Peeling Back the Layers
Russia Jan 2020
"What would you see?"
Russia is a grand place. At nearly twice the size of the United States, it spans 6.6 million miles squared, stretching through almost every climate zone from arctic to desert over a landscape of plains intersected by mountains and rivers.
Rising out of that landscape to the west, Moscow dominates the modern scene as, not only the capital of today’s Federation but also the largest and most populated city in Europe with approximately 20 million residents in the metropolitan area. It is a melding of east and west with a vast history that can be seen in layers like the rings of an onion: From the heart of the Red Square where it began as a village in the 1100s, through the opulence of the czars, to the concrete severity of the Soviet era, and finally, to the edge of a modern megacity.
But what resides behind the glittering onion domes? What would you see if you stepped behind the cathedrals, beyond the ballets, and past the media plastered political seat of the Kremlin?
People. You would see people. You would step from the sketches of a postcard, and into the day to day lives of families struggling to make it to the end of the day in the harsh environment still bearing the cold fingerprints of its past.
But look a little deeper. Peel back one more layer. You would see something working in the background to radically change the lives of those very same people. You would see the Church–not the Orthodox facade surrounded by its overwhelming austerity–no, the real Church.
The body of Christ is alive and well on the frontlines of poverty and not afraid to roll up its sleeves as Christ did, to be a servant, to wash feet, and dine with those truly in need. Perhaps there is no better time to see this than at Christmas.
It is the second week of January* and the city center is astir with the rush, the crowd, the twinkling lights, all beneath the gaze of St. Basil’s Cathedral. It’s very exciting, but much like the first Christmas we’ll leave all that far behind and journey away from the pomp and splendor to see the true celebration of Christ’s birth.
Several churches in the villages surrounding Moscow have been working together for months preparing fun Christmas programs for the poverty-stricken families in their communities. Lines have been memorized, costumes created, songs rehearsed, and the boxes from Bible Mission packed with candy and children’s Bibles are ready to go.
Soon they arrive. At first glance, they look like children you might meet at any church event, but again, if you peel back the layers, you would see the difficult circumstances they are facing. You would meet children like Alina and her brothers being raised by their aunt and grandparents because their mom lost custody. You would meet children who are shunned by society due to disabilities, some who have never known their real fathers, and others whose parents struggle with alcoholism and drug addiction. Step into their homes, and you would see the abject poverty of families crowded into the tiny rooms of concrete apartment blocks left to decay after the Iron Curtain fell. In the villages, they might live in ramshackle homes patchworked together with no running water and little sanitation. But you would also see a true hunger for the Gospel.
We will join them for several hours at the Churches in Tula, Plavsk, Vyshni Volotchock, Noginsk, and Mytyshi–places that most people will never visit, but where the Joy of Christmas shines in the face of each child as they hear of the God who loves them and cares for them through the story of Christ’s birth. We will help give out the boxes full of candy and a Nativity diorama they can assemble and share at home. And along with members of the local church, we will visit some of the families and widows to share the Gospel along with some much-needed supplies
*In Russia, Christmas is celebrated the second week of January.