January 20, 2014

Dateline Moscow

Someone slashed my car’s tires the other day.

The first clue came from an odd noise that surfaced as I was crawling to work in a Moscow traffic jam under fast-falling snow. An insistent shhhhrrrrrgggggggggg interrupted the actor reading Testimonies for the Church on my car’s mp3 audio system. Puzzled, I listened more carefully and wondered whether my car was dragging something.

Since I was traveling so slowly, I popped open the door and looked. I saw, to my surprise, that the rear tire was flat.

That was my first flat. Ever. And I had no idea what to do.

I called a friend from church, and he advised me not to try to learn how to change the tire in the snow. Instead, he said, I should wave down a passing car and offer the driver 200 rubles (about US$7.00) to change the tire.

I had my doubts about whether anyone would stop in the blinding snow, but I did as instructed. As I weaved my way to the side of the road, a passing driver honked his horn and helpfully pointed to the flat. I waved my thanks.

After stopping, I exited the car and extended my hand.

Immediately a Nissan sedan stopped, and a portly Armenian driver emerged. He waved off my question about whether 200 rubles would be sufficient payment to change the tire. He ignored the passing cars that splattered him with grimy slush as he squatted over the tire. He wished me a good day when I thanked him profusely for being an angel.

Back in the car, I thanked God for the Armenian driver’s kindness and settled back to listen to Testimonies.

Then I heard it again: Shhhhrrrrrgggggggggg. The noise sounded familiar. I thought, It couldn’t be, could it? A passing driver honked his horn and pointed to the front tire on the other side of the car.

I called my Russian friend again.

“Wow, it sounds as though someone’s angry with you and has slashed your tires!” he told me. “Either they were hooligans or, most likely, you parked in the wrong place and the driver who wanted that space sought revenge.”

I didn’t have another spare tire, so I had to find a tire repair shop.

Seeing that I was near my landlady’s apartment, I called her to ask if there were any tire repair shops in the neighborhood. She confirmed that there was, and told me where to find it.

At the shop—a shack, actually—I met Takhir, a mechanic from Kyrgyzstan. Takhir was filled with empathy for my plight. He showed me the knife slashes in both tires and told me that the same thing had happened to him shortly after he moved to Moscow. Takhir said I should seek revenge, explaining that after his two tires were slashed, he had kept an eye on the parking spot and learned that a Russian-built Zhiguli car always parked there. Deducing that the Zhiguli’s driver had slashed his tires, Takhir approached the Zhiguli one night and coated its windows in oil and slashed all four of its tires.

“I wasn’t an angry man when I moved to Moscow,” he told me. “But that’s what Moscow does to you.”

We proceeded to engage in a warm conversation about our lives, including the antics of his 3-year-old son.

I arrived at work two and a half hours late. But I was so happy! One unknown person had tried to ruin my day for unknown reasons. But as a result of his actions, I’d had the opportunity to be blessed by six people: Takhir, my landlady, my Russian friend from church, the Armenian who changed my tire, and the two drivers who had honked their horns to warn me about my flats.

“This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it” (Ps. 118:24, ESV).*

So many nice and kind people live in Moscow! God is certainly here.

* Scripture quotations marked ESV are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.