Monday, March 30, 2015

Diary of trip to Omsk, Siberia 9 - l5 1992 PART THREE "I am not a Russian!"


Retrieved from my Russia files- from Major Goran Larsson, SA THQ Stockholm, Sweden - not read until today 30 March, 2015

I’ve taken the liberty of making a few minor edits; spelling, translating the ocassional Swedish word, and whenever Goran wrote Mrs. Ljungholm, Cathy, Cathie or Captain Sven Ljungholm, I’ve changed it to Kathie and Sven.

Diary of trip to Omsk, Siberia 9 - l5 1992

Omsk is a city whose prime industry is the large military complex. And the city was completely closed to foreigners until just a year ago and we are among the first ‘westerners’ allowed in.

Sven had been in regular contact with the Omsk city administration. The ongoing concern is humanitarian aid to its citizens and an educational program to assist in the hundred thousand military personnel who will be discharged honorably but without any military or Russian state support. They will re-enter the general population over the next 48 months with little non-military education and no guaranteed employment. Sven had already introduced a program at the Moscow Military Academy and that was being copied and instituted elsewhere. The government feared for the union’s future were there to be a million or more unemployed soldiers roaming the streets without hope.

The terminal building is packed with people waiting for arriving passengers in one area and another specified: SECURED AREA Military Operations

The terminal building is worn and in a state of dilapidation like so many other buildings in Russia. In the combined arrival and departure hall there are many small private vendors selling food and drink; juices of all kinds to beers, wines, cognacs and champagne, the four Russian staples. All the necessary ingredients, fruit and hops, are locally grown and produced keeping the prices well below $1.00 per bottle even for the ‘finest’ wine. There are no ‘western’ drinks available for purchase this far from the European border. In one corner smoke rises as shashlik skewers, a pork kebab concoction, are added to the grill’s flimsy mesh inches above the glowing embers. We now realize that the kebab aroma is what’s permeated the entire terminal. And we’re reminded that we’ve traveled far since our last bite in the Moscow airport’s cafeteria! 

But before we have even a second to contemplate a piece of tasty pork a Lieutenant Colonel wearing his great coat and military hat with the Interior Defense Troop’s insignia confronts us and in a broken English issues a command: You will follow me this way pleeze!

We walk briskly through the terminal to the military exit where he (and we?) are saluted as we’re escorted to a mini-bus with military markings. Our bags are carried for us and delivered to the bus. Of course the trunk of the bus is so badly crushed in that we have to load in all the bags and our team of seven us through the only  side door that's functioning.
We get everything in and are more than a little surprised we made it and can still, with minimum effort, breathe.

We cross the river on the snow covered Leningrad bridge observing two frozen corpses not far from each other at the side of the road, watched over by the GAI (security forces) waiting for the bodies to be collected for transport to the morgue.

Sven explains that “it’s not unusual that persons who’ve consumed too much alcohol will sometimes stumble and fall. And, unable to return to their feet it’s only a matter of minutes before nature claims yet another frozen victim. Excessive drinking was a factor in most of the almost 200 freezing deaths in Moscow alone last year.”

We go directly to the hotel named appropriately "Tourist", which is located at a small stretch of frozen beach on a broad part of the river. There is a large sign advertising riverboat passenger tours, and Natasha, our translator explains the river is a key mode of transportation to and from Omsk. We observe scores of docks, moorings and dry docks with boats secured for the winter months.

We pile into the small hotel reception area and are informed (warned) that this is a typical Russian hotel. There are small paintings over the reception desk: wine bottles, schashlik, soup and vegetable images. We all seek out a door with the sign STOLOVAYA –CAFÉ’ as Sven Ljungholm speaks with the receptionist and who in turn calls the hotel manager – it appears no one who has made any reservations for us?! This despite the fact 'Ljungholm’s secretary had called ahead to double check the reservation', according to Natasha.

The hotel manager appears from a side door, a woman, and takes Sven, Natasha, and Schurink aside and explains that she is ashamed that we are to stay at her hotel. “You really ought to stay in the international hotel located just nearby.” I hear Sven Ljungholm say, “Njet, we must stay here. We are the Russian Salvation Army and we want no special attention!?”

