USSIA

Calvary Chapel of Fullerton         

Pastor Rich’s Russia Mission Journal

September 16-26, 2003                                                                         

 

Journal1  - Day 1 - It's 10:30 a.m. And we're up in the air on the way to New York.  We got up early this morning - WAY early... or did we even go to bed last night. It was all a big blur.  Last night I didn't sleep much, lots of tossing and turning and wondering what in the world I've gotten myself into.  The team arrived at church at 3:45 a.m., it seems that the three hours of sleep I got was way more than most got. Much thanks to the team of drivers that took us to LAX without a hitch.  We arrived a bit before 5:00 a.m. and were the first from the big group to get there.  It took a couple of hours to check in and we were escorted to a nice waiting room to wait for our flight.  We took off at 8:30 a.m. and have now been in the air a couple of hours.  My seat-buddy is Bill Bullington, the pastor of Calvary Chapel Apple Valley - our old buddy from sharing Men's Retreats together.  We were served a great breakfast and things seem to have settled down - many people are asleep.  We should arrive in New York around 1:30 (California time).  I'll try and send this note out to you then.  Don't know if I'll be having e-mail abilities much past New York, but I'll give it a try. 

 

Journal2 - Tuesday, 6:36 p.m. In the air out of New York.  We arrived at New York a bit early, had a tailwind. When we got off the plane things got a little hectic for a minute.  Our departure gate for Moscow was changed and instead of walking 100 feet to the next gate, we had to walk pretty fast for a quarter mile or so to get to our next gate.  For a minute we thought we lost Greg and Craig, but when we got to the departure gate, they were there waiting for us.  We're now on our way to Moscow, it looks as if we'll be spending much of the flight in the dark.  It was almost sunset in New York when we took off with the sun to our tail.  We could see downtown Manhattan out the window as we went.  We're supposed to fly up through New England, then over Iceland, across the Atlantic, then over Europe.  With the tailwind we've got, we ought to arrive in Moscow 45 minutes early.  I'm sitting with my buddy Bill Bullington in the middle three-seat section of the plane, almost the same seats as the flight to New York.  This time we've met a new friend, Oleg, who has been living and working in America for the last seven years but has had a hard time getting a job and is on his way back to Russia to live with his parents.  I wonder if God doesn't have something in mind in putting Oleg with two pastors... We'll see ...

 Journal3 - It's Thursday morning, 1:20 a.m., Sept. 18, having trouble sleeping so I thought I'd write a bit.  Yesterday, after landing in Moscow, we got on a bus and went to the Bible College Dorm where we dropped off some equipment, then were off to Red Square where we did a bit of the tourist thing. We broke into small groups and each group got a Russian guide.  Ours was a gal named Anya.  We walked past St. Basil's Cathedral, Lenin's tomb, and the Kremlin. We walked down an alley to a place to exchange our money, 30 rubles for a dollar. Some of the streets reminded us of that futuristic Harrison Ford movie, Blade Runner – a mixture of advertising and poor run down buildings.  We had a choice for dinner, McDonald's or Sbarro (like at the Mall).  We chose the pizza.  It was sprinkling on and off.  We met back at our bus and drove around (and around) Moscow to the Train station. Again it seemed like something out of a movie, gloomy, rainy, poor people begging for money, old trains, quite a scene.  We stayed together at the train platform where George Bryson gave us our cabin assignments.  Then we boarded the train, like something along the lines of the Orient Express or from a James Bond movie.  Four people to a room, four bunk beads in a room, and not a lot of room for all the luggage and band gear we're carrying.  While we were all getting settled, George put down his laptop for a moment outside of one of the train cabins and a stranger walked through the train and walked (or ran) off with it.  George is bummed.  He's been working on a new book and had two months' of worked he hadn't backed up on it. We finally settled into our cabins, had a meal provided on the train (rolls, salami, cheese, yogurt) and went to sleep around 6:30 p.m..  Except for a few hours of sleep on the plane, we'd been up for 30 hours. We're supposed to sleep well, but even though it's the middle of the night here, my body still thinks its noon.  Oh well, I'll try and sleep a bit more until morning where we should arrive in Kirov in about six hours.

