About This Blog

This is my travel journal chronicling my 2011 tour of Siberia, visiting with our Russian Lutheran brethren in the Siberian Evangelical Lutheran Church. Hopefully and God willing, there will be future adventures for me there.

The title is based on a remarkable book (that I actually read after returning home from Russia) called Travels in Siberia by Ian Frazier. I found much of his writings to mirror my experiences as an American in Siberia - though Mr. Frazier has made many more trips and experienced many more things than I did - not to mention that he is a better writer. At least for now. Practice makes perfect! Frazier's book (here is a review) is also an interesting look at Russian history and gives an overview of the past writings of American travelers to Siberia. I'm humbled to be yet one more.

I hope that readers of TILS vicariously travel with me and enjoy what I have posted. I hope that it provides a small window into the life and work of the pastors and laity of Siberian Lutheranism (and their extraordinary history) and Russian culture in general.

It is also my hope that readers will: 1) Pray for our Christian brothers and sisters in Russia, 2) Support the outstanding missionary work of the Siberian Lutheran Mission Society, and consider sponsoring a Siberian congregation, 3) Consider visiting Russia for themselves, 4) Support the work of the faithful LCMS pastor Rev. Prof. Alan Ludwig, who has taught at the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Novosibirsk for many years and has much of interest to say from his perspective, and 5) Read Ian Frazier's wonderful book
Travels in Siberia (which by the way is available on Nook and Kindle for $9.99)!

Of course, a disclaimer is in order: Ian Frazier has never endorsed this blog, nor have I ever met him or communicated with him. I thoroughly enjoyed his book, however, and am playing with his title for the title of my blog. However, Mr. Frazier, if you're out there - I would love to hear from you some time! I grew up in Cuyahoga Falls - and for some reason, Siberia seems to attract people born in Ohio who feel compelled to write about it. I really did enjoy your book, and I hope you are pleased by my reference to it.

One other disclaimer: other than being a supporter of the Siberian Lutheran Mission Society, I'm not affiliated with SLMS. The material on this blog is mine, and I take sole responsibility for it.

Note: Since I arranged this blog chronologically - which is backward from the way blogs usually work - the buttons at the end that say "Newer Post" and "Older Post" are reversed - just as the "hot" and "cold" water taps are often reversed from the way we're used to them in the states. In other words, if you want to read the next day's installment, click "Older Post" instead of "Newer Post." Just consider this another delightful quirkiness of an American writing about Siberia.

Большое спасибо! Thank you very much!

2011 Journal - Day 4 - June 30

Myself and Olga, dwarfed by Stalin's friends

  • Novosibirsk

I woke up early.  I'm tired, but at the same time refreshed.  I think my system is trying to reset.  The days are somewhere around 17 1/2 hours here, so sunrise is before 5:00 am and sunset after 10:00 pm.

I managed to find my way outside to see
if my camera fell out of my pocket in the driveway.  No luck.  I'll find out from Dan a good time to call the bishop.  I really don't want the hassle of buying another camera - not to mention the cost.  I'm fairly confident that it will turn up.

It's 7:30 am right now, and I'm already dressed and ready to go.  Dan planned on waking me at 10:00 am, but the sunlight in my room woke me.  Also, the window is open, and the weather is cool.  According to the weather app on the Nook, it is now 64 degrees F in Novosibirsk.  The high today is projected to be 91, with the low of 63, partly cloudy.

I send a couple SnapYap messages, take a walk around the building (the Lutheran Center), and wait for Dan to get up.  When he arises, we chat and get breakfast.  There is a fridge in the adjoining office to the bishop's office.  It is stocked with meats, cheese, yogurt, milk, chocolate, boxes of different kinds of fruit juices, a couple small cans of Coke that look as alien inside the fridge as I do looking in, and other items.  There is also a pantry that includes breads, crackers, cereals, tea bags, sugar, and instant coffee.  The bishop's office has an electric kettle - which I soon learn are ubiquitous here.

A bishop's work is never done

The bishop's office is not a museum - but a real working pastor's study.  I'm gratified to see that he also has a "busy" desk - and, like me, somehow knows where to find things.  He has a large number of books open on the desk - in multiple languages, several hymnals, Bibles, prayer books, and dictionaries.  Like most clergy offices, his desk is surrounded by bookcases prodigally strewn with reading material of every kind.  Behind his desk is a beautiful crucifix, a portrait of Martin Luther, and several pictures taken at his episcopal consecration.  There are also teacups and music CDs.  The bishop has eclectic musical tastes.

