From Russia, With Love Fond Memories Of Smolensk Draw Her Back

Posted: April 09, 1998

During her first trip to Russia, Anita Mestrow stayed with a family that walked up six flights of stairs to bring her buckets of hot water for a bath.

The family of six had no running water in their three-bedroom flat in Smolensk, about 200 miles west of Moscow.

But they had plenty of something else.

``The Russian people are the kindest people you will ever meet,'' said Mestrow, who lives in Blackwood.

Mestrow was on the 1995 trip as part of a Christian missionary team sponsored by the South Jersey Conference of the United Methodist Church.

And she developed such a bond with her host family, the Redkinas, that she now considers them kin.

In June, Mestrow, 45, a supervisor for a book supplier, is planning a return trip to Russia.

But this time, it's a one-woman pilgrimage to talk with people about her faith.

That 10-day visit three years ago changed her life, Mestrow said. She wears around her neck a silver cross she bought there.

The Russian people are ``hungry to hear about the Bible,'' Mestrow said. During her last trip, she and others in her group distributed Russian-language Bibles and led prayer sessions.

On this trip, she plans to stay with the same host family. She's not fluent in Russian, but she has spent the last three years polishing her skills through language cassette tapes.

These are hard times for Russians, she notes, even though there are no more bread lines.

``People are eating, but they are struggling to make a living and feel betrayed by their government,'' she said.

So far, she's raised about $600 of the $2,000 needed for the three-week trip by selling everything from T-shirts to Tupperware.

Her fellow church members at Chews United Methodist Church in Chews Landing are collecting coins to help defray her costs.

Chews Pastor Darryl Duer said Mestrow has ``closed the gap'' bybringing Russia closer to the congregation.

``It's a smaller world than we realize,'' he said. ``She's an ambassador, a representative of us and Christ.''

Although the majority of Russians are devout Russian Orthodox, Mestrow said services are delivered in an old Slavic language that few understand.

She sees her trip as missionary work, but Mestrow says its purpose is to allow her to promote fellowship with another culture.

``I'm not going there to convert anyone. I'm going there to build friendships, build communication and answer questions.''

She plans to lead prayer sessions and hopes to visit some schools.

Since Mestrow's first trip, Tanya Redkina, 22, who speaks English, has led prayer meetings with study materials Mestrow's group left behind. Redkina also visited Mestrow last year and attended summer classes at a seminary in Washington.

Mestrow, a divorced mother of a 24-year-old daughter, said her family supports her mission.

``I always knew I'd go back, but in God's time,'' said Mestrow, whose grandfather was born in Kiev. ``My people are there and I need to help them.''

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