"I immediately cried out, I am not a Russian!" But nobody takes notice of me or the groans of the others. We must therefore stay at the hotel and we get the keys. I understood well Sven’s point - cross cultural understanding, when Rome… And there was also the savings- Sven explained later that, “As a Russian entourage we pay Russian Ruble prices, not the western European prices – a 10 fold difference.” He reminded us of the Pizza Hut pricing structure, policy and separate door entry enforcement guards!

Diary of trip to Omsk, Siberia 9 - l5 1992 PART TWO

Part Three follows later today, March 30

Part two
Retrieved from my Russia files- from Major Goran Larsson, SA THQ Stockholm, Sweden - not read until today 23 March, 2015

I’ve taken the liberty of making a few minor edits; spelling, translating the ocassional Swedish word, and whenever Goran wrote Mrs. Ljungholm, Cathy, Cathie or Captain Sven Ljungholm, I’ve changed it to Kathie and Sven.

The titles; Commander and Commodore reference Commissioner Reinder Schurink. Commissioner when translated into Russian is Commissar, a rank of less status than Commissioner. Schurink preferred to be addressed as Commander.

Diary of trip to Omsk, Siberia 9 - l5 1992

A Wednesday night in November

Outside the terminal waiting area is a gigantic Aeroflot aircraft with the engines roaring. The pilot is revving the engines in order to heat up the giant beast heating. It would never be allowed at home in Sweden; an aircraft of this size, parked as close to a building as this was, with the engines at full throttle.  As the pilot begins to taxi toward our gate he guns the engines even more and the windows begin to shudder, the bottles and table ware behind the long bar rattles and we must all stand up and cover our ears even though  we are still indoors

We sit in the cafeteria and chat with each other when suddenly we hear how the commander, the Dutchman Schurink loudly and clearly begins to recite Russian phrases from an ‘Introduction to Parlour Russian’ given to him by Sven. Several of the phrases are meaningless and are never used by Russians themselves, said Natasha, our Salvationist nineteen year old uni student interpreter. But Commodore Schurink carries on non-plussed and recites each word more loudly and distinctively assuming that now, finally, his Russian language attempts will pass. Instead it raises amusement among the many happy Russian celebrants at the adjoining tables, because the phrases are so rare and still incomprehensible - But for now it keeps us all amused and spreads much mirth in the cafeteria. (The Commissioner is in full uniform wearing scarf, heavy overcoat and his SA cap)

All eyes are on the cafeteria clock as the minute hand clicks on 03:00 but nothing happens!

Around 3:10 we are retrieved by the Intourist guide and escorted to an upper waiting room in the same building and after a further wait of a half hour we are collected by a special bus and driven out to the plane. Intourist-passengers (non-Russians) travel in ‘special’ buses and will thus have separate service-. (not any faster or more courteous service, however.)

But, we are the first on the plane and take our places. After a while, the Russians began spilling in. The plane is completely full, packed in with Russians entering the plane and they with all kinds of packing and packages. I see a Russian with immense sized cardboard boxes force his way in the plane; he reaches the rear end, the back of the plane where his seat is, but there is no place for the cartons. Somehow, he’s able to squash the cartons ever smaller, and then wedges them between the seat and the bulkhead directly behind his seat (the WC and galley area) He’s left to sit in a very forward leaning position for the 3 1/2 hour flight, but it appears not to bother him a bit.

As the cabin fills up there is light banter in Russian, gesturing and laughing. Women unwrap their packets and bread, butter, cheese and sausages appear. The men resume their drinking. Soon the plane is transformed resembling an enormous (jättelik) restaurant. Many people are eating, drinking and making merry1

Nobody seems to take notice of the “remain seated” or “keep your seatbelts fastened” lit signs or instructions.  Suddenly Commander Schurinck informs  Mark Brown and Martine Charman that, "more people are killed on Aeroflot flights than by any other means of Russian transport”, as his fingers fumble with the emergency exit locks and handle, saying "it seems as if the emergency door is ajar – maybe even open?!" Ice runs through my veins and I yell at him "Leave the door alone!!!" He obeys me immediately as the plane begins to roll down the runway.

The flaps on the wings are fully extended pushing air under the aircraft body  and we lift off at 04:00 – just 13 hours late!. We have before us a roughly three-and-a half hour flight to Omsk. I cope as best as I can, dozing uncomfortably. It is so cramped between the rows seats that I must twist my legs very uniquely- contortionist style. I find old chewing gum smeared and firmly sticking down on one knee of my newly purchased uniform. I'm not able to remove the old gum and afraid to use the concoction the air-hostess offered.

