Farewell to Ilya

November 01, 2003 | Duane Rasmussen

Seldom is a photograph of an Adventist pastor found on the front page of a regional newspaper. Retired pastor George Rasmussen, his wife Roma Belle, and Ilya Suprun were pictured Aug. 15 on the front page of the Spokesman Review, a Spokane, Wash., paper with circulation in eastern Washington and northern Idaho. The paper told of Ilya, a fourteen-year-old boy from Russia, and his connection with the Rasmussen family from Spangle, Wash.

Ilya’s story started a number of years ago when several Northwest Adventists went to Magadan, Russia, to help in the building of a new church. The Rasmussens, along with many others including Glenn Marsh, a physician from Lewiston, went on the project.

While in Magadan, Marsh met and examined three-year-old Ilya. At 18 months of age, Ilya had received terrible burns on his feet and legs when his blanket fell over a space heater. To save his life, Russian doctors amputated his legs, one at the knee and one at mid-calf. Marsh could see that the child’s legs were not healing and thought he could be helped in America.

Marsh talked to Ted Lutts, Upper Columbia Conference treasurer. Arrangements were made for Ilya to come to Spokane and receive care at Shriner’s Hospital. Ilya’s first visit lasted for three months. During that time, he and his mother stayed with Lutts and his wife. On his next visit, Ilya stayed with the Rasmussens. Many medical visits followed over the years, and each time he stayed with the Rasmussens.

The son of a Russian police officer, Ilya is an energetic boy with a ready smile and searching eyes. On his first trip to America he was a toddler, on crutches and artificial legs. Now he is a teenager who speaks without hesitation in a new language learned from the Americans who have helped him.

The Rasmussens have frequently taken Ilya to the Russian Church in Spokane. Ilya has made friends with the Russian immigrants who come to worship. For Ilya, meeting with people who speak his own language has been a special treat.

It is difficult to visit much with Ilya in the Russian-speaking church. He politely excuses himself and says, “I must go now and meet the Russian people.”

On Ilya’s last Sabbath in America, the pastor of the Russian Church, Vladimir Titkov, took special notice of Ilya. He thanked the Rasmussens for taking care of Ilya. George Rasmussen retold the story of Ilya's journey to America. Rasmussen expressed his wish that someday Ilya would become an Adventist pastor like him.

Ilya is now in Russia. He has made his last trip to the United States. Perhaps, God willing, Rasmussen’s dream will come true. Is it too much to hope? Maybe someday, deep in the heart of Russia, a visitor from America will hear a young Russian pastor politely excuse himself and, in perfect English, say, “I must go now and meet the Russian people.”