The Formative Years
As far back as I can remember, I had a deep desire for education. I was the seventh of nine kids in my family. My dad valued education and spent evenings with all of us. I remember having a big round table in the living room where all my siblings would complete homework under my dad’s supervision. Sadly, he passed away when I was only eight years old.
Left: Parents Valentin & Zoya Samolovov; Middle: Elena (first row, far right) and her family; Right: Elena
My dad’s value of proper education settled in my heart. I remember lonely evenings without dad at that round table in the living room. I missed the family atmosphere: the reading time, family prayers, Christmas and Easter holiday gatherings, and my dad’s guidance in life. I remember asking my mom, “Why don’t you teach me as Dad did?” She replied with sorrow, “I don’t have time. Do what you think is right.” My mom had her own troubles, raising nine of us in Kyrgyzstan. Back then, republic Kyrgyzstan was part of the former Soviet Union. My mom had a nursing degree and she was working evenings and night-shifts so she could be home with the little ones during the day.
Left: Elena (first row, far left) with her brothers and sisters after the funeral; Right: Elena reading a book with her sister
I came to the realization that I was on my own. I loved reading books and had learned about the noble people of Russia and how they educate their kids. Music, sports, and foreign languages were part of their kids’ lives.
I was poor, but not in my heart.
I asked my oldest sister to prepare me for a music exam for the upcoming school year. She did, and she ended up filling the role of my father and helped me as much as she could. I passed the exam, yet the music committee said that it was too late for me. I was nine years old. I cried all the way home. I could not completely understand why the windows of opportunity for various skills in life were so narrow, like for music. I said to myself, “When I grow up, I will send my kids to music lessons on time! I will make sure that they will not miss their window of opportunity according to their stages in life!” And I did; my kids started music lessons when they were around five.
God’s Calling For Christian Education In My Life
The road for my education was not easy due to life circumstances and being a Christian. When I was 14 years old, I came to the realization that the Soviet education was missing one important aspect – God. Teachers were raising smart sinners. Cruelty and corruption were the norm, but not for me! I battled in my heart and openly with my relatives.
I remember one conversation with my brother-in-law. I said: “One day I will have a school where God will be the center of education! It is impossible to raise an honest and noble generation without the spiritual aspect being integral!” He laughed at me and snapped, “Elena, wake up. You live in the USSR! Be glad that the ‘Stalin Regime’ is in the past, otherwise, you would be sorry for what you just said.”
Self-education was the only option I had until Mikhail Gorbachev came to power in 1985. With Mr. Gorbachev, some freedom came to Christians and we could then study at the university level.
I was married in 1984. My husband Aleksandr entered the State University to study English; he wanted to become a professional interpreter. I was accepted at the Pedagogical University of Kyrgyzstan in 1987. It was not easy because I had two kids, ages three and two years old.
Left: Aleksandr and Elena Solodyankin at their wedding; Right: Aleksandr holding Oleg and Elena holding Valentin
My mom also knew what it was like to live through hard times. She spent 15 years in labor camps in Siberia with her parents during collectivization in the 1930s and then was persecuted in 1950s when she became a Christian. She said to me, “Elena, go to America while the door is still open. Never trust communist people, they can come after us again. Do what you can for your children.”
In 1990, Mikhail Gorbachev allowed persecuted Christians to flee from the USSR. It was then that I began the road to making a Christ-centered education a reality for my family.
Click on the following link to read part two of this series, “A Passion for Christian Education” and learn about the exciting future God had in store for us.
~ Elena V. Solodyankin