A Postcard from Russia

Our return to Russia went smoothly. The flights went well, we had no problems crossing borders and are almost completely over our jet lag. After a few days in St. Petersburg, we went to dacha (above) to open up the house and get it ready for the summer. Our dacha (summer house) is about 250 years old, and shows it.

Last fall we had the foundation fixed and the workers left quite a bit of rubble and chaos. So, we spent several days cleaning the place and finishing up some projects. I also built a greenhouse that wore me out. During the winter someone broke in and stole many tools (and in the process damaging some property), so we also had to recover from that.

Dacha is looking better, but it still needs a lot of help. Our hope is to turn it into a ministry center, and we’re slowly working our way toward making it able to host larger groups of people.

We’re now back in the city. Tomorrow, I (Mike) go to Estonia for a few days and then drive south to Montenegro, meeting my Finnish friend Heikki Hakala in Riga, Latvia. Heikki and I have wanted to take a road trip together, and we’ll visit historic sites along the way. We’ll also visit Schloss Heroldeck in Austria, a Christian conference center (and castle!) where I’d like to lead a youth retreat at some point. It’s interesting research to say the least.

In Montenegro I’ll meet with many friends and ministry partners. I’ll also welcome Stoneworks board member Glenn Cole and his daughter Sarah, who is an intern with us this summer. We and another intern Anna Savelle will then make ministry stops in Serbia, Romania, and Ukraine as we head to their internship in Estonia, serving at Sunbeam and Camp Gideon.

I’ve recently had contact with a church in Western Ukraine that is helping refugees from the war in the east. We’ll visit the church, learn more about their needs, and hopefully carry some donations with us. Please contact me if you’re interested in helping with that particular need.

Olga and Valerie will remain in Russia, taking care of things in the city and then spending more time at dacha, enjoying country life as Valerie gets a golden brown tan.

The words of Jesus are constantly in my ear, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.”

Let’s keep pressing on toward the goal to win the prize for which Christ has called us heavenward.



A Postcard from America


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.

springtime in the USA

My 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 Postcard from Russia

July – what a good month.

At Camp Elama in Russia we served with a team from Austin, Texas helping run a camp for at-risk mothers and their children, then we were at Camp Gideon in Estonia with a team from Athens, Georgia helping run a camp for children with disabilities (above). It was great to have so much time with our friends – Russian, Estonian and American. (I also very much enjoyed helping build picnic tables for camp Gideon.)

These days are very clear examples of the unity of the body of Christ. It’s a great comfort experiencing how the Lord unites us, as we love Him and serve others in His name.

My primary role is to help others do what God is calling them to do, so I’m particularly gratified serving in these situations. One camp staff member said that the team from Athens was one of the best she’s ever seen; they served selflessly with joy and unity. What a pleasure to help them serve.

I had several very good conversations with team members and one or two may intern with Stoneworks next summer. In our talks, we often returned to the truth that we must surrender our lives to Christ in order to receive life from Him:

“If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it.”

What we DO should be the fruit of our relationship with Christ, His life expressed through us. We don’t work to earn God’s favor, we work because He has given His favor as a free gift and we want others to be comforted with the comfort we ourselves have received from God.

Digging Dacha

Quick link: Newsletter from Stoneworks

We’ve just returned from dacha where we moved a lot of dirt. Val worked (some) in the garden while Olga and I installed a simple drainage system; we need to get the water away from the house so we can improve the foundation. (Olga and I may start a drainage business: Cantrell and Wife — Our Work is Beneath You)

Our dacha belongs to Olga’s grandmother, and the house is well over 200 years old. It was originally set on large stones, and over the years it’s slowly been sinking into the (very wet) ground. We want to save the building, so one step is to dry it out.  A few years ago part of the foundation was replaced but the most difficult work remains. Perhaps some day we’ll be able to tackle that . . . .

We found a bullet from WWII not too far below the surface. It’s a reminder of violent episodes in that little village; German soldiers used our house as a field HQ as they moved to encircle Leningrad in 1941. The old house still bears the wounds of war, battle scars.  We’ve also found an artillery shell casing in the attic and a US Jeep tire pump (from 1941, part of Lend-Lease) in the workshop.

Our dacha visit was little lull in the action. A team from Austin arrives in a few hours to help run a camp at Elama for single mothers and their children. Next week I go to Estonia to meet a team from Athens, GA that will run a camp for the disabled children from Sunbeam.

I have crossed the border several times over the past few months and have had no problems at all. That has been a pleasant surprise. We continue to wait to hear from the US government regarding our green card applications for Olga and Valerie. We’ve submitted another round of documents and are waiting for them to process the docs and give us a decision; the next step, if all goes well, is for Olga and Val to have an interview at the US embassy in Moscow where they would hopefully get immigrant visas. For now, we wait . . . .

The ministry of Stoneworks continues to grow. In addition to full summer schedules running camps and conferences, many of our partners are traveling, meeting with one another, from the Arctic to the Adriatic, Baltics to Balkans. I am very thankful for the friendships and partnerships God has given us. It’s an amazing blessing to be welcomed as family in so many places. The body of Christ is beautiful.

A Postcard from Russia – Fresh Air

 This may not look significant, but it’s a big step forward.