 

 

 

Journal4 - Early Friday morning, 9/19, Kirov, Russia - Yesterday was a blurrrr - after arriving at the train station, we went to our hotel for a quick shower (the first one in three days).  Then we met in the hotel lobby where teams were sent out to several schools. We are not allowed to preach in the schools, but the schools like visitors, and that's our opportunity to invite the kids to the evening concerts. We heard great things about our team meeting kids and making contact.  The students were mostly teenagers. Those of us in the bands went to the hall to set up.  We (in the band) sat around and waited a lot - I taught Craig and Greg to play hearts.... Before we knew it the concert started ... We didn't have much time to practice due to equipment problems, and we thought we were a bit rough, but the crowd didn't seem to mind.  I'd say about fifty kids from Kirov showed up. A Russian band from St. Petersburg started and ended the show; we did a couple of songs in the middle. One of the pastors shared a brief message (Mike Voight from Klamath Falls, Oregon). George Bryson served as M.C.  After the show we sat and talked with the Russian kids. God is using us! After the concert we packed our group of fifty plus into one of the city buses and made our way back to the hotel.  Craig and I bought some sandwiches (we missed dinner) but pray we don't kill each other with bad breath - there was a ton of garlic in those sandwiches! Before going to bed, I phoned home, and then my Pocket PC crashed, and it's taken me awhile to get it working again - aaaargh! Hey all you out there - keep praying - this is the real deal - God is at work and your prayers are a HUGE part... More later from Kirov... Keep praying!  -Rich

 

Journal5 - Saturday morning, 9/20, 7:30 a.m. - Yesterday was another day of outreach. We had breakfast at 8:00 (a delicious oatmeal, along with pastry, bread, and a chocolate cream filled candy - a carb-lovers delight!) and then gathered together as a team for our first group devotions at 9:00.  Roger Stahlhut shared on the topic of spiritual warfare and we were challenged and ready for the day.  The rest of the daytime was spent going to the various colleges and universities in town to share with students and invite them to the evening concert.  I went with the musicians' group and we left right after devotions to go to the "Pedagogical University". It's a four year university.  The musicians broke into two teams (I went with Greg & Craig) and we were taken into our first class.  Greg was pretty bummed the day before when the other folks got to go into the schools and share and the musicians got stuck at the music hall - but yesterday he was in his element!!!   It started a little awkwardly as we shared a little about who we were, our families, and what we did for a living.  We were instructed not to preach, talk about religion, or politics.  The classes we went to were English classes -the kids learn it because it's the world's language.  After awhile, we ended up breaking up into groups, with Greg, Craig, and myself each having a group of students crowding around us asking us questions.  The Russian people are so polite. Wonderful, loving people.  One of the kids asked me about my computer and what I did with it, and one thing led to another and I became known as the "gadget-guy"(with my pocket pc, camera, and phone). After about 45 minutes, we were taken to another classroom where we did it all again.  In the second class, the teacher was a young gal, not much older than the students, and as we all talked and shared (and played a little rock 'n roll for them) even the teacher promised to come to the evening concert.  By about two o'clock we finished up and walked to a cafeteria for lunch.  I had something like a big meatball with rice in it along with bread and pasta - very delicious.  Then we got on a bus and went to the music hall to get ready for the evening concert.  At the music hall we ended up sitting around awhile and played more "hearts" - beware of Craig Sibley, he's a dangerous hearts player!  Our dinner was brought to us around 5:00 and it too was delicious - French fries with a hamburger patty on top of it covered with mushrooms, sour cream, and onions.  We dubbed it "stroganoff-fries".  Hey, somebody could make a bundle in America with a dish like that.  We had time for a quick rehearsal, and then the evening started at 6:00 p.m.  ATTENTION PRAYER WARRIORS:  Each evening starts at 6:00 p.m. and goes for two and a half hours, that means you should be praying especially hard for the next three days (Sat, Sun, Mon.) from 7:00 - 9:30 a.m. back in California.  The evening started with a group of young kids from the church in Kirov.  Then the fellow who has been running sound (name is Mike) did a quick illusionist show where he gave a quick message about how Jesus can break the bondage of sin in our life.  Then we were up - we did four songs this time, I think we were a little looser than last time, and I guess we did okay 'cause now I'm getting teased about how we "rock-out" - whatever that means :-) Then Pastor John Atkinson from Calvary Chapel North Long Beach got up and spoke on the story of the paralytic man who was lowered through the roof by his friends to Jesus.  He did a wonderful job preaching the gospel.  Then George Bryson asked Caleb and Greg to do a quick impromptu karate demonstration (very impromptu - they were asked to do it as the evening started) and they taught us some karate moves (Caleb taught us to block and say "KEEEEE-AIIIIIIII").  Then the band from St. Petersburg got up and played and they were GOOD! When the concert ended, the entire team of 50 people mingled with the crowd and we had a wonderful time of sharing Christ with these beautiful Russian kids.  We saw many of the kids from the University - even the young teacher showed up.  Oh - and the place was PACKED - standing room only.  I'm not sure what we're going to do tonight if we're in the same hall - hopefully we'll change to the bigger hall tonight.  After the concert we all packed into one of the electric trolleys and headed back to our hotel.  An amazing day.  Well it's off to breakfast for me, so I'll write you next chance I get.  - Rich

