New friends in Russia show concern
Since the Sept. 11 acts of terrorism in New York City and Washington, D.C., two Tonganoxie women who traveled to Russia in July have received letters of concern from Russians.
Flo Cooper said she had received e-mails from five people she met in Russia.
"They were concerned and they wanted us to know they were praying for us," Cooper said.
Mary Jo Bartels said her Russian friends who have written said they were horrified about the acts of terrorism.
"They say they can't believe it happened," Bartels said.
Cooper said it mean a lot that their Russian friends have been sympathetic.
"I have been very affected by it and then to get the e-mails from Russia was overwhelming," Cooper said. "I just couldn't believe that they cared that much."
One Russian friend, Cooper said, wrote that a few people were cheering about the terrorism, but said they appeared to be in the minority.
"She said there were many, many more people taking red carnations and putting them out in the middle of the Red Square as a memorial," Cooper said.
Bartels and Cooper participated in the two-week summer mission trip to Russia through the Christian Church.
In Kostroma, the women taught Bible school classes to children, ages 6 through 13, in a 100-year-old former theater that now serves as a church.
For families who belong to the Christian church, it is the center of their lives, Bartels said.
"Whole families are entrenched in the church," Bartels said. "They spend their days there and their lives there."
The youth are the key to longevity of the church, Bartels said. And the church finds plenty for them to do.
"The kids spend so much time there," Bartels said. "They don't have bowling alleys, malls or bicycles."
The teen youth group meets on Saturday nights.
"They are so devoted to their church and dedicated that it has the potential to really grow," she said.
In addition, she said the church now operates its own school, adding one grade each year.
Bartels said sometimes children face a harsher life in Russia than in the United States.
One child, she said, attended Bible school all week wearing a hat pulled low over her forehead. It was only when the brim of the hat was inadvertently moved aside that she realized why.
"The whole side of her face was black and blue," Bartels said. "I reported it to the people at the church and they said you can call the police if you want to but they won't do anything."
There are two kinds of orphans in Russia, she said, those whose parents have died, and those whose parents have given up their children because they couldn't afford to raise them or they were unfit to raise them.
During the lessons taught to the children and teens, Bartels said, she and Cooper, as well as others on the mission, tried to stress the idea that every child is a gift from God.
A teenage girl who attended the weeklong church Bible school wore the same T-shirt and cutoff shorts every day. Bartels offered to give her some of her clothes, but the girl declined.
A person in the church suggested that she take the girl shopping and buy deodorant for her.
"I took her to the store and it took her 10 minutes to pick out the kind she wanted," Bartels said. "She was thrilled."
The Russians are proud people, Bartels said, and this is something that may prevent them from accepting assistance.
"They're like us, they are proud and they are educated, except they don't have resources," Bartels said. "In Russia you can try and try to get ahead, but you never will you just survive."
Bartels said when she first heard about the mission trip, she felt compelled to go.
Her interest, spurred by a desire to learn more about the world, as well as to help others spiritually, stemmed from a health problem Bartels had two years ago.
Shortly after she turned 40, she received a post card in the mail from her insurance company advising her that at the age of 40, a woman should have a mammogram.
So she made an appointment.
"They took one mammogram, then they took another and another and pretty soon the doctor came in," Bartels said.
The mammogram had detected a pea-sized lump.
Bartels underwent a lumpectomy. The cancer was of the invasive type but it had not spread to the lymph nodes.
"Because of my age, I was a chemo candidate," Bartels said.
After undergoing four chemotherapy treatments and 33 radiation treatments, and continuing her visits to her physician every three months, Bartels has not had a recurrence.
The experience with breast cancer changed the way she looks at life.
Every day, now, is a gift, she says.
"I'm so grateful to be here," she said. "And I'm so grateful that I could make the trip to Russia. That was a great opportunity, and I try to set an example for others in helping and serving others. I just hope it's pleasing to God I feel like I've tried to say thank you for letting me survive."
Since Sept. 11, Bartels and Cooper have been particularly watchful of world news.
They both said they hope to be able to stay in contact with the Russians they met.
"It's always going to be a little shaky with Soviets," Bartels said. "But I hope that politically I can keep my friendships."
And Cooper, regarding her ongoing communication with Russian friends, said: "The trip ended, but it's just been continuing."