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Sketches from Tatarstan and Bashkortostan

95-year-old Brother Rodion

95-year-old Brother Rodion

There are 47 brothers and sisters in these independent republics within the Russian Federation, but they're spread over a wide area and there's a desperate need for fellowship. So we set out to visit as many as we could in eleven days. As many as could make it to Kazan, the capital city of Tatarstan, assembled there for a two-day Mini Bible School in a working men's hostel.

Conditions were a mite primitive, but the fellowship was tangible. Thirteen brothers and sisters and five children attended, giving a total congregation of 21 including the two of us and our interpreter, Sister Elena Belyaeva from Chelyabinsk.

Neither of us speaks Russian, so when George took the adults for Bible studies in one room while Gill had the children for Bible stories and activities on Daniel in another, we had a problem. Gill had had the basic stories translated into Russian and printed in advance and had brought with her all the materials and equipment required for the activities. All she needed now was a Russian-speaking brother or sister to read the story while she guided the children with the handicrafts. It worked like a dream, with the children entering into the activities with gusto. They couldn't wait to show off their work to the adults.

The hostel having no eating facility, we brought bread, sausage, cheese, fruit and biscuits on the first day, while bottled water and Coca-Cola was drunk by the gallon (it was hot!). A young brother was despatched at regular intervals to buy more. The sole limitation on the rate of consumption was the fact that we had only three cups for the 21 of us, but we overcame this by doing a deal to buy 20 plastic cups from a burger stall at 50 kopeks (1 UK penny) each. On the second day we all walked to a nearby market and ordered meals from an Uzbekistani takeaway, including such delicacies as samsa [a kind of samosa] and plov [a mixture of meat, rice, carrot and onion].

Some brothers and sisters in Kazan didn't make it to the Mini Bible School and we set two days aside to seek them out. In the event, we spent half a day at the station booking tickets for the rest of our trip, and found that one of the trains we'd planned to use didn't run on the day we needed it. So plans were revised, telegrams dispatched to brothers and sisters in distant parts to tell them about the changes, and we were left with only half a day for our two days of planned visits. Hiring a taxi for an entire afternoon became an expensive necessity, but proved worth every kopek.

The highlight was visiting 95-year-old Brother Rodion. He was born seven years before the Russian Revolution and born again seven years ago. Living alone, housebound, isolated and ill, he has made himself a walking stick from a broom handle. Faith shines out of this brother's face. He was delighted to welcome us and we read, wept and prayed with him.

George and Gill MacDonald
from 'The Bible Missionary', no. 177, July 2005

Information about Russia