 

 

Journal6 - It's Sunday morning, 9/21, 8:20, Kirov, Russia - Yesterday we saw the work of God moving along.  After a wonderful breakfast (an egg dish and Russian Pancakes with applesauce) we met for devotions and prayer.  I shared briefly with the group from Psalm 126, "they that sow with tears shall reap with joy".  Then it was off to our assignments for the day.  Even though it was Saturday, Russia doesn’t take Saturday off. The musicians were assigned to a school that was something like a reform school. It seems that these were kids who were either held back for poor grades or poor behavior, they were high school age.  I don't know if these were "bad" kids, but we sure fell in love with them.  There was a teacher assigned to take us into the class and she turned out to be an angel.  Her name was Natasha and she was a Christian, going to the "Kirov Bible Church".  You could see the love of Jesus all over her face.  She whispered to us, "Are you missionaries?"  When we said that we were, her face totally lit up with joy.  We sat up in front of the packed classroom and introduced ourselves one by one.  Then the kids took turns asking us questions.  It was VERY hard not to talk about Jesus with these kids.  One kid asked, "Why do you celebrate Christmas in America more than you celebrate New Year's?"  In Russia the biggest holiday of the season is New Years, a time to party.  We had a very difficult time answering that question because we didn't want to blow our chance with these kids in front of the school principal.  Later, Natasha brought the boy up to me and asked me to explain it to him further. It was kind of strange being treated like a "rock star".  At the end of the class, we were all mobbed by the kids because they all wanted to get our autographs.  Amazing.  After wrapping up in the school, we needed to get back to the music hall and we were running late.  Instead of taking the bus or trolley, our group waved down a couple of cars and we paid the drivers to take us to the hall.  I guess this is done all the time.  Greg and I got into a VERY small car with a translator and another fellow and off we went zooming in and out of traffic on our way to the music hall.  Talk about a wild ride!!  Russians are very wild drivers.  But actually we had a total blast!  We paid the fellow 50 rubles (about $1.50) and actually made it to the music hall in time.  We were going to switch rooms at the music hall into a larger venue.  Rather than a place that held two hundred, we moved into a room that held seven hundred.  We spent the afternoon moving equipment, setting up, and rehearsing.  One other thing about Saturday - it was the day the temperature dropped.  It's starting to get quite nippy and at times during the day it even sprinkled a bit.  We were told it might snow during the night, but now in the morning I don't see any snow out the window, but it is very cold.  Our room only has a water-radiator type of heater and apparently they haven't turned on the heating system yet.  Back to Saturday night - as the concert started, the new room was about 80% filled.  Lots of kids showed up, many coming again from previous nights. The message was given by the youth pastor from North Long Beach, a great guy named Brandon Piliavin. At the end of the concert we again had a wonderful time sharing with these wonderful Russian kids. Again, some of the musicians had kids around them asking for autographs. On the crowded bus ride home, we heard some of the results of the day.  I was standing next to a kid who had accepted the Lord that night.  Mike Chapman alone prayed with four different kids to accept the Lord.  God is at work.  There is a harvest going on in Kirov.  Keep praying gang, you are very much a part of this whole thing.  - Rich

