My first two weeks in St. Petersburg were filled with a lot of doubt and uncertainty. I didn’t have a place to live, but I was able to temporarily rent a room from one of the other teachers who also had to move out of that flat. (Long story. The landlord died, the nephew who inherited the apartment wanted to rent it out to other relatives etc.) Mike and I got along well, and since he’s been in Russia for eight years he was able to show me around the area, give me some history and advice, and teach me the answers to some of the questions I would be asked every day. Towards the end of the two weeks, I started to get really worried. I still didn’t have an apartment, Mike was moving, I was realizing that money might be a big problem, and here I was with two big suitcases and nowhere to go. I’d been told before arriving that the cheapest accommodation was around 10,000 rubles ($310), but the one place I’d been able to look at was full of construction, cramped and full of people for 14, 000 rubles ($434). I’d told the woman that I couldn’t pay that price, but with no other prospects I told her I’d take it. That’s when she told me that she was still showing the apartment to other people, and the soonest I’d find out would be after I’d already moved out of Mike’s apartment.
While I was jet-lagged and up at all hours of the night I started reading a lot of articles about homelessness in America. I was surprised to discover that my current income puts me below the American poverty line. Even though in Russia I’m well above the nominal salary, it was still something that made me stop and reflect. There I was, paying the same amount of money as a small, one-bedroom apartment with bath, kitchen and living room would cost in America for nothing but a shabby, bug-infested bedroom where the wallpaper was coming off in strips and a bath and kitchen that are shared with other tenants. I consoled myself with the knowledge that commodities would be cheaper. After all, in China I could purchase food that would sustain me for two full meals for about 20 cents. But as I started grocery shopping, I realized that I was paying higher prices for less food.
As I was walking around the city with all of these gloomy thoughts on my mind, I started looking at everyone differently. I wondered how much they made and how much of it was spent on a place to live. I wondered if they sat down each night with pen and paper trying to calculate if they would make it through the week without another loan. I watched the homeless men as they slumped on the concrete for the night at the entrance of my metro station, reeking of alcohol. I watched the beggar women with their kerchiefs and their empty sour cream containers. I watched as band-aid salesmen made their way up the metro trains peddling their wares while everyone avoided eye contact and pretended they didn’t exist. I walked by the corpse of a shabbily dressed man who’d drunk too much and fallen. I felt that I’d been blessed with much good fortune in my life, and only now with money worries and homelessness looming over my head did I see my fellow humans clearly.
I’d been praying these two weeks, and all of my friends and family back home were praying as well. I knew in my heart that God would shelter me and that this was a test to see if I would rely on Him in my hour of need, but I was overwhelmed by by the magnitude of God’s blessings and the power of prayer. A room in a flat became available, and the woman was asking for 8,000 rubles a month ($253). I thought it sounded too good to be true, and I nervously made my way to the flat to see in what condition it might be in…..it’s beautiful. It’s clean, it’s modern, it’s airy. After I saw it, I thought I must have been mistaken about the price. Surely Lena had meant 18,000 rubles, instead. It turns out that Lena had just been transferred from Moscow, and that her company was paying for most of the apartment. If either of us had wanted to rent it on our own, it would have been around $1,000 a month. And Lena herself is wonderful. We’re about the same age, and her English is so good I don’t even worry about using simpler words or speaking at a slower pace. I couldn’t have asked for anything better. I sent this email out when I moved in:
“God really is amazing. For the past two weeks I’ve been stressed and worried about my housing situation, and today, with one day left before I would have had no place to live, God showed just how wonderful He is. I now have a room in a beautiful apartment with a wonderful new roommate for a price that is much lower than I was anticipating. In my helplessness, I was ready to accept any apartment for any price, but God is showing me that by relying on Him, that He’ll give me something much more beautiful than I could have dreamed for myself.