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Copyright �1998 by Dan Philgreen - ALL RIGHTS RESERVED



Russia: Trip Number Six

by Dan Philgreen

all rights reserved

5/14/95, 9:15 AM, Transaero flight 205, Almaty, Kazakhstan to Moscow

After keeping journals on five previous trips to the former Soviet Union, this will just be some miscellaneous notes pertaining to things unique to this trip. Visiting Moscow and Kiev again was not very different from other times except that the shooting schedule was tighter and the weather was much nicer. We haven�t stayed in a hotel once this time. We have been in two different flats belonging to Crusade staff that are back in the States. In Kiev we were hosted by Mark and Carol; some of our staff in their flat. This has been really nice. I much prefer it to being cooped up in a hotel. You have more of a feeling of hominess and more of a feel for the country.

It seems that lately I�ve been getting to Moscow at least as often as I get up to downtown Orlando from my home in St. Cloud. I never would have dreamed that I would ever have gotten here this many times.

I�m traveling with Mike Adamson, formerly of API and now with the campus ministry. Ben Burns in also with us. He is from Scottsdale and is on staff in Portland with his wife of eight months, Janet. He is a very funny guy and great fun as a crew member and traveling companion. He was in Kiev about five years ago for a four week long summer project. He is really quick picking up the Russian language surprising even our long term staff guys. Also does a great Bill Bright impression - a real crack-up.

Almaty (formerly Alma Ata) was really great. It is very different from what I expected. I thought it would be more backward - like Romania or the pictures I�ve seen of Albania or Mongolia. It was much more like the other Russian cities I�ve been in - not any more backward. Western goods and such are harder to come by here than in Moscow, of course. Though we arrived in a downpour and prepared for the worst, we were told this was unusual. It hadn�t rained in two months, stopped the next day, and the weather proved to be really delightful this time of year. The city lies on a very gentle slope at the foot of the Himalayas. Elevation averages something like 2500 feet.

Everybody speaks Russian. The population is about half Russian and half Kazakh, but many Kazakhs don�t know their own language very well, especially in the cities. Kazakh is close to Uzbek, Kyresbek, and Turkish we were told.

We spent time in Almaty with Steve (not his real name) and his wife (whom I video taped on my first trip in �91 in St. Petersburg) and with Mark (not his real name) and his wife. Both of these couples are raising kids here and are amazingly fluent in Russian. What a great group of missionaries. These people are living heroes of the Great Commission and it was a great privilege to have the chance to be with them and observe their ministries first hand. We shot a weekly meeting at a school, the Thursday night get-together of the core group of students at the ***'s� flat, and interviews with some of the key students. Deena, who took a break from her training in Moscow to come back home to Almaty with us for this shooting, came up through this ministry. She is the first Kazakh to join Campus Crusade staff and is starting to work at raising support. Her needed support is about $150 US per month and they are asking her to raise about 1/3 to 1/2 of that from her own country.

Two things happened yesterday that were remarkable. They seemed like just common, natural occurrences in the chain of events of the day, but as they were happening I thought to myself how truly amazing these things were.

After the weekly meeting was over and I had finished my shooting, I was waiting with the equipment while Mark and Ben ran an errand. Steve called me over to join a conversation with a pair of guys from Cashmere who were nominal Muslims. They had been attending the meetings for a couple of months. One of the fellows had two major points he wanted to discuss. He believed that Jesus never claimed to be God and questioned the wording of the scriptures we discussed that deal with this. He also couldn�t understand how God could be selective and send some of his own creation to hell. The amazing thing about this was that Roman (one of the Kazakh Christian students who speaks English very well) came over and argued several points very skillfully. The Indian guy tried to evade a question by asking another question as an answer and Roman wouldn�t let him get away with it. It was an awesome thing to sit there and see this kind of mature fruit in a place where only a few short years ago there was no witness for Christ of any kind. As the group broke up, someone announced that one of the girls attending had just prayed to receive Christ. Everyone said encouraging, welcoming things to her and then they all sang "Happy Birthday to You" in English.

The second notable thing happened last night after a dinner hosted by Deena�s parents at their flat for the ***s, ***s, and the video crew. Deena�s mother and brother became Christians as a result of her testimony, but her father has yet to believe. He is a professor of mathematics at Kazakh State University ("Kazgoo"). His specialty is probability. He has been very closed to the gospel and Deena warned us that he might just leave home for the evening. He was very hospitable to us, however, and after dinner he and all the guys spent several hours around the table discussing the existence of God and other items of interest to him. He is a very intelligent person and we all had a grand time together. Friendship was blossoming and it was obvious that tremendous relational headway was being made with this man. A solid bridge of respect, good will, and friendship was erected across the chasm of mistrust and disdain.

