Russia Trip Journal - June 20-27, 2013

The day had finally come! On June 24, a travel team from White Memorial attended the dedication of the Rodnik camp, a major outreach project of our mission partners in Smolensk, Russia. The old wooden camp building had been destroyed by arson in 2008, and many hours of personal labor and strong support from White Memorial had led to a new facility for church conferences and a summer camp. Completion was made possible by the 2012 Major Mission campaign at White Memorial. By early 2013, the new buildings were able to hold church conferences, including overnight stays. Early funds from the 2013 Major Mission campaign currently in progress made it possible to house around 50 campers in several sessions beginning on dedication day, June 24. The trip participants had played significant roles in the rebuilding process; they were excellent representatives for White Memorial. This was not a sight-seeing excursion; the camp dedication was the sole focus.

This is the journal of the trip experiences, accompanied by a photo scrapbook.

Thursday/Friday, June 20/21 - Written by Cornelius Swart 20th was D. Day - departure day for an exciting, inspiring trip to our dear friends in Smokensk. Gary Fulton, Joan DeBruyn, Lois Johnson (Joan's niece), Tom Andrews, Ed McLean, Nancy McLean and I arrived at RDU, timely, with 10 large bags heavily filled with gifts for our Russian friends. No hitches. This was our first chance to meet Lois in person, although we have been in touch with her through skype and email. With hand bags and carry-ons we boarded and left on time. JFK was crowded as usual, but we were at the appropriate gate with time to spare. 30 left on time for our ten hour flight. As the plane followed a great circle that took us over the North Atlantic and into Moscow, this was a “no-dark” night. At Moscow we were greeted by Ellen Smith and Hart Nunnally. A joyous reunion. All bags arrived with us. A short train ride to the big train station. One obstacle—we were on the wrong side of the tracks. There was a tall staircase with a cross-over walk and then down to the train. Three groups were formed: one group went to the top with light baggage, one group stayed below to guard; the more able bodies carried the heavies to the top. The same procedure was used for coming down. cars for Smolensk are always at the furthest end of a long train. So, we proceeded - nine persons, ten large bags, nine carry-ons, and several hand bags. This is only a six hour trip. At Smokensk Ivan Popkov and Leonid Ignatenkov were there to greet us and to load and transport all of the luggage. Another joyful reunion. A short ride to the camp to be greeted by Victor. Yet another joyous reunion!

There it was—the beautiful Phoenix bird from the ashes—Rodnik!

Saturday, June 22 - Written by Tom Andrews was our first full day at Rodnik, after our first full night’s sleep since leaving Raleigh. After breakfast we toured the caretaker cottage and the main camp building. We all were blown away by what had been accomplished, with two well designed, spacious, practical, strong, fire-proof, functional and attractive buildings. (The main building's two upper floors are in use, while the basement remains unfinished storage area for now.) the day we helped with various tasks to put finishing touches on the camp for Monday’s opening. We also unloaded all our bags and sorted the contents by camp use,  orphanage use and nurse’s station use. We took a walk through the wildflower strewn woods to a German WWII cemetery, admiring a myriad of wildflowers along the way. We ate two meals  with Victor, Nadia, Olya, Leonid, Lena, Ivan and other church members, and finished the day with devotionals and bed.

Sunday, June 23 - Written by Joan DeBruyn worship in Smolensk is always a major highlight of our mission trips. This year was no exception. All around the church one can see and hear beauty - from the courtyard flowers to the sounds of Russian song to the innocence of participating children. Smolensk services last for about 2 hours. The service on Sunday had well over 6 musical presentations - by choir, by a small ensemble, 2 soloists, and congregational singing. Some songs set in Russian are straight out of a Baptist song book. Most of us could sing those pieces with them in English. were 3 sermons given- one of them by our own Gary Fulton. Three women came forward to read their own poems. Two little children gave impressive memorized readings. After an expression by members of concerns for prayer, and several greetings from other churches, another moving service ended. 

After lunch at Rodnik, we all pitched in to help get things ready for camp the next day. There were beds to make, balloons to blow up, floors to scrub, chairs to move -- so very much to do before the next morning.
As is our custom, our group met for devotions before going to bed. In sharing our reflections on the day, we all agreed that we were witness to a church that very much reminded us of the early church we read about in the Bible. Some of those greetings by Paul to specific churches could just as well be addressed to our friends at the church in Smolensk. 

Monday, June 24 - Written by Lois Johnson day of the Maiden Voyage of the camp, the campers came and the facility was dedicated.