 

Journal7 - Sunday night, 9/21, Kirov, Russia - Today's schedule was a little different from the previous days' schedule. For one thing, we got to sleep in an hour later, and breakfast wasn't until 9:00 a.m.  We had a delicious hot rice dish (almost like Tapioca) and some pastries.  After breakfast we all got on a trolley together and headed over to the small room at the Music Hall where we were going to have church.  The Kirov church normally meets on Sundays at 9:00 a.m., but to accommodate the new believers and all the Americans, they had a special service at 12:00 noon.  Except for the building being a little different, you all would have felt right at home.  Calvary Chapel Kirov is just like Calvary Chapel of Fullerton, except it's all in Russian.  The worship team from the church (all college age kids) led worship, and we knew all but one of the songs (except they sang in Russian).  The Americans were asked not to sing in English because it would confuse the Russian believers.  So we hummed. It was still wonderful. God was there and we worshipped Him.  Pastor Roger Stahlhut gave the message and challenged us to win others to Christ and disciple them.  After church was over, most of the team had free time until the concert - except for the musicians. It turns out that the local Baptist church meets in big room at the music hall (where we had the Saturday night concert), and our equipment not only had to be torn down before their service, but it had to be set up all over again after the Baptist church was finished.  We had another close call and finally got everything running and very short sound checks just before concert time.  Again the same three bands played (the young local Russian team, our band, and the group from St. Petersburg).  I had the privilege of sharing the gospel message and talked about Jesus meeting the woman at the well (John 4).  After the concert we had a wonderful time talking with the Russian kids.  There have been quite a few kids who have come back night after night.  One kid, Andre, came to the first night and we all felt he was only there for the "rock and roll".  But he's come back each successive night, and tonight Craig Sibley had the honor of leading Andre in prayer to accept Jesus as his Lord and Savior.  There's also been a young engaged couple, Sergey and Annette, that have been talking to me the last couple of nights.  I first met them on one of our classroom visits.  Tonight we had a wonderful discussion as they opened up and began asking some pretty serious questions.  I think they are close. After closing down the music hall, we all CRAMMED back onto a trolley (I heard that there 68 of us when you include the Russian translators) and headed back to the hotel. We have been praying for you back at home as well.  I keep checking my watch and have been praying for the services back in Fullerton.  Please know that you are all loved and missed tremendously.  Though just about everyone on the team has come down with a cold of some sort, we're all doing pretty great.  We are seeing God at work, right up close, and you have a part in it with your faithful prayers.  Thank you from all of our hearts!!!

 

