The next day we packed and prepared for the trek back to Moscow. As we gathered at the bus that would take us to the train station, many of our new friends came out to see us off. Most of the interpreters were there, and of course Irina came with her son to say goodbye.
Just before we got on the bus, Don Greenwald, our jack-of-all-trades and video man, asked me if I had any thoughts concerning the adventure. As he filmed, I started to talk, but within seconds I was overwhelmed with emotion and could not hold back my tears. I went straight to the bus, found an empty seat and just broke down. I was emotionally wiped out. For the next half hour, I just wept and wept as we made our way to the train station.
As we pulled away from Tolyatti, I couldn’t help but think of Michael, his wife Aimee and their small team who had made a multi-year commitment to live in Tolyatti and grow this new congregation. I wondered if they felt lonely, as the fun part was over and seventy of us were leaving. What would they do that evening? No more revival meetings—but the real work of pastoring and raising up leaders would begin. Most Russians didn’t speak English in 1993. I felt that if it were I waving to the leaving buses, I would have been quite depressed.
However the grace of God “was not without effect” (I Cor. 15:10). The congregation prospered and went on to plant several more in the region. Michael and Aimee became apostolic overseers of the network.
Russian Trains and Bad Tuna
We arrived at the train station. Steve Winkler and I bought some canned tuna and other munchies for the 24-hour ride. One of the things I enjoy most about Russia
and Ukraine, is riding in the trains. For a modest fee you can get a second-class ticket. That means you get a bed. There are four people to a cabin and seven cabins to each wagon. Often, as many as 16 people would gather in one cabin, to worship or just to hang out.
Each wagon has a key lady—to this day, I am not sure if that is what they are actually called or if that is simply what we called them. From her, you can get hot water for tea or coffee, fresh linens and a wake up so you don’t miss your stop. They also lock the bathroom about 10 minutes before each stop and keep them locked during the stop to prevent freeloaders. Hence the name, key lady.
Steve and I opened our tuna and it was gray. I told Steve that it didn’t look right. He felt it was fine and we both ate. When I woke up the next morning, I immediately knew something was wrong with my stomach. I grabbed a fresh role of toilet paper and headed quickly for the stinky, metal bathroom. It was locked!
I began to panic. I went the to the key lady and told her I needed to get in the bathroom. She didn’t understand me. I pointed to the toilet paper and then made some other gesture that I can’t remember and she got it. Even still, rules are rules on a Russian train and she just looked and me and said with authority Nyet!
I responded DA!!!!
Pajulsta (please), I pleaded, now suffering.
NYET was her final answer.
I was really in pain at this point, but had no choice but to wait. In my cabin, the other three men of God just laughed at me as I a suffered. The ordeal lasted about twenty minutes until we left our next stop. And then I was able to take care of business. I ingested an Imodium and that did the trick.
Return to Moscow—This is Awesome!
We had one more day in Moscow. I will never forget the moment that we checked back into the Izmaylova Hotel. A week ago this place was a dump. Jerry and I got to our room and as we sat down, exhausted, on our beds, we look right at each other and both uttered at the exact same time, “This is awesome!” It was amazing how quickly our perspectives had changed. After a week in the bug infested, mafia ridden Tolyatti version of Motel 6, the formally dark and dingy, rundown Izmaylova felt like a palace.
Honoring a Friend Who has gone Home
We spent the next day in Helsinki and then flew home to our families. I still remember David Stearman greeting his wife and two daughters. David had been diagnosed with cancer not long before the trip, but he came anyway. My memory is a bit blurry, but I seem to remember he had already gone through chemo and had lost most of his hair. Still, in his weakened state, he persevered and God used him in Tolyatti—both as an inspiration to the team, and as a witness to the lost. He fought a good fight, but sadly his body gave in to the deadly disease in the following months.
Elana was there, with Sharon and Yael, while Danielle was still in her mother’s womb, to greet me. We went out to eat with the Stearmans somewhere close to Reagan National and I remember, despite the cancer, David would have kept us in the restaurant all night with his stories. ADHD Ron doesn’t sleep as well as David on airplanes and finally I had to throw in the towel.
I still remember my head hitting the pillow that night. Such a sense of satisfaction… Such a sense of joy… such a sense… I was asleep within a minute or two.
For the next several years I wondered why we didn’t just pack up everything and head over to the Former Soviet Union. In 1998 we did. We spent a year in Odessa, Ukraine… one of the greatest (and toughest) years of our life. More on that later.
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