Dan has taken up residence on the futon.  He has his computer plugged in and that end of the room has his bags and clothes arranged in a way that would make any bachelor feel at home.  I only met Dan last night, but we have spent a lot of time on the phone before our trip, as well as exchanging e-mails.  I am comfortable being around him from the start.  We hit it off very well, and I would come to really appreciate not only his friendship, but his pastoral wisdom and fraternal advice and counsel over the course of our three weeks together.  I'm honored to call him a brother in Christ and a brother in the office of the holy ministry.

Father Dan is the man!

Pastor Johnson - or Father Daniel as he is known here - is 51 years old, married, has two grown children, and has been the pastor of the same parish for 18 years.  He is a mechanic, and enjoys fixing old cars.  He has been coming to Russia nearly every year since 2000.  He serves as the president of the Siberian Lutheran Mission Society and edits the newsletter.  The mutual respect and affection between Father Daniel and our Russian brothers and sisters is palpable.

Bishop Vsevolod Lytkin

The bishop shows up with my camera - just in time for our big sightseeing day in Novosibirsk!

Bishop Vsevolod Lytkin is the young spiritual leader of the Siberian Evangelical Lutheran Church.  As dangerous as it might be, I will guess he is in his young forties - and lacks the gray hair that sprouted on my own head after the Big Four Oh - at least so far, anyway.  Bishop Vsevolod (pronounced roughly like VSYEH-vuh-lud - which to the English-speaking ear (if ears could speak...) is not too far removed from Save-a-lot) speaks very good English, is hard-working, compassionate, extremely pious, theologically-minded, politically astute, patient, and has a vibrant sense of humor.  I take a liking to him right away, and he is very hospitable and constantly looks after our comfort.  People are relaxed in his presence, and yet everyone understands that he is the bishop.  He is respected and loved by both the clergy and the laity.

You can read about the bishop's journey to Lutheran Christianity here.

Our tour guides today will be Olga and Natasha - two old friends of Dan.  Or should I say two young friends of Dan that go back a long ways.  They are both in their thirties.  Natasha is the organist at St. Andrew's (the congregation in the Lutheran Center that serves as the bishop's cathedral) and is a graduate of the music conservatory in Novosibirsk.  She is an accomplished composer and is working on the SELC's hymnal project.  Olga is the half-sister of Father Daniel Burlakov, one of the pastors who serves SELC congregations in Tomsk and Yurga.  Both had accompanied Dan and the bishop a few years back on an auto trip through the United States that culminated in visiting the Grand Canyon and Las Vegas.

Natasha speaks little English, but seems to understand a fair amount.  Olga is fluent in English and serves as a translator.  In fact, Olga translated for Natasha in Fort Wayne as part of the Russian Project.  Both are high-spirited and energetic.  The lack of a language barrier makes Olga more openly gregarious with English speakers.  They were very good sports who spent the day taking us all around Novosibirsk and taking a lot of pictures for us.  Natasha was our driver (her journey to Christianity can be found here in the article "A Musician's Journey To the Church").  As Dan has made this trip many times, this tour is really for my benefit.

Hospitality is of extremely high priority in Russian culture.  All of the Russians that I have met so far embody this spirit.

But before touring the city, we had business to attend to.  First, we had to go through the motions of renting a room at the local hotel in order to register our tourist visas.  The bishop drove Dan, Olga, and me to the hotel.    The registration of tourist visas is a leftover from Soviet times.  We actually had to rent a room and left our passports behind (good thing we made copies).  We never actually went to our room, and we told them just to keep the key.  Seeing us leave with two young ladies, one of the middle aged women at the counter gave Father Daniel a coy wink.

I guess they aren't accustomed to their paying guests (the bishop took care of our tab) never setting foot in the room.

We met up with Natasha, got into her car, and went to lunch at a restaurant called Peoples Bar and Grill.  They serve traditional Russian fare Russian style.  Each course is ordered separately: soup, salad, meat dish, and dessert.

I had a traditional soup called solyanka.  It was a little spicy, with meat and some olives.  For a drink, I ordered a tea with mint.  Getting cold tea (unusual in Russia) involves ordering a hot drink - at this place, served in a French press - along with a cup of ice.  My hosts take my American eccentricity in stride.  For my main dish, I had a pork sausage - served with a side of vegetables (thinly sliced) and mashed potatoes.  It was all very good, high quality food.

