November always finds me traveling a horrendously long distance from the States to Velikoretskoye, Russia. It is literally a journey of planes, trains, and automobiles. I have been making this journey to Velikoretskoye since 2008 to visit my friends who happen to live in an orphanage. As wards of the state of Russia, our community is restricted from talking about faith and religion, yet it is hard for me to hold that part of myself back. Each year, I develop discussion questions to generate conversation with our friends. Over the years it has been about joy, struggles, superheroes and many other things that all allow us to ‘talk’ about who we are created to be and how we live, yet not pointing directly to the one who created us.
I typically say that Russia is like the book of Esther. God is unabashedly throughout the entire situation everywhere, yet never once specifically mentioned. They pray, they fast and they acknowledge that they were created for something specific…but never once do they identify who that person is in their life. Russia is the same way when it comes to ministry. God has his Holy Spirit so incredibly active in Russia it takes my breath away and I see it everywhere I look, but I cannot point to God as the one responsible while hanging out with orphans.
This year, as I was praying and discerning through what to talk about with my friends in the mornings, God spoke and directed me to my love for storytelling as a way to point to Jesus. I struggled in the beginning to figure out how to articulate the meaning without talking about the Ultimate Storyteller, but then realized we could easily talk about stories without mentioning Jesus and still point to all being a part of a massive story. I needed my friends to know the impact they had on my own story, as well as once they enter into our massive story, it is impossible to exit.
One morning we talked about stories we liked as children and their moral compass, which led into stories we read now. Sitting with the older kids in the orphanage, I had several who love to read. Taking in everything they were saying, I asked, “Has anyone ever written a story? I loved to write stories when I was a kid.”
Getting a strong answer that no one had ever done that, I suggested we write out an outline for a story. It was in preparation for making puppets the next day in hopes of doing puppet shows. But, as always, my friends ultimately surprised me with their insanely good creativity and humor.I asked, “If we wrote a story, where would it take place?”
Vanya, sitting on my left, immediately replied, “Narnia.”
“Okay, Narnia it is. Who would be in our story?” I asked.
Names floated from all around the room: Nastya, Denis, Sergei, Valya, Hobbits, Chicken Raba, Shrek, Trolls, Fiona, etc.
“Got it. That’s a lot of characters, who would be the villain?”
The entire room chants: “Denis!”
“Denis as a villain? Really? Why would he be a villain?” I asked, unable to reconcile the mature teenager sitting in front of me with the spunky, funny young boy I first met in 2008.
“I was traumatized by hobbits as a child,” Denis said with a completely straight face as I erupted in laughter.
“Because they eat first breakfast, second breakfast, third breakfast and then start on lunch?” I laughed, soaking in his humor that will be missed once he graduates in June.
“Of course,” Denis replied.
“They ate all the food!” the room contributed.
“All right, genocide against the hobbits. What about a hero? Who would we have as the hero of the story?” I asked.
“A mouse!” the room yelled. In the beginning, we had talked about how mice were always the heroes in Russian fairy tales. With super strength, and very cunning…they were always the hero.
It is in this moment I must add, that while writing this story, it was the day after I’d had ANOTHER mouse in my car a mere three months after one had died in my blower motor resulting in replacing everything around the blower motor in my car. Mice have cost me a LOT of money over the last three months as the price tag was big again last week, and with everything in me I did NOT want to make a mouse the hero. But due to the creative stylings of my friends, I honored their ideas, yet cringed along the way.
“Does the mouse have a name?” I asked.
“Mickey Mouse Man!” my translator Sveta contributed, yet got overruled by our friends who decided ‘Mouse Man’ was the better selection as a name of a hero.
“How does Mouse Man take down Denis?”
“My name is Denchik,” Denis stated.
“Ok, how does Mouse Man take down Denchik?” I asked saying ‘Denchik’ in a low, enunciated, villain voice. Adding, “That is a much better villain name.”
Discussion happens around the room, making translation near impossible, until a consensus is reached, “A cheese canon!”
“A cheese canon?” I asked incredulously.
“Yes, a cheese canon,” Roma responded.
“Okay, I have to know, is it hard cheese or liquid cheese?” I asked.
“It’s hard cheese, but it isn’t the cheese that kills him.”
“Oh, really? Then what kills him?” I asked curious to see where this was going.
“The mold on the cheese kills him,” they responded.
“Yes, the mold kills him.”
“What is the moral of the story? When we talked about Russian stories, you all told me there is always something that teaches the reader. What are we trying to teach?” I asked them.
“Forgiveness is always possible,” Roma stated.
“Yes! Is there a cure for the mold?” Sveta asked them.
“No, Denchik must die,” Roma blatantly replied.
“So, no possibility of redemption?” she asked.
“Then where is the forgiveness?” I asked.
“He is trying to kill the entire hobbit population, he has to die this time and he cannot be redeemed,” Roma reasoned.
“We have to have a sequel, though, all good stories have sequels,” contributed Denis.
“Yes! So, redemption has to be possible and there has to be a cure for the mold that kills him!” I said victoriously raising my fist in the air as my exuberance for superhero stories flooded out of my voice.
“The cure happens in the sequel,” finished Denis, who loves superhero stories as much as I do.
And that, friends, is how the story of ‘Denchik’ was created through one insanely creative morning with friends in a small village in Russia, and a weekend in the States of being submerged in what affectionately gets called my ‘Writing Cave.’ It would be so easy to write off this silly, crazy story as something that means very little, but realistically, in the name of community, it means so, so much. It is representative of something God called our Stateside community to step into first in 2002 in a different region, then to Velikoretskoye in 2008, and the loyal love we have for our friends. We never dreamed that with each year we visit our lives would perfectly meld into something so important to all of us. None of our lives would be the same without the impact each have equally made on every one of us.
‘Denchik’ came through friendships that have been grounded in consistent visits every year, through years of being present to talk and know each other, and simply showing up where God leads us to go. It is knowing that stories play a big part in our lives. In the reading, telling and retelling…all stories matter and have priceless value. There are more stories that will be told from our visit this year, but knowing this one has entered the universe in the way it has makes me completely overjoyed with our community and what God has been able to do among us.
To read the powerful story of ‘Denchik’ (always remember to say in a ‘villain’ voice) click here, as I am not a professional writer, please ignore the amateur nature of the storytelling: Denchik