Welcome

In November of 2000, I (Mike) moved to Russia to help establish a Russian Charity named MIR.  A little over a year later I married Olga.  In 2011, we welcomed a three year old Russian girl named Valerie into our home. Over the years, God has led us and blessed us in many ways.

We have a home in St. Petersburg, Russia and spend time in the USA, Finland, Montenegro and Estonia.  I have businesses in the USA and am the Executive Director of Stoneworks International, a mission organization with projects in Europe from the Barents Sea to the Balkans. I also partner with churches in Uganda and Congo, so I travel a lot.

We hope you’ll wander around here, learn more about us, have some fun and see evidence of the goodness of God.

News from Congo

As I’ve mentioned before, we’re supporting ministry in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Cornovirus travel restrictions have kept me from visiting as I’d hoped, yet we’ve been able to continue sending funds to support local churches. The home church is located in Butembo, and about 14 daughter churches are spread out in the region, pastored by missionaries ordained and sent from the home church.

That area, northeast Congo, continues to be quite dangerous with killings happening on a regular basis. Yet the believers continue their work, spreading the gospel and meeting the needs of refugees.

My friend bishop Damiri Paluku Wasumbusu recently sent this  update about one part of their work:

Church on the Rock in Beni organized a pygmies’ couples seminar last week, attended by pygmies who were wedded in Church on the Rock. Pastor Bethuel, his wife Noela and missionaries were part of the seminar, to share about their marriage experience and culture. How do Pygmie communities understand marriage life. What are some of their culture shocks as they join bantous. What are the challenges for Pygmie communities in the context of war. The seminar was very inspiring and missionaries learn a lot about missions among Pygmies as they shared their experiences. Five couples of Pygmies and their children plus six missionaries attended the seminar for four days.

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A Postcard from Russia

It is berry-picking time in Russia. Above Olga and Val are joined by Olga’s mom (at left), Val’s friend Yanna and Yanna’s mom as they head out to the forest for blueberries. Val found a costume bonnet we had and thought it the best head-wear for the day.

We’ve spent much time at dacha this summer. All the borders continue to be closed, so we haven’t traveled at all. In an alternate reality, I would have by now made several trips to Estonia as well as Montenegro, Serbia, Romania and Finland. It’s been good to stick close to home.

The ministry  continues. We’ve been sending funds to help people in several countries as they face significant challenges as a result of the Covid-19 shutdown. Many people live day-to-day, so hunger becomes a real issue. I’ve also had many conversations with missionaries and partners, helping work through the pressures and issues that have arisen.

I continue to work on my podcast, Ask for the Ancient Paths. You can find it on iTunes, GooglePlay, Spotify, YouTube, etc.

 

My Two Albums

For those who don’t know, before I moved to Russia I recorded a couple of albums. I’ve had boxes of CDs (!) sitting in the States, and I finally got the albums on iTunes, Spotify, etc.

The two albums, both acoustic instrumental, are called Sanctuary and Invocation.

Invocation is all solo hammered dulcimer, and Sanctuary is dulcimer and open-tuned (CGDGAD) finger-style guitar. If you buy an album, you’ll also get a four-page digital booklet (like liner notes) with more information about the recording.

(Be aware, there is another artist named Michael Cantrell who has an album called Mooseknuckle Honeysuckle. That ain’t me, but it’s a great album name!)

 

 

A Conversation About Covid-19

A friend of mine is a doctor in the Northeast USA. Her husband oversees a major Covid-19 treatment facility. Over the past few days, she and I have exchanged emails, and I thought it might be useful to share what she said. Below is an edited version of our communication.

My friend:

The whole point of a lockdown is to “flatten the curve” so transmission doesn’t occur so quickly, rather than running like wildfire though society overwhelming the medical profession and hospitals. If we can slow it down, we can have time to look for cures, and possibly a vaccine, although I’m not getting my hopes up on that one.

We also need to protect our medical personnel, or we won’t have any left to carry on. We are already learning so much about who is at risk, the crazy and many ways this affects people of all ages.  There are loads of research protocols working on these things now and they are already coming out with information, even if it’s only things that aren’t working.

It’s sobering to look back at the flu epidemic of 1918 which started in Haskell, Kansas and killed over 50-100 million people worldwide in a relatively short period of time. I’m listening to the book The Great Influenza by John Barry.

