Tuesday, March 9, 2004

Faith Adventures to Russia

The red and black plaid suitcase stood majestically on the Super Shuttle. It’s bulging sides seemed ready to walk away. If only this seventy pound bag could talk, its’ story would furnish the fascinating details of the next few days. But no, it could not talk. Nor could the other thirteen suitcases say a word, even if they wanted to.

Their sides had been marked with waterproof black markers to RUSSIA, along with the names of the city and mayor. Large stickers were well secured on all sides, proclaiming this to be the property of “Sisters City International.” The many yards of wide filament tape placed each side in many vice grips. All this was to disappear in the luggage hold of an International Flight, which would leave California for Moscow. The airlines had shown consideration several times to help the Sister City share its’ wealth of food, medicines, clothing, educational materials, and surprises; such as, packs of vegetable seeds, coloring books and crayons.

“Sisters City International” was organized in 1956 while Eisenhower was president. The office headquarters takes requests from a city and matches that city with a city of another country with similar population and occupation, such as farming, etc. The purpose of the organization is to extend cultural and educational friendship. It would be linking the California and Russian cities, which shared aviation history.

During the spring of 1993, two Russian travelers spent a month in California, thanks to the generosity of kind friends. There was wonderment in every moment! How does a credit card enable a stranded car to receive help? …and so quickly at that! Choices of shoes that fit. Lovely winter coats donated by friends…even a photo album with pictures labeled and ready to show “back home.” By now it seemed difficult to part with items we throw away, such as a “slurpy” cup. And, who would ever think of paper diapers for babies?

At last the final speeches had been made, some in Russian and some in English. Warm tears of friendship washed the cheeks. This could only happen once in a lifetime.

It was during the suitcase packing that the “Faith Adventures” one-year felt set was chosen to become an educational aide. This bright felt set had been cut and packaged by Irene Martinson and her friends. Before the trip of the Russian ladies, this set was used for display to community friends and organizations. A felt board, 32” x 48”, made of heavy cardboard that could be folded in half, was covered, and the scene from the book as shown on the diagram on page 131, was pinned in place.

Now the journey in the plaid suitcase would begin. First the flannel board was carefully folded into accordion size. The scene was still attached. Into a huge plastic bag went the flannel board, then the many numbered pieces of bright felt used to tell 156 stories (or even more as imagination required), along with the extra felt, the background pieces and the book, with a bookmark inserted to show the picture which had been set up. Next came many, many rolls of scotch tape, filament tape, and cloth tape, along with boxes of various sizes of straight pins and scissors. The whole set in the huge plastic bag was taped closed.

Now it was time to add the extra pounds, which would fill every corner of the suitcase and bring the weight up to seventy pounds. There were bags of dried fruits and nuts, bars of soap, pens and pencils, writing paper and envelopes. No space would go empty. Baby bottles would be filled with rice. At the last there would be a shower of rubber bands. All medicines, band-aids, and even a collection of tools, would be found with great delight!

It was a difficult decision to mark the suitcases with indelible letters, but this did provide the assurance that they would arrive at their destination. All suitcases go one way and stay. Another gift to the people in the Sister City.

Now came the weeks of waiting. Yes, the visitors with their multitude of suitcases had returned safely. But it takes time to unpack and deliver all the materials. Extra Ziploc bags and plastic bags with handholds, packed in each suitcase, would help. Each suitcase also had the names of new California friends.

It was July of 1993, when the first letter came from the city officials who were responsible for dispersing the goods. By now, thanks to the major airline and willing friends, there had been many thousand of pounds for the city, which had been visited by Californians. It is no secret that our Russian friends face starvation.

There had been questions as to the red and black canvas suitcase. Had it ended up on the black market?

In September of 1993, a beautifully written letter in English was carried from Russia. It read: Dear Horace and Jane, I am very glad to know that you are the very people who sent the Bible, and the pictures to my children at school. Lydua Levchenko gave them to me. Thank you very much. I appreciate your present greatly. I wish you Health and Happiness and Success. I enclose you the pins and the calendar devoted to the Air show and some coins just for viewing. With the best regards, Lida Sheffer

Who would have thought that the Faith Adventures felt would be used in the only English speaking school? It was the only set of felt in that city. The teacher who was using it was formerly with the KGB.

This miracle would not have happened if it had not been for the many hands and the generous hearts of friends.

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