Journal8 - Tuesday morning, 7:00 a.m., Kirov Russia - Yesterday was our last full day of official outreach. The morning started off with breakfast in the hotel dining room as usual - more delicious Russian pancakes with applesauce.  Most of the group then met for devotions, led by one of the fellows from the New Jersey group named John McCabe. He's an interesting guy with a different kind of metabolism.  We all walk around bundled up for the cold, but he walks around in shorts and a t-shirt.  And boy does he love Jesus.  I missed devotions and went with a group to the music hall to collect some of the gear because we were going to go to a school and actually put on a mini-concert.  The rest of the team broke off into groups and went out into the schools.  I was talking with Olivia and Cathy last night and they shared about how much they have come to love the Russian people.  They shared how in the classroom the kids want to know all about Americans and ask all kinds of questions.  Some of the questions we have to be careful about because we want to be sure to keep the door open to come back to the schools.  For example, if the kids ask about politics, such as the war in Iraq or what we think of President Bush, they try to say as little as possible, and just stay neutral.  Olivia shared that a couple of times they had some run in with "skinheads". They are a very small group of kids overall, but they can be rude and mock the group.  Cathy was asked what she liked most about Kirov, and she shared what we have all found, we love the people. The people of Russia are for the most part incredibly nice, polite, and kind.  They are very interested in us and want to know more about us.  The other day Laurie kind of burst a bubble for me.  Those of us in the band were surprised at how it seemed that the kids treated us like "rock stars" in wanting to get our autographs. But Laurie told me that the entire team was being treated like that in the schools.  She said that kids were asking for her autograph as well as with the other team members.  Actually, knowing that helped me relax a bit about the autograph thing and now some of us are trying to write encouraging words to the kids (like "Read the Bible and you will find out that God really loves you") besides just signing our names.  We're all quite popular with the kids.  Drew told me the other night how he was sitting with a group of boys at the concert and when Megan came by handing out tracts, the boys all lit up and wanted to talk to her.  They all eagerly took her tracts.  Back to our day yesterday - the band went to the "Technical College" and did a mini-concert with the group from St. Petersburg ("K-13").  We couldn't seem to get the portable sound system working right, but I'm not sure the kids noticed.  We performed in a small hall and the place was packed with a couple hundred kids, standing room only.  After singing, we were again mobbed for autographs.  We noticed that quite a few of the kids showed up later that night. After the concert at the college, we grabbed a quick bite to eat  at the college - there was a lady selling food at a table - for ten rubles (about $.30) I got something like a turnover, except it was filled with cabbage and onions, and a little pizza (though I was surprised when I bit into it, it tasted like pickles). Then we went back to the music hall to set back up for the evening concert.  When we started the last concert, the hall was absolutely packed (it was supposed to hold 700 people). Kids were standing up front by the stage; kids were milling around in foyer; we even opened up the balcony and it was pretty full as well.  Besides the usual bands, we had a special treat.  Caleb and Greg did a martial arts demonstration and broke a bunch of boards.  They had each board labeled with things like "pride", "hate", "drugs" and things like that.  Then one by one they broke the boards as an illustration of how Jesus can break the sin in our lives.  Since we couldn't find any concrete blocks to put the boards on, they had volunteers (like Drew and I) hold up the boards while they smashed through them.  The kids absolutely loved it.  Roger Stahlhut gave the message and for the first time of the week we asked kids to stand up if they had made a decision to accept Christ. I'm told 50-60 kids stood up. That's some pretty awesome fruit - and you all get some of that credit because of the support and prayers for the team.  I know that there were many, many more who are still thinking about Jesus.  The approach in Russia has not been to press for a decision.  The Russian people would be too polite and probably all come forward at an altar call so as not to offend the speaker.  But we are looking for sincere decisions, fruit that lasts.  So the approach has been to make sure the kids have really been thinking about Jesus, and waiting for them to understand what they're doing.  It's been a fantastic time of seeing God work.  After the concert, part of the team headed back to the hotel and a few of us stayed back to pack up the equipment.  We got back to the hotel around 11:00 p.m. and stayed up another hour or so talking and fellowshipping.  Today is supposed to be pretty much free time, and we're supposed to be packed up and back on the train by 8:00 p.m. tonight.  We'll be spending the night on the train in those sleeper cars, then arrive back at Moscow (12 hours later) on Wednesday morning.  Then Wednesday night we'll get on a train to St. Petersburg (8 hours) and spend Thursday sightseeing in what is supposed to be Russia's most beautiful city.  Then Thursday night we get back on the train to Moscow and go straight to the airport where our flight leaves Friday around 1:30 p.m.  We should be back in L.A. by 9:00 p.m. that same day (with time changes and layovers it's about 17 hours of flying).  I'm not sure if I'll get a chance to write again so in case I don't - please know that we all miss you and love you and will see you on Sunday morning in church!!!  - Rich