We learned a lot from that pandemic, but clearly there are many today who are not taking those lessons to heart. Young people in particular were hit hard, particularly boys sent off to war. It was horrific and devastating. When the virus first hit in Kansas a small town it wasn’t as fatal as it became later when it hit the Army barracks. This virus could do the same. It can morph and take on more devastating effects. There were also areas of the world where it was not as lethal.

Influenza in a bad year in the USA in the last decade killed about 60,000+ people, and that was with a vaccine in America. Normally it’s more like 30,000/yr.  This is already beyond that and we are trying to contain it in the strictest way we can. We don’t even know if you can get immunity if you have it once. It could be like malaria (not a virus caused illness) where you get it over and over, and it could potentially kill you each time you acquire it. The residual effects this disease is having on people who survive might be lifelong. My daughter’s boyfriend who is a neurologist, just gave a lecture on all the neurologic manifestations they have seen with COVID, stroke being one of the worst ones. Continue reading

No Doubt

I recently communicated with a friend regarding a situation she is praying about, a big life event decision. Here is our correspondence:

Me

One thing comes to mind regarding your prayer request:

This from James: “If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind.”

Do not doubt that you’ll know the will of God; He’ll let you know when you need to know. James also said, “the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere.”

This helps me: rather than trying to decide on which path to take, I aim to discern God’s will and then decide to be obedient. There is much freedom in this way of knowing which path to take.

Don’t be afraid to let go of something fruitful in order to be able to hold something even more valuable.

My friend

Thank you soooo much for this encouragement.  This is super helpful and really gives me a focus in my prayer.  Now that I think about it, I do feel like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind.  Now to learn how not to doubt!  I’ll be in prayer the next few days; thanks so much for providing some encouragement and scripture to help and guide the process!

Me

You’re welcome. It took me quite a few years to learn not to doubt. The key for me was realizing that I had been putting my faith in my weak ability to hear rather than in God’s ability to speak clearly. My faith was in myself, not in Him. He knows how to break through my weaknesses. Now I put my faith in Him and His promises, not in my abilities.

My friend

Oh that helps A LOT.  I’ve never looked at it that way before.  In fact, I have always really doubted my ability to hear the Lord, which affects my prayer life, in general – not just when I have a specific area that I need direction in.  Thanks again for this shift of perspective!

More News Regarding Congo Relief

More news from Damiri — 

Hello again,

Church on the Rock Beni proceeds with the second distribution. As I wrote before, the whole territory of Beni is still not safe, people get slaughtered. Last week 4 trucks were burnt in Ituri, many people were slaughtered. So keep it in your prayers.

For the distribution, 4 Families from Mantumbi received food, cooking oil, clothes, Soap and mattresses. 14 others Families of refugees also received food and Soap. 4 ladies and 3 children are being assisted with medical and psychological Care. One particular lady is seriously traumatized. When I visited them, she quickly recognized me, but the way she was talking too much, I thought she was mad. She has been in the hospital for three weeks now. Doctors say she needs to be discharged and continue with psychological assistance.

With the Relief Fund we have also been paying for medical bills.

Pray for another sister from Mantumbi that is admitted, ready for her baby delivery.

I thank God for bringing me safe back in Goma. I went to the air company to confirm my ticket, only to find out that all flights have been canceled between Goma, Beni and Butembo and cars will also be stopped from moving between cities in 48hours, because Goma had registered 3 cases of COVID-19, so I decided to rent a cab to Goma. The journey took the whole day on a narrow bumpy road, very scary.

I am very very grateful for all your contributions to make this possible. Brethren were very happy and encouraged by my visit. The food, medical Care and other home needs for the refugees are being covered with the support you sent. Today Butembo Church is proceeding to the second distribution of Food, Charcoal and cooking oil.

As we pray for all the nations, I want to add on your prayer list two more requests for Congo.

– Two New cases of Ebola was found in Beni, that is two days before the declaration of the end of Ebola.

– The Director of the President’s cabinet was summoned to the court and arrested the same day for embezzlement of millions of dollars, evidences are many. But this scenario risks turning into something else, as we know the former president is always looking for ways to Come back to power. He has the court, the senate, the Parliament and the army behind him. So pray that the will of God is done in this situation.

May God bless you for your Love and Care in such a time.

