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Siberia, August 30, 1999

Saving Souls in Siberia

You wanna get busy saving souls? Then head East young man, head for Siberia!

Chris and Sveta chilling in Kemerovo
Aww, ain't they cute!
The best pizza this side of the Urals!
New York Pizza!
I remember the first time I saw a missionary. I was living in the Mt Pleasant section of DC with several housemates, and one day two young, clean-cut kids rode by on new mountain bikes. It wasn't that white kids on bikes were rare in my neighborhood, or even two kids wearing suits on bikes, but two identical dark blue suits with nametags attached was odd. The locals usually had more style than that.

The next time I saw them, into the street I jumped out and stopped them in their tracks. Turns out, they were Mormons, prospecting for souls in the Central American immigrant community that settled in upper Mt Pleasant. Later I actually went to a Mormon service and visited the 'Wizard of Oz,' the all-white temple on DC's Beltway, but I never could accept their brand of conservatism and fanaticism. I'm a happy Atheist who wonders about the 'good' any organized religion does.

I never saw any Mormons in Moscow, but now that I am wandering in the provinces and Siberia, they seem to be the only Americans around. I can understand why too! You have to be insane or in love to live outside of Moscow. Mormons, I think, are a lot of both.

Woops, I didn't mean this to be a tirade against Mormons, especially since they are but one of the many religious groups that a nation of Atheists would attract. My hotel in Novosibirsk was invaded by Evangelical Christians the day I left, and this weekend I spent with a unique Ba'hi couple in Kemerovo.

Chris and Sveta are not your usual Siberian residents. He wandered out here five years ago from Cali, looking to slowly spread the word of Ba'hi, a young (only 150 years old) religion out of Persia. In Siberia, he not only found his calling and his love, but also a unique situation. He and Sveta decided to open a cappuccino bar in Kemerovo. Well that was before the crisis anyway. Now he's merged his plans with another American (one of the very few non-missionaries I've met) and is going for a pizza & coffee bar that should open later this month.

Chris and I spent the entire weekend in deep conversation, first about his religion (just cuz I don't believe, doesn't mean I don't want to know), then about how his religion and Russian business could mix. I do not envy the conflicts that I know he will have with what is right and what is reality, but I do envy his courage to face them and live with the results. He is a braver man than I.

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