 

Journal9 - Wednesday morning, 9/24, 8:00 a.m., on the train to Moscow - Yesterday was our chance to finally see the city of Kirov. We had breakfast at 9:00, devotions at 10:00, had an encouraging wrap-up talk from George Bryson, and then packed up our rooms.  We then had free time from noon until 5:30 p.m. I went in a group with Caleb, Kim, Greg, Megan, and Laurie.  They had a couple of local gals lined up to show us around Kirov. We walked to the old part of town (the town dates back to the 1300s) and ran into a class of college students who were taking a class on how to give tours of Kirov. So we tagged along and had an incredibly great time.  Some of the students had also been to our concerts and they hung around with us the entire afternoon.  One fellow, named Igor was a great joy to be with. He is very open to the Lord and we gave him a Bible before we left.  We got a great tour of Kirov, seeing things we hadn't seen before, old buildings, a monastery, a very old wood-log house, a museum, stuff like that.  We got back to the hotel at 5:00, had dinner, then got on a bus and got to the train station.  About fifty kids from Kirov showed up to see us off.  Very, very touching. We want to come back. George asked us pastors to consider adopting a church in Russia and I think we've found our place.  We've now been riding for about twelve hours, and still have an hour to go. When we get to Moscow, we've been promised to be taken to McDonald's for breakfast, then off to the Bible College Dorm for a quick shower.  We're going to spend the day in Moscow, then onto another train to St. Petersburg.  What have we been learning?  Here's from Mike Chapman - "God is teaching me to walk fully in His Spirit and to rely totally upon Him and to do spiritual warfare for ministering the gospel" (Mike has prayed with something like 16 people to receive Christ this week).  This from Martin Galante - "The Lord has been showing me to trust Him fully in everything I do and that people are people regardless of who they are or what country they are from, and that He truly is the God of miracles." (Martin has also become seriously addicted to coffee :-)) We love you all and miss you so much. Hardly wait to get home...

 

Journal10 - Thursday morning, 9/25, 7:30 a.m., on a train somewhere between Moscow and St. Petersburg ("St. Pete") - Yesterday was our Moscow day. We arrived on a train at Moscow about 10:00 a.m. and were loaded onto a bus and taken to a McDonald's for breakfast/lunch.  I didn't think a Big Mac could taste so good! Then it was off to the Calvary Moscow Bible College Dorm.  We spent a couple of hours taking turns getting showers (five showers for fifty people). The quarters were a bit cramped for all the folks, but we eventually all enjoyed a great shower.  There are some things you just take for granted, like a hot shower every morning.  We were then instructed to pack our backpacks for the next day's trip to St. Pete, leaving the majority of our luggage at the dorm.  We then loaded onto the bus and were taken to downtown Moscow where we divided up into groups for an afternoon of sightseeing/shopping.  Except it took us a while to get there.  We experienced a bit of the Moscow gridlock - I think we went about a quarter of a mile in an hour at one point.  I would have hated to have been the bus driver, maneuvering through crowded streets with crazy drivers (apologies to all Russians, but the Russians tell me this is the case). The Fullerton group was assigned two translators (Gene and Mosha) and we headed off to Arbach Street. We decided to take the famous Moscow "Metro" to get there.  It's Moscow's subway system and it's definitely an "E" ticket.  It only cost us ten rubles (about $.30) for the whole round trip - and what a TRIP!  The subway stations are absolutely beautiful, lots of artwork and mosaics.  You get to the trains by going deep, deep, DEEP underground.  When the train pulls up, you've only got few seconds to get on before it ROARS off.  The train is very fast, and yet so smooth you can stand up through the whole ride. We arrived at Arbach Street. Think of Downtown Disney on steroids.  It's a couple of miles long, only pedestrian traffic, venders asking you to buy their souvenirs, musicians and acrobats out to perform for you, all sorts of stuff. Our Fullerton group broke up into two groups and agreed to meet up at the end of the street.  I was with the "guy" group, supposedly weren't going to do as much "shopping" as the gals.  The funny thing is that I think our group ended up bartering and buying more than the gals and the gals even got to sit down and have some coffee! After our trip down Arbach Street, we got back on to the Metro and met the rest of the team at the bus.  Then it was off to some restaurants for dinner (choice:  fried chicken or pizza, I chose chicken). We had a great dinner and then got back on to the bus and headed for the train station. Moscow has five train stations and we headed to a new one for us to take the train to St. Pete.  We arrived at the station about 11:30 p.m., got onto our sleeper cars and settled down for the night ride. We're now about an hour outside of the city, located to the north of Moscow.  We're seeing a lot of frost on the ground, it looks as if it will be much colder up here.  Moscow was actually unusually warm, probably in the high 60's, but not so in St. Pete.  Our plan for the day is to spend the day seeing the crown jewel city of Russia, then hopping back onto another night train back to Moscow, back to the dorms to collect our luggage and then straight to the airport for our 1:30 p.m. flight.  We are anxiously waiting to see you all again.  Lots of love, Rich.

