Chapter 21: Odessa, Black Sea, and Beyond

Odessa, Black Sea, and Beyond

Excellent New Friends

When we arrived in Odessa around eight o'clock, six young people met us: two couples, a single man and a single lady. They took us to an apartment some twenty minutes out of the city; it was in a small community with several high-rise apartment buildings. They were interested to meet Americans.
Their names were Alexander (Sascha, for short); another Volodya, and his wife, Olga, in whose apartment we were to stay; Valeri, their translator, and his wife Tanya; and Margarita. That evening we visited until about one o'clock in the morning. All of them were together in a private business. Sascha was the president and Margarita their business advisor. The other two men were still in government jobs. They said they had formed this business less than two years ago as a result of the new freedom. They had a small store that we visited the following day. We asked how they had come to invite us. How did they know about us?

They asked, "Do you know Serge?"

We said no, we did not know anyone named Serge. They said, "He is in California now. He called us from Fresno, from Logos."
Then Peters remembered that he had been in a meeting with Serge the day before we left. Our hosts told us that Serge had called with instructions for them to invite Peters and Block. Since Serge was a Christian, they said, they had no reason to question this recommendation.
I was curious, "He is a Christian and therefore you trust him; may we assume that you are also Christians?"
"We are inquirers," they replied.

They asked us what our occupations were. Well, Mr. Peters was a businessman, of course, a grower/shipper of fruit, and I was a retired pastor and a teacher in a college. So they asked what subject I taught, and I said, "Theology."
"Good," they replied, "Now we have a theologian, so we can ask a lot of questions."

I said, "Go right ahead, and we will see what we can do with them."

They asked a few questions, but they didn't get to anything very significant, because they simply didn't know how to ask questions of substance on the subject. To help out, I asked some questions for them and a nice discussion followed.
While we were talking, Olga and Margarita fixed a dinner for us. They did a lovely job. Soon they presented Russian dishes that I remembered from boyhood. There were "plemeniki," meatballs cooked in some dough with various ingredients, a nice salad—a good dinner.
After this, Olga showed us around their apartment and said to each of us, "This is where you will sleep." Then I heard them say that somebody would come with breakfast in the morning. Before I knew it, they were all gone.

I turned to Peters and asked, "What happened? Have they all left?"

"Yes, they're gone."

There we were alone, that is, alone with the cockroaches. It was a rather nice apartment, far above average quarters. Olga and Volodya went to stay with her parents and left the apartment for us. What a wonderful welcome from people whom we had never met before, people who actually knew nothing about us except for one phone call they had received. So the hospitality of Russian people is, I think, unsurpassed.

