A Postcard from Russia

We’re getting deep into the Autumn and I haven’t given an update about the summer. So, here goes –

We did a LOT of work on dacha this summer. Actually, we hired a crew to do most of it — new siding on the back part of the building, a new veranda, new windows for the downstairs, and a renovation of the ‘summer kitchen’. Slowly but surely we’re preparing dacha to be a small retreat center. (Please let me know if you’re interested in helping. We could use a construction team to help finish some of the rooms (and get some windows upstairs!!).

I had a great time with a team in Romania (click here to learn more). We have been very blessed by the relationships God has given us in Romania, and I look forward to seeing how they will grow. Olga, Val and I visited Romania again in September (after a visit with dear friends in Serbia). Our friends/partners in Romania have a 10 year old daughter who immediately hit it off with Valerie. It was all good. So, Romania seems to be an area of future investment and growth. We’re already planning to send another team next year. We also welcomed a team in Estonia and worked on Camp Elama as well.

We had a great visit to Montenegro in early September. It was really good to have time with Olga’s sister and her family as well as with our many friends and ministry partners there. It’s all very good. The church recently bought some land and is planning to build. I have a small role in helping with that project. I also found a GREAT location for a summer camp in Montenegro. We are just beginning the process of talking with the local administration about how/if we can buy it. Prayers are appreciated.

Continue reading

News from the USA

Our time in the States is coming to an end. Olga and Valerie went to Russia on Monday and I will go to Russia tomorrow. This has certainly been a bittersweet visit. It has been great to see so many family and friends, and Mom’s funeral went as well as anyone could hope. After the funeral service in Georgia we had a grave-side service at a family plot in Tennessee. It is remarkable how many and varied people loved my mother, and many thought of her as a second mother. She leaves a good legacy.

We are very thankful for all the love and support that has been shown to us in so many ways.

On the trip to Tennessee, I let Valerie do some driving in the very parking lot where I practiced driving when I was 15 years old. She did a good job and had a great time.

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While in the USA, we’ve had great time with our many friends in the Athens area. It’s also been a blessing to be with my Dad, helping him in his transition to a new chapter in life. Everything is good.

Much awaits us overseas. Between now and the end of the summer we will be quite busy. Soon, we’ll welcome a team and run a camp for single mothers at Camp Elama. Olga will lead a small team on our first mission trip to Moldova, and I’ll have a first visit, and deliver some aid, to a church Western Ukraine that is ministering to refugees from the war in Eastern Ukraine. I’ll also meet with our three interns in Estonia and later serve with a team in Montenegro.

I had to leave my car in Montenegro when I flew to the States. I’ll drive it home at the end of July, with visits to Serbia,  Ukraine and possibly Romania. Sadly, the air conditioning on the car broke the day before I left Montenegro; I need to get that fixed pronto since Montenegro will be HOT in July. It’s always something . . . . .

Stoneworks continues to grow and bear good fruit. (You can read the most recent Stoneworks newsletter here. ) We also face various trials and challenges, which is quite normal for life in ministry. Just a few days ago we discovered that thieves have been using counterfeit checks on our account, buying items from Craigslists all around the country. Thankfully we caught it quickly and haven’t lost any money. So, we’ve closed our bank account and are opening new accounts. Time consuming and frustrating.

It’s always good to face hardships of various kinds because it helps us develop perseverance, and if we embrace perseverance then we’ll be better people, not lacking anything.

Onward!

A Postcard from America

 

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Now THAT is a birthday picture. Valerie has just about the most birthday parties of any person I’ve ever seen. Even though her birthday is in July, we decided to throw a party now so she could share it with her friends here in Athens, GA. We met at my dad’s farm, and part of the festivities included a ride in the dump truck. This summer I’m sure we’ll have parties at dacha, at Camp Elama and perhaps even in Estonia.

Our time in the States is coming to an end. Though we’ve been here for quite a while, the time has flown by. It’s been great to be here, and now we look forward to going home and experiencing new adventures on the other side of the ocean. We leave a week from today. Our apologies to all our friends near and far who we hoped to visit but did not. My mom’s health has kept us close to home for the most part, and homeschooling has also kept us grounded.

Much has been accomplished while here. I’ve helped several mission teams and interns prepare for summer ministry. I’ve also had many meetings with friends as we’ve encouraged each other in the faith. I’ve also spoken/taught quite a bit. If you’re interested, you can click on the link on our homepage and listen some of my teachings.

IMG_2263My mother’s health continues as it has. Several weeks ago she broke a hip, and interestingly in some ways she’s doing better now than before she broke the hip. God has provided a great team of care-givers to help mom and dad while we’re gone.

We will go to St. Petersburg and then quickly go to dacha to open it up for the summer. I will go to Estonia in early May while Olga and Valerie remain in Russia. I will drive to Montenegro with my friend Heikki. In Montenegro I’ll meet two of our interns and one board member; we’ll meet with ministry leaders and potential new partners in Montenegro, Serbia and Romania before arriving in Estonia where the interns will serve with Sunbeam, the center for disabled children.