Highlights of the day:
  • Cornelius and Joan purchased chairs for Victor and Nadia 
  • The children were registered for the camp and they love the T-shirts and chalkboard roll-ups that WMPC provided 
  • children had a health assessment by the camp nurses to assure that they don’t have anything contagious (required of Russian camps) 
  • We were all blessed by the sounds of children at play and were wowed by the respect and honor the children gave one another. 
  • The best is for last - Gary read the letter from White Memorial as part of the dedication ceremony and the wall hanging quilt was presented. Everyone was very thankful and touched by the presentation.

Tuesday, June 25 - Written by Ed McLean was another clear day with the first light of dawn breaking through our window at 4:20 a.m. and the sun rising at 5:15 to begin the first full day of camp. This was “Bright Day” with everyone wearing their brightest colors. By 8:30 the children and staff were doing their morning exercises. A sleepy but enthusiastic group of campers completed calisthenics, stretches, and a brisk run and then returned for prayers before breakfast. We enjoyed a traditional breakfast of hot corn kashi, cheese, sweet rolls, fruit bars and tea. After breakfast the children practiced for their skits for later in the day while we finished 
preparations for the necklace craft.
The children then had Bible lessons (some in the Gazebo), walks in the forest and singing. Craft time followed a second breakfast for the campers who chose between making necklaces with crosses, making foam designs and other crafts. Lunch and a rest period were followed by a snack and then some free time which meant playing Frisbee and soccer with the Americans. The late afternoon game was a scavenger type treasure hunt designed to introduce the children to the camp by getting them to find the answers to a list of questions, resulting in mayhem with children racing through the building counting rooms and asking Americans (in English only) about their favorite color or how many children they had. Nancy and I sat on the balcony and when we were found there was a short exchange of confused language and then a shout over the wall for someone with better English skills to come quickly.
During all this, a stack of lumber was delivered and Victor, Leonid, Sergei and 
few others built ten benches for outdoor seating. After dinner everyone assembled outside on those benches for the closing assembly of Bible stories, skits, songs and prayers. Again, this was followed by a snack, reading of fairy tales and then finally off to bed at about 11:00 p.m. This really can’t be described as “lights out” because twilight wasn’t until 11:30 p.m. and the moon was still very full. 

Wednesday June 26 - Written by Nancy McLean is our last day at Rodnik. This trip has been very different than the one we planned. Olya, Victor's daughter, is leading the camp, so she has been very busy but has shown herself to be a very capable and imaginative leader. We have spent all our time at the camp, except for Sunday worship and a few excursions. Today the children, 47 boys and girls aged 8 to 13 are settling into the routine and loving their time together. The day for campers starts at 8:30 a.m. with music (always on, except for rest time), exercise, then breakfast. breakfast, there is time to greet us with hugs as we sit outside on the benches completed yesterday afternoon. Many of the children are studying English, so we are able to communicate a lot, but hugs need no translation. Today is also "inside/out" day, which means I am wearing my shirt inside out, but the wild hairdo is optional. 

For crafts today, Joan and Lois are teaching a group to make Pysanky eggs, with Ellen translating. The rest of us are working on different crafts, I with beads, Ed and Tom with wood, Cornelius with tissue flowers, and Gary with foam figures. It’s great fun working with small groups of children and seeing their interest and intensity. They are very talented.
After lunch, there is 90 minutes of rest time, interrupted today by a real thunderstorm, the first rain since we have arrived. After rest and snack time, the games today are a series of relays with the 4 teams of campers, and we act as score keepers and judges, laughing and enjoying ourselves along with the campers and leaders.

The evening program is our last chance to see everyone and on signal from Olya, we are swarmed by everyone for a last round of hugs and goodbyes. Shortly after 10:00 p.m., we leave Rodnik for Smolensk, the 11:00 p.m. train to Moscow and our long trip home.

Thursday June 27 - Written by Gary Fulton was a travel day. We rode the overnight train from Smolensk to Moscow arriving in Moscow around 5:30 a.m. We then rode the airport express train to the airport to await our flight. Our group said goodbye to Hart Nunnally who accompanied us during our trip to Smolensk. We had a relaxing breakfast at an airport restaurant then said goodbye to our PCUSA missionary Ellen Smith. Our flights back to New York and then Raleigh were uneventful. As we arrived back at RDU we were greeted by Susie and Bill Jackson of the Russia committee and family members. We were all glad to be home and give thanks for a wonderful trip to visit our friends in Smolensk. It was good to see the rebuilt camp in Smolensk in use. The future is brighter for many children and youth because of our shared ministry in Smolensk.

Conclusion project has reached a wonderful milestone, but it is not complete. In addition to church conferences and summer camp, the Rodnik facility is planned to be a year round youth center. When additional funds are provided, it will be equipped to serve church youth from several congregations, unchurched community youth, and young people who have aged out of orphanages.