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Thoughts on life by Teri McCarthy

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Part 8 Final Story of the TSR Saga: Aaaaaat Last…My Love Has Come Along

Posted by admin in July 5th, 2009
Published in faith

Okay, I know that song is about a lover not a city, but when you’ve dreamed of a place for a very long time, hoped and prayed and longed for it as much as I had Moscow, you gotta know it was a thrill to finally be in that city!

We rolled in early morning, before 5:00. It was a very sunny day, but a bit cool. Our little band of foreigners left the car and the platform together. The Conductor and the Steward said kind farewells to us. They had only one night’s rest before their next shift, and they’d be back on the TSR heading to China. There was no sign of the General.

We were all pretty filthy. At one point in the trip we had to lower the windows because of the heat on the train and all the soot of the engine poured in on us. We were covered in a black film. We’d done our best to wash in the small lavatory on the train, but those attempts didn’t improve our appearances much. So here we were, this group of weary travelers, covered in black soot, all with enormous backpacks, shuffling off of the platform into the Moscow train station. First rule of order, we had to check in with the Intourist office at the station and report our arrival. Then, that office would help us book hotels, make connections, and reissue visas. My hotel had to be “officially” approved for foreign guests and paid for at this Intourist office. (The USSR had so many restrictions on foreigners traveling in their nation that everything had to be done through their sanctioned Intourist office. It was a way of keeping tabs on us, as well as, controlling hard currency). The woman at the Intourist office was kind and friendly. But she insisted we pay for everything in rubles. The hotel for three nights, the train ticket on to Helsinki and the new visa all totaled a pretty hefty sum for me. In fact, it was going to wipe me out of all my dollars completely. I knew I’d have a place to stay once I was in Helsinki, so I went ahead and opted for buying everything in the package just to spend the time in Moscow—even if it was only for three days. But I didn’t have any rubles. So, the nice Intourist lady told me to go down to the basement of the train station and exchange my dollars for rubles and then bring the payment back to her.

This is where I parted with my band of foreigners and we all said our goodbyes. Addresses were exchanged, hugs were given, a few final laughs helped to cover up the awkwardness of trying to tell someone you barely knew how much you really liked them. Some were leaving Moscow that night for Poland. Others had prepaid in their country of origin for a full out, full blown, weeklong tour of Moscow. They all had plans and were ready to move on to the next stage of their trips. I was the only one depending solely on Intourist to fix me up. It was tough saying goodbye. Well, not so much for the French guy and Philip, but the others—yes.

The foreign currency exchange office was a little glass window in a dark corner of offices in the basement of the train station. It was dirty and stinky. It was damp. There were a few people waiting in line to either buy dollars or convert dollars into rubles. All of those in the slow moving line were nationals. So, I prayed silently as I stood in line. “Lord bless that guy over there in the gray jacket. Please reveal your Son to him.” “Jesus, that lady over there looks troubled, please fill her with Your peace and give her a sense of Your nearness.” I loved every face, every person, every man, woman, and child I saw in that dingy basement of the train station as I waited in line to convert currency. The door to the exchange office opened and a very distinguished, well-dressed gentleman of about 40 years of age stepped out. He headed directly toward me. I had taken my backpack off because it was so heavy, and had laid it on the floor (not a good idea because the floor was so gross, but…) and when the man approached me, I stepped over the backpack to use it as a sort of barrier between him and me.

“Excuse me miss, do you speak English?” His English was really good.

“Yes,” I hesitated. Not because I’m unfriendly, but because I wanted to be cautious.

“Are you traveling alone?” he asked.

Wow. That was a tough one. I didn’t want to tell him the truth. I was afraid he was going to take advantage of me. I had heard of people being robbed, kidnapped, molested, even disappearing somewhere into the Russian Mafia underground.

“My friends are upstairs,” I said. And in reality they were…Jesus, God, the Holy Spirit (my friends) were definitely “up there.”

“Please come with me,” he said. “Please. Don’t worry. It’s safe. I’m an official for the currency exchange office. Everyone here knows me. Please…”

And like a fool I went.

We stepped into a small, empty hallway just off the main foyer.

“Do you want to exchange some dollars for rubles?” he asked.

“Yes,” I said.

“The official rate is one dollar for one ruble,” he smiled.

“Okay,” I had no idea what he was getting at.

“I’ll give you 25 rubles for one dollar,” he continued to smile.

“Also, if you have any blue jeans, I’ll pay you $100 cash for each pair. You are typical Russian woman sized and American blue jeans are very popular on the black market. I also need lipstick, used is fine, nail polish and any other cosmetics you might have. You my American friend are very lucky to have run into me.”

Why was this guy so likeable? He looked like this usher guy at my church back home. He wasn’t crooked, or dark, or evil; he was a survivor and he was using skills, connections, and yes, tools he had developed over the years; years of government oppression, restrictions, censorship, human rights violations—and for reasons I can’t really explain, I wanted to be this guy’s friend. I wanted to do business with him.

I know evil. I’ve seen it firsthand. In my missions work around this world I have been accosted, strip searched, jerked out of vans, interrogated, pulled from planes (still at their gates of course) by evil men and this was not an evil man. He was doing business for his family, for his children, in the only way left for him by his government—under the table. It’s easy sometimes for Americans to judge citizens of other nations and wonder why they don’t obey the laws of their lands. It is often because the laws of their lands are unjust and inhumane.

