Friends General Conference Publication Connects with Russian Youth

Janet N. Riley


In 1993 I lived in Novgorod, Russia, a charming town dotted with ancient Russian Orthodox churches on either side of the Volkov River. Working under the care of my meeting, I held English conversation classes with two groups of Russian youth in the local school. As a classroom resource, I used FGC’s popular children’s story collection, Lighting Candles in the Dark. The stories, based on true life experiences, were invaluable for the student’s growth-both spiritually and linguistically. Lighting Candles in the Dark was a tool in sparking meaningful discussions based on universal values-non-violence, kindness, service, love, friendship, and care of the earth.

Since I only had two copies of Lighting Candles in the Dark, I began to key the stories into my notebook computer. When the ink in my printer ran out, I solicited the help of the husband of one of the teachers to make multiple copies of some stories on the copy machine in the Novgorod police office where he was a training instructor. Then we didn’t have to all gather around two books to read and children were able to do some reading at home.

I would sometimes see the youngsters playing outside before class, and since they came on a volunteer basis, I often wondered if they would make it to class. But, at the designated hour, they would appear ready and eager to read some stories. They became familiar with Rufus Jones, Thomas Lurting, John Woolman and other well and less known Quakers. The children’s overall response to the stories was enthusiastic beyond my highest expectations. Here are some of their comments during our last class-which to me, truly felt like a gathered meeting:

“There are moments in these stories where we can do the same.”

“They teach us how to act.”

“Yes, they show us another way.”

“They show that love is important.”

“It is good for us to know about children in other places in the world.”

“They give us ideas for our lives.”

With the prompting of the Novgorod children, Russian parents, and teachers of English, the FGC Publications Committee, Friends United Meeting and the Quaker FSU (Former Soviet Union) Committee decided to publish a bilingual edition of Lighting Candles in the Dark. Our intent is to donate most copies to schools offering English classes. Just think, one teacher could expose many classes of Russian youth to these wonderful stories year after year.

Artwork has already been prepared by Russian, American, Cuban and British youth which will be used to illustrate the 31 stories in the edition. We are about ready to give the translated manuscript over to our Moscow publisher with the hopes that it will be in the hands of Russian youth before Christmas.

Through stories, children can come to see themselves as God’s hands in the world, helping make things safer and better for people and for the earth itself. By meeting many people who believe that life is precious and who dare to respond to hate or unfairness with love and nurturing instead of more hate, children can see the power of one individual to make a difference. Our Russian Friends continue to tell us that Lighting Candles in the Dark will fulfill this vision.

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