It's been less than a week since my last post but my oh my I have so much to say. We didn't have internet in Russia so I have a lot of catching up to do... This is my warning you may not want to read this post in it's entirety in one sitting. Alright, in the wise words of my father, "you can't say I didn't warn ya!"
On our way out of Lithuania we stopped at a place they called the hill of crosses. This hill was filled with over one-hundred thousand crosses that people have made/bought and dedicated for various reasons. The hill came about during the time the Soviet's controlled Lithuania. It was a silent protest against the Soviet's to say they wanted a free country and they had faith that God was going to give them that country. In Soviet time religion was highly looked down upon and usually punished in various ways, sometimes with the loss of life.
Taking the mile walk up to the hill was very sobering in a way. I walked slowly taking it all in imagining each individual who snuck up the hill and placed their crosses on it. As I walked through all of the crosses I could imagine the prayers that were being poured out to God as people placed their crosses on the hill. It was truly a time of no words. I didn't know what to say. I still don't know what to say. Praise the Lord, praise his name that there is so much more to live for in this world.
On a lighter note, I finally rode an overnight sleeper train. There is a picture of my buddy Chris modeling off his luggage, with his two inch chrome wheels, before we got on the train. To be honest I was very excited to take this 14 hour train ride to Russia. And to be even more honest, that excitement quickly vanished. Wow that was an experience. Now everyone knows I'm not a dramatic person, so I'm just going to tell you the facts.
-There were four grown men to one berth (That's what they call a "room").
-The berth was smaller than the crib I slept in when I was first born (but seriously it wasn't much bigger)
-There was no A/C or windows to even crack or open
-And did I mention there were four grown men in that small enclosed area.
Anyway after we finally squished all of our luggage in every open inch of the room we sat down on top of it/our beds. I got my Business Analysis papers done from our previous corporate visits and tried to lay down. I don't want to be graphic but I stripped down and laid completely still on my bed and still sweat flowed like the Nile off of me. I'm not even going to go into the hour of the train being stopped and dead silence when the Russian border police came on the train and checked our passports. Those guys aren't necessarily worried about making us enjoy our experience on the train. Oh and I won't mention them wanting us to pull our bags out of all the places we stuffed them away and let the nice German Shepard with huge fangs sniff them for ten minutes. Anyway I finally got to sleep and woke up in Russia!
Wow was I excited when I woke up. Okay that's a lie. Who really is excited the moment they wake up? Actually when I woke up I felt so sweaty and sticky and I had to find my dress clothes and it was all a mess... but that's another story for another time. Needless to say we were in Moscow! Wow that city is awesome. I was so excited when I started to see some of the things that I've only read about in text books. I walked across the red square, where a little more than 20 yrs ago no American could walk across. I got to take a look at the Kremlin, which is the Government buildings/fortresses... Out of these buildings flowed so much oppression and suffering, and now there's hope. It was all a pretty surreal experience.
Then came the Russian Ballet!! What the?! In my last post I said I would conquer something... well that something was sitting through 3 acts of the Russian Ballet! I mean after the first one I was like Oh Bravo... that was a cool experience and started to get up and walk out. Then everyone said it was intermission and to sit back down... so I mentally prepared myself for the next act by singing Brad Paisley's song "I'm still a guy". The second act came and went and I just focused on being "Cultured" and tried to have an open mind. Again I got up to leave and even walked to the doors and my classmates yelled and said, "Wait, bro there's another act." I turned around, my face as pale as a ghost and said alright, I'll be right there. I went to the bathroom threw up a little and got back in my seat. Barely made it through the last act and sprinted to the bus. It was cool to see the famous "Russian Ballet" I just wasn't mentally prepared.
Sunday was my absolute favorite day in Russia! We went to a little baptist church 2 hours from Moscow. It was a small church with older and younger people. When we got there they were singing in Russian, and since I only know ten phrases in Russian I couldn't follow along very well. (On a side note Chris and I decided to learn ten phrases in every country we go too... It's pretty comical to say the least.) Anyway since I didn't know what they were saying I just stood and watched.
A fierce wave of emotion came over me as I watched this row of elderly women passionately and freely worship God. These women had to be in there late 70's and definitely lived during the time of the Soviet Reign. I'm sure they were oppressed for years and could not worship openly. Now, you couldn't stop them from worshiping. One of the older Women got up and came back in ten minutes later with fresh cut flowers. She laid them on the pulpit and smiled at the pastor. The pastor was quite a bit younger than them and I could tell he had a deep respect for these older ladies. Another one of the ladies got up out of her seat and came back with a vase full of water to put the flowers in. It was amazing to see these women be so free.
All of this was occurring while everyone else was singing. After the singing the rest of the service was kicked off by prayers form this row of older ladies. Then the pastor called a few of our group members forward to lead a song and share some thoughts. After that the pastor gave an inspiring message that was translated for us and again the older ladies closed the service with prayer. It was so amazing to see this church mix it's contemporary style with such a deep respect for the elders.
Afterward one of the older ladies pulled me over and had one of her younger friends translate. She shared with me how thankful she was to worship with us and how blessed she felt by us coming. I told her how much she touched me and we just smiled. Another one of the older laddies grabbed my hand and said something in Russian that I couldn't understand but I could feel it. If that makes sense. I knew what her eyes and her heart and her touch said. Gosh, that's how I want to be. I want to be so filled with the Lord that even if people don't understand me they can understand that my touch, and my eyes, and my heart are all saying God loves you, I thank God for making you.
Later that evening we went to the Russian Circus which was by far the most amazing circus I've ever been to. Wow I don't even know how to explain it all, but I know is that I never imagined the human body could do half the stuff they did. Also there was an act of the circus dedicated to poodle tricks and that made me think of my mom and her dogs. She would have loved it. I now have a new respect for poodles and when I get home I'm putting my mom's dogs through vigorous training.
I'm trying to rap this up fast for you all... so last night we flew into Amsterdam and then we drove to Germany today. We stopped and toured the John Deere plant which made my life!!! Wow that was amazing. I was like a little kid in a candy shop. I asked so many questions our tour guide stopped calling on me. Still, it was by far the best corporate visit I'm going to have while I'm over here! I know it. They took us through the whole factory and I got to see part by part how the tractors were made. If anyone wants to check it out sometime, call me and I'll go to the one in Iowa with you for sure!!
On our drive from Amsterdam to Germany I was amazed at how beautiful it is. It really is the most beautiful countryside I've ever seen. It has mountains and crops and rivers and historical buildings and castles. It is absolutely incredible. We are staying here until next Tuesday, which I"m excited about. We are right on the edge of a river and a mountain and then to the other side of the town is beautiful farm land and hills. The town is breathtaking. It has old paver stone roads but then it has tons of local stores and also department stores. It has the best of both worlds. It is a modern town with an old feel.
We have four class sessions tomorrow and I'm getting sick. Pray for me. I think it's because I've been drinking the water maybe or maybe not. I figure my body will adapt eventually. I just have to break this headache I have. I know every medical professional would be so mad at me but it's nothing 6 Advil can't fix. Much love and sorry this post was so long. Love and miss you all. God bless.