The skill of this team of wonderful staff members at the relational approach to evangelism was a wonder to behold. There was no feeling of enmity in fighting an enemy doctrine. First we are friends. We build respect in both directions. Then we talk about our differences with interest and concern. This was no compromise. Indeed, Roman demonstrated a young disciple of this bent contending for the faith valiantly. I think it�s just a mindset of seeing these people as people first, not as Muslims or whatever, and just loving them and getting to know them enough to care about them. And it�s working. People are trusting Christ and it seems it has as much to do with the relationships as it does with the person connecting with the truths of scripture.

Last night after we came back to the flat, Steve and Mark came over with their computers. Mark had a problem with the hard drive on his Compaq Contura Aero and hoped we could help him figure it out. Steve and I couldn�t figure out why in the world the thing wouldn�t boot from the floppy disk. After a call to the states Mark found out that Compaq had made a mistake on their ROM and you can�t do it. This must surely be one of the most glaring computer design flaws of all time. Seems they have a kind of recall going on and they are changing out the whole system board on these computers. So, packed with our Betacam tapes in the belly of this airplane is Mark�s computer on it�s way back to Texas. ***�s parents are coming over in about a month and hopefully it will be ready for them to bring back.

The guys in Almaty have a way to dial up onto the Internet locally and e-mail has changed their lives. Messages get through to the states in about three hours or so. This is amazing compared to several weeks for very undependable mail or phone calls at a couple of dollars per minute.

Kazakhstan is a very strategic spot in that the culture is nominally Muslim, but very secularized by the Soviet era. There is interest in Christianity and a lot of openness - even more than in Moscow and St. Petersburg where interest is quickly cooling according to Steve. People come to Christ much easier in Kazakhstan than in other predominately Muslim areas, but they still have the Muslim cultural connection that gives them entr�e to harder Muslim areas. Also, the full-blooded Kazakhs are Asian in appearance. They may be the key to reaching China.

I�ve always wanted to get to the Himalayas. I still look forward to getting into them, but it was fun to get the chance to at least see them with my own eyes. As they jut up on the south side of Almaty they don�t really seem much different from the Rockies back home. But it is a wonder to think of the vast expanse of mountains beyond the first ridge line. The Rockies are less than one state deep but the Himalayas cover whole countries. We almost went to Bishkek for a story, but the Kiev story won out. It would have been a fun drive for five hours or so into the mountains.

Mike and I have been trying to catch up to Ben and add to our limited Russian vocabulary. Yesterday Mike was learning "svietee," meaning "flowers." As we were saying farewell to Deena�s parents after shooting there in the afternoon, they said "good-bye" and Mike, his brain searching through the file for "dos vodonya" or "puka" said instead, "flowers!"

Our first night in Almaty we ate dinner at a very nice restaurant in a hotel a few blocks from where we were staying. It had linen on the table and very nice Mikasa china. Quite unexpected. Food wasn�t five-star quality, but good and quite satisfying. The menu was in English and seemed clear enough. It appeared that everything was ala carte and so we all ordered the side dish of mixed vegetables. The cooked beets and carrots came first and were good, but Mike didn�t want to finish his. When our entrees came, they were served with the same portions of the same beets and carrots!

Earlier, Ben had gotten a "house salad." The house salad was a heaping plate of sliced mushrooms with some oil and onions on them.

Several times we enjoyed the local specialty called plov. It is a dish of rice and chunks of lamb cooked with a lot of spices. We also had Piroke for lunch. It�s kind of a meat pie with rice in it. It�s more or less plov in a pocket.

Reading for this trip has been from Esther�s book Bold Love by Dan Allender. An in depth look at love and forgiveness. He has some good ideas that are new to me.

On our first day of shooting in Almaty we took the van up a little ways into the foothills to try to get a view of the city from above. We ended up near the big TV tower. It�s a very large concrete and steel structure reminiscent of the big one in Moscow where I had dinner with the Rashes and the Rictors during Operation Carelift a few months ago. These are not steel towers like we think of in the States. They are free standing, no guy wire, buildings like the Space Needle in Seattle. The Almaty tower isn�t quite as big as the one near the Cosmos hotel in Moscow, but is still something like 240 meters high. The area that is under construction for a tourist observation platform is at 175 meters or something like that. Ben scouted ahead and got the van through the security at the gate. He started talking to someone at the front door and they went and found Olga, who could speak English. Olga was very friendly and helpful and got permission for us to go up into the tower to shoot. She rode back with Ben in the van to where Mike and I were waiting and escorted us up the elevator. It was weird to step out onto this enclosed platform which was a construction zone. There were piles of sand on the floor and junk laying around all over. A couple of guys were installing glass in the unfinished windows. Of course, the one small area they were finished with was covering the best view, so I had to shoot through the glass - not the best. It was a great thing, though, and had great views of the city and the mountains. I got Olga to take a snapshot of the three of us by the camera with the Himalayas in the background.

