On Russia and Love

I interviewed one of my best friends, becuase well, I wanted to.  Also because it’s fun to hear from someone you know well, but in a different sort of way.

Most of all, I believe our stories are worth telling, and that when we do, the seemingly ordinary stuff of life can become something more.  Something special.

Her name is Allie, and if you knew her, you’d want to be her best friend too.  We met almost 4 years ago when Curtis and I took youth ministry jobs out of seminary.

Alie and me. Her trunk is temporary.

We sat on opposite corners of my giant couch, I opened the laptop, and gave her the first prompt that came to mind:

M:  Tell me how you fell in love with Russia.

A:  For me, I fell in love with missions first.  My relationship with Christ didn’t ‘click’ until I went on my first missions trip to Mexico.  Growing up in Westlake Village, you don’t really ‘need’ God.  That trip is when I saw people who depended on God for literal, physical needs.

It was also the first time I saw that my faith could be about others and not just about me.  My faith didn’t click before then, I think, because it always felt trivial when it was just about myself.  My faith.  My salvation.  Seeing that it wasn’t about me at all is when it became real.

At the same time, my dad was helping our church move into a new building.  We both went on our first missions trips the same year; he went to Russia.  He came back and our whole family changed.  He’d talk about the people, the culture, the orphanages.

One thing my dad noticed was how much joy the people had for the Lord.  He had that typical experience of questioning the messages from culture that link our stuff to our joy and seeing a group of Christians who defied that.

Something about that intrigued me, especially because I was just 13.  It totally contradicted my culture.

As silly as it sounds, my swim coach was Russian at the time.  And he was stoic, and harsh, and I kind of stereotyped him.  But somehow knowing him personally and then hearing from my dad sparked this love for Russia.  For the first time, I felt an urgency to share Christ with someone.  And I don’t mean just words about Christ, but Christ’s tangible love because of action.

For whatever reason, I think God puts countries on people’s hearts.  For me, it’s Russia.

M:  You traveled to Russia with Blythe [our other best friend.]

Blythe and me. You know, just hanging out.

And you and I really became friends because of this trip.  You could say Russia is the source of our friendships.  Would you agree?

A:  I’d say so.  You know, at the time, I was separately friends with both you and Blythe.

Our [Mer & Allie] friendship sort of started in our team prayer time.  Because our prayer time as a team was really honest and intimate.  And you and Curtis felt prompted to respond to something you thought God was saying.

[A few weeks into our roles at that church, as Allie was seeking wisdom about Russia, Curtis and I felt like God was asking us to sponsor her travels.  Allie’s father passed away when she was 19; they had wanted to travel there together, and the team that was planning to go were all people who knew him and his work in their host community.]

Russia with Blythe was interesting, because we were friends at work, but she was also originally friends with my older sister. It took me a while to feel like we were peers and friends in our own right.

But Russia was such an emotional journey for me that if Blythe hadn’t been there, I don’t know how I would have mustered enough strength to get through it.  We were the only young people on the trip, everyone else was our parent’s age.  And travelling together, serving together, it just brings a different connecting point.

For instance, in Russia, we spent some time at a women’s sanitarium.  Christians had never been allowed inside before.  We just sat on the edge of the women’s beds, putting lotion on their hands.  Some were unclothed.  One had vomited in her bed and no one had cleaned her up.

I knew that we’d take that story home and guard it.  You don’t take pictures, or put something on Facebook, or tell that story from the platform.  And knowing she was across the room, thinking the exact same thing, it just changed things.

Grateful.

So, to bring it back to your question, I feel like the thing that threads us together is that the three of us separately have this heart for justice and missions.  And knowing you care and Blythe cares about justice is what opened the door for me to be friends with you.

At the same time, I think having a burden for something or somewhere can be exhausting.  And sometimes really passionate people can also be tiring to be around.  But we could also still laugh and goof off.  And that didn’t cause us to doubt our commitment to service or the poor.  But it lightened the load.

M:  Yes, we didn’t have to be serious and intense all the time.

A:  Exactly.  Side note:  I was mooned by a 4 year old today.  On purpose.

M:  Really? [Allie teaches swim and coaches swim teams.]

A:  Yes.  And I tried to be serious and tell him we don’t show our bootie at the pool.  But I really wanted to laugh.  I also avoided all eye contact with his parents.

M:  Case and point on seriousness.

[And from there, we digressed into a conversation about the weird things little kids do at the pool.]

Has a passion for justice ever brought you a new friendship?  Do you have a country or community that really connects with you?  A place that you are passionate about, that you have a heart for?  Where that is for you and how’d it happen?

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