Reaching out to Smolensk, Russia

(Courtesy of Aengus Millen) Aengus Millen standing in front of cannons that were left behind by Napolean in the 19th century.

Although he attended a boarding school in high school, Aengus Millen ’18 volunteered with his church from his hometown Raleigh, North Carolina.

Millen’s church is very international-thinking and as a result, it developed a connection with a church in Smolensk, Russia.

This connection formed and continued to evolve after Millen’s church raised money for the church in Smolensk, Russia after a fire.

To foster this relationship between the American and Russian churches, some of the adults of Millen’s church went and worked at a camp that was run by the church in Smolensk, Russia.

This is the trip that Millen will embark on the summer before college in 2014 with other high school students from his church group and two adult chaperones.

“I decided to go on the trip because any opportunity to travel I will take. I love traveling and exploring new places. I am planning on going on a study abroad.

The plan for the trip was to spend three days in Moscow, Russia and ten days in Smolensk, Russia. The three days in Moscow would be for sight seeing and the other ten days were to volunteer at the camp that is run by the church in Smolensk, Russia,” elaborated Millen.

After a nine to ten hour plane ride, Millen and his church group, although exhausted, hit the ground running with sightseeing in Moscow.

Their first stop was visiting an Orthodox church. “It was very funny because my friend and I were not allowed to go in the church because we were wearing shorts so we had to sit outside the church and take in our beautiful surroundings,” expanded Millen.

The group then went to the Kremlin, a historic site, which is where the Russian government has its offices.

This was followed by seeing more Orthodox churches and canons that Napoleon left behind.

“We all went to a market that had a bunch of stalls selling random things like food, ornaments, flasks and other very touristy things. The market was really cool and was a great cultural experience.

The only thing I didn’t like was that people were trying to get me to buy things and I’m very shy, so it was hard to say no. I bought historical prints for myself at the market and my mom a nice lacquered box, which is a tradition because I had bought her one while I was in Poland,” explained Millen.

The trip overall largely targeted tourist attractions, so not much wandering around occurred, but people were very nice while they wandered around.

“The train stations in Russia were beautiful, comparable to Grand Central Station. Also, it was very funny seeing my mom carry around all the mone y we had raised for the church in Smolensk, Russia. The total we raised was about $10,000 through personal donations, stands, events, and collection plates during service,” elaborated Millen.

After the three days of tourism in Russia, it was time to go to Smolensk for the main part of the trip.

As a result of Russia’s great size, Moscow and Smolensk are 1246 miles away, which is about a three and half hour train ride. Millen explained, “While in Russia, we pretty much couldn’t use our phones because it was so expensive. So it really facilitated amazing and very close relationships with people.”

Once at Smolensk, Millen and his church group headed to the camp where they spent the first night meeting the rest of the staff. They also met the manager, who was the preacher at the church camp before the campers arrived.

The church camp was for children who were less fortunate. “Our co-counselors were from Russia actually. With some of the counselors there was a language barrier, but most of them were very good at English; however, the girls were better at English than the boys. Every night the counselors would go room to room and sing a song to the campers.

It was a lot of fun and the campers loved it,” Millen described.

Every day, Millen and the other counselors would play games, hold scavengers hunts and have intense soccer games with the campers.

The camp gave the counselors a day off, since they were so exhausted from excited and rambunctious children.

This free day consisted of going to see cathedrals in Smolensk, visiting sites Napoleon attacked, and exploring the Katyn Forest.

“The Katyn Forest was really eerie, because not only was it a massacre, but a massacre that was done by the government. The Katyn Forest was the site of a massacre during WWII where Stalin had a mass execution of people,” explained Millen.

“You go to these places that are foreign, and are told to expect that people are going to be different than you, but there are actually a lot of similarities between people across the world.”

Millen’s words of wisdom could not be truer.



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