From Russia with Love Part 1: A study in contradictions


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This morning I was awakened before 6am by the sound of a Russian road crew working to patch a semi-paved street outside my hotel window. It gave me my first bit of free time since arriving in Ivanovo to write a brief report on this trip for you faithful followers of The Awesomeness Conspiracy. It also gave me a chance to reflect on the contradictions that so far for me have defined my experience in Russia.
Our team of four arrived here late Sunday evening after an exhausting 24 hours-plus of travel from Pittsburgh via New York and Moscow. Since coming to Ivanovo we’ve spent most of our time in a tiny ministry center run by Orphan’s Tree where young families and teenage orphans come every afternoon. I’ll spend much more time on the specific work of the ministry center in a later post. The rest of our time has been spent visiting local sites like a huge textile center (Ivanovo was once the textile capital of Russia) that I can best describe as a sort of outlet mall for all things fabric, and one of the technical schools where many of the students from the ministry center attend. I’ll write more about that remarkable experience in a future post as well.
What strikes me most about our visit so far and our host city is the overwhelming sense of contradiction in almost everything. Russia is not a “third world” country by any means. In most places, if it weren’t for all the signs being in Cyrillic, Ivanovo looks very similar to most American cities…there are shopping malls, restaurants, museums, churches, hotels, markets, and everything else you’d expect in a city of roughly 400,000.
What’s interesting is that there’s really no separation between commercial and residential areas. Modern architecture sits side-by-side with blighted buildings. Paved streets are lined by dirt sidewalks. Just across from our hotel is a 10-story tenement building overlooking a lovely riverfront park with an ultra-modern shopping mall right next door.
Then there is the contradiction of this whole trip. To most people, the idea of a “mission trip” means going to a place mired in extreme poverty and trying to “fix” infrastructure, economic conditions, etc.
For us, though, the poverty we’re dealing with is more of the emotional variety. The teenagers & young adults that come to the ministry center mostly grew up in orphanages, where their lives were largely managed for them. Now they find themselves in a world where they have no skills for the basics of relationship building and trust necessary to survive and thrive in their culture. Last night we took about 10 boys ranging from 15-22 years old to the mall where we played air hockey and ate McDonald’s in the food court. Something American teenagers utterly take for granted was like a trip to Disneyland for my new young Russian friends.
We still have three days in Ivanovo, and I can already tell it won’t be nearly enough time to spend with these amazing people. I can only hope they’re receiving even a small portion of what they’ve already given me.

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3 thoughts on “From Russia with Love Part 1: A study in contradictions

  1. Pingback: From Russia With Love Part 2: Love Wins | the awesomeness conspiracy

  2. Pingback: From Russia With Love Part 3: Breaking the Cycle | the awesomeness conspiracy

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