Earlier this week, Sergei Tovstopyat and I built an outhouse for flush toilets (!) at Camp Elama. This has been a big need ever since we opened the camp. We’ve been using the very old outhouse that was originally built for the Soviet youth camp that was on the property. It always, uhhhm, graced the camp with a wafting reminder of its presence.

Sergei and I worked for two beautiful days. It was great to have fellowship and work with our hands. We just need to finish up the septic system and we’ll be all done.

The past month has been one of constant travel. I was in Montenegro with a team for three weeks (which went very well), then had a couple of trips to Estonia with stays in Russia in between. I’m now in Finland for a few days; then it’s back to Russia and then on to Estonia in July. Every step of the way has been good.

When we crossed the Finnish border yesterday, the border guard commented that he’d seen many passports in his time but he’d never seen one as thick as mine. My passport is just 5 years old, and I’ve already had to add pages twice. It’s like a little book. It seems that many more border crossings are ahead . . . .

A Tale of Two Countries

campers, high above the Bay of Kotor

Montenegro 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.

Kristi came later and so missed this picture

In 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.

Siniša and friend

The 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:

ministry by the sea

university ministry

The 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.

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

A Postcard from Russia – Dacha!

We’ve just returned from a nice visit to Olga’s grandmother’s summer house in the country, better known as a dacha.

front of the house, apple trees

This dacha is well over 200 years old. The siding on the front part of the house is made of larch, a tree that was used for ship building (it’s known to be tough and waterproof). The siding has not rotted at all over the past 200 years. German soldiers used it as a headquarters as they were pressing toward Leningrad; it has quite a history, like a living museum in some ways.

However, the foundation of the back half of the house is pitiful. We’re not sure how we’ll repair it, but it desperately needs help. The original logs were set on large stones over two centuries ago and they are slowly sinking into the ground. We need to lift that part of the house about a meter!

May is the month for opening up dacha. The house has been closed all winter; among other things we re-connected the water system, cleaned the rooms, repaired various bits, pruned trees, removed a rotted fence, heated it up (by wood-fired stove) and started preparing the garden.

The weather was cool and sometimes rainy. It will be nice when the warm weather arrives.

Speaking of, I (Mike) go to Montenegro on Thursday to be with a team from the States. It will be great to see again my friends and family in Podgorica, and the team will serve in several different settings. I’ll report on that later.

We’re still working on US green cards for Olga and Valerie. The process is moving along, but we have no idea when we’ll be finished. Hopefully we’ll be done by the end of the summer, but we won’t know until we know.

We ask that you continue to keep Russia, Ukraine and other countries in your prayers. Leaders need wisdom in order to do the best for their people. May the Lord’s will be done in every person’s heart.

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I arrived in Russia safe and sound on Friday. My trip was uneventful and the border crossing was a breeze. The passport control officer didn’t say anything to me at all. I go to Estonia (to pick up my car) tomorrow, so hopefully the border crossing from Estonia will be as smooth.

We had a nice visit to the park today, so I thought I’d share some of the beauty:

Prayer for Peace from Methodist Bishops

The following letter was sent from Bishop Eduard Khegay and Bishop Christian Alsted calling the church to prayer concerning the difficult situation in Ukraine and how it affects Russia, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Finland.

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. (Phil.1:2)

In a time of turmoil and unrest in Ukraine and other European countries we write to You, the people called Methodists in the Nordic & Baltic and the Eurasia area to encourage You to continually devote yourselves to Christ in prayer for peace and understanding among the peoples of this world.

Many things divide the earth’s population – nationality, culture, language, economy, ethnicity, gender and age, however the kingdom of God has always been a realm that despite of all gathers people together in mutual love in Christian community. While the political winds are shifting, the church is called to be a fellowship not of this world and yet sent into this world to reflect the self-sacrificing life of Christ. (John 17: 16, 18) This is by no means an easy task, and we continue to be challenged by the ever changing circumstances under which we live, as we seek to interpret and live out what the church should be, a redeemed and redeeming community.

As United Methodists in the Northern Europe and Eurasia Central Conference we are bound together in a covenant to make disciples of Jesus Christ. Our mission is along with other Christians to be part of Christ’s redeeming and transforming work in people’s lives, in the society and in world, rather than only to be successful and recognized. To “spread scriptural holiness” is to grow together and as Christ followers intentionally influence the society “to do justice, embrace faithful love, and walk humbly with your God”. (Micah 6:8)

Jesus said to his followers: “Peace I leave with you. My peace I give you. I give to you not as the world gives.” (John 14:27) Trusting in this promise we ask our churches to unite in prayer…

Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace;

Where there is hatred, let me sow love;

Where there is injury, pardon;

Where there is error, truth;

Where there is doubt, faith;

Where there is despair, hope;

Where there is darkness, light;

And where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master, Grant that I may not so much seek

To be comforted as to comfort;

To be understood as to understand;

To be loved as to love.

For it is in giving that we receive;

It is in forgiving that we are forgiven;

And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.


May we as the United Methodist Church be such an instrument of peace always reflecting the love of Christ.

Christ is risen; He is risen indeed.

Eduard Khegay Bishop of the Eurasia area

Christian Alsted Bishop of the Nordic and Baltic area