As we go, we are quite aware of the increased tensions in that part of the world. Please keep us in prayer, that we’ll love God more than anything else, that we’ll have wisdom about where we are to be, that we’ll be a blessing to our friends in those many countries, and that we’ll have discernment about His will for our family.

 

A Tale of Two Countries

teamMontenegro is a beautiful country filled with beautiful people. I spent two weeks there with a mission team from Athens, GA.

Meanwhile, Olga and Valerie had an eventful time in Russia. In addition to time at dacha, they attended a church retreat and have been quite busy.

team-pics-001In Montenegro, the team included four young ladies (Alex, Caitlin, Kristi and Missy) from the Wesley Foundation and Jane Kilgo, and older lady with great wisdom and experience. Montenegrin friends were very involved in the trip: Maša Simonović, Marijana Cizmanski and Vladimir Cizmanski. The team focused on ministry to women.

roma-retreat-006The team served in a variety of ways, mostly in the capital city of Podgorica. We were very glad to make a connection with the Roma ministry led by Siniša Nadazdin (at R with one of the Roma girls). The Roma are a culture unto themselves. They are quite separate from the surrounding Montenegrin culture, Muslim refugees living in ‘temporary’ housing built 15 years ago. Siniša began ministering there a few years ago and has built a community of believers. It’s a good work, and I’m very glad we’re getting to know them.

In addition to a few meetings with the Roma, the team led a youth camp for young ladies from the Roma ministry and from the Brethren Assembly. We had 3 days at a lovely house in Kaminari. The theme of the retreat was Inner Beauty, and the team encouraged the young ladies to walk in God’s ways. Our primary function is to support the local ministry and build relationships in order to communicate the love and truth of God. Here is a picture of a group discussion:

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niksic-003The team also served in Nikšić, a university town an hour from Podgorica. They helped Danijel Petkovsky in his university ministry where they met with students for Bible studies and English clubs. Several university students also joined the team on an outing to the mountains. They also help Stan and Vicky Surbatović in a variety of ways at their ministry center/home (and got some gardening done!).

All through the trip, Jane and Marijana met with ladies in the church for times of prayer and counseling. Many people in Montenegro carry scars (war, generational issues), and Jane has been a great help to many people.

The team also spent several hours after church on Sunday talking with members of the congregation: praying, encouraging and comforting as they shared scriptures and spiritual counsel. This was a very blessed time. The church is going through a transition and it was great to be able to pray for and encourage people.

I also met with the Brothers meeting, the leadership team of the church. The Lord has been teaching us all about how important it is to have unity. It’s great to be with people who are serious about following the Lord and loving Him more than anything else.

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In Russia, Olga and Valerie attended a short church retreat at Camp Elama. They had a great time with a variety of fun activities that included games exemplifying breaking the darkness, fighting against sin, etc. A few people were baptized. Continue reading

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Olga’s sister, Alla, is part of a team that has created a travel website that specializes in Montenegro and the Balkans. It’s a great site, so I thought I’d share it here so folks can visit. There are a lot of interesting articles in both English and Russian.

Visit the English-language site here and the  Russian-language site here.

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What My Life is Like (these days)

So, what is my life like in my role at Stoneworks? Here’s a small look at recent events:

In late August, my family and I drove from Russia to Montenegro. For ten days, I was with a team from the US looking at some land (at left) we hope to purchase for a camp; I’ll write more about that in a separate post. I also spoke at the church, met with the church leadership and had extensive time with ministry partners. My sister-in-law and her family live there as well, so we had some good family time. Last week we returned from Montenegro. However. . .

In order to drive from Estonia into Russia one must reserve a time at the border crossing. When we arrived in Estonia a few days ago, after driving up from Montenegro (three days on the road), I went online to reserve a time but there were no available slots for several days. (I couldn’t have reserved a place earlier, because we weren’t exactly sure when we’d arrive in Estonia.)

So, the car and I were ‘stuck’ in Estonia while we sent Olga and Valerie (my wife and daughter) to Russia on a bus.

It was good to be in Estonia, since I was able to meet with Ursula Randlaine, the director of Sunbeam, as well as with Artur Põld and Andres Toome. I also delivered donations to Sunbeam: a laptop, a computer tablet, and some developmental materials. The mission team had carried them to Montenegro from various points in the US for me to deliver to Estonia (it can get complicated).

Since I will attend a conference in Finland this weekend, we decided it was best for me to stay in Estonia and take a ferry to Finland (which I did yesterday) rather than drive into Russia a few days behind my family only to immediately drive to Finland.

I’m spending today in a little cabin in Finland (no running water!). I have a decent internet connection and can do some work from here. Tomorrow I will drive 8 hours north to Rovaniemi, Finland (on the Arctic Circle) for a men’s conference with Yura Belonozhkin; next week Yura and I will go up into Finnmark, Norway to visit ministry partners. We will go all the way to the Barents Sea. From there we will cross into Russia and visit the Murmansk region before I head south to St. Petersburg (and home!).

In two week’s time, I will have traveled from the Adriatic Sea to the Arctic Ocean, all because of the relationships God has given us: our Living Stones.

Jesus promised that He would give abundant life, and I surely have received it.

“I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.”  John 10:10