I never knew being a plus-sized gal would ever pay off, but it did. I had two extra pairs of jeans with me. One I’d keep, the better pair I’d sell. I sold him two tubes of lipstick, at $10 each, one bottle of bright red nail polish (something I hadn’t used and felt was stupid of me to bring along in the first place) at $25, a brand new tube of mascara still in the L’Oreal package at another $25. This stuff from America was hot! Women in Russia couldn’t get US cosmetics or clothing through regular channels, so each item was a money maker for my currency conversion officer. By the time he and I finished doing business I had made over $200 and sold enough goods to pay for my Moscow stay with lots of cash leftover. At 25 rubles for one dollar, the cost of my stay in Moscow had just dropped from $250 to $10. And I had made some cash selling my stuff.

My business associate and I shook hands. He gave me his card in case I needed anything during my stay in Moscow. I ran up the stairs, paid for my Moscow package and headed to the hotel for a much-needed shower.

“No hod wader!” the hotel babushka was shouting at me for reasons I didn’t understand. “NO! Hod wader finised til Ougust!”

It seems that different sections of Moscow are scheduled each summer to have their radiator systems flushed out. My hotel was on the grid for July. Lucky me. It was 65 degrees outside and there was no “hod wader”. There’s a time in every girl’s life that she just has to man up, grit her teeth and step into a very cold shower. This was mine. Welcome to the USSR!

Showered, clothes changed, and with a little cash in my pocket, I headed to the streets to see what I could see. My hotel was near the train station so I headed back there to sit on the huge front steps leading up to the building. I soaked up some sunshine and “people-watched” (one of my favorite things to do). I was so happy. I was inexplicably happy. And I guess it showed. I smiled at people. No one smiled back. It wasn’t the Russian way. I had bought some bread and a Coke knock-off-cola and was eating my lunch there on the steps of the train station breathing in the sheer joy of being in Moscow. An old man came up to me and scolded me, “What are you smiling for you idiot? You think you’re posing for a photograph?” Wow. I didn’t see that coming. He grudgingly gave me a wink as he left.

People asked me if I saw St. Basil’s, the Red Square, Lenin’s Tomb or the Bolshoi Theater while there. Nope. I just walked the streets, I sat on park benches, I explored neighborhoods. Not very touristy stuff, but it was what I wanted to do and I loved it. I loved every minute of it. The day to leave for Helsinki came too soon. I boarded the Red Arrow express train for Helsinki at midnight the next night, not wanting to leave, not ready to go.

Going to China in 1983 had been an act of obedience to God. I had never had a burden for China nor had I ever been interested in that nation. But when I knew God was calling me there I went. Once I touched Chinese soil I fell in love with the place and had a great experience there. I am so glad I obeyed my heavenly Father and went to China. Russia on the other hand, had been my first love. I longed to live in Russia, cried for Russia, prayed for Russia and begged God to allow me to live there. But doors just wouldn’t open for me to be there long term. This little visit and three day walk around had not satisfied my longings, but in reality made them even stronger.

I had sent a fax from the Intourist office to Aimo’s office letting him know when I’d arrive in Helsinki. I didn’t know if he received it or not. I didn’t know if he and Marianne really meant that I could stay with them upon my return. I’d just have to deal with all of that once I was in Helsinki. It had been an incredible trip across the continent, lots of friends, lots of stories, and now I was coming full circle by heading back to Helsinki. It had been over three months since I first arrived there that bitterly cold, dark April night.

The Red Arrow pulled into the Helsinki train station around 10 AM the next morning. I had shared my compartment from Moscow to St. Petersburg with three young Russian brothers. One was deaf. They had been kind to me and helped me get tea, something to eat. I couldn’t speak Russian; they couldn’t speak English, but having a deaf brother they knew how to communicate without using words. In fact, the deaf brother understood me the most. When they got off in St. Petersburg, I was alone in the compartment for the rest of the three hour trip. Our train pulled into the station and looking out my window I was so shocked to see Aimo, Marianne, with the baby in a black pram, and Pia standing on the platform with a sign, “Welcome Teri!” It was a warm morning, the sun was shining, I had friends meeting me at the station, so different from my first time in Helsinki. I got off the train literally dumbfounded.

“We want to hear everything! You look so well! We’ve been praying for you. We’re so glad to see you! Will you stay in my room again?” Everyone was talking at once. For some reason I was crying. I couldn’t stop the tears. Aimo patted my back a little too hard but with great enthusiasm. “Let’s go home sister! What do you say?”

God is so faithful. He is better to us than we deserve. He is gracious and kind and full of mercy. I crossed the Soviet Union once more on the Trans-Siberian Railroad in the fall of 1988. In 1989, the Berlin Wall came down and the desire for freedom spread like wildfire across the Soviet bloc. A new day was dawning in that part of the world.

In March of 1991, with a newly minted graduate degree in hand, I was offered a job to teach at the Moscow Textile Institute (MTI, not MIT). They wanted me to start September 1st. I bought my plane ticket and was scheduled to leave August 27. Overnight the democracy coup took over Moscow and when I left for Russia, tanks were rolling in the streets and the Russian White House was on fire, but I wasn’t afraid. I knew that this door had opened for a reason and that I was born for this very purpose—to be in Moscow when communism fell. I’m not much into nation building, but I am into people building and when the dust settled, the fires were put out, and the tanks quit rolling, Russians began to look for a new basis for hope and a big ol’ donkey girl from Kansas was there. And the experience was like living a dream. But that’s a whole ‘nother story. Peace.

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