Christos Voskres! Voistinu Voskres! Christ is risen! He is risen, indeed!
We had a joyful celebration of Easter and Christ’s resurrection last Sunday at St. Andrew’s in Moscow (the Anglican church we attend as a family) and look forward to celebrating Orthodox Easter again this Sunday in Oryol with a group from MacPherson Presbyterian Church in Fayetteville, NC. They arrive tomorrow (April 17).
Though it snowed briefly today, it must be spring in Moscow, because they are painting all the metal fences and motorcyclists are roaring between the traffic lanes. Only a few weeks ago we were still having daily snow storms, but it has been relatively warm and sunny for the last week (50s and 60s) and most of the snow and ice has melted away. It has been wonderful to soak up the sun’s rays again. I would argue that you cannot fully appreciate spring until you have lived through the long, cold and gray days of winter.
It has been a busy winter. In mid-March, Bob Bronkema (another PCUSA mission coworker who is pastor of the ecumenical Moscow Protestant Chaplaincy) and I attended the ninth National Prayer Breakfast here. The PC(USA) made a significant contribution to make this possible this year, as other supporters backed out at the last minute because of the economic crisis.
The breakfast brought believers together from across denominations to pray for Russia and for her youth. With the crisis that has swept over the globe, the challenges that already face the youth of Russia (and the world) will be accentuated.
William Yoder, who works in the Office of External Relations of the Russian Baptist Union, posted a very good article about the National Prayer Breakfast, which I would lift up to you here.
Also in mid-March, we welcomed a group from Presbyterian Church of the Cross (PCOC) in Omaha, NE to visit a small church in the village of Gnozdovo, near Smolensk in western Russia. PCOC has a strong interest in the needs of orphans and children at risk, as do the churches in the Smolensk region.
We spent 5 days in the Smolensk region, visiting the Gnozdovo church, the Smolensk church — which is partnered with White Memorial Presbyterian Church in Raleigh, NC — orphanages, a new drug/alcohol rehabilitation center, a youth center that is under construction and the camp facility that burned last fall.
The Gnozdovo church has strong outreach to a nearby internat (a boarding school — part of the orphanage system for social orphans) for children with respiratory problems, as well as outreach to the children in their own village, which has a population of about 7,000.
The pastor and members of the church visit the internat regularly, teaching Bible lessons, sponsoring special game days, and helping with renovation work. A warm relationship has developed between the church and school. Staff members from the internat often attend special celebrations at the church and members of the church are invited to celebrations at the school.
Often the children in villages are in as much need as the children in the orphanage system, as there are many problems with alcohol and drug abuse. The Gnozdovo church was founded some 10 years ago. Members converted a derelict shop into their church, surrounded it with flowers and built a playground.
Hearing that this was a Baptist church, many of the residents were very suspicious, even fearful, but as the shell of the building was transformed by the hard work of the congregation, people’s curiosity drew them near. When the playground appeared, people came and asked if it was just for the children of the church. The members welcomed everyone in the village to use the playground and a vital ministry began.
Children using the playground have learned that the church is a safe and wonderful place. In the summer they are in and out of the building getting drinks of water, using the ping pong table, and chatting with the pastor and members. The church puts on day camps in the summer and at holidays and they have had as many as 80 children attend. This small congregation is making a difference in the lives of many children.
The team from Omaha and I also spent time with some of the graduates of the orphanage system over tea at the Smolensk church. It was a powerful meeting as we talked with the young people about their time in the orphanage and what their hopes and dreams were for the future. With one exception, they did not have hopes and dreams.
As they talked about their time in the orphanage, the tedium of boredom rang out again and again as they described the daily schedule and summer camp routines. It became clear that one of the great challenges with these young people is giving them interest in life.
To update you on the Smolensk camp — the one that burned last fall — at the beginning of March they tore down the burned structure and are now at work on the new foundation. We do not yet have all the funds that are needed to complete the building, but Russians have learned to begin with what they have. To wait is to watch prices go up and put both the beginning and the completion even further from their reach. It is good that they have begun.
We rejoice that PCOC has now voted to engage in partnership with the Gnozdovo church and we look forward to what the Lord has prepared for all of us as we move forward.
Over the past month, Bob Bronkema and I have been working on a new project through the Moscow Protestant Chaplaincy. That congregation has many outreach ministries in Moscow, including one to bi-racial children — the children of African fathers and Russian mothers.
It is hard for Americans to fathom how difficult it is for these children to find a place in Russian society. They are “in-between.”
MPC has a program with these children, providing monthly food bags for the families. Through this outreach they became aware of the needs of biracial children in other cities, specifically the city of Ryazan. Bob and a team from his church made a visit to Ryazan to explore the needs and came back wanting to help in that community, but wanting to help through a church.
As Alan and I have been working with Hope Baptist Church in Ryazan, a door opened for both MPC and Hope to start something new. There is also a group of African, Christian students at the Medical University in Ryazan who want to be a part of the project. So, the Lord is bringing people together to help these children. We hope that we might find a church that is interested in helping with this project long term.
Many have asked about the effects of the crisis on our ministry here. The effects can, of course, be seen everywhere. Several PC(USA) groups have cancelled for this summer. It does not worry or distress us. We and our Russian colleagues understand completely. We thank you for all of your prayers. They lift us up and sustain us.
Peace and blessings.
Information about and letters from PC(USA) mission workers around the world is available at the Mission Connections Web site.