 

 

Journal11 - Friday afternoon?, 9/26, 7:30 p.m. Moscow time, somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean between Moscow and New York - The last couple of days have all kind of run together for us, our official "sightseeing" days.  Last time I wrote we were pulling into St. Pete on a train.  When we arrived at St. Petersburg, we were greeted by some of our friends from the Kirov outreach (including our friend Mike the sound guy).  We loaded ourselves onto a bus and began our journey into the city known as the jewel of Russia.  We went downtown where we were taken to a restaurant and had some breakfast (I know, time for the breakfast report - we had an omelet, a turnover with some kind of meat filling, and those incredible Russian pancakes, this time with a strawberry topping.).  Mike got some of our money changed (we were running low of rubles) while we ate and then we got back on the bus to see the city.  One of the places we stopped was St. Isaac's Cathedral, an incredibly huge structure that was absolutely ... amazing.  It felt like we were going through something like the Sistine Chapel with all sorts of paintings and mosaics on the walls and ceilings, gold leaf covering just about everything.  Huge ceilings, huge pillars, it made your head spin.  We then got back onto the bus and drove through some of the city.  St. Petersburg is the most "European" city in Russia.  They just celebrated the 300th anniversary of the city and it was in great condition.  The other cities of Russia we saw were pretty dirty and run down.  St. Pete was just the opposite. It's known as the "Venice" of the north, there are canals and bridges everywhere.  We stopped for a few minutes at the "Winter Palace" (again, just huge), then we stopped at a "flea market" to buy some souvenirs.  The vendors were letting go of their stuff for a bit cheaper in Moscow, we were told it was because St. Pete gets much colder and winter comes earlier, so they wanted to sell as much as they could while the weather was still fine.  And what wonderful weather it was too.  We have expected nothing but freezing temperatures, but even in St. Pete, the weather was pretty mild, just a light coat was needed.  At the flea market we haggled for stuff like dolls, jewelry, chess sets, hats, and t-shirts.  Then we got back onto the bus and went off to the city of Pushkin (45 minutes away) to see Catherine the Great's "Summer Palace". Think of Hearst Castle being a small model of what the Czars created.  We wanted to take a tour of the museum/castle, but we were running a bit low on cash and the tour was 400 rubles (about $12) per person (400 if you were American, Russians got in for 100 rubles).  We opted to walk through the castle "garden", a combination of manicured lawns, flower beds, ponds, lakes, forests (yes, forests) and various buildings.  It took us an hour just to make a quick walk through Catherine's backyard.  We stopped and posed for a group photo and then went back to St. Pete for dinner.  We went to an interesting restaurant, it was an "African" restaurant, owned by Russians, and served Mexican food.  We had burritos and enchiladas, but I have to tell you it wasn't exactly like the Mexican food back home.  After dinner we walked through the city a bit to get to the train station. We got on our train at 11:30 p.m. to go back to Moscow, settled down into our cabins, and tried to get a couple of hours of sleep.  We had a short night as the train arrived in Moscow at 6:30 a.m. We were met by some of the Moscow staff, loaded onto a double-decker bus and went in search of breakfast.  We found a McDonald's but had to wait for them to open before we could eat.  They opened at 8:00 a.m., and the Russians don't have breakfast at McDonald's - we had hamburgers instead.  After breakfast we headed back to the Moscow Bible College dorm where we picked up the luggage we left off earlier and got ready to head for the airport.  Getting fifty Americans through customs and security checks wasn't an easy thing, but George Bryson and his staff do an amazing job with it all.  Of course with my ten day old goatee and three day beard stubble, yours truly must have looked kind of suspicious.  There were two security checks and I got pulled out and checked at each one.  Hey, it's pretty cool to see how thorough the Russians are at their airport, it may be a bit inconvenient, but it's nice to feel safe when you get on the airplane (which I just barely did before we took off).  We've now been in the air for about six and a half hours - have been served a great dinner, shown two movies, and still have three and a half hours until we arrive at JFK airport in New York.  We're anxiously counting the hours to see our families at home - looking forward to lots of hugs and kisses!  - Rich 

