October 29, 2013

Dateline Moscow

Curious Russians greeted me with a flood of questions when I showed up at church several years ago.

“What’s your name?”

“Where are you from?”

“How old are you?”

When I told them I was 33, they said, “Oh, that’s the age Jesus was when He died.”

A feeling of remorse would sweep over me, because Jesus had saved the world in 33 years, but I had done nothing in my 33.

The questions continued: “Are you married?”

When I answered no, they asked, “How is that possible? You’re 33!”

In Russia it is a grave sin, not just among Adventists, to reach 25 without tying the knot.

“It’s actually good that I am single,” I explained. “I’m only now seeking Jesus in my life. If I had gotten married earlier, I’d probably be stuck in a bad relationship.”

This explanation satisfied my interrogators—for about six months. Then the prodding started again: “It’s been six months! That’s more than enough time to find a wife.”

Although I’ve lived in Russia for nearly 17 years, I’m not Russian. According to my passport, I’m American. But I’ve lived only eight years in the United States. I was born to missionary parents in Zambia, raised in Zimbabwe, Indonesia, and Singapore, and moved to the U.S. at the age of 15. I left for Russia immediately after graduating from college.

I have not met any Russians who can relate to my travel bug. Few can sympathize with my desire to live in Russia, which is where I believe Jesus wants me. Many think there is only one promised land: the United States.

I know single Russians who probably love Jesus with all their hearts. But I am a fifth-generation Adventist raised on a culture of FriChik, My Bible Friends, and the Heritage Singers. Russians tend to be first-generation Adventists who chow down on real fried chicken, have never read a Bible-based children’s book, and don’t listen to Christian music because there is little available.

Language is also a barrier. My Russian is poor for an in-depth conversation about interpersonal matters, and I have yet to meet a single woman who can speak my blend of Americanized, Adventistized English.

Looking across the Atlantic, I have tried to date Americans. The nurse who spent a few years as a missionary kid seemed promising. I could relate to her lingering culture shock. But I also learned that a childhood spent abroad leaves a significantly different impact than just a few years abroad.

Then there was the professor who had the travel bug. But she always returned home to the small town where she was born and raised. She asked me how much longer I planned to stay in Russia.

But the main problem with American women is distance. No one wants to be in a long-distance relationship, myself included. It’s impossible to become acquainted when you live across the world from each other.

I also have personal issues. My parents divorced when I was 15, and I cringe at the thought of repeating their example. Another worry fills my thoughts: How can I know if a woman truly loves Jesus more than me?

So what’s the solution? I turned 40 in January. Except for perhaps the head deaconess, the members of my church seem to have resigned themselves to the reality of me remaining single.

There’s nothing wrong with being single. Jesus was single. Paul was too; although I take little comfort in his words: “Now to the unmarried and the widows I say: It is good for them to stay unmarried, as I do”
(1 Cor. 7:8).

Jesus is and always will be my best friend. But Jesus also said in creating Eve: “It is not good for the man be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him” (Gen. 2:18).

So what’s a single, aging missionary kid stranded in Russia supposed to do? I refuse to believe that the solution involves introducing Russian women to FriChik. n

Andrew Mc Chesney is a journalist in Russia.