I have been involved in the life of the church since May of 1959, most notably in our woodshop and as an outreach volunteer on mission trips. Starting in 1986 with a trip to Jamaica, I have been on 24 St. Luke’s sponsored mission trips in a variety of countries over almost 30 years. My professional training as a nurse was utilized during many of the trips, but I was called into service to do anything that needed doing like installing siding, carrying wheelbarrows of rocks and painting.
One thing that was immediately apparent anywhere we traveled was that though we lived in different circumstances, we had commonalities. On a trip to Mozhaysk, Russia in 1994 we were stared at as we made our way around town; they had only been open to visits from foreigners for a year and were still unused to seeing outsiders. Our task was to restore a monastery that the state had returned to the Russian Orthodox church, right down to replacing the floor that the Soviets had carried off. As I was clearing out the weed patch next to the church I was helped by some Russian students and a French priest and his scouts. While Russian MiGs flew overhead, we all sang “Yesterday” by the Beatles and felt very unified by the music despite our language barrier.
My most memorable moment on a mission trip came in 1995 in Tomsk, Russia. I met a 17-year-old named Max on that trip. As we sat down to say a prayer for the first time, it became apparent that Max was unclear how to proceed. I whispered to him to bow his head and follow along and he did, but then informed us he was a non-believer. A few of us talked to him a lot to try to teach him about Jesus. We even held communion with grape juice and goldfish (two items that traveled well!). Later we would learn from Max’s mother why he characterized himself as a non-believer. For his own safety, she had never discussed the Bible or any of its teachings with Max to keep him safe. At the time in school, children were being asked to relay Bible stories; any child that could was likely to return home and find that their parents had been murdered for sharing their Christian beliefs.
We went back to Tomsk many times from the mid-to-late 1990s. It was gratifying to be so warmly received each time as the people we had helped the previous year rushed to welcome us back. It was also encouraging to see how each year the living situation improved for the people of Tomsk. Initially, when we went, food was scarce but the last time we visited they even had some name brand cosmetics available in stores. It has been a blessing to see people around the world touched by the love and generosity that St. Luke’s sends forth on the missions we undertake.