Aeroflot pilots are accustomed fighter jet combatants, and apparently have little sympathy for the ordinary foot passenger. Don’t they realize that normal people can feel uncomfortable and a bit frightened on an Aeroglot flight. The plane is drawing on its full force, screaming engines and climbing quite rapidly as it banks northeastward. I am glad that I have some experience from previous flights with Aeroflot. We have a beautiful view of Moscow and the city’s lights as we continue the climb but once we break through the clouds we enter a brilliant night sky. Most of the Russians and our team fall asleep soon thereafter as our pilots navigate the course to Omsk. The snoring and coughing are of little consequence and no interference to the exhausted sleeping passenbgers.

Just 120 minutes later the sun rises as we cross the Ural Mountains and pass through our third time zone. I check my watch, still set to Moscow time, and slowly comprehend I’d dozed fitfully for just under 2 hours.

At about. 07.l5 we begin the descent to Omsk We have the sunrise on the right side, to the east, and it is an amazing sight to see the sun rise over the horizon. I look down and see only the frozen Siberian tundra mile after mile. The large expanse is an almost blinding white; freshly fallen snow. I'm trying to see roads down there but can not see a single one.

Omsk is under a heavy cloud cover and one is not surprised that bad weather has cut off the city from the outside world for three days. We break through the cloud cover and we are rewarded with a glimpse of smoke rising from houses and a few scattered streetlights before we land.

It’s clear that this is primarily a military base with row upon row of military aircraft of all forms and sizes lining the runways and approach tarmacs and holding areas. Dozens of massive hangars line the airport.

Our plane is guided to the terminal by a Ladas car with flashing lights and a large sign in two languages: FOLLOW ME.

All the passengers are anxious to deplane and as the 3 exit doors are swung open a cold Siberian wind sweeps in. It's cold and shivering I pull my overcoat about me. We deplane on a frozen and very slippery ramp that’s been wheeled up next to the plane. The Russians make it a slow, frustrating and cold exercise. Most are carrying several bags and cardboard boxes of varying sizes.

Once on the ground we are again in the hands of Intourist.  We arrive at the terminal building I see that the temperature -8 C. The wind makes it feel considerably colder.

Omsk (Омск ) is the largest industrial city in Siberia and is located about 1,400 miles from Moscow. The city was founded in 1619 and is strategically located on the Irtysh River. With a population of 1,154,116, it is the seventh by size nationally. November temperatures vary from 28f to -28 f.

Goran Larsson
SA THQ Stockholm
1992 by email -

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Ride on King Jesus! No one can a-hinder thee!

Today is Palm Sunday, the beginning of Holy week.

For many of us – students and servants of the church alike – this begins a very busy time. I have often heard the words “once we get through holy week…” I recently told someone that the week after holy week is even worse for me. Having spent the past four days sulking in my room fighting a fever that would not break and going through enough tissues that would have killed a small forest, I have had ample opportunity to think about the week ahead.

Holy week is really the crux celebration of our faith. Our Lord was crucified, buried and risen again. Liturgical churches do this week best and invite you to participate in the week’s events in ways that touch the heart as well as the mind. I remember in one service in a rather large church, the passion story was read and then it came time for the crowds to yell “Crucify him! Crucify him!” I felt like I was there. That I was part of the story. Not in a proud way. But in a way that implicated me in the story that brought Christ to the cross.

Liturgical churches also draw out the week and make time slow down for a few days. The vestments are removed, the church is dark, there is no Eucharist. And one must sit in the Christ has died part of the story in a way that no comfort is brought by the services. Time stops or at least slows down during Holy Week.

I have often thought it interesting how the crowds could go from yelling “Hosanna” and praising Jesus to yelling “crucify him” in only a few days. And then I look at my own fickleness from the days of dancing around my apartment to the days of forgetting to pray and turn to the one who gives me life.

But today, as I reflect on the triumphant entry into Jerusalem, I am struck by the words of this traditional song sung by Steve Bell. Ride on, King Jesus! No one can a-hinder thee! I am struck by these words because I have been studying John Stott’s Cross of Christ in which he lays out the deliberate choice that Christ made as well as the ways in which the evil one tried to thwart his plans.

