Vickie at a hockey game at the Sochi Olympics
ELIZABETHTON — It took a few days for Vickie Ford to recover from her missionary trip to the Sochi Olympics, but now that she’s acclimated to East Tennessee time again, she’s got tales to tell.
Ford, who does volunteer work at Sycamore Shoals Hospital and is a state auxiliary leader, is the wife of Harry Ford, SSH’s Environmental Services director. Known as “the cookie lady” for her habit of baking cookies to pass out to SSH patients, she’s also a veteran of numerous international mission trips.
“On these trips, you get more than you give,” she said.
Her trip to the Sochi, Russia, Olympics was with an Alaska-based group called SOAR (Service and Outreach Alaska to Russia). SOAR is run by Dick and Kathy Page, friends of the Fords, who trained at Moody Aviation in Elizabethton before creating SOAR.
SOAR was invited by the local evangelical churches in Sochi to assist in a major outreach and evangelism effort primarily targeting the local Russian community during the 2014 Winter Olympics.
“I was there to be the seed sower,” she said. “You’re able to show those people that you came all that way because you love them, and you want them to see that love in their lives, the love of the Lord. I hope that it helps the church over there to grow and get more people.”
Ford said she’s always had a calling to do mission work and she went to Sochi despite the tension surrounding the possibility of terrorist attacks.
“We knew something could happen at any time, at any moment, and I’m so thankful it didn’t,” she said.
Security was heightened like never before at the Olympics, with policemen at every corner. Ford said she was never afraid.
“I felt people’s prayers from back home, lifting me up. I felt secure. I can honestly say I was not scared one time,” she said. “Really, the whole time we were there, nobody was talking about it. Nobody mentioned it. Now we didn’t see any TV so we didn’t hear what was being said on the news. In fact, I couldn’t wait to get home and see on TV how the U.S. did and what medals we won.”
Ford said the Russian people were friendly and very respectful. She and her SOAR mates were told not to venture anywhere without a Russian translator with them, so they were always able to avoid any awkward situations.
Her work was done in downtown Sochi next to a church, in a “fun zone” that included a large igloo-shaped tent. She spent a lot of her time face-painting for children. She loved seeing the children’s smiles when she finished painting their faces and then had them look into the mirror.
“Always on trips like these, you have one or two you’re never going to forget,” she said.
In this case, it was an anxious Russian boy, who she spent time keeping safe and calm when his mother was away. Ford wasn’t sure where the mom had gone, but the woman eventually returned to get her son and was very appreciative. The next day, the boy returned with both his mother and father, who could speak some English, and told Ford, “He wanted to come back today so you could paint his face again. He felt your love yesterday and wanted to come back.”
As they left, the boy ran back over to Ford to give her a hug, and he handed her a card with his mother’s email address so they could stay in touch.
She also stopped into a small shop on the way home from Olympic Park and bought some crocheted house slippers. The woman who owned the shop ran out after them and told Ford’s translator that Ford was the first foreign customer who’d ever come into her store and bought something.
“So me, being Southern, I had to hug her neck,” Ford said. “We walked off, but then she came running out again and gave me a special gift of a pair of shoes. It was so sweet.”
The weather in Sochi was very mild, often in the 60s during the day. Ford’s SOAR team stayed in hostel-type lodging, rode a bus to the “fun zone,” ate regularly in a Turkish restaurant and got to attend two women’s hockey games.
The food, she said, wasn’t bad. In Sochi, they served soup with every meal, there was always hot tea and the bread was delicious like it was homemade.
“They used a lot of different herbs and spices on the food, and they always had some kind of meat with each meal,” she said.
Ford’s stay in Russia started with a day in Moscow, where her flight from JFK landed, and the group toured Red Square. The weather was cold there, and after their stay in mild Sochi, they visited St. Petersburg before departure. The city was beautiful and also cold, and the river frozen over.
The logistics of her trip home resulted in three days in a row with very little sleep, and upon her return she came down with a head cold.
“I was so sleep-deprived when I got back,” she said. “My body was here but my mind was still in Russia.”
Now, Ford’s back at Sycamore Shoals Hospital, making the rounds and focusing on her volunteer work — and spreading the word about her trip.
“I feel like trips are never over until you get home and share with others,” she said. “God used me to do good things, so it’s important to share that with people and maybe somebody will say, ‘You encouraged me to do something good, too.’
“I did something most people never get to do. Each trip is so special. We were talking among our team members, wondering, ‘Why did the Lord choose us?’ We were so lucky to be chosen for this.”