If you would like to support the work in Congo, serving those who lay their lives down for the gospel of Christ, you may send donations:

Online:
Visit http://www.sjumc.org
Choose “Cantrell Missionary Support”
Write “Congo Relief” in the notes section
Follow instructions to finalize the donation

Or

Make the check to:
St. James Missionary Fund
Write “Congo Relief” on the memo line

And mail to:
St. James UMC
111 West Lake Drive
Athens, GA 30606

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Let This Sink In

This, just from Damiri –

Mantumbi is still dangerous. One of our elders refused to come to Butembo with Pastor Deo. He was afraid of hunger in a big city like Butembo. So, he ran to a nearby village when Mantumbi was attacked. A few days later he went back to his farm to press some palm oil. The jihadists found him and slaughtered him. Deo knows of many cases like that.

If you would like to support the work in Congo, serving those who lay their lives down for the gospel of Christ, you may send donations:

Online:
Visit http://www.sjumc.org
Choose “Cantrell Missionary Support”
Write “Congo Relief” in the notes section
Follow instructions to finalize the donation

Or

Make the check to:
St. James Missionary Fund
Write “Congo Relief” on the memo line

And mail to:
St. James UMC
111 West Lake Drive
Athens, GA 30606

. . . because the killers always pass through the school yard.

We along with Mike Anticoli, Victory Christian Church and several donors recently sent financial support to churches suffering in eastern Congo. This was the first of an on-going relief fund helping our brothers and sisters in that area, a region that suffers from murderous attacks and a recent Ebola outbreak. Damiri recently visited many of the churches and has sent us this report — 

From pastor Damiri Paluku Wa Sumbusu:

I am very grateful for the privilege of coming to visit brothers and sisters from different Churches that are affected by the killings. Thanks for helping out and providing for my air ticket, meals and assistance to different needs. I met with pastors and Church members from six of our Churches in Beni, I also visited four of the churches: Biane, Eringeti, Oicha and Beni.

I want to share some News, Photos and Gratitudes from different our different Churches for the School Fees support and the Relief Funds.

When you leave Béni going to Oicha and to Eringeti, there are a lot of military camps both sides of the road; many abandoned, and burnt houses, a few civilians walking on the side of the road.

I was able to meet our brothers and sisters from Mantumbi. I was able to visit two sisters from Mantumbi in Beni. One was seriously sick and admitted in a hospital. The hospital did not give her a bed because she is a refugee, and they know that refugees do not pay, so they put her mattress on the ground and in a men’s hall. When they saw us coming to visit, they decided to give her a bed in the women’s hall.

In Butembo I had lunch with the couple of Papa Deo and many others from our Church in Mantumbi.

Pastor Robusta – From Oicha

Most people in Oicha have not been living in their homes for more than a year. They spend nights in balconies of houses a long side the main Road, and others spend nights on the football ground, fearing to be killed at night by the jihadists.

I saw a child that was almost 2 when they left their home, about one year later the parents went to visit their abandoned home with the child; seeing grown grass around the house, the child asked her parents: where had the owners of the house gone, not knowing it is their home; she had forgotten the house.

In this period of trial we testify about the hunger of the word of God that is Growing in our community.

We are Grateful for the Relief Funds that has helped get a place to stay, we got food and before that we have been receiving support for School fees. My children used to fail School because they could not finish a term, they used to bé chased because of School fees. But my daughter succeeded with 89%, she was surprises that she finished last year without being chased. She has promised to continue studying hard.

We organized Our Church to helped my neighbor build his house. December last year we had gathered 700$ (our work of 3years), we have been able to add 20 $ since January this Year.

Pastor Élu Ngwete – from Mongamba

We are very Grateful for the coming of Pastor Damiri. We are very Grateful for the Relief Support and the school fees, my children are not chased out of school any more and they are working very good. They used to fail, because they were always chased when they did not have school fees.

Pygmies and bantus from our community are enjoying God’s word, in May we are planning to have discipleship sessions. We are preparing to cut tree and make lumbers to build the Church we have fuel and the cutting machine is ready, we are still looking for some more money to pay the one that will cut the timber for us.

We are helping 3 pygmy orphans in my family.

