Why I Love Russia

I have just completed my eighth visit in nine years to Russia, the great Land of the North. Specifically, I was part of a Singapore-based team that that went to the great Siberian cities of Ulan Ude and Irkutsk. So why do I keep going? Why do I love Russia?

While there are many worthwhile destinations in the world, for me, Russia is exceptionally special. Here is why:

Russia is Hospitable: Russia is a unique mix of Asia and Europe; note that the stereotypical Russia has a fair complexion, often fair-haired, yet with mild Asiatic eyes (courtesy of the Mongols and Tartars who came storming through the land centuries ago?). From Beirut to Beijing, Asia is the hospitality continent. Probably more so in Siberia than Moscow, the Russians are very attentive to their guests and their homemade food is delicious. I did not have to worry about meals or companionship on this trip. Yet like Eastern Europeans, Russians can be very warm-hearted and relational.

Russia is big: Russia is 17 million square kilometeres, 1.8 times the size of the United States. From St. Petersburg to Vladivostok, you are looking at 7,200 kilometres or 8 days plus on the Trans-Siberian Railroad or 8 hours on the plane. This is not the end of the road, however, since Russia continues on eastwards towards Magadan, the volcanic Kamchatka Peninsula, and the Bering Straits next to Alaska.  Until 1867, Russia even owned Alaska and 145 years after selling it to the American, Russian Orthodoxy is the single-biggest denomination in the state.

Russia’s size also includes its diversity. While there are bucolic Siberian villages with their trademark dark wooden houses, St. Petersburg has surely got to rank as a world-class city, especially with The Hermitage Museum at the Winter Palace (one of the great museums of the world) or one of the palaces of the Tsar, like the Summer Palace, Peterhof, etc. Russia has many ethnic minorities, including the Tartars, Chuvash, Buryats, and Ukranians. Some of these people can (superficially) pass for Chinese, but in everyway apart from their appearance, they have been ‘Russified.’ They think, speak, act, and react in a classic Russian manner. In many cases, they are proud to call themselves Russian.

Baikal Beauty: Part of the thrill of this trip was to have my third visit to Lake Baikal, the world’s deepest, largest lake, which contains 20 % of the world’s freshwater. Baikal is 640 kilometres long, 50 kilometers wide, and 1.6 kilometres deep. In essence, it is like the Grand Canyon filled with water, except that the Grand Canyon, though 1.6 kilometers deep, is only 20 kilometres wide and far less than 600 kilometers long. In other words, the Grand Canyon would easily fit into Baikal. One local said that if Baikal was empty, and all the rivers of the world sent their water its way, it would take 40 years for the lake to fill up!It also has unique flora and fauna, including the Baikal seals, the world’s only freshwater-version. How seals could be thriving at Baikal, which is 1000s of kilometers from the nearest ocean, is a wonderful mystery.

Russia is a Challenge: If you like a challenge, look no further. Whether its mastering its distances, its Cyrillic alphabet, the multi-ethnic composition, its Byzantine mindset or bureaucracy, Russia has enough challenges to last several lifetimes. Churchill famously said in 1939 at the beginning of the Second World War: ‘It is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.’ Obtaining open doors of service is among the challenges but, as one man put it, if you persevere, you will succeed. That advice, of course, is true about life in general.

Strategic Destiny: Russia is a fascinating place, with a colourful, complex, and often brutal history. Yet it is its prophetic future that should stir the heart of the global church. Remember, Russia is more of an empire than a mere nation-state, especially because of its size and the large amount of ethnic minorities. Because of its Tsarist and Communist empires, Russia has strong connection outside its borders, especially with China, SE Asia, India, Iran, the Arab world, and Europe. Even though Russia’s system of government changed from communist to (managed) capitalist/democratic, the ‘imperial infrastructure’ remains intact. All this can be exceedingly useful for Kingdom purposes. Hudson Taylor, the great missionary to China, had an amazing vision about Russia. He said back in the 19th century:

I have seen a vision.  I saw in this vision a great war that encompasses the world.  I saw this war recess and then start again, actually being two wars.  After this I saw much unrest and revolts that will affect many nations.  I saw in some places spiritual awakenings.  In Russia, I saw there will come a general all-encompassing, national SPIRITUAL AWAKENING so great that there could never be another like it.  From Russia, I saw the awakening spread to many European countries.  Then I saw an all-out awakening, followed by the coming of Christ.

When a move of the Holy Spirit sweeps across Russia ‘from coast to coast,’ it will have a ‘spill over’ affect on the neighbours. The ‘rivers of living water’ will flow on into China, SE Asia, India, Pakistan, Iran, and the Arab world. Russia’s imperial infrastructure makes this scenario more likely. Eventually, and most significantly, the Holy Spirt fire will spread to post-modern, post-Christian Europe, wakening it up from its spiritual slumber. This universal revival will precede the second coming of Christ.

For all this and more, we need to pray for Russia, assist where we can, and understand that the Holy Spirit, through ‘Mother Russia’ (and other means) can truly bring the salvation of Christ to the world. Maranatha!


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