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 8 - July 4

The rolling hills of Khakassia

  • On the train toward: Abakan, Khakassia
  • Abakan
  • Tuim
  • Ephremkino Village

I wake up about 6:00 am local time on the train.  We're now in the Republic of Khakassia.  The countryside is totally different: a remote place of rolling hills and occasional villages of small houses.  It's raining.

Father Alexey took
our glasses and came back to report that there is no tea.  We'll be arriving in Abakan in a few minutes.

When we arrive at the station, it's cold and rainy.  I have no coat or hat.  We climb down from the train and walk a ways on the platform in the rain.  Father Dmetri lives here, and so we follow him as he arranges a ride from an older man standing near an unmarked minivan.  The driver is cautious and looks around.  He quickly loads our bags into the truck, and we're off.  He drives very fast, passing up traffic and hydroplaning his way to the city.

Father Dmetri lives in a flat with his wife Elena and their 5-year old Spiderman-crazy son (whose name I did not write down for some reason).  They also have a 17-year old daughter who is not there.  He commutes every week by train between Abakan and Novokuznetsk - usually traveling fourth or fifth class.  He spends the night in the church flat.

The Dotsenko Family

Their apartment is small by American standards, but comfortable and tidy.  There is no hot water this time of year.

The rain is affecting our plans.  We will probably visit the local church where Father Pavel Zayakin serves.  Then the plan is to head to Tuim.  There are things that they would like to show me, but the rain may impede our sightseeing.  We are now one hour ahead of Novosibirsk time, so it's now 8:30 am (7:30 am in Novosibirsk, and 7:30 pm July 3 back home in New Orleans).

The TV is on as Elena is preparing breakfast for us.  There is a program on that translates to Morning Russia and the format is just like American morning news shows.

Our breakfast was very nice, featuring a traditional dinner dish called pozi, which is common among people who live near Lake Baikal and Mongolia.  It is very similar to manti, as it is known across Russia - though there may well be a difference between the two.  Pozi is a large steamed dumpling with meat - pork, beef, onions and broth inside.  Outstanding!

Breakfast also includes eggs, cheese, salad, bread, butter, and Jacob's Coffee (instant).  Father Dmitri's son played with trucks, ran around, made noise, and giggled with his mother - which all sounds familiar. It made me a bit homesick.  I showed them some pictures on my Nook, including the picture of Leo at Mardi Gras in his Spiderman suit.

St. Luke's Lutheran Church, Abakan

We drove to St. Luke's parish in Abakan.  It is a self-standing house purchased by the SLMS.  It is very traditional, with icons, candles, and portraits of bishops.  It is small and simple, but most definitely and unambiguously a church.

We went back to the train station to check on our tickets.  I bought 8 AA batteries for 278 rubles, just under $10.

At about noon local time, we begin our drive to Tuim with Father Dmetri at the wheel.  It's about a four hour journey over very bumpy roads that call to mind The Long Way Round.  The rolling hills and mountains are on the horizon.  We've seen several herds of what appear to be wild horses on the grasslands surrounding the highway to Tuim.  For miles and miles, there is no housing to be seen.  Aside from an occasional car coming the opposite direction, we see no other human beings anywhere.  There are wandering herds of cattle that must belong to someone.

Our destination in Tuim was Father Vitaly Gavrilov's home.  Father Vitaly lives in a small house that is filled with people - including his wife Anna and three sons - as well as Father Dmetri's sister-in-law, who is visiting with another family friend.  They are a gregarious and friendly family that loves to laugh.  They are very hospitable and serve us homemade bread with meat and cheese, salad, fresh fish, and tea.

Some of the the Gavrilov Family

The Gavrilov home is very child-friendly, as the children write in crayon on the walls and draw on some of the wallpaper.  The hallway is covered in a Route 66-themed wallpaper reminiscent of the movie Cars.

Church of the Transfiguration of our Lord, Tuim

We take a drive over to the Church of the Transfiguration of our Lord, an old 20th century log structure with green trim.  The inside is a simple but beautiful church.  It was originally a government building of some sort.  This is one of the oldest SELC congregations.  Father Vitaly, who has a compelling story of his own (see page one here), was originally a layman in this congregation.  Many of his parishioners live in surrounding villages.  Tuim was the site of a forced labor camp, one of Stalin's "death camps" where Christians - including many Lutherans - were sent.

