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Gary's Faith Walk

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A Russia trip illustrates it's indeed a small world

Chance or Opportunity?

In pre-dawn Siberian darkness I stood incredulous by my host’s simple question: “Do you know where Clark Fork is?” Tim asked. In a split second I knew exactly where the conversation was headed, but his asking put me in a daze of disorientation lasting for hours. But I get ahead of myself.

On an early February morning, I’d just landed in Krasnoyarsk, Russia, a regional capitol in south central Siberia. Our little group looked like we’d been dressed by the Michelin Man—puffy down parkas, lined boots, facemasks and stocking caps. The weather forecast when I’d departed Sandpoint less than three days earlier called for lows of at least minus-52 F. So in a strange way the temperature of minus 7 was a bit of a disappointment!

The journey had been months in planning. One objective was to have conversation with Igor, a new Christian, who works among the Buryat people, a Mongolian people group living around the Russian city of Ulan Ude. Another objective was to meet with Tim, an American, and his Swiss wife, Iris, who are part of the leadership team for “Gospel Recordings.” In recent years the organization has produced and distributed thousands of CDs in seven native languages. With story and music, the CDs share the gospel message with people who largely live in an oral culture.

Waiting to check into a hotel room to rest a bit from the 15 times zones I had just crossed, we struck up a conversation. Tim asked, “And, where are you from?” “North Idaho,” I replied. And, then came his lightening bolt, “Do you know where Clark Fork is?”

Finding Russian language speakers in Bonner County for conversation and study has been a challenge for me across the last decade. A few years ago my teacher was Mycah from Clark Fork. We’d meet in the winter at the Hope Market Café and talk next to the wood stove. In the summer we’d sit and talk at the picnic table under the trees across from the café next to Hope’s historical markers. Mycah lived in Siberia for much of the 1990s with her folks, David and June; her brother, Justus; and two younger siblings. Feeling called by God to minister in rural Russia, the family planted churches and cared for those around them. Unfortunately, over time the language lessons in Hope proved to be “ne ydobna” or inconvenient with rising gas prices and other demands on schedules. I hadn’t spoken with Mycah in recent years. 

So you can imagine my surprise, even shock, when Tim told me his partner was Justus, Mycah’s brother, and that he and his fiancé, Rebecca, were in Krasnoyarsk that day. Far more than halfway around the world, on a sub-zero winter day in Siberia, I meet people from Bonner County who share a piece of the same mission spirit! Consider the mathematical odds? Ponder the chances? In its own way, I felt like old Sarah in the Old Testament story when she overheard angels tell her husband Abraham she was going to have a child. She laughed out loud at the improbability of it all!

My faith walk has regularly been illuminated by improbable events. Whether in the muck of post-Katrina Mississippi or the winter’s cold of Siberia, God has shown a way forward. In this episode my first inclination was to focus on the astronomical odds of such an encounter so far from home. Yet as days passed, the more important question hasn’t been about chance, but rather opportunity. Will this event mark a path for something new, something not imagined before? Are possibilities opening which might not have been were it not for a February day on the opposite side of the globe? I have much to ponder in the days ahead, but first I need to meet some folks in Clark Fork!

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Gary Payton Gary Payton is on a Faith Walk that takes him to Russia, Eastern Europe and Sandpoint, Idaho

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