For four young adults from Russia, the Presbyterian Youth Triennium made for quite an introduction to the United States.
Andrey Chekalin, Anatoly Vdovenko, Elena Gumen and Evgenia Guseva arrived in Georgia from Moscow a few days before traveling to Purdue University to attend Triennium, July 20-24.
The group came to the U.S. as part of a partnership between Good News Baptist Church in Moscow and First Presbyterian Church of Columbus, Ga. Started several years ago, this "twinning" relationship allows the churches’ members to take turns visiting and working with each other every summer.
Chekalin had never heard of Triennium before, but was excited to check it out.
"Why not?" he said. "We won’t be there alone. We'll have people with whom we're familiar."
And although the Russians weren't quite sure what to expect, the huge daily worship services were a big hit. Gumen said she appreciated worshipping with 5,000 others in a big auditorium — a new experience for her.
Vdovenko said he would like to see large gatherings like Triennium in Russia.
For Chekalin, the chance to meet other Christians was a highlight. He and the other Russians were in a small group with dozens of other global partners, who hailed from countries such as Northern Ireland, Portugal and Germany.
"It's the coolest group," Chekalin said. "We're all the same spirit, and it's wonderful. We believe in the same Jesus Christ."
Chekalin noted one big change from his experiences of church in Russia — female pastors. He's not used to seeing women in the pulpit in Russia, but appreciated the sermons from all the pastors at Triennium.
For the Americans hosting the Russians, the visit was a chance to reconnect with a church that has been a close partner for more than 10 years.
On odd years, a group from First-Columbus — typically, two youth, two adults and one pastor — visits Good News church for two weeks. Because the group is small, there's a pretty competitive application process to go on the trip. Once people hear the stories of those who have gone, interest goes up.
For Alanna Word, who made one summer trip, the opportunity to travel and meet other Christians was very appealing.
"What better place than Russia?" she said.
Once there, groups often work at a camp, helping with crafts, working in the kitchen or building facilities.
"We all have things in common," said Carrie Ann Sharitt, who also made a trip to Russia one summer to work at the camp.
To read another story about the twinning partnership and its delegation to Triennium, click here.