“Bridges to Mission – Russia”“Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works.” Hebrews 10:23-24
On the recent Bridges Mission to Russia, Rev. John Brantley and I left our NGUMC team in Moscow to travel 90 minutes south to Serpukhov, a town of 200,000. Our mission was to visit the small United Methodist church there and to spend the night. After an hour trip by metro subway and a 90-minute bus ride through dacha villages and countryside, we were dropped off with a 25-minute walk to the meeting place.
As dusk fell, we found ourselves in a 150-year-old home that serves as a house church for the congregation. Viktor, the Russian United Methodist pastor of Serpukhovo UMC, told us through his thick English that long ago the home would have belonged to a merchant. Today the home, located in the oldest part of town, houses the elderly Lydia, who also offers the space for church and for the first visit by American clergy.
Whenever I hear the term “babushka” I will picture Lydia (shown on the left in the photo, preparing the table).
Upon arriving at the home church, John and I went up the dimly lit stairs having no idea what the evening agenda would be. A number of elderly people greeted us, and as is the custom, we took off our shoes at the door and put on some worn, ill-fitting slippers. Ten of us sat in a 12 by 12 room, with only Victor to help with introductions and limited translation.
Finally, a young female interpreter arrived. It was obvious Anya had no idea she was assigned to translate for a Protestant church. Since Protestant and evangelical groups are outside the norm of Russian Orthodoxy and said to be cults that engage in questionable behaviors, this would be a big deal for a translator. Her hands shook so much that I wondered what script was running through her mind as she observed this meeting through the lens of her limited church and largely secular background. Thankfully, when the church meeting was over, Anya said she had learned a lot and was curious to know more about United Methodists.
The church meeting that night was what you might expect of Methodists anywhere in the world. We sang, we prayed, and we shared our stories of faith and church life in the U.S. and in Russia. And then, of course, we had a fellowship meal.
Through this shared experience, Anya, John, and I all saw the hopes and challenges of being a United Methodist in Russia. It was a memorable opportunity to build relationships, while at the same time personally experiencing Christ in fresh ways.
Rev. Scott Parrish