Holidays - Blog

Silent Night, Lonely Night

Lessons from Siberia on how to survive, even thrive, in dark days

Elizabeth Welsh

I wake up confused.

It's pitch black and I can't see my hands in front of me, much less picture where I am. Then I remember ... our room, boxes stacked against the bare walls, no windows.

Careful to keep the cold out of my warm spot, I slip from beneath the covers and rush down the hall to the water closet (also known as the bathroom in the United States).

Returning, I pull the covers over my head, unable to face the cold reality of another day without sunshine. Retreating further into my cocoon, I remember what it's like back home.

There I envision houses with colorful lights, front lawns alive with everything from prancing reindeer to shepherds standing over the baby Jesus. Store windows display exquisite Christmas trees and beautifully wrapped packages. Christmas music on the radio 24/7, cookies baking, church bells ringing, carolers singing, families together – Christmas is in the air!

But that is back home. Not here.

How I Ended Up in Siberia

Here, it's nothing like home. My husband's steady breathing comforts me as I think about our 23 years with Cru and how we ended up here, of all places.

"An unprecedented opportunity," my husband, Jay, explained. I was committed to go, but how could I possibly leave our 5 grown daughters and precious granddaughter?

Acts 2:39 helped remind me about the message of Christ: "The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off – for all whom the Lord our God will call" (New International Version).

When our family gathered for Christmas, I was overwhelmed with gratitude as I listened to everyone talk about their love for the Lord and one another. Gently, God pulled my emotions on board with His will. 

But I still struggled.

Living in Various Shades of Drab

We packed and repacked everything we thought we couldn't live without – warm clothes, thermal underwear, toilet paper, decaf tea and coffee, peanut butter, popcorn, books and a computer.

At the airport in Novosibirsk, we were welcomed by blank stares and the realization that there wasn't a word of English to be heard anywhere.

Slava, our driver, and Darrell, our teammate, were waiting for us at the gate.

We held on for dear life as the car careened through traffic over the multiple levels of ice and snow, blackened by the tires and fumes of cars and buses.

Eager to take in all the sights, I peered through the frosty car window. The people, the clothes and the apartment buildings were all varied shades of drab. It was surreal, like watching a black-and-white movie.

Darrell and his roommate, Monty, invited us to share their 2-bedroom flat until we found a place to live, which brings me back to my under-cover escape.

It's Almost Christmas, but I Feel Sad

When I crawl out to begin my day, I realize it's almost Christmas. The only reminder is the icy snow, which will soon be covered with dirt.

I feel sad.

I'm sad for this country, which has shut God out for so many years. I'm sad for the Russian people, many without hope for a better future. I miss my family, and it's hard to shake the sadness.

The next day, the guys come home with the spindliest little tree, hardly more than twigs. We decorate it with anything colorful we can find and stand back to admire our handiwork. 

We don't know whether to laugh or cry; we choose to laugh. Our sad little Christmas tree transforms our homesick hearts.

Just the Reminder I Needed

A few days later, Jay arrives with our mail. I settle in the middle of the bed to look at Christmas cards. I open a card with a Nativity scene on the front, and the soft strain of a familiar song fills the room, along with my soul.

"Silent night, holy night. All is calm; all is bright. Round yon virgin mother and Child. Holy Infant so tender and mild…."

A baby, destined to be a King – willing to die for our sins and reign in our hearts. It was just the reminder I needed. What a privilege it is to bring the good news of peace to those who are far off, even in Siberia. 

From Surviving to Flourishing

In the coming months, God taught me even more about living in Siberia, and that it's about more than just surviving.

It's about flourishing. I learned several lessons about surviving in "Siberia," whether it was the literal region or the state of my soul.

At the end of our 3 years in Siberia, I stood on the bank of the recently thawed Ob River and watched my husband baptize our precious friends Victor, Natasha, Alex, Luba and Nina. It was a special event, symbolic of how God had blessed our time there.

The lives of teachers, students, men, women and children had been touched, and many came to know Christ.

Oswald Chambers says, "Never try to live your life with God in any other way than His way. And His way means absolute devotion to Him. Showing no concern for the uncertainties that lie ahead is the secret of walking with Jesus."

My husband and I consider our 3 years in Siberia a highlight of our lives.

I listened to the Lord instead of my own hesitations, and as a result I learned to flourish in Siberia.

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