A Postcard from Belarus

This Fall has been quite busy. After traveling to the Arctic last month, I’ve just returned from Minsk, Belarus where I visited Stoneworks partner Spring of Revival (SOR). I visited the Minsk Family Homes, boys’ and girls’ homes for graduate orphans, helping teenage orphans make the transition from life in the orphanage to life on their own.

Olga Goncharenko, the Director of SOR, is doing very good work.  In addition to the Family Homes, SOR serves several shelters, orphanages and foster families. You can see where they serve by visiting the Stoneworks Ministry Map and read news about SOR here.

Sergei Tovstopyat (the new Executive Director of MIR) traveled with me, and it was very nice to have time with him. One result is that some of the girls will serve as counselors at our Camp Elama this summer. Also, Alla Shestak (above, at left), the director of the girls’ home, will come to Russia to learn from Sergei how to lead Eco programs in orphanages and shelters. It’s gratifying to see various Stoneworks ministries working together.

Valerie is doing great. The picture at left was taken at Camp Gideon in Estonia this summer. She sure doesn’t look like a 5 year old in that picture, but she looks more like herself in the picture below. Her English is coming along, and she’s learning her numbers and letters (two alphabets!) quite well.

The adoption process continues, however slowly. We’ve completed all of the documents we need from the US and are waiting for the final apostilles before they can be sent to Russia. We are also finalizing documents in Russia, most of which are medical checks (which take a LONG time to complete). Hopefully we can submit documents to the court this month. My FBI background check is taking the longest time; last spring we were told by social workers here that we didn’t need it. If we’d known we could have gotten it months ago. The process is full of frustrations, but we trust the Lord’s timing and are content.

I had to return from Belarus a day early because Oksana, Valerie’s birth mother, was released from prison on Friday. Oksana has been in prison for two and a half years. Olga visited Oksana many times and we’ve exchanged letters and phone calls with her as well.

We met Oksana at the prison when she was released. I cooked her favorite food (my version of potatoes au gratin) and we had a nice visit with her. She hugged us and called us Mama and Papa. It was an emotional day for her, as you can imagine.

Oksana is now in a Christian rehab center. She wants to make a new life and not fall back into her old way of living, but she’s torn about what to do next. In the rehab center she is surrounded by loving believers and has a good structure for her life. She is HIV positive and has Hepatitis C, so her health is not good. Please keep her in prayer. Her life is in the balance right now, and we pray that she’ll live by faith and abide in the Lord.

This Makes Me Happy

Here’s a great example what gives me joy and of how Stoneworks helps –

Last month Olga Gonchrenko, our director in Belarus, posted this as part of her update:

wheelchair 300x224 The Heart of MinistryWe were given 2 wheelchairs that were a great blessing to 2 women who were in great need for the chairs. Valentina, the first woman, got into a car accident 2.5 years ago. She can’t move her lower part of the body, she lives all by herself and she is praying for a computer, so that she can keep in contact with the outside world as well as work part time on the computer.

One of our supporters, Erin, was touched and gave money to purchase a computer for Valentina. Erin’s Bible study class gave money to pay for the first year of internet service (which is very considerate).

november 201 011 300x218 The Heart of MinistryTo me, this is an excellent example of how the Lord uses living stones (1 Peter 2:5), the body of Christ, to express His love to those in need.

Several people in the Stoneworks family fulfilled their roles; Mary Jean Preece, the Stoneworks Administrator, handled the transaction well, Olga Goncharenko guided the ministry, others posted news on the website and in the newsletter, and Valentina’s prayers have been answered.

And perhaps best of all, Valentina and Erin (with the help of Google Translate) are now in direct communication.

november 201 008 The Heart of Ministry

A Few Thoughts This Morning

As some of you know, we’re facing some hard times over here these days (in Russia, inspections and investigations; in Belarus, upheaval and difficulty; financial shortfalls everywhere). I sent an email to our team and thought I’d share it with you —


Recently I’ve been contemplating Hebrews chapter 12 and want to share a few thoughts.

Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children. For what children are not disciplined by their father? If you are not disciplined—and everyone undergoes discipline—then you are not legitimate, not true sons and daughters at all. Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of spirits and live! They disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.

God allows hardships for our good, so that we’ll be more like Him, so that we’ll share in His holiness. Hardships create a harvest of righteousness and peace if we’ll allow ourselves to be trained by them.

This is something God has been impressing on my heart: will I allow these current hardships to train me to be more like Him? Discipline is NEVER pleasant, but it’s good. Even Jesus was ‘made perfect through suffering‘.

Suffering will make us more complete, more mature, if we walk through it in God’s way. I pray that, as we face these stressful, difficult times, we will stand on the true hope that a good harvest is coming as a result of this loving discipline God is allowing in our lives.

We need encouragement when we’re going through tough times; we need to hear good words that will lift our spirits. It’s almost comical how the writer of Hebrews does this; it certainly goes against my natural tendencies:

In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. And have you completely forgotten this word of encouragement that addresses you as a father addresses his son? It says,

“My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline,

and do not lose heart when he rebukes you,

because the Lord disciplines the one he loves,

and he chastens everyone he accepts as his son.”

This is the word of encouragement: difficulties are a sign of God’s love for us. The idea is that rather than trying to get out from under our difficulties, we should be thankful and know that God is lovingly treating us like His children.

I think hardships are also a sign of God’s trust in us; He knows exactly what difficulties we can carry and He allows them into our lives. This good word says: Be encouraged, God is disciplining you! 🙂

I don’t mean to imply that the difficulties we face are not as bad as they are. We’re all walking through some very hard times. But God has a purpose and a result in mind; if we’ll submit to Him and endure this hardship as discipline, then our future will hold increasing righteousness and peace and we’ll share in God’s holiness. The very things we long for will be ours as we walk through these hard times with Christ as our guide.

