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I recall being somewhat excited at the news that the Sheaf Royal was to load a cargo of grain in Beaumont, Texas for discharge in a place I had never heard of in the Soviet Union. I don’t know what I expected to find in the USSR, but I do know that after a month at sea the chief steward expected to be able to restock the fridges and galley stores with the usual range of foodstuffs. He was badly mistaken. There wasn’t much to be bought locally other than some fairly miserable lamb, carrots, and potatoes. And lemonade. And vodka (of course).

Nakhodka was a new but grey looking town, mostly built since 1949. By 1959 the town had a population of 64,000, and by 1974 when I visited the population had doubled to 128,000. Strangely, given that we were in the Far East, the people who lived in Nakhodka were almost all of European appearance. It seems that the town had been populated with Russians from the opposite side of the USSR.

Nakhodka: A long way from everywhere else in Russia! Source: Google Maps)

There was no problem going ashore in Nakhodka, once the guard on the gangway had spent at least ten minutes conducting a visual inspection of the person wishing to leave the ship. We had to exchange our Seaman’s Discharge Books for shore passes. We were not allowed to speak to the guards, or even offer them a coffee. Breaking the rules meant no shore leave. Some people came to welcome such a sanction! There wasn’t much to do. There was a seaman’s club, but this facility existed solely for the purpose of inflicting communist propaganda on seafarers.

Unbelievably it took sixteen days to discharge 38,000 tons of grain, compared with 36 hours in Rotterdam. The Russians didn’t believe that a 36-hour discharge was possible. As far as they were concerned every port in the world worked the same way as them, except that the Russian facilities were more modern! Most of them hadn’t even heard of a place called Rotterdam. We must have made it up.

The port of Nakhodka in 1972. Image scanned from ‘The Soviet Far East’ – an interesting book (once you get past the propaganda) published by Novosti Press Agency.

I am now four times the age I was when I visited Russia for the first time. I have been back since on business; to Moscow a couple of times and to St Petersburg once. I still don’t know that much about this fascinating country and I want to know more. I know that Russia spans eleven times zones. I also know that the people I have worked with there have been amongst the kindest and most generous folk I have met in my travels. And one of the things in life I will always treasure is being totally and completely overwhelmed by the presence of God in Saint Basil’s Cathedral, even though the Cathedral is now a museum. (Click to read more.)

God came into my life four years before I first visited Russia and I still don’t know or understand everything I want to know and understand about God. But just as I could never know Russia even if I spent my whole life travelling the country, I can never know or understand God fully in this life. How can I fully understand or even attempt to put into words the love of God shown in His Son Jesus Christ?

But I want to know more about God. I want to know more about Jesus. I want to be there at the wedding in Cana, on the hillside when he is teaching, in the storm, at the well in Samaria, and so many other places where Jesus went. For now all I have is Scripture and prayer. And that’s all I need. Any more than that would just be too much for my simple human mind to process.

By faith we understand that the entire universe was formed at God’s command, that what we now see did not come from anything that can be seen. (Hebrews 11:3 NLT)