You see very few fat Siberians - at least here in Novosibirsk.  They tend to walk much more than Americans and have smaller portion sizes.  The food is more wholesome and has far less preservatives and chemicals - though I understand that this is changing.  They drink a lot of bottled water as the tap water may not be potable.  The bottled water comes in both plain ("still water") and bubbly.  They also drink a lot of fruit juices, which are often sold in boxes to be refrigerated upon opening.

We opted out of dessert, as the meal was quite filling.  Our English was translated into Russian by Olga for Natasha's sake.  We took pictures and had very nice conversation.

We left the restaurant and headed out on foot.  Natasha led the way at a quick pace.  We made our way to the main square - Lenin Square - in front of the theater - which of course boasts a colossal Lenin monument.  There was also an arts and crafts show going on.  We visited the USSR Museum, a small historic house that doubles as a museum dedicated to birch art.  The lady at the museum didn't approve of my crucifix.  She was Russian Orthodox.  Apparently she thought I was a Roman Catholic.  When I explained to her that I was a Lutheran, she was apparently even less impressed.  Many Russian Orthodox think we are not real Christians. Apparently she was saying things along these lines.  Olga was not impressed, but not surprised.  I can only imagine what she was saying to the lady at the museum.  Perhaps some things remain best untranslated!

We had a lot of fun in the museum, goofed around, took pictures, and looked at all sorts of memorabilia from Soviet times.  Much of the USSR memorabilia is housed in the basement - which was used to house political prisoners.  The museum guide was rather matter-of-fact about it - which I found a little weird.  There are a good many such places - especially considering how widespread the Gulag system was under Stalin.  The reality of past prisons is just a part of ordinary life in Siberia.

We cut across the busy street by ducking into subway tunnels lined with shops.

There is an interesting phenomenon that I noticed in Novosibirsk and in other cities.  The women - especially the younger women - are very fashion-conscious.  And they love their high heels!  Stilettos are everywhere - and they take no prisoners (except perhaps their podiatrists) when it comes to the height of the heels.  There is a ubiquitous "tick tick tick" of heels clacking on the sidewalk.  I'm told that even in winter, Novosibirsk girls clack along the ice in their heels.  It is almost a cliche.  It may be one of the few things that stumps the Rev. Dr. Rick Stuckwisch - who blogged about his experiences in wintertime Siberia.  It is funny to watch the young couples: the guys are typically clad in jeans, tee-shirts, and tennis shoes - but their girlfriends/wives often look like they are headed to a wedding - dressed "to the nines" as we say in English.  Some of them - again most typically the younger women - are rather provocatively dressed.  It's so common as to go basically unnoticed.  Most are dressed tastefully but in a way that is clearly not the norm among Americans.

The Russian ladies' fashion sense is so different from the much-watched (and less than flattering) Wendy's commercial from the mid 1980s.  As perplexed as Dr. Stuckwisch was, I have to admit, I like the "pluck" of the stubborn girls in the stilettos.  My dear wife Grace can click-clack with the best of them - though recovery from pregnancy sometimes renders favorite shoes no longer wearable even to this day.  Oh, how I wish she could be here to take it all in!

As we continued our walk in the nice, hot sun, we were given free bottles of water, and also free bottles of a new Fanta drink - a grape soda - being marketed by a young guy on a skateboard.

We also visited the little Orthodox chapel of St. Nicolas - which marks the geographical center of the Russian Empire - especially poignant as this modern chapel openly sports an icon of Christ (the previous icon was, of course, destroyed by the Communists and replaced by an icon of Lenin.  Jesus has come back again - at least here in Novosibirsk).  We visited a huge monument in the form of a humongous mural set in the midst of a park.

For dinner, we went to a nightclub that had live entertainment - a band singing jazz in English.  I don't know the name of the bar, as it is a pun based on abbreviations involving the Akademgorodok neighborhood's standing as a place of science and engineering.  I ordered what was meant to be Buffalo wings - but were not hot.  They were tasty though!  We stayed until about 11:15 pm.  Dan and Olga drank beer.  Natasha, our driver, did not drink.  I didn't feel like a beer, so I ended up with a tonic water (I had intended to get a ginger ale, but my order got lost in translation.  It was okay though.  We had a nice time.  Dan and I critiqued the singers - who tended to get better as the night wore on.  There was a father with young children with him dancing to the music - a sight that would typically be illegal in the States.  Smoking is also legal here.

As we left, it was still twilight out.  Olga and Natasha dropped us off at the seminary.  I was exhausted and crashed.

Here are all of my pictures from Day Four.

Natasha, Olga, Dan, and myself

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