As of this past fall, I have lived full-time in St. Petersburg, Russia for 15 years. This means that I’ve lived practically all of my adult life in a foreign country, as I was 22 when I moved here. It might not sound like a long time in terms of ministry, but it has felt like a long journey to me so far!
There are many challenges related to the logistics of living in Russia that are a part of my testimony. Many of these are related more to bureaucracy and daily life than aspects of culture or faith. But it has been during some of those bureaucratic processes that my faith was tested. I believe that God made these trials part of my testimony so that I can serve others better with patience and compassion. Currently we are getting some paperwork done for our children, and I have to keep submitting those concerns to the Lord over and over again, never being sure what obstacles we will encounter.
Along the road of faith it is easy to look at others’ ministry and wonder how they came to a certain decision or why they seem more “successful,” but I have always believed firmly that God is writing my story and that His calling for me personally is the best way for me.
After several years of trying to take (what seemed to us) the “higher” road and pretend we weren’t interested in marriage and/or each other, Andrei and I found ourselves surprised in a wonderful way, courting and married within a year, and finding our life and ministry priorities entering a new phase.
It seems unbelievable now that out of 15 years in Russia, I have lived more than half of them as a mother. Soon my years as a single missionary might seem like a distant memory. I still look upon those years as more active and productive, but I also remember longing for something to shift.
When my second child was born in 2016, I was forced to rest – there was no way around it in order to stay healthy for the future. Then she turned two and I was entering a new phase again, only to encounter a serious health complication: after being in pain for almost 2 weeks, and seeing many different doctors, I was temporarily relieved to receive a diagnosis of a burst appendix. Some years ago, I had read a book about the philosophy behind Soviet medicine back in its glory days. An appendectomy was one of the most routine procedures and I expected to be back on my feet in no time. In addition, modern laparoscopic technology would hopefully make it all go that much smoother.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t that simple. I had already developed a serious infection, which doctors first attempted to treat with antibiotics, then finally removed with an appendectomy via open abdominal surgery. I spent 2 weeks in a city hospital, which I’ve written more about on my personal blog.
It certainly gave me peace of mind that once the appendix and threat of infection were gone, there was no more danger to my life. However, recovery was slow and painful and my wound healed up in about 6 weeks, just in time to ring in 2019, one year ago. I have many stories about my time in the hospital ward and I have developed even more appreciation for Russian citizens who bear it all patiently. This is not to say that Russian medicine is inferior, but conditions are less than ideal, and people suffer.
Sometimes when you live in a place long enough, you wonder if you are “native” enough, but I truly believe that God relocates some of us to keep us vulnerable so that He can be glorified. This goes for our marriage as well-any of those points of conflict that make us different have the potential to draw us closer to Christ because we don’t always know what to do in human terms.
Lately I was reminded that Christ’s ministry was (and is) counter-cultural. So what does counter-cultural ministry look like when we are already in a foreign culture, or partnering in ministry with someone from another country? On the one hand, we submit to each other and try to remain teachable. On the other hand, there are certain lines that have to be drawn if something conflicts with our faith.
My husband Andrei works in higher education, and has to face corruption from time to time, whether it’s the plagiarized work of his students, or being asked to forge documents, which he has refused to do. The latest incident involved a person being registered for a class in name only in order to meet a quota. Then Andrei was asked to record the person as having attended, and he had to say no. It was a bit worrisome, but God honored Andrei’s honesty and the administration admitted that the request was out of line.
In closing, this verse has been laid on my heart.
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. John 14:27
Thanks for following along!
Liz, Andrei, David, and Sophia Sukhovskii/Sukhovskaya