Transfiguration's Altar, Font, and Pulpit

As I take video of the inside of the church, Father Vitaly presents gifts to Dan and me - beautiful hand-knitted linens which are the perfect size to use as a corporal during shut in celebrations of the Eucharist.  These were made for us by a parishioner named Irena - which means "peace" - the same as my congregation "Salem."

We take a walk to the house that Father Vitaly is renovating - a log home within walking distance from the church.  Father Vitaly is a carpenter and a master at woodcarving.  He earns his living by this kind of work.  The house has a lot of work to be done on it, but Father Vitaly's skills show in the work that has already been done.  He also shows us his garaged 1987 Mercedes that is in need of a makeover - not to mention a new engine.  Father Daniel collects and refurbishes old cars, and he and Vitaly are in a state of bliss.

We drive to Tuim's most famous attraction: the Tuim Pit.  It is a man-made canyon caused by the implosion of a mountain when the copper mine ran dry.  There is a huge crater filled with water bounded by extremely high cliffs.  There is an observation deck which we mount.  The view is spectacular!

The Tuim Pit

Afterwards, Vitaly and his brother Sasha (who came to the Pit with us) invited us to his mother's place. Dan had met her before and was very happy to see her again.  Her name is Ludmilla, and she lives in a small dacha with kittens frolicking about.  For this reason, Father Dmetri has to wear a surgical mask, as he does when visiting Father Vitaly's family (they also have cats), owing to a severe allergy.  Ludmilla's fenced-in yard is a working garden, packed to the perimeter with food.

We leave and head to yet another location: Father Pavel (Zayakin)'s camp in the village of Ephremkino. He is hosting a few young people, and in a couple weeks, will host his annual youth camp.  I sleep a good bit of the trip as Father Dmetri skillfully navigates the mountain roads.

We are greeted by Father Pavel and a young man named Nikita who speaks some English.  Father Pavel looks like a hunter, is gregarious and friendly, though his English is greatly limited.  Father Alexey continues as our translator.

It is interesting that we don't introduce ourselves to lay people - especially young people - as we would in the states.  The custom in Russia is not to address people by the title "Mr." or "Mrs." (or "Pastor") followed by the last name.  Russians refer to each other by their first names - though children traditionally address adults in a formal way making use of their patronym - a kind of middle name that makes use of the father's name.  And so, even when meeting young people, I offer my first name.  When they find out that I am a priest (pastor), they call me "Father Larry" - which is the custom in Russia.

The camp is an area enclosed by wooden stockade fencing, ringed by the village, which is surrounded by majestic mountains.  It is the forth of July and I am in the middle of nowhere in this magnificent mountain range in Asia.  Several young people are gathered around a campfire under a gazebo.  They are interested in the visitors.  Americans are still a novelty in this part of Russia.  Several are eager to practice their English, especially a college student named Ira.  She latches on to Father Daniel for English practice.  She studied English at the University of Khakassia for a year and a half.  She is herself ethically Khakassian, very Asian looking.  Khakassians are aboriginals and are related to American Indians.  They are about a 30% minority in this region.  She can only speak fluently in Russian, but is holding her own quite well in English.

She makes mistakes, laughs, and expresses frustration.  She doesn't quit, though!  I give her the URL for LiveMocha.  She asks questions about our houses.  I told her about our tropical climate and showed her pictures of a banana tree in our yard.  Nikita is also interested and asks questions.

The camp has no indoor bathroom - only a series of well-constructed (but seatless!) outhouses.  The grounds are strewn with a few tents, though Dan, Alexey, and I are bunking in the wooden cabin.  We are also able to use the баня (banya, or sauna) and I was able to get about a half-hour of a sauna bath.

We have no Internet here, and there is only 2G cellphone access - which will not work with our computers.

The flag of Khakassia flaps in the breeze to remind us of where we are.  It is July 4th, and it is now so cold that we need a fire.  It is in the forties Fahrenheit.  I go out about midnight, as Dan, (with whom a kitten has snuggled up) is snoring.  The fire is nearly out.  I can still see the light of the sun near the horizon.  I decide to come in and do some journalling and transfer pictures from my cameras to the computer.  It is chilly in the room, but not freezing.

Here are all of my pictures from Day Eight.

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