'Open World,' Open Hearts

Balay, Diane Huie. "'Open World,' Open Hearts." United Methodist Reporter, 17 September 1999, 3.

Here are some comments by the participants in the recent Open World Russian Leadership Exchange program. United Methodists participated through the church-related Russia Initiative.

The Rev. Bruce Weaver, director of the United Methodist Russia Initiative:
“I anticipate that 500 United Methodists throughout this country participated in the Russian Initiative through the ‘Open World’ program who had never participated before. And they have said, ‘We want to support the Russia United Methodist Church and the Russia Initiative any way we can.’ Many of the Russian had no knowledge of the United Methodist Church. Now they ask where the United Methodist churches are in Russia.”

Tatiana Yurieva: “We’re trying to build a democracy but many people [in Russia] don’t understand what democracy stands for. People have to learn what it means. There’s an old Russian proverb: ‘You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink.’ That is like the Russian people; we’re trying to lead the Russian people to democracy, but…”

Host Victor Cordier, Dallas Texas, said in a good-bye to the Russian visitors that he had been willing to lay down his life to fight Communism. He had been a prisoner of war in a Communist prison in Hanoi for six years. “But now I can visit Russia as a friend.”

Lolita Yeremeyshvili: “We studied Christianity at the university. But here people go to church every Sunday. I’m surprised. They’re lucky. They know each other and do things together. It’s good. Lots of activities.”

Hosts James and Louisa Salmon, Erie, Penn.: “Aldar fed cattle, crawled to the top of the grain bin, saw wild turkeys in a field, sat on a tractor and combine and took many pictures. He also examined corn and soybean fields and toured a huge, old barn. In the evening, a farm neighbor had a bonfire with corn and a hot dog roast.”

James H. Billington, Librarian of Congress and initiator of the Open World Program: “Bringing large numbers of Russians to the United States avoids the patronizing syndrome of sending Americans to Russia to tell the Russians how to run their lives.”

Host Carol Cozad, Lewistown, Ill.: “Our first conversation was my attempt to say hello in Russian… It wasn’t long before we could begin to understand each other in English. When Alex couldn’t translate a Russian word into English or find it in the Russian dictionary, we just laughed at each other and went on to another conversation. This lengthy conversation caused him to have burned pork chops for his first meal. What an embarrassment!”

Host Patricia DePew, Coppell, Texas: “We didn’t need language. One of the women who stayed at our house asked me one night if she could hug me. They had been told that Americans don’t like physical contact. When I reached out and gave her a big hug, she just melted.”

Ludmila Vasilievna: “In America, smiles come back at you. God bless you. God bless your peace and prosperity.”

Reprinted with permission of The United Methodist Reporter.

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