I am part Jewish. I call myself a Messianic Jew AND a Christian. The 2 seemingly contradictive terms CAN go together. Jesus was Jewish. The first Christians were Jewish, like Paul who traveled through Turkey to Rome and planted churches along the way. John, who wrote the Apocalypse, penned letters to the 7 Churches–all found in Turkey. He was exiled on a Mediterranean island not far from Antalya. My American life has joined with that Mediterranean country that connects the continents of Asia with Europe–at Istanbul. Once called Constantinople, that city rises above 7 hills adorned with ancient castles, Christian cathedrals, and Muslim mosques. Contradictions are part of daily life. Viva la difference!
Jennifer Thalasinos is comforted by her pastor, Kathleen Dowell of Shiloh Messianic Congregation
Today the world’s news focused on new U.S. President Donald Trump’s immigration restrictions concerning 7 highly volatile, Islamist countries. Money poured in from liberal sources like George Soros and CAIR (Committee for American-Islamic Relations, a group with ties to terrorist organizations like Hamas) to fund many of the people who protested at airports and government offices across America and across the world.
The “Los Angeles Times” covered anti-Trump protests at LAX airport in a completely biased manner and even asked readers to submit their “Immigrant Story.”
Well, here is my Minority Report immigration story. Let me clarify that not all Muslims are Islamists, a term that indicates an embracement of the extreme, violent, jihadist beliefs of Islam and Sharia Law. My Muslim Turkish mother-in-law, for example, would sooner give a stranger tea and homemade soup than assemble bomb parts, and she longs for world peace.
All of us face challenges. In America, our challenges are usually not as difficult as people who face civil war in South Sudan, where children walk miles each day just to find a safe place to sleep. Yet many people think life is easy for Americans. I say, not true. Which do you think was more difficult for this American (Lonna Lisa Williams) to do:
1. Leave my California home in October, 2010 for Russia to teach English because I could not find a job in my own country even though my grandfather graduated from Yale University, was a professor at UNC, and handed the torch of education to my teacher mother and to me. Endure a long winter where I wore chains on my boots to run across the ice that coated every surface. Teach English to 13-year-olds only to end up speaking and reading in Russian because no one really wanted to speak English and hated America. Even though my grandmother was Russian, I learned their alphabet and simple words as a child, and I look Russia, most people avoided me because I was the “Amerikanka.” Discover that Vodka is easier to get than good tea, Russian food is bland and full of potatoes, and everyone shares alcohol and violence in the 3rd-class wagons of the Russian train from Samara to Moscow. Endure the 17-hour journey with 50 bunks to a wagon, accidentally stepping on a sleeping Russian woman who screamed when I descended from my top bunk. Cry on the trash bin in the back of the wagon. Kiss a Russian stranger between the wagons, in that blessed cold, dark connector, as snow fields slipped past and a full moon shone on frozen rivers. We, Russian and American, kissed without words, like lovers from a war movie who will never meet again, showing how tragedy is really, really Russian and American.
My first Christmas away from America was spent in snowy Russia, 2010
Some of you may have read about my tragic childhood experiences of Christmas. On a lighter note, you may enjoy reading about my recent Christmas adventures in Russia, Turkey, and China. See how my life has progressed!
Still, as I spend my 4th Christmas teaching English overseas, I miss my children in California and wish I could get back to them. Let’s all hope for a Christmas miracle and reunion with our families!
Saint Anthony’s cathedral in Istanbul, Turkey, 2012
One of the most amazing nights of my life was spent in a Moscow airport. It was huge, brightly lit, and shiny, and it provided no place to sleep except in uncomfortable metal chairs where sleep was impossible. I tried dozing at a 24-hour cafe (spending too much money on food and tea just to sit there), but eventually I found my way down the (probably forbidden) levels of stairs into the basement.
I climbed under the stairs, lay down on my faux fur coat, and simply slept for a few minutes before a woman descended in her noisy heels, and I felt like I must move back into the passenger terminal before I was caught and put into a Russian jail.
Now I know a little how Edward Snowden feels.
Ironically, for $200, I could have slept in a nice hotel-like room complete with shower and television, on the upper floor. But I barely had enough money to leave Russia after teaching English in Samara for a long, frozen 6 months.
I had missed my flight because I was attacked by an Uzbecki man on the train from Samara. He tried to wrest my passport from my pocket as his friends watched and laughed. I was able to escape and run to the Provitnitsa at the other end of the wagon. She let me hide in her locked compartment while she alerted the Moscow police who met us at the train station and delayed me, my luggage, and the suspect (who ended up deported to a Siberian work camp without a trial). That’s how I missed my flight and spent a simply sleepless night.
Read more about my Russian adventures in my book, Fire and Ice.
Two of the most intense of the four elements are fire and ice (ice being the frozen form of water). Touch either with your bare hand, and you will feel their contact. Journey with me through the fire of a California mountain wildfire, where my cozy life as a rich housewife and mother burned up. I walked through fire to find a new life teaching English in frozen Russia. Missing my children, my heart like ice, I learned to walk across the frozen rivers of Samara. Read about this journey in my “Fire and Ice” book. Watch my Youtube video that I narrated with my own voice. Know that you, too, can survive contact with the wildest elements.
A worker cleans snow off an ice statue of an owl on a house
I taught English in Samara, Russia for 6 months and marveled at my first Russian winter in the city beside the Volga river. At the Opera House Plaza, the annual Ice Garden amazed me as it stood among Christmas trees and festive lights for weeks.
You can see the stately Opera House in the distance
Workers design the Ice Garden in front of the Samara Opera House and Christmas Tree
In Russia, liquid turns to ice in winter. I spent 6 months teaching English in Samara and enjoyed walking across the frozen Volga River, watching skaters skim over an open rink, and observing the plaza’s ice garden.
I spent 6 months in Russia, teaching English. In Samara, I would walk miles along the Volga River. Here is one shot I took at sunset with the light reflecting on the autumn riverbanks and deep blue water. Often it was cloudy and cold in Russia, but on some days, the shone shone bright.
I merged a portrait of a Russian grandmother with the distant landscape of the Samara Freedom Statue. It was a rainy day, and the gray clouds and wet concrete also contrast with the colors of grandma’s umbrella. What do you think?