Westmont Magazine From Russia, with Love
When Gary and Jeanne Parsons said goodbye to their daughter, Katie ’06, at Orientation last fall, they gave her an extra hug. Not only were they taking a daughter to college for the first time, but they were leaving her half the world away from home.
Since 1991, the Parsons have lived in Moscow, Russia, where Gary directs the work of Young Life in the 15 nations and 12 time zones of the former Soviet Union.
“This has been a tremendous opportunity for my family,” Gary says. “Taking the best of Young Life’s style and applying those principles in this complex and fascinating part of the world has been exciting. The majority of my time has been spent building relationships with young adults and regional and national leaders. Through these friendships, we have been able to discover how to best develop a helpful strategy to reach the young.”
The Parsons’ commitment to Russia began in the late 1980s when Gary led a student exchange to Russia. A graduate of Lewis and Clark College in Idaho, he has been a Young Life staff member for 24 years. Jeanne attended Whitworth College in Washington.
“Our goal is to raise the next generation of young adults who are known for their love for Jesus Christ and young people,” Gary explains. “We have Young Life ministries in 10 countries effectively reaching kids in 65 locations. This work includes outreach to orphans, addicts and homeless kids. Much of what we do looks quite different than Young Life in the United States, but the core remains the same: caring adults who love Jesus befriending kids on their own turf and developing a relevant platform to communicate the Gospel.”
Culture shock hit the Parsons hard when they first arrived on foreign soil. The contrast between American wealth and the Russian lifestyle was startling for the native Californians and their three young daughters. Political tensions arising from strained relations between the United States and Russia, the Kosovo crisis and the failed coup in 1993-94 contributed to a sense of strangeness.
Despite the difficulties the Russians face, the Parsons feel optimistic about their future. “Almost every aspect or area of society will require total reconstruction, from the set up of a democratic-style government to business and banking,” Gary says. “But I have found that in just 10 years the Russian people have made incredible progress. I believe they have a wealth of brilliant up-and-coming leaders in all fields who will soon rise to the forefront in international recognition.”
Young Life is helping develop opportunities in the new Russia. “We offer language and computer training in our Moscow center as well as in schools,” Gary explains. “We also assist in business and entrepreneurial training in the school system. Just yesterday, I lectured at the Pushkin Lyceum on the U.S. Constitution. The students there are all very sharp future political leaders.”
According to her parents, Katie chose Westmont because she wanted a challenging academic environment within a vibrant Christ-centered community. “The depth and quality of her friendships is outstanding,” they say. “She also has connected well with her professors, which has really helped.”
Katie hopes to study abroad one semester as she misses the diversity of the international community. “I hope Katie can be an advocate for more international students to attend Westmont in the future,” Gary says.
The Parsons say sending their daughter so far away has been tough, but they are glad she is at Westmont. They appreciated the Orientation program for parents. “After attending the events and seminars, we felt we were leaving her in the hands of the Lord and a very committed community,” they say. “We believe Westmont College has and will be a great ally and partner in this time of adjustment.”