Another first for me in Almaty was a visit to the public bath house. (The "bonya") This particular bonya played into one of the stories because of a conversation that happened there between two students that resulted in one of them leading the other to Christ. Mike got the idea that we should shoot these two students there and interview Steve and Mike in the pool. We did and that was pretty interesting. This is generally an everybody naked kind of a thing, and initially all the guys were. I had to avoid the obvious embarrassing shots. For the interview it was just too limiting, so we had the guys put their bathing suits on. We got a few stills in there. I think it will look pretty different with everybody in bathing suits and a mic boom out over the pool. All this took place in a private "lukes room," which cost about $50 for all of us for two hours. There was a sauna and a small pool and dressing areas. There were also two large faucets with very hot and ice cold water. We took turns getting doused by Marlin (a very outgoing student) with big three or four gallon bowls of ice cold water. It was really refreshing after being hot and sweaty all day. After we dressed we took a little tour of the larger public pools and saunas before we left.

We are back in Moscow now and today had a day off with no shooting. After getting back to Brad Hopp�s flat where we stayed the first few nights of this trip before Kiev and Almaty, we rode the tram and the Metro over to Ismylova to do a little shopping. The weather was perfect and it was a really nice time. I got the two tea cups and saucers Joanne Woida asked me to get. She sent thirty dollars, but I got the two for twelve dollars.

I exercised extreme self control today by not buying something I really wanted. I was perusing a number of booths with old cameras for sale. At least ten or so had old brass Leicas for around ninety dollars. I have rarely seen them in the states and they really look great. The find of the day, though, was another German camera. This one was called a Brid or Bris something, but looked very much like a Leica. It was chrome on the top and bottom of the body with a dark reddish wood grain around the middle of the body. It had a Nazi winged swastika engraved on the top and on the lens cap. It was a real beauty and in perfect working condition. I looked very hard to try to tell if this was a fake. I don�t think it was. They wanted $120 US for it and we couldn�t get them below $110. Mike offered to loan me the money, but after what happened with Esther concerning the Russian guitar I brought home a couple of years ago, I didn�t dare do it. It would have been a fabulous addition to my collection of old cameras. It also would have made a good investment, I�m sure. I have no doubt I could walk into almost any camera store in the US and unload it for several times, possibly many times the price. Also, the people who advertise every week in every major newspaper in the US wanting Nazi artifacts would go wild over this thing. It was just gorgeous. But, for the love of my wife, I said no. It was kind of bothering me for a couple of hours afterward, but I figured one less possession was one less thing to worry about. And if I hadn�t seen it, I wouldn�t have been bothered about leaving it behind. And at least I got to see and hold the thing for a few minutes. I will probably never see one again. It can be a bit painful to go to Ismylova with no money to spend.

On the way back to the flat we bought bread, sausage, fruit, and Cokes from vendors on the street. I found some Coke in bottles with Russian labels which Ben had been trying to find for several days. He was all excited. It looked like the lady had only two and I insisted he take them. It turned out she had a whole case full at less than 50 cents per bottle so we took ten. Four will be souvenirs and the others we�ve been drinking.

Ben went over to dinner at Neil and Susan Nintenmen�s place. Mike and I ate our very Russian dinner in the little kitchen and talked. As I made tea on the little stove and looked out the window, once again in the joy of the moment I thought about the fact that no travel agent could ever sell you a package of experiences like this. It�s a taste of what it�s like to really live here.

I read an hilarious quote in the Moscow Times today. The story was about Transaero airlines getting a license to fly the Moscow - St. Petersburg route. Polonov (I think) airlines which was formerly the Leningrad branch of Aeroflot was the only other carrier flying that route. One of their executives commented on the new competition where there never had been any before and said, "We will work along side of Transaero. We are not afraid of the competition. Our service is no worse than theirs." We all got a good laugh from that. In my mind�s eye I was picturing the meeting with the ad agency execs; "And here�s the new slogan: Our service is no worse than theirs!" Transaero is not a great airline, but it is a big step above Aeroflot. They have 15 airplanes now - all Boeing 737�s and 757�s except for one Ilyushin-86 (the big one with four wing-mounted engines.)

Speaking of airplanes, I figured out what the Ilyushin-62 is. It�s the jet airliner that has four tail-mounted engines. Kind of like a DC-9 only with two engines on each side. The altimeter I bought on my last trip is supposedly out of an IL-62 according to the guy I got it from. I saw him again today at Ismylova. He had a rate of climb indicator for $20 and three or four of the Mig-21 chronographs for $120 ea. Also a submarine clock (about 8" in diameter) for $150. That would look nice in a den or study, but you have to wind it every day or two.

Here are a few new words and phrases I�ve picked up this trip:

Moya simya - my family

ochen - good

ochen priatna - good to meet you

svetee - flower

puka - bye (informal, familiar)

piroke - meat pie

kak (skazat) pa Ruskee... - how do you say in Russian...

bonya - bath house

shastleek - open fire roasted meat on a skewer

kraseevye noch - beautiful night

And it has been a beautiful night after a beautiful day in Moscow.

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Copyright �1998 by Dan Philgreen - ALL RIGHTS RESERVED