Monday, February 4, 2008

The Russians are coming

Psalm 97:10
Let those who love the LORD hate evil, 

for He guards the lives of His faithful ones 

and delivers them from the hand of the wicked.

We had some of our dear Okhotin friends spend six days with us this last week. When a mutual friend first asked if some of them could stay with us for a few days last week they didn't know who would be staying, but that it would probably be three of them. Well that seem okay, we have a small guest room (7'x14') with a single bed, and the second floor sitting room could accommodate the queen size blow up mattress. By the weekend before they were to arrive we found out that it would be Papa Okhotin, otherwise known as Vladimir, and his son Andrew accompanied by his wife Nadine. Vladimir was flying in from San Diego, and Andrew and Nadine were coming from Connecticut, and the were all scheduled to arrive within 5 minutes of each other.  How's that for planning.

Vladimir was a Baptist minister in Russia with a wife and 8 children when he was arrested by the KGB and sent to prison in Siberia in the mid 80s. Somehow his release from prison was negotiated by President Regan's people and when most of the family arrived in America in 1989 they were sent to Portland Oregon because there is an old community of Russians about 25 miles south of Portland, in Woodburn Oregon. The Russians in Woodburn are known as Old Believers and I'm pretty sure that there Christian affiliation is with the Russian Orthodox church and it is understandable that the Okhotins did not have a lot in common with them beyond Russian. I did in fact take Daniel to Woodburn to take his driving test in Russian.

The Okhotins were settled in a duplex in a neighborhood that was close to the church we were attending at that time, and they came across our church because of its neon sign. There is an irony in that because many people at the church thought that the neon sign was tacky and should be removed. There 7 year old daughter was placed in my first grade Sunday School class. There I was knowing nothing except that I had a very slender slightly foreign looking little girl with shoes that were too big for her, an unusual hand knit dress on, and a huge bow in her hair who did not speak. After church I was determined to find out who she was. We did see the rest of the family, but soon realized that they didn't speak English. During the week we went to Powell's bookstore to find out how to say some Russian and the next week at church we asked them in what was probably very bad Russian if we could buy Mary a pair of new shoes (новые ботинки - novi tofli). They were delighted and as best they could they told us their address. We went that afternoon to visit and it was quite the experience. We were ushered into a room (not the living room) and were quickly given a beautiful wooden Russian cup filled with diced fruit and fruit juice and then they all gathered around us, some of them with musical instruments, and they sang for us. And then when they were done singing, they prayed. We could tell when Vladimir was done praying because he said "Ameen". We did discover that two of the boys, Andrew and Daniel, could speak some English, which they had learned in Russia.

The story gets very complicated and involved after this point, so I won't go on. It was September. By Valentines Day they called us late at night to let us know that they had decided to go to San Diego, because Papa wanted to get warm. He was still suffering very much from his experiences in the goolog. By this time a great many people in our church were trying to help them, and had indeed helped them in many ways. They felt bad to be walking out on everyone, but they were determined to go. We stayed around till very late visiting and helping pack their things into the VW bus that we had helped them buy, and they left at about 6 in the morning.

When the Okhotins came to America they had 6 children with them, Daniel (17), Andrew (14), Alex (12), Helen (9), Mary (7), and Christina (6 months). We sponsored their oldest daughter Larissa, who was over 21 and stranded in Rome. Their two oldest sons were twin brothers, David and Joseph, who were still in the Russian army. The family was very worried for them because the army treated Christians rather harshly. At that time the boys were greatly in need of new boots. Joseph and David eventually joined the family in San Diego. At this time, 18 years later, Larissa, David, Joseph, Daniel, and Andrew are all married and there 11 grand-children and one more expected. Larissa has a PhD in music and her husband is a doctor working in Washington DC. David and Joseph married Russian women and lived for a while in Moscow, but they are now in San Diego.  Daniel is married to a Russian immigrant from our area and they have two children and are living somewhere in Russia at this time because Daniel, who has a medical degree, is researching something.  Andrew, who graduated from Berkley with a degree in economics (I think) and later receied a degree in law from Harvard (I think). Helen is in England studying to be a doctor. Though I am not certain, it seems that Daniel, Joseph, and David studied medicine in Moscow. Alex has a computer degree and is working on developing very sophisticated computers. Mary is finishing a degree in music, and Christina is a senior in high school. The mother, Nadiezda, can speak English and drive a car. Unfortunately Vladimir can do neither, but he is very busy doing work of some kind.