Our village has experience a serious Time of fear and many have left and have gone to Butembo; we also have a challenge of poisoning, but God is taking Care of us. Pray for us. We need to build our Church. We hold meetings outside.

pastor Muyali – from Biane

We thank God for all that he is doing. We also thank our leaders for their love and care.
We have received the relief support and School fees for our children. I also received help for my eyes surgery.

Last December people had start coming back to the village then in January we were attacked seriously and people left. Many Church members testify of the way  the Relief support was a great help many have taken Church seriously to see how we care for them in the time of trouble. Some people are coming back to the village, so I decided to go back for them. But many are still in Beni and Butembo.

We are also planning to collect money to contribute on the purchase of the Oicha Church Land. We plan to make Charcoal and what we get, we will give for the purchase of our Church Land in Oicha.

Today we have an attendance of about 50 people. I am also doing discipleship with the new believers.

We need to work on our Sunday School, it has been forgotten for a long time.

For our School in Biane: the Fellowship helped us to go to Bunia work on our School Legal Documents. It is in process now. In case we get these papers, our teachers will be paid by the government. When that happens it will be a big step forward, because we have never been able to pay our teachers enough since we started school there, we always give them very little money.

For now, we abandoned our school facility because the killers always pass through the school yard. So parents did not want to send their children to that location. We are planning on moving the classrooms on the side of the main road. It is safer there.

Also, soldiers that came to defend us are occupying part of our Land.

Pastor Moïse – from Eringeti

We were happy to see our Pastor Damiri and the word of encouragement that he has given us.

We are grateful for the school fees of children, the school had started chasing my children when we received the funds for school fees, we got food for our families thanks to the Relief Funds. We say thank you very much

Before the attacks and killings, we had ask the Church to contribute for our Oicha Church Land, we were able to gather 75,000 Congolese Francs. We had left our Church building because of the killings next to our Church building. We have not been able to use the Church building for a little more than a year now. A small group had been Gathering in the pastor’s house. Now we are planning 4 cell groups, so far one has started.

Pastor Germain – from Apende

Apende was safe during the last killings, but now we receive many refugees. I received 5 Families at our church, they all received help from the Relief Fund. It was a big surprise for them. The unfinished house serves as a shelter for the families.

We are grateful for the support we get for the school fees of pastors’ children.

We have 4 groups for discipleship now. We are doing door to door Evangelism.

We had 8 cell groups last Sunday, the total number of people that met last Sunday in all our cell groups were 103.

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When Sorrow Like Sea Billows Roll

The world is going through convulsions these days. This storm shall pass, but while we’re in it, we have a great opportunity to learn deep and lasting lessons. Let’s pray this prayer: Lord, help is go through this well as Christians, so we can help others who walk the same path.

Several years ago I came across an excellent example of how believers can respond in times of fear and real trouble. John Wesley was the founder of Methodism, and as a young man he went on a mission trip from England to the USA. Below is an excerpt from Wesley’s journal. He was on the ship bound for America and observed Moravian Brethren [anabaptist Christians, whom he sometimes called ‘Germans’] in the midst of a life-threatening storm:

——-

Sunday, January 25, 1736

At seven I went to the Germans [Moravians]. I had long before observed the great seriousness of their behaviour. Of their humility they had given a continual proof, by performing those servile offices for the other passengers, which none of the English would undertake; for which they desired, and would receive no pay, saying, “it was good for their proud hearts,” and “their loving Saviour had done more for them.”

And every day had given them occasion of showing a meekness which no injury could move. If they were pushed, struck, or thrown down, they rose again and went away; but no complaint was found in their mouth.

There was now an opportunity of trying whether they were delivered from the Spirit of fear, as well as from that of pride, anger, and revenge. In the midst of the psalm wherewith their service began, the sea broke over, split the main-sail in pieces, covered the ship, and poured in between the decks, as if the great deep had already swallowed us up.

A terrible screaming began among the English. The Germans calmly sung on.

I asked one of them afterwards, “Was you not afraid?”

He answered, “I thank God, no.”

I asked, “But were not your women and children afraid?”

He replied, mildly, “No; our women and children are not afraid to die.”

From them I went to their crying, trembling neighbours, and pointed out to them the difference in the hour of trial, between him that feareth God, and him that feareth him not. At twelve the wind fell. This was the most glorious day which I have hitherto seen.

——-

Hebrews 2:14,15

Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death–that is, the devil– and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.