travel in a couple weeks when school starts. The taxis are much more expensive and to get one to meet you at your location in a reasonable time period can also be quite the adventure…
FOOD!: >>>The food is great here. The bread is bland and a little dry but the soups are incredible, most everything is organic (you can taste the difference- your body feels the difference too), the meals are hearty, they LOVE tea time after the meals like I do, they appreciate a good cheese, and the spices are just right. I think good food can make anything worthwhile, I mean almost ANYTHING! But here its just an added bonus, not a coping tool.
MY ACTIVITIES AND TASKS:
Like I wrote before, the camp was such a great opportunity and blessing because of all the wonderful students I was able to meet right away. Many of them have truly become my friends and some of them are my Christian brothers and sisters too! I will continue to spend time with them during my stay here. I want to hang out with them as friends do; I want to learn from them as they learn from me; and I want to learn to love them by investing in their lives just as other men and women have invested in me. I always want to share the love of Jesus to others so I will continue to spend time with these students, to live life with them in a sense and to learn with them.
A major emphasis for my time here has been and will continue to be language learning. I came here with a knowledge of only some random nouns and prepositions. However, I knew that I would have a great opportunity to learn the language and practice it, so I have started to do it. The Russian language is difficult but beautiful. I have been practicing on my own and recently began lessons with a hired tutor. My goals for these few months are modest but still challenging. I think that if God has moved me in this direction to where I find myself in Russia; well, then it makes sense that I would learn the language so I can be ready to do whatever He may call me to do while here or in the future. Only God knows. I will follow. I also think it is important that I attempt to learn some of the Russian language since I demand so much from the students studying English. In this sense it is a matter a respect. So I will study hard and hopefully as you and I ask from the Lord, He will bless my study and I can begin to communicate to the people here in Orenburg.
Time escapes quickly in these here parts but there is still time each day for all the unexpected activities that inevitably occur. I have found myself doing MANual labor for friends, attending unexpected social events for church and mission members, hosting a short-term mission team from Germany, preparing for another camp (it will be outside the city again, from sunday to thursday, for members of the mission/church), and finding time to update you all and pray for everyone and everything going on! I think it is better though to have too much to do than not enough, so the days feel fulfilling even if sometimes they are tiring or draining. It is amazing just to have so many conversations out of the ordinary to give a perspective on what God has done and is doing in the world, since the American Christian experience can become somewhat secluded due to our “self-sufficiency” and shear distance from many places (the Atlantic and Pacific oceans are formidable boundaries [a.k.a. adversaries], meant to be conquered!). It is so great just to catch a glimpse of how versatile, creative, and powerful God is, through the simple stories of ordinary people throughout the world. These little gifts are fuel for the missionary’s spirit as he or she follows into the unknown, trusting in and leaning on God, who has proven Himself to be faithful time and again to those who hear and follow Him. What an exciting journey!
I am giving two worthy SHOUTOUTS on this post. The first goes to Alex R:
>Alex, ask me a question. You already know the answer! T.I.R. –> that is the only explanation necessary, and the sooner you assimilate to T.I.R., the sooner you will feel comfortable robbing people in the tunnel under the road at молодёжный.
The second goes to Es(p)ther:
>Espther,………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..(intake of air)…………WWC! Don’t be upset that I didn’t write anything more. It’s not the end of ze world! The Eynd!