New Entrepreneurs and New Enterprises

We had a good night's rest and in the morning Sascha and Valeri brought the breakfast, followed by "vareniki" (cottage cheese dumplings), also something our people still make in America. They took us around in the city to different businesses and other important sites. Sascha was the driver, and Valeri, the interpreter.
They took us to the Mercantile Exchange of which Valeri is vice-president, and introduced us to the president and to various people. This is a place where factories display their wares for retailers to view and select merchandise to sell in their particular stores. The display was rather meager and nothing like a western mercantile exchange.
This is the way the government business operates. It is hard for Americans to think in these terms, but everybody worked for the government: the factories were under the direction of the factory department, and the retailers under the retail department. They also showed us their store, though they said this was not their only business. They were involved in other enterprises. The store was small, but it was well stocked, whereas in government stores, shelves were bare. Sascha, the president, had a very small office and the rest of the building was a sales area and warehouse.
They had a brisk business. Customers were buying, although the prices were considerably higher than in government stores. Nevertheless, the business was much more prosperous. This is what we found everywhere in private business. Private enterprise is budding, but it is slow to take hold, though entrepreneurs are, indeed, arising.
At lunch, we had our first experience in a Russian restaurant as such. It was small but most pleasant. We had a very nice lunch for the price of six rubles and fifty kopek, or the equivalent of 20 cents in American money.
That afternoon they introduced us to a city official who had once been in agriculture. He had some responsibility for regulating construction, as well as supervising the parks and the trees in the city. We hoped he would be able to introduce us to some agricultural leaders with whom Mr. Peters could talk about business. His name was Serge Anofriev.
We met him at his dacha outside the city of Odessa on the bay of the Black Sea. It was a two-story, five-room home, rather nice by Ukrainian standards. It was new; it had been finished less than a year before. They had a luscious garden with young fruit trees and vegetables.
Though we believed he was a Communist, we had an interesting visit with him. He would have be a member of the Party in order to hold the position he had. Our young hosts were acquainted with him, and his wife was a cousin to Sascha. While we were sitting in his living room with soft drinks, he made one very significant statement. He said, "The greatest need in our country today is for people to believe in God."
He didn't elaborate on that, but it was typical of what we sensed everywhere: people feeling that the moral situation in the land was so bankrupt, the only way back was through faith in God. This was the prevailing opinion wherever went. People desired Bibles. It appeared that they were hoping the Bible would somehow give them the secret of how to bring the country back to a moral standard, a standard that would allow people to trust each other, and lift the morale, and the morality, of the country out of bankruptcy.
That same afternoon, we went to the Bay of the Black Sea and looked around where Sascha and Valeri were each building their own dachas. A dacha is a house where people live during the summer. They are all along the coast, not far from the Black Sea.
In the evening we were able to sample another Russian art form by attending a ballet production in the famous opera house of Odessa. The production was truly a masterpiece. We went back to our apartment; the day was finished.

High-level Consultations

The following day, a Tuesday, Sascha and Valeri were back again. They were devoting a lot of time to helping us make the best of our visit. I questioned Valeri about taking so much time from his job. He said it was OK; he had cleared it with his superior. That morning they came back with good news. Serge had made appointments for Mr. Peters to talk to some people about agriculture.
We met with a man named Peter, who had been a director of a collective farm of several thousand acres. He was now in a different position, so he did not have anything to offer directly. Instead, he made an appointment for us to meet Vladimir Romanyuk, the chairman of the Kiev district of Soviet people's deputies—a high political position.
We walked into his office and immediately he ordered his secretary to serve tea. When she returned with the tea tray, she brought very elegant dishes, probably some of the finest china I have ever seen. Serge Anofriev laid out what Mr. Peters' mission was, that he wanted to help them in agriculture, to see how he could help them with quality control and the preparation of fruit for market.
During the conversation, as Mr. Peters explained his packing methods and equipment used, Mr. Romanyuk inquired whether he could help them obtain a line of packing equipment. It was evident that they had very little knowledge of what a line of packing equipment was. So Mr. Peters described his electronically operated grading and packing equipment to them. They asked if he could help them buy one. Peters said, "Yes, I can."
They wondered how much one would cost. Mr. Peters offered that he had a very good one that was used but still in good condition. He had just switched to a newer model, and he could sell it to them for a very reasonable price. He also told them what a new one would cost.
Then they discussed cold storage. Mr. Romanyuk was very agreeable to everything that Serge suggested. This, of course, was all exploratory conversation. They told us that they had a cold storage facility under construction. Mr. Peters asked to see the cold storage they were building. They said, "Yes, as soon as we get through here, we can go."
They also talked about the possibility of getting involved in some cement business. Mr. Peters dealt with international exchanges, so he could buy cement in Russia and sell it to third-world countries. In fact, he had some orders from third-world customers in his briefcase.
They took us to a cement mine and then to a refinery where the ore is melted down and cement is made. They had some fairly modern equipment, including a bulldozer that was loading the trucks with very big scoops. Dump trucks were hauling ore to the plant. The plant was apparently operating efficiently. After some photographs were taken with the whole group, and words of farewell were spoken to Mr. Romanyuk, we proceeded to the cold storage plant under construction.
Before leaving, Peters and I visited a small market near the apartment where a dozen or so women sold produce and flowers. We bought a vase with flowers to leave in the apartment provided for us.
nbsp;Peters made friends everywhere with his Polaroid camera. They were always amazed when he showed them finished pictures after only a minute or two. One woman noticed that Peters was going to take a picture, and she turned her back to him while others posed. When he gave them the picture he had taken, she was disappointed. She had not expected to see the picture! She thought he was just another tourist taking a photo to take home.

