Interchange September 2002

MVERN Russian teens:
"What Will the Americans Come Up With Next?"

by Joe Phillips

What a mess! One day you're dressed nicely, going to eat at some unknown American's home, and you have to be very low-key and mind your manners. Another day you're sweaty and your hair strings down in your eyes as you scamper about Paramount's King's Island eating junk food in the hot sticky weather of a beastly Ohio summer, followed by the bliss of swimming pools and a chance to let off steam. Soccer and volleyball games ramp the competition, but there's not too much leisure time for heat and dust and shovels and rakes and more sweat remain in working on a Habitat for Humanity house.

MVERN teens at Habitat site Photo, right: L-R Sveta, Katya, Julia, Misha (back), Dima (front)
and Kirill take a break at the Habitat for Humanity house being
built by Miami Valley Episcopalians.

So it was with our latest group of MVERN (the Miami Valley Episcopal Russian Network) Russian teenagers who came to visit this June. Misha Aksenov, Dima Belyakov, Julia Dorofeeva, Sveta Efremova, all 14-years-old and Kirill Starikov and Katya Sokolova, 15-years-old, traveled from St. Nikolas Church in Sablino, Russia, our sister Russian Orthodox parish.

They quickly displayed their unspoiled, fun-loving, mischievous personalities and formed quick friendships with the American kids who hosted them. It became a usual sight to see the Russian and American teens with arms slung around each other, acting as though they had known each other all their lives. For host parents, it was a gratifying experience to witness these young people accept and embrace each other without the political prejudices of the past.

MVERN teens with Bishop Thompson

Photo, left: L-R (front) Dima, Julia (back) Kirill, Misha,
Bishop Thompson, Katya, Sveta, and Igor Tolochin, pose
for picture behind the diocesan house in Cincinnati.

Most of the Russian youth found out around Christmas that they would be going to the United States. Sveta said the flight across the Atlantic felt like a dream, that she couldn't believe it was really happening until she landed in New York. Kirill complained he wasn't sure he could even convince his friends he had been to the United States once he returned to Russia.

Julia had no idea what to expect. She had talked with other Russian young people who had been to the United States and had seen pictures of their trips. She and Sveta had heard that Americans were brusque and were surprised at how relaxed Americans are. Both kept saying, "People here in America treat us so nice. They are so laid back." Their only question concerning hospitality in the U.S. had to do with eating: "Everyone eats all the time. Food, food, food, why so much food?" They seemed somewhat incredulous when told that Americans only eat so much when entertaining quests.

Katya said that one of the things she enjoyed most was taking long showers. She said her mother, an English teacher who came to the United States last year as a guest of MVERN, had instructed her on the wide variety of faucets in America.

The boys' impressions centered around sports and the American life-style. A soft-spoken Misha became quite animated when talking about all the cars in America and his desire to have one. Sports facilities and equipment filled Kirill and Dima's imaginations as they commented on all the playing fields, basketball and tennis courts available in the United States.

The Russian kids agreed that it was unusual to see so many people live in their own houses, as most of them live in small apartments. They were all impressed with the kindness Americans had shown, and were surprised at how easily Americans opened up and shared their lives with foreigners. One of the teens, after working on the Habitat project, commented that he now understood that not all Americans are wealthy, as so many Russians think.

Bishop Kenneth Price met the MVERN American and Russian kids on their final afternoon to spend some time talking about their experiences. The Russian teens presented him with an icon of Bishop Luke, who had been a physician and scholar during the oppressive years of the 1920's in Russia. Bishop Luke had become a priest, then a monk, and finally a bishop. He spent many years in a Stalinist gulag and survived to continue his ministry until the end of his life in the 1960's. We were struck by the quiet, healing quality of this gift amidst the joy of the afternoon, and with it, the encouragement to make of all our MVERN exchanges times of peace, healing and great anticipation.

Joe Phillips can be contacted at 513/422-2499 or phillijw@muohio.edu

MVERN RETREAT DAY

Board members of the Miami Valley Episcopal Russian Network attended a Retreat Day at St. George's Episcopal Church, Dayton, on June 15. The 17 members represented six of the participating churches. The Rev. Carol Hull, rector of St. George's, led the day of prayer, reflection on our past performance, and initiated discussion about future goals.

Dr. Igor Tolochin, a liaison with Fr. Nickolai of St. Nikolas Church, Sablino, Russia, was in the U.S. for speaking engagements and accompanied the Russian youth that visited our MVERN churches and families for the Youth Exchange. A valuable asset to our meeting, he relayed information about our ongoing projects in Sablino. The Teacher Exchange adult group traveled there in late June.

Sara Rich, our president, had sent Board Members a list of our activities and projects and asked that we prioritize them as to importance. These were discussed and the consensus was that we are on target with our Mission Statement.

Our goals for the next year are: to promote the Youth Exchange next summer, with the visit of American teens to Russia; to continue support for the Pre-School building project which should begin construction by early winter; and to broaden the sphere of participants from our churches and the Diocese.

M. Denton, member-St. Francis, Springboro

Interchange September 2002

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