From Russia With Love

Well, our final days in Russia have been quite the adventure. From saying our goodbyes at the orphanage to seeing more beautiful sights around the city, we have made these days count. Here is a recap:

Sunday (in the 90 degree heat), we went to our final church service and our favorite post-church food spot, the Teaspoon. We had our final servings of borsch and blini (crêpes), which were delicious as always. After, the team went to the Summer Gardens and had a picnic, spending some quality time in the city together for our final days. It was absolutely gorgeous. I am continually reminded how blessed I am by this remarkable team and the time we spend together – there’s never a dull moment.

Yesterday was our last day at the orphanage. The kids were having a rough Monday, but we enjoyed being at the playground and doing our final craft with them! It was so awesome that they remembered us and the time we spent with them before we left for camp. It was as if no time had passed. We surprised the workers at the orphanage by speaking much better Russian than we did before. One said, “They speak!” Being at camp for ten days and helping with the teens there definitely helped our language skills more than we thought. We ended our time with the teens. We taught them how to play American Football – a more revised version – and played for about 40 minutes. Krista explained the rules, and made sure we didn’t cheat (although that happened anyway). Personally, that was the highlight of our time with them. They’ve been wanting to play for a while now, and they had a football, so we figured it would be a good treat for them and for us! We also played a few rounds of volleyball and came to a close with making friendship bracelets in a common color so we would remember each other. Well, Krista, McKenzie, and I made the bracelets while the guys held the strings for us. It was funny to see the tough guys holding the strings and wanting the bracelets afterward. One guy said, “Let’s just make bracelets and talk.” It showed us that they had become comfortable enough with us to just sit and be. To us, that meant more than anything. It was hard to say goodbye to our new friends, but we know that God has them in His hand, no matter where their paths lead them.

We said our goodbyes and took a few last pictures together, then headed our separate ways. Tanya took us to an authentic Russian restaurant, Dachniki, set up like a dacha, which is a Russian summer home. It was so cute. They had a fairytale cartoon playing about three sisters and a king, Tanya was feeling nostalgic telling us about it. It was such a good way to end our day together as a team, and the palemini, morse, and dessert helped too. 

Today, on this not-so-hot Tuesday, the girls went to the State Political History Museum and took our last metro rides in St. Petersburg. It was bittersweet, I suppose. Although at one point I’m sure we stopped breathing (except for Tanya) when the metro train stopped for about ten minutes in the middle of the tunnel. Tanya later told us the trains were backed up because one left later than it was supposed to. No worries, in the end! Tonight, we are getting late night dessert and seeing the bridges in St. Petersburg all light up for the White Nights Summer Festival!

Tomorrow, we are going to Peterhof Palace – something Krista has been waiting for since the beginning of our trip – and walking around the gardens and enjoying a bring-your-own-PB&J lunch.

We are packing up and getting ready to say goodbye to this beautiful city and our host, who has been pretty awesome. Pray for safe travels (and our heavier suitcases) as we are all heading back to the States on Thursday. We are all so thankful for your support over the last six months and we can’t believe the trip is coming to a close. We look forward to sharing our experiences with you when we get the pleasure of seeing each and every one of you upon our return!

Friends, God is so good. He works in ways that we can never fully comprehend, and he has shown the four of us that anything is possible with Him by our side. This last month of being in Russia has been a rollercoaster ride and we are thankful for every minute of it. We are walking away with memories and relationships that will last for a lifetime. Thank you again for supporting us, SPRINT, SunErgos International and the work that God is doing in Russia.

Little flock, over and out.

Home soon!

Hello, friends!

After a month in Russia, the team will return to the States Thursday night.  As you prepare to receive them, here are some things I hope you’ll think about to help the team make the most of this trip.

Here’s flight information for those of you meeting students at the airport:

  • Krista, McKenzie and Kalie return to Seattle on July 31 at 9:25 PM on Finnair #5737, operated by American Airlines.
  • Thaddaeus returns to Seattle on July 31 at 11:23 PM on Alaska #463.

As the group returns, they’ll continue to think through this experience and its implications for their lives.  It’s likely that this mental processing will involve at least some of these elements:

  • Relief upon returning to familiar surroundings,
  • Frustration with aspects of home culture that appear less desirable than the cultural values experienced during the SPRINT experience,
  • Sadness and joy over relationships and memories developed during the trip,
  • And hopefully, Resolve to incorporate the learning from this trip into daily life as life moves on.

It’s our hope that SPRINT participants will return to “life as usual” with expanded worldviews and a clearer sense of God’s work in their lives.  The learning process continues after the trip experience; students will participate in a debriefing gathering in October, and we’ll encourage them to keep meeting together to share the story of their host’s work and encourage future generations of SPRINT participants to serve.

I encourage you to give your student time to catch up on sleep, then set aside an extended period of time to share pictures and stories.  Don’t expect completely-formed opinions immediately; the reflection process takes time.  We remind returning SPRINTers that not everyone will have time to hear the whole story, but that they should find a few people with whom to share the longer, more in-depth account. 

You might appreciate this perspective on returning to America in a blog post from Emily Brown, a former SPRINTer who spent the past year in Zambia with the Mennonite Central Committee.  As Emily looks forward to her own return home she brings up a number of feelings that will also be relevant to SPRINTers in this season.  http://emilybrowntozambia.wordpress.com/2014/06/25/the-countdown-begins/

I’ve mailed team members a copy of the Global Citizen Journal, published by the Krista Foundation for Global Citizenship to help them think through their experience as they move forward.  If you have time I’d encourage you to talk though some of these materials with your student.  Take a look at some of those articles here: http://www.kristafoundation.org/index.cfm/page/the-global-citizen-journal-5/

Thanks for your support of students on this team!   Please let me know if you have questions.

Owen Sallee

SPRINT Advisor

owen@spu.edu

Update from the Gulf of Finland

Here’s an email from Tanya, SunErgos’ director, at the Gulf of Finland where the team is working alongside a camp program for Russian youth with disabilities:

Hi Owen.

Writing to you from the Gulf of Finland.

The team is doing very well. We had some colds that two girls had, but they are doing better. We had some difficulty adjusting to camping conditions, but everyone is slowly getting used to sleeping in tents and eating food made on the bonfire.

Please let their family know that everyone is doing great and that they have some great kids to be proud of!!

I will have internet access after the 23rd. 

-Tanya.

Sunday Funday!

Hey( or Privyet )Family and Friends!
Easily said that so far so good. It has been an exciting last few days getting more situated with not only our team and lovely host but with Russia as well. Whether it be riding the metro, eating crêpes, exploring ornate cathedrals, attending a local church service, or outlining our lesson plans for our upcoming time at the orphanage each moment has proven to be a an enriching one. Our host has been great at giving us more than just a tourist exploration of St. Petersburg as we’ve gotten to travel as the fellow Russians do. For one, we’ve learned that Krista ( and the majority of us) don’t speak Russian but we do know to always bring a jacket with you as the weather in St. Petersburg is very unpredictable. We have yet to see the beautiful sunset, as we are usually snoozing by the time the sun does its thing. We are told it gets dark after midnight!Every day we are grateful as we learn more and more about our host country. I can easily speak for us all in saying we are anxious for tomorrow and finally getting to build relationships with the kids at the orphanage.
Thanks for your support and God bless!
Love,
Russia SPRINT team (written by McKenzie)