I couldn’t speak a work of Russian when we arrived in Ukraine. Nor any Ukrainian either, come to think of it. It never occurred to me that I wouldn’t be able to read street signs, subway maps or store fronts.
I felt like I was two years old all over again. There’s a reason they call Russian, “God’s language.” Because it takes an eternity to learn. And if I didn’t want each metro trip to begin and end with an index card Pete had written out the name of the stops I needed to look for in Cyrillic so I could compare and know when to exit, I had to learn. Olya tutored me three to four times a week.
I learned how to haggle over vegetable prices.
I learned how to yell for the bus to stop like everyone else did.
I learned how to tell taxi drivers, “I’m a foreigner, not an idiot.”
I learned how to say, “I love you.”
And all the while I was learning I was still thinking in English. I was desperately seeking the English equivalent of what I was trying to express in Russian. People took pity on me and tried yelling utilizing the apparent logic that if they said it louder I’d somehow be more likely to get it. There’s nothing like finding yourself in a yelling match with an old Babushka at 9 at night each repeating,
over and louder in the hopes that someone will eventually cave and admit they understand.
Mostly we all just got frustrated.
I don’t know how we would have made it if it weren’t for the missionary families who adopted us. That taught us vital life skills such as how to order a pizza in Russian, which ploys pick-pocketers most commonly use, and what the most polite way is to decline vodka at 11am. They blew all my neatly predjucided preconceived notions of missionaries out of the water and showed me the kind of life I aspire to live no matter what country I end up in.
And they took us to church. At least two hours of it. All in Russian.
Nope. Not one like that.
In a very regular except-for-the-fact-that-everything-was-in-Russian, church building that looked like this.
Some Sundays I could understand more than others. Like one word in every 300 as opposed to one in every 1,000. It was humbling. And sometimes very boring. Except for the worship. The worship – well, it was electric. Somehow removing the ability to actually understand the words, but being fully attuned to the meaning of the worship is electrifying.
I would stand in a sea of people I couldn’t communicate with and for those few minutes we’d all be speaking the same language.
And it occured to me. It occurred to me for the very first time – God speaks Russian.
I was staggered. I looked around that auditorium and knew in my bones for probably the very first time – God is not a foreigner in this church. God is not a foreigner in this country. God is just as at home here as he is in the States. And suddenly I was so much smaller than I had imagined myself and rather than helping bring the gospel to a country I was simply the grateful recipient of it.
Hands up high in the air above me, elbow-to-elbow with gnarled Babushkas, families, and drooling babes, I worshiped. We worshiped.
Because nothing gets lost in translation with Our Father. Nothing.
Nothing that we bring to him is foreign to God. He speaks our language. Both inside and out.