After breakfasting on Cinnabon cinnamon rolls at home, we headed to the Cinnabon restaurant to drink coffee and use the internet. Sandzhik met us there at 10am and took us on a tour of the city.
Kalmykia is a region about the size of the State of Oregon, though the shape reminds me of the old system of gerrymandering. 300,000 people live in the region with half the population concentrated in the city of Elista. Tsagan-Aman, the city where Sandzhik planted his first church, lies on the Volga River. The southeastern corner of the region borders the Caspian Sea. Kalmykia lies in the steppes region of the Caucasus Mountains. It is essentially flat for as far as the eye can see. It would be like driving across Kansas or Nebraska, but without the corn or wheat to break up the horizon.
The two major interests in Kalmykia is wrestling and chess. The city of Elista hosts chess championships. Sandzhik is known in the city as a champion wrestler.
The Kamleek people are descendants of the Mongols. They began migrating to the region in the 400’s. During the 1600’s, there was a battle between China and Mongolia that drove more people away from their homes and into the region. Kalmykia is the only Buddhist people group in Europe. A large Buddhist temple dominates the heart of the city, both geographically and spiritually.
The worship center dominates the main floor of the temple. Below is a museum and a conference center. Above is a balcony where you can view the worshippers. While visiting the museum, Sandzhik recounted the history of the region and talked about the different migrations. As we left the museum, Sandzhik was chided by the curator for bringing Christians into the building.
A prayer service was taking place as we were there. The droning of the prayer chants reminded me of Matthew 6:7, “And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words.” I thought of the warning given in 2 Timothy 3:5—in the last days, there will be people … “having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people.” While beautiful and fascinating, everything about the temple screamed, “LOST without Jesus!”
Afterwards, we visited the National Museum. It included exhibits for the Kamleek people’s contribution to The Great Patriotic War (WWII), the contribution of Buddhism and the Orthodox Church to the region, and various paintings and natural history. It was an interesting place that gave me a greater understanding of the region and city.
We then strolled through a park. We saw a smaller Buddhist temple with a prayer wheel. It was only a short walk from a statue of Lenin. A few blocks away was a memorial to all the men from the region who received the Russia’s highest Medal of Honor, The Hero of the Soviet Union.
After lunch of sushi, we headed home for an afternoon of rest. It will be the last chance to relax until the class is over.
The temps here are in the upper 30’s or low 40’s. Today was cold and gray. It rained while we were at dinner.
In the evening, we had dinner with Sandzhik & Elsa and their two children. Russian restaurants serve food when it is ready, rather than serving everyone at once. You might get your main dish first and your soup last. At tonight’s dinner, everyone had been served and finished their meals before mine ever arrived. Then I had everyone’s eyes on me while I ate. It was tasty and worth the wait.
Pictures will be posted when I get back to Moscow where I can hopefully get a stronger internet connection.
Thanks for praying.