Ukrainian Odyssey

Very early the following morning, Sascha and Valeri took us by car through the Ukraine to Zaporozhye, a distance of some nine hundred kilometers. By the time we actually left, the early hours had slipped away, but some tires had to be changed and a luggage rack had to be installed. All of it has to be done by the drivers themselves. There were no shops to serve us. Eventually, we did get on the road.
The beautiful countryside of the Ukraine, now an independent republic, rolled by—luscious growth in the fields evidenced the fertile soils. If only they had a good management and distribution system, they would not need to import agricultural products. We saw sunflower fields by the mile: one variety with small heads for oil, another with large heads for seed. The fruit trees looked very good as well.
Of course, the travel was interesting but without many basic conveniences. In all those nine hundred kilometers—about 500 miles—there were no restaurants to stop for coffee or for lunch. However, our Odessa friends had prepared for that. They had fixed a basket of food at home. They pulled aside into a stubble field and we had a nice picnic by the car.

When we finally got to Zaporozhye in the Ukraine, it was later than we had expected, well into evening. We looked around in the city a bit. We wanted to go to the big oak tree, the historic place where the Mennonite families first camped when they arrived in katerinoslav in 1789 (now Zaporozhye). They camped there for several weeks, so it has become a rallying point. Only a few years before, in 1989, Mennonites from Russia and from America gathered there to commemorate 200 years of Mennonite history in Russia. So we wanted to go and see the oak tree.
I had been there in 1978, but I didn't remember the way through the city. We found the hotel where we stayed then, and, asking the driver to stop, I inquired there. When I asked for the way to the oak tree, they immediately asked whether we were Mennonites. Then they told us how to find it.nbsp; When we got there, a disappointment awaited us. The tree had died. We saw the sign, indicating the age of the tree was over six hundred years. Only a few branches were still alive.
Our hosts did not want to stay the night; they had to move on. We drove through some former Mennonite villages and noted particularly the village of Halbstadt, where Peters' grandparents were born. From there, they had come to America. It was also where the Mennonite district offices were located.
After two hours of sleep in the car, we traveled through the night on the way to the city of Krasnodar in Russia. We also traveled through the parts of the Crimean peninsula where my stepfather, Peter Isaak, and my father-in-law, Mr. Harms, had served in civilian national service in place of military duty.
We had now seen the area where our ancestors had lived, where our roots were. We were glad for the beauty of the land and the productivity of the soil. This could have been a very rich area, if it were properly managed. Traveling through the Crimea was enlightening. We saw vineyards and orchards, of which my stepfather had told me many times. This is where my wife's father had gained expertise in grafting and budding of trees that he practiced in his orchards in California. It was also here where we saw beautiful modern beaches, which reminded me of Long Beach in California.nbsp;
A short distance away was Yalta, where Joseph Stalin, the Dictator of the Soviet Union, President Franklin Roosevelt of the USA, and Winston Churchill, Prime Minister of England, carved out the shape of post-war Europe.
Only four days after our drive through the area, not far away, a revolutionary committee from Moscow took captive the Soviet Prime Minister, Mikhail Gorbachev. This led to the ill-fated coup that became the demise of the Soviet Union. All these historic events added to the significance to our travels in this area.
We had a three-hour delay waiting for a ferry to cross the bay into the Krasnodar region along the Black Sea. It caused us to miss the people we were to meet at the airport in Krasnodar. With the help of our new friends, Volodya and Valeri, we found a comfortable hotel room for the night. After two days and nights in a small car, we enthusiastically welcomed a full rest.
The next day we were able to contact the people in Maikop with whom we were to stay the next three days. Mr. Peters had a friend named Murray Donaldson from Dinuba, California, a teacher in the only Evangelical Bible Institute in the Soviet Union, located outside the city of Maikop. Murray Donaldson was staying in the home of Paul and Olga Droverub. In the morning, Paul came to Krasnodar and took us to his home in Maikop.
On the way we passed numerous fruit stands, especially ones with watermelon. It appeared to be much like California. There were miles and miles of vineyards. The land is very flat and fertile—beautiful territory, and very rich agriculturally.
Before reaching Maikop, we stopped at the Bible Institute where we found a Christian children's camp in progress—probably the only Christian children's camp in the country. We met the directors, Mr.and Mrs. David Loewen, from Canada. It was exciting to find all these Christian efforts going forward, pioneering in the area. Paul and Olga welcomed us to their home and we stayed with them several days.
Markets and Manufacturing in Maikop
In Maikop, we again went to the markets. They were always of interest. They seemed to be in every city with plenty of food at high prices, but sufficiently supplied with everything people needed.
There was also a privately owned brick factory, organized in the last two years, of which Evgeniy Droverub, Paul's brother, was president. Paul and several other Christian men were partners. We learned that Evgeniy served as the national chairman of the Christian Business Men's Committee. In 1992, after we returned home, he came to see Alvin Peters in California when he visited the United States and Canada.
We toured the factory, which also included some furniture manufacturing. The facilities were rented from the government and business was going well. Everywhere private business paid much higher wages to their employees and was far more productive than government-owned businesses. Many such facilities were being leased to private industries, mostly entrepreneurial companies of three to five individuals. These facilities were in great need of repairs and updating. The young company was considering buying the facilities and entering into a rebuilding project.
After a tour of the plant, Evgeniy, Paul, and several other Christian men took us to lunch at a hilltop restaurant in a lovely setting. The building was a rock structure, plain but very enjoyable. It was government-operated—no frills but very adequate. We found the company of Christian men from a different culture, in a different type of a setting, very refreshing.