In Him —


A New Project in Belarus

This is one example of the work our organization does in Belarus. Please contact me if you’re interested in knowing more or supporting this very worthy project.

From the Stoneworks International website:

We are very excited to announce our next project in Belarus: a home for young men we hope to open this Fall.

In 2009 Spring of Revival and Stoneworks opened the Minsk Family Home, a home for young ladies who are leaving the orphanage system and need help making the transition to life on their own.

Timothy House is a natural extension of this ministry to graduate orphans.

If you would like to donate to help establish this home, please send a check to Stoneworks or donate online.

You can see and download a brochure here: Timothy House Brochure.

Here is an open letter from board member Jill Tyson:

Dear friends,

From the first days when I met Olga Goncherenko in Belarus I understood immediately that hers was not a casual relationship with the orphans in her country. I knew from the way the children smiled and hugged her while we were there that what she and her team were building special relationships that would last through the years.

Indeed, the commitment of our dear Christian friends has yielded much fruit in the lives of 100s of orphans in Belarus. One result of their discipleship and devotion to the children was the beginning of the Minsk Family Home in the fall of 2009, a home for Christian women who have graduated from the orphanage system in Belarus and want to continue their studies in a safe place.

Spring of Revival and Stoneworks International now announce the next step, the founding of a home for men. We will call this home Timothy House, because we feel these young men will truly become Godly examples in Belarus.

Please see the attached brochure, and pray about your involvement in this endeavor. We are committed to raising 80% of one year’s support before we give the “go – ahead” to begin in fall of 2011. A Christian Belorussian couple is willing to parent the home, and we already have several young men in mind to live there. If you are able to help distribute the brochures or raise awareness for the need, we would sincerely appreciate it, and we would also be grateful for a one-time gift or commitment for monthly support in any amount.

We are excited to be a part of revival in Belarus, one life at a time. Belarus is under-served in World Missions from the USA, partly because no American missionaries are allowed to live there. The environment for ministry is hostile to Christians, and no private orphanages are allowed. The government watches everything, especially foreign help which makes legal cooperative efforts at times impossible without God’s working miracles (which He has done on a regular basis!) Praise God that He doesn’t depend on rulers or laws to accomplish His will!

With a thankful heart for your interest and concern,

Jill Tyson

From Russia to Montenegro


About 10 days ago, Olga and I began a road trip from St. Petersburg, Russia to visit Stoneworks ministry sites in eastern and central Europe.  Stoneworks continues to expand, and it’s an honor to be able to visit so many wonderful people that God has put together as ‘living stones’ (1 Peter 2:5).

Our first stop was in Minsk, Belarus where we visited with our ministry Spring of Revival.  We stayed with Yasha and Olga Goncharenko and had a great time visiting several ministry sites.

Olga and her staff continue to do great work under difficult circumstances.  They are very worthy of our help and support.

The highlight of our visit was at the Minsk Family Home. The young ladies who live there are doing very well, and Alesya (the counselor, in front on the right) is doing a great job.

We had a good meal together, shared stories and were blessed to have a good time of fellowship and mutual encouragement.

We also visited a foster family we support.  The home, for eleven children, is in a small village 30 minutes from Minsk.

We had a great meal there (this is a theme of our travels), and saw some of the pigs we bought for them. We’re now helping purchase a cow, and we’ve also purchased chickens and provided other aid for foster families.

From Minsk, we drove through eastern Poland to Budapest, Hungary after a long day.

The trip through that part of the world is quite interesting and the land is very beautiful, especially as we made our way through the Carpathian mountains of eastern Slovakia.

In Budapest, we continue to build a relationship with the Free Methodist World Mission.  I hope we will be able to place a long-term missionary to help the local church with outreach and youth ministries.

I had a good visit with the team there, and I am very hopeful that we can partner with them in the future.  This was my third visit to Budapest, and I’m feeling more and more ‘at home’ there.  And the Danube is always a treat:


From Budapest, we made our way to Serbia.  We visited our good friends Jan (pronounced ‘Yahn’) and Nada Dudas in Bachki Petrovac, a small farming town in the region of Voivodina.  Jan is an elder in the Baptist church.

novi_sad-15I am hopeful that Stoneworks will be able to serve them in some way.  For now, we continue to build relationships as we discern how the Lord is leading us.  I was honored to offer the sermon at church, and I feel well-received.

We also visited the old town of Novi Sad (left), which is nearby.  I’m enjoying getting to know more about the rich history of the area.

Most of the people in Bachki Petrovac are of Slovakian heritage, and the church service was in Slovakian.  Everyone also speaks Serbian, of course, and many speak English; we also heard some German and French, and several people spoke Russian with us.  It’s quite a place.

From Serbia, we drove to our final destination – Podgorica, Montenegro.  The trip over the mountains was spectacular; we saw many dramatic waterfalls caused by the spring snow melt.

We’ll be here for three weeks, having fellowship with the church, helping any many ways and spending time with our family here (Olga’s sister just had a baby boy who is the pride of the family). I’ve been asked to take over the teaching duties at the church for the next three weeks, and I’m glad to help in that way.

Yesterday, I traveled to Cetinje with Vladimir Cizmanski, pastor of the Brethren Assembly. We had good conversations as we wound our way through the Black Mountains. This is the view we saw as we returned home:


The Lord has given us so much beauty. Of course, the places we’ve seen are beautiful, but even more beautiful are the people and the relationships He has established as we walk with Him.

From Montenegro to Russia

We recently drove home to Russia from Montenegro.  It was a beautiful drive along the Croatian coast and up into Hungary.  There we visited missionary friends and saw (rainy) Budapest.  The relