To Russia with love " and faith
Next month, Steve and Carol Johnson will say good-bye to the Truckee church they have pastored for 14 years and become missionaries in far-eastern Russia.
The move from mountainous Truckee to a flat city of 600,000 dominated by Soviet-era apartment buildings will be tough, the Johnsons acknowledge, but they are confident that the choice is the right one. Steve Johnson will teach and support pastors in the area, while Carol Johnson will teach English and counsel women.
Although they will officially be working with The Mission Society in Khabarovsk, Russia, a lot of their support will continue to come from the downtown Church of the Mountains that they have lead for over a decade.
“We want the church to see that their pastor of 14 years is not leaving, but we are going to do a ministry on behalf of this church,” Steve Johnson said.
Claire Patterson, who has been a member of the Church of the Mountains for nearly 13 years, said the entire congregation plans to fully support the couple’s missionary work.
“Our church as a whole, as well as many of the members of our church family, has committed to support Steve and Carol’s mission work financially and with prayer,” said Patterson in an email interview.
The church even plans to send groups to Russia to help the Johnsons in Russia once they are settled, said Patterson.
Khabarovsk, in terms of weather, is a city of extremes. It can drop as low as 40 degrees below zero in the winter and reach more than 100 degrees in the summer, the Johnsons said. And, as Carol Johnson points out, it is “closer to San Francisco that it is to Moscow.”
But the disparate temperatures will not be the only thing the Johnsons will have to get used to. A new language and culture will make for the largest adjustments the couple will face.
“Communication will be tough,” said Steve Johnson. “My whole job is to positively influence people and I am not going to be able to use the language to do that.”
Steve and Carol Johnson, who have already begun learning Russian, will spend part of the summer in Colorado learning “how not to be the ugly American in a foreign country,” as Steve Johnson put it. Following those courses, the Johnsons will go through nine months of intensive language training in Kazakhstan before flying to Khabarovsk.
In early 2003 the Johnsons had no plans of leaving town.
“We thought that we would retire here,” said Carol Johnson.
But “God’s call,” as the Johnsons refer to the moment they knew they were meant to leave for Russia, came at a 2003 summer camp in the mountains outside of Santa Cruz, Calif. But while the call was clear, the direction wasn’t obvious at first.
“They said ‘where do you think that God would have you go?’ and I said ‘I don’t have a clue,'” said Steve Johnson.
But when Both Steve and Carol Johnson were told of the need in eastern Russia, where the many churches that sprung up after communism fell are now struggling to find direction, they knew they had found their destination.
The Johnsons will begin a “pioneer ministry” in Russia “-the equivalent of entering uncharted territory.
“Nobody has started it. I am not replacing anyone,” said Steve Johnson of the work he will be doing. “We are starting from scratch.”
One of the pastors they will be supporting brings meals to the people who live at the city’s dump, and dig into the garbage to find shelter from the winter cold.
As the Johnsons prepare to leave, it will be the friends they have made that they will miss the most. But the couple will also miss everything about the place Carol endearingly refers to as “heaven on Earth.”
“It’s been a long run here,” said Steve Johnson.
And although their congregation will miss them, they completely understand the reasons behind the Johnsons’ departure.
“God called, and Steve and Carol answered,” said Patterson. “They both have a deep love of God and love of people that has led them to answer God’s call to share this love with the people of Russia.”