Slowly I’m getting caught up on writing this update. Apologies.
We had a great visit to the States. We spent time with my Dad in Athens, GA and had very good fellowship with our church and many friends there. We spent a few weeks in Texas, mostly in Austin but also visiting folks in other cities. It’s been two years since we were there and it was great to reconnect. I also visited ministry partners and friends in Iowa, North Dakota, Minnesota and Maryland. Our time in the States is always quite full and we’d love to have more time there, but life in Russia beckoned and we’re very glad to be home.
In February, I visited Uganda and Conga. I went with a small team from New England, once again led by Mike Anticoli. Mike performed our wedding in Russia and later planted the church in Congo where we serve. It’s been really good to reconnect with Mike and I hope we’ll continue working together in the future.
We arrived in Uganda and quickly went to visit Sam Bahiirwa, near Fort Portal. We spoke at Sam’s church and had some good fellowship with him, his family and church leaders. I spoke on Hope. At one point I mentioned how the Bible likens Hope to an anchor for the soul. I saw blank looks on the faces of the congregation. So, I asked how many had been on a boat. None of the local villagers had been on a boat. They live in the mountains and don’t travel very far from home, of course they’ve never been on a boat. Then, part of my teach then became explaining boats, anchors, waves, and wind, and how Biblical Hope is solid, not just wishful thinking.
Sam moved to a new building in a village. His church is a witness to the townfolk, though the building itself is in poor repair. The owner of the building has offered to sell it to Sam at a good price, so we’re hoping God will make a way for that to happen. We also got to see speakers and a generator purchased with funds donated by friends in Athens, GA.
Sam is getting more connected with the church in Congo. Damiri Paluku, bishop from Congo, was with us and I’m very glad to see those relationships deepening. I hope that will continue. We have plans for Sam to spend a few weeks in Congo, attending the Bible school and learning from the leaders. And we plan to send more men from Congo to lead a conference at Sam’s church.
We then crossed into Congo. That trip is always a little tense, because we drive through dangerous territory in Congo. We found out later that there was a battle between government troops and rebels just 30 miles from us. Most of us don’t know what it’s like to live in a war zone. I’ve had just a small taste of it, yet many people have no other choice than to press on with life even though the threat of death is so close. Just recently, many more people were killed in that area. Life is cheap, hopelessness is rampant, and the church is a light in the darkness. God calls his people into just such situations.
We were met by a marching band! That was really something. The church honored us so much, and even though we don’t feel we deserve that honor we had to receive it so that we could in turn honor our hosts. It is a culture of honor. The people are so glad to have visitors. Not many people visit that part of Congo because of the fighting and disease (typhoid and malaria are big problems). The vice-mayor told us that visitors are like blood to a city – they bring life and vigor.
We spoke at a leadership conference, attended by pastors and other leaders of family of churches. Many people traveled through very dangerous areas to attend. It’s not uncommon for people to be killed either purposefully or by getting caught in crossfire.
I spoke on Covenants and on what happens to us when our spirits leave our body (that is a very encouraging topic!). We had quite a few meetings with friends. It was so gratifying to see my friends again and take part in God’s comfort for them. Among other highlights: delivering a goat (for food) to an orphans home, seeing a tremendous number of elephants, participating in the baptism of 11 believers, had a big dinner with Bible school grads, and meeting Pygmies for the first time (there are some stories there). See the pictures below for more.
I introduced the church to a special water filter system I’ve mentioned before. This was met with great thanksgiving. I didn’t know, but Typhus is a very big problem in the villages. Damiri said that many people die from Typhus because there is no medical help in those areas. The water filters remove Typhus from the water, so many lives will be saved. One of my favorite moments was when I introduced some pastors to the filters; it was so much fun to watch them realize that they could now have unlimited clean water.
I took a few filters with me, and the response was so good that we’re had to do more. We are now distributing 70 more filters, to all the churches, pastors and assistant pastors. These filters are a great way for the churches to serve their villages; people sit and talk while the water is being filtered. It’s very good.
Now that we’re settled in St. Pete, our lives take on a rhythm. In addition to homeschooling, Val takes dance and piano lessons (and she’s starting on the violin, we’ll see if that sticks). Olga is teaching, interpreting at meetings and serving at a women’s rehab center outside of town. I regularly meet with several men, either in person or by Skype. I’m also preparing teachings for my visits to Africa and countries in Europe. Stoneworks keeps me busy as we experience growth and plan for the summer.
Speaking of, in addition to a LOT of work at dacha, we’ll visit Estonia and Finland. Also, Stoneworks will have a conference in Ukraine, so we’ll see all of our partners there. I may also make a trip to Montenegro, Serbia and Romania.
The Lord promises his people an abundant life. We certainly have that! To Jesus be all the glory. He’s a great shepherd and leads us on.