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Well, I'm back on U.S. soil after spending almost 2 weeks in Belarus. Here are a few of the memories:

-- My host family in Misnk, the Tikhons, were incredibly gracious, generous, caring, and humble. They welcomed us into their home and really made us a part of their family, in spite of such a short time together. Though our communication was limited most of the time, we were able to find unique connections through laughter, photos, meals, music, and a combination of sign language and finger pointing in a russian-english dictionary. Two of the evenings we were able to share stories and conversations through a family friend who translated for us. I will never forget Vera and Alexandr's storied expressions of faith in spite of religious oppression and life-threatening peril that they were able to relate to us. The heart of the Tikhon family displayed first-hand for me the transcendence of God's love. It's one thing to say that God's truth is universal, but it's entirely another to actually see it fleshed out across borders and cultural divides. Oh, and Vera was an AMAZING cook. :)

-- I met a young man named Ilya at a youth meeting of one of the churches in Misk. Ilya spoke excellent english and was obviously excited to be able to translate for me during the meeting. He beamed afterward that he'd completed his first translation. I was glad to be able to encourage him a little, though he encouraged me even more, without even realizing it I'm sure. He had such a fervent and innocent faith that reminded me just how uncomplicated our joy in Christ should be.

-- I learned slightly more about the religious culture in Belarus that helped me understand our purpose there a bit more. The Orthodox church has a very strong cultural and political presence in Belarus. In general, any type of protestant Christianity is viewed as a sect or a cult. Part of our purpose there was simply to help dispell some of the preconcieved notions about non-Orthodox Christians while getting out the message of redemption and grace that very few Belarussians get to hear. We were also there simply to encourage the believers and missionaries living in Belarus. It's nearly impossible to quantify how well we were able to meet those goals, but I pray that somehow God was able to use the things that we did there for his glory.

-- In the town of Grodno, the entire team and all of the translators stayed together in a local church. Though that wasn't exactly how it was supposed to happen, it made for a really interesting sleepover type of atmosphere each night. I got to know both my teammates and the translators alot better. A number of laughs, late-night card games, deep and sometimes not-so-deep conversations were shared. Anyone who has been on a similar trip understands the unique bonds that form. Everyone knows that the circumstances are temporary, and somehow that seems to brings a different level of intensity to the relationships.

-- Maybe they just bring out all the hotties when the Americans come, but I have to say that Belarus seems to have an exceptional amount of stunningly beautiful women. My teammates often joked that I should make a special trip back to Belarus to find myself a wife. I can't really call that a bad idea, even if it is a slightly unrealistic one.

-- After experiencing traffic in Minsk, I'll never complain about St. Louis drivers again. It was the definition of chaos.

I feel like I should sum up somehow. All I can really say is that the trip was a blessing. It softened my heart and strengenthed my faith all at once. I can only thank God for the experience.

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