Journal12 - Saturday evening, 8:30 p.m., back home in California - I thought I'd write one last little note to cap off the previous journals.  Yes, we made it home!!!!!  When we arrived in New York, it took about an hour to get through customs and passport control (huge lines), picking up and rechecking in our luggage, but we finally made it to the gate where our flight to California would leave from.  You know, it was quite a wonderful feeling being back in New York.  Seeing signs on the walls that you could read. Officials speaking to you in English.  Something wonderful about being back in the ol' U.S.A.  We are a truly blessed nation and I'm afraid that at times we take our blessings a bit much for granted.  Anyway, we had about an hour before our plane left, and the airport in New York is like a little city, lots of shops, BATHROOMS, and most important of all ... Starbucks. Greg and Craig both spotted people wandering around carrying Starbucks coffee and before you knew it all three of us were in line.  Craig said that some people kiss the ground when they get back to America ... We went to Starbucks.  We also went to a newsstand to pick up some magazines (in English), had a few minutes to make some calls home, and got on our plane. I know it was only a five hour flight, but considering we'd been up for twenty five hours with very little sleep, and it was our final leg home, it seemed like forever.  It was also kind of funny towards the end of the flight how most of the plane was asleep, even though it was only seven o'clock at night.  On this last flight my seat partner (Bill Bullington, pastor at Apple Valley) and I were blessed to sit with a charming Buddhist gal named Ingrid.  She was from Taiwan, had just graduated from a University in New York (with a degree in physics), and was on her way to California to visit her sister.  She had two pastors on her right (Bill and I), one pastor across the aisle on her left (John), another pastor in front of her (Greg), another pastor behind her (Roger), and then George walked up and we had a wonderful time talking about Jesus.  Pray that the seeds planted would find good soil.  You know, even though we've left Russia, there are still plenty of opportunities to share our love for Jesus with people.  It's not something you have to stress over; it's a wonderful privilege and joy we have.  As we flew over L.A., we all got kind of excited.  The plane landed, we got our stuff together and began the walk to get our luggage where we also found lots of family and friends waiting.  It was very good to see my wife and kids.  Very good. Very, very good.  This whole trip has been simply amazing.  There's lots about going to Russia that is quite a hardship.  It costs a lot.  There are not a lot of comforts along the way.  You are stretched in just about every way imaginable.  But the way that God works and the lives that He touches using ordinary people like us ... I think we're going back.  Count on it. Maybe next time some of you might go as well.  See you in church tomorrow!!! - lots of love, Rich.