I wonder what it would have felt to ride into Jerusalem on a donkey and being praised by a people who were about to betray him. I wonder what it would have felt to know that nothing could a-hinder God’s plan – something that probably factored into the joyful praising of the king riding on a donkey that day. I wonder what it would have been like to ride on as King, knowing your acknowledgement of kingship would be nailed above your head in several languages for all to see in mockery that here is the one who is the so-called king of the Jews named not to honour him, but to display his crime.

And so I walk, on this Palm Sunday, singing Ride on, King Jesus! No one can a-hinder thee! As I enter this week, with an admittedly shallow understanding of those words, may I and may we together come through this week with a greater understanding of what it means for Christ to ride on to a kingship that takes him to the cross, yet that no one can a-hinder him.

John H C W Stott

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Christian Media Must Be a Light to This Dark World

It is the duty of the Christian media to report on the persecution of God's children worldwide, including these Coptic Christians that were beheaded by ISIS.

In a world where technology is allowing instant communication, it seems the role of the media is heightened in the conflict between the Kingdom of the world and the Kingdom of God.

The Kingdom of this world has a voice through the secular media, which has an ungodly worldview and bias. What's the role of Christian media? Often we are the ones who report what other media ignore.

One such topic is the plight of Christians who are being persecuted and even killed in various parts of the world. Recently I obtained some exclusive interviews with leaders from Muslim countries and will report some surprising news in my Strang Report.

Meanwhile, the persecution has reached such an elevated level that the United Nations is considering a resolution next month decrying the persecution. Leading up to that will be what amounts to hearings from Christian leaders on April 17. I've been invited to speak on the topic: "The role of the media—or lack of it—in highlighting the plight of the persecuted church in the Middle East."

On Saturday, April 11 at noon, I'm speaking at a luncheon in Oakland, California, on the role of the media and the church. It is a part of The Gatekeepers Worship and Prayer Summit hosted by Pastor Pat Chen and Pastors Wendy and Steve Nation. The conference will deal with all seven mountains in society that believers must deal with: education, government, arts and entertainment, business, family, media and religion.

You can learn more from their website. If you can travel to Oakland, I hope you can attend the entire conference where Pastor Chen is challenging people: "Let's encourage each other (that no matter if you're living in what appears to be impossible situations) to believe the Word of the Lord that, "nothing is Impossible with God." That is also the theme of the conference. There will be many other good speakers including Kelly Wright of Fox News.

If you can't attend all of it, drive in for my luncheon and be sure to introduce yourself to me!

Here are some of the themes I'll touch upon:
 1. Why do Christians need a media property?
* Overwhelming voice given to darkness
* Secular media not encouraging or uplifting
* If it bleeds, it leads
* Charisma brings light into the darkness

2. Charisma's voice is motivated to inspire people to become change agents in the world.
* Secular media bias teaches living life independent of God
* Words of life drive out words of destruction

3. The news of the world is edited to persuade more than inform.
* We are told how we should feel about a story or a political party. The bias of media is intentional and constant.
* We inform the Saints as we equip them.

4. Our mission is not necessarily to convert seekers.
* We are a voice in the wilderness as our words are distributed through others.
* We inform, teach, remind, persuade, exhort, explain, encourage and report the Christian condition.

5.As we eye the future, we are concerned about America's path.
* We will continue to exhort Christians to "finish the race."

Steve Strang is the founding editor and publisher of Charisma. Follow him on Twitter @sstrang or Facebook (stephenestrang).

Friday, March 27, 2015

Inclusivity # 11: Rob Bell and Andrew Wilson An exchange worth listening to

Jay Bakker ointed this video out to me yesterday. Rob Bell, looking frumpled and tired from a long book tour, was on a Christian radio show in the UK. Instead of talking about his book, the host and a conservative pastor push and push and push Rob of homosexuality. Rob grows increasingly frustrated until he tells them this is the “bullshit that really, really, really pushes people away” (16:45).

I encourage you to watch the whole 20 minutes, and here’s why. We most often see Rob in scripted situations (on stage, in Nooma videos), but here you see his heart, his vulnerability, his frustration, and how much shite he takes for his open and affirming stance:

Read more: