40 Years in America

Seven Weeks in the Last Days of the Soviet Union

Therese Stewart

In each of the four ten-day leadership seminars in which I served as a group leader, I came to know six or seven university students or teachers quite well. By sharing in small groups after lectures on the existence and nature of God, the family, the ideal world, human history and the significance of events in this century, the beliefs and biases, the frustrations and hopes of the people were revealed.

Students were often less communicative -- it took longer for them to trust and most were not accustomed to expressing their feelings. They, like their professors, were well mannered, and well educated in their specializations. Many were only children in their families, the sons or daughters of the communist youth party. They asked excellent questions and took issue with points on which they disagreed. Their long years of indoctrination with dialectical thought was often apparent, for example, in their belief in conflict as essential to progress.

Many had difficulty dealing with the notion of a spirit world. Few believed in God or, as far as they understood, had had any experience of God. Yet they were open and willing to entertain the possibility that God does indeed exist. As we became acquainted and as trust developed, we sometimes discussed dreams, a somewhat familiar experience of a dimension other than the material. In one instance, when I asked a young woman if she ever had dreams, she smiled and replied, "Just today, when we were sitting in a circle discussing the lecture, I suddenly remembered that I had had a dream of this very group two months ago!"

Our work as staff was physically and spiritually demanding, the accommodations adequate but hardly comfortable, and the food often unfamiliar and sometimes unappetizing despite the efforts of a hard-working kitchen staff. I heard few complaints from Americans about these rather minor inconveniences. It seemed right that we at least taste what most Soviet people have experienced for decades.

The morning we were to drive to Riga and from there travel by train to Moscow, a workshop participant brought news of the coup -- he had been listening to an early-morning newscast. People responded in different ways, some without surprise and others with fear and concern for their families. After considering alternatives, we decided to go on to Moscow as planned.

After arriving there, we ventured into downtown Moscow via the famous Moscow Metro. We emerged from the subway into a blockade of Red Square by army tanks and soldiers and a large crowd of people. We could see the walls of the Kremlin and the steeples of St. Basilís Cathedral but little more. Surprisingly, the atmosphere did not seem tense. The soldiers were young, and seemed unhappy to be there. Asked by a reporter if he would shoot if directed to do so, one replied, "Iíd shoot, but I would miss."

Later on, we watched CNN to keep abreast of the events from a larger perspective and saw the rapid failure of the coup. We left Moscow and the new friends we had made with mixed emotions, realizing what a difficult course is still theirs, yet confident that with renewed faith in God, and with the teaching of True Parents, a new tomorrow is assured.

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