I am certain that a very interesting book could be written about the exploits and adventures of this family.   The six months that we were very closely associated with them seemed filled with enough adventure to fill a small book for sure.  Daniel used to call us up and say in his delightful Russian accent, "You got time?"  This always signaled something terribly eventful that would take at least half the day.  At that time Andrew, who was only 14, struck me as if he could be the next Henry Kissenger.  Not like Kissenger, but with the same kind of brain.  There is an interesting article about him in the Harvard Crimson magazine. He looks very serious in this picture, but he can has a much lighter side also. 

We had a very nice time with the Okhotins. We hadn't seen them in quite a while. I must admit that I was hoping that Papa Okhotin had learned to speak English, but for the most part he didn't speak English, They arrived close to mid-night and went straight to bed. But the next morning we had a lovely sit-down breakfast in the kitchen. I made flakey scones, scrambled eggs, and bacon. We also had grapefruit juice, tea and coffee. I chose to do the flakey scones because I had made them the other day and had forgotten the baking powder. Now admittedly those were not the best scones, but actually they weren't at all bad, especially as left-overs. If you split then several times at their layers and put lemon curd or jam on them it tasted like pie. Emily and I really liked them. Riley did not.

On Wednesday evening, after it seemed that Papa had gone to bed, we asked Andrew and Nadine to come down for some tea and Russian cake that some one had sent to us via the Okhotins. I love Russian cake. I think they made the best cakes of all and I can't figure out why the world isn't filled with Russian bakeries. Seriously! But when Andrew got upstairs he realized that he was enhausted and he asked Papa to give us his regrets. Well as it turned out we had cake with Vladimir and a wonderful discussion of Russian literature, which is surely one of his passions. He is so passionate about Russian literature that he was willing to speak in English as best he could. I was able to get the conversation moving along because I have a very large collection of Russian literature. Most of the books (about 90) are in the front hall and alphabetized. All I needed to do to get Vladimir talking on an author was to go get one of his books. His favorite authors are understandably Tolstoy and Dostoyevski. He also has a great love of French literature, especially Dumas and Hugo. The two favorite French books being Les Miserables and The Count of Monte Cristo. This is because of the main characters having been unjustly imprisoned. For me it was quite a treat to have someone to discuss Russian literature with, as most people don't know enough to hold a conversation on the subject. Later Andrew was delighted to find out that his father had held a conversation in English. Vladimir left early the next morning, being collected by the Hewetts. That's another story.

Andrew and Nadine stayed until Saturday because of a mix up in communications. Andrew had flown here from Connecticut to be a translator for his father, who spoke at some events on the subject of the persecution of Christians in Russian. It seemed that Andrew needed to be doing a lot of studying, so he spent his afternoons in the cafe at Powells bookstore. On Friday they brought us home a beautiful cake from Whole Foods and we invited them to have cake with us and play a game of Sequence. It turned out that neither of them had ever played a game of cards in their life and they were quite apprehensive about playing Sequence, which is not a card game per se but it uses cards. We assured them that we had learned the game from missionaries. They didn't catch on very fast and they looked nervous the whole time, so we played only one game. After the game Riley went to bed and I stayed and talked with Andrew and Nadine for quite a while. We discussed theology, which was nice. So few people want to do that.

Saturday morning we were going to go out to breakfast with Andrew and Nadine, but at some point it struck me that it might be too tight for making their flight back to Connecticut, so I decided that we would have crepes for breakfast. Our youngest daughter Sarah showed up in time for Breakfast, and Corey was there a short time, needing to run off to work. To go with the crepes I had boysenberry and raspberry yogurt and cherry sauce. I'd never made cherry sauce before, and luckily it went well. I used frozen cherries. We had a lovely time at breakfast eating and chatting. They told us many funny stories from the misadventures during their honeymoon to Italy. They hope to go to Paris soon. I think that Andrew also loves Paris. Nadine will love Paris after she's been there.

The Hewetts didn't even show up to collect them. Finally, at a very reasonable but not tooo reasonable time they figured it was time to go. All in all we had a very good time visiting with the Okhotins. Having house guests isn't ever "easy", but life is so dull if you don't step out of your comfort zone from time to time. As a final touch to the weeks adventures it began to snow just as they were getting ready to leave to go back to snowy Connecticut.

Isaiah 55:9-11

"As the heavens are higher than the earth, 

so are My ways higher than your ways 

and My thoughts than your thoughts.

 As the rain and the snow 
come down from heaven, 

and do not return to it
without watering the earth 

and making it bud and flourish, 

so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater,
 so is My word that goes out from My mouth: 

It will not return to Me empty, 

but will accomplish what I desire 

and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

What a great post! I love your kitchen :)