Preaching God's Word in the Ukraine

On Saturday evening we went to the church service. They had a full program but made room for us and asked us to bring our greetings and a brief message.

They also provided a translator. In nearly every crowd there was someone who could translate for us.

Peters gave his greetings through the interpreter, and I gave my greeting and introduction in Russian, telling them my Russian was very limited so that for the brief message I would have to make use of the translator. It was a very moving experience and a great privilege to be able to bring a message from the Word of God in the country of Russia, where two of my uncles had died in concentration camps for preaching the gospel.
After the service, a group of Paul and Olga's friends came home with us for a time of visiting, singing, prayer, and refreshments. We felt the reality of beautiful Christian fellowship with people we did not know, but with whom we felt very comfortable. Then, on Sunday morning, we went to the service, and it was very well done again.

Toward Siberia

After that service, we reunited with our guide, Volodya Teterin, who had come from Moscow to help us on the way. After the morning service, the same Christian men and their wives took us, and a few others, to lunch again at the same restaurant. We had an enjoyable visit over a fine table set with linen tablecloths and lots of food served family-style. I was pleased to see the ladies gather up the good leftover food and take it home. A sign of good stewardship of what the Lord provides.nbsp;That afternoon, with the help of one of those men, we were able to obtain tickets to fly to Novosibirsk in Siberia, where my family and the wife of Alvin Peters, Anna (Isaak) and her family, had lived so many years before. nbsp;Acquiring those plane tickets was not as easy as simply going to a travel office and buying them. This Christian brother went to an office in town where he thought he might be able to get them. He knew one of the ladies who worked there. He was successful in getting one ticket, with the suggestion that he come back at three o'clock when she might have another one. On the way he said, "These girls like presents." I asked if he had given her a present because I wanted to pay for it if he had. He said no, I should not give a present now. At three o'clock, we did, in fact, get another ticket.
After the evening service, more came to visit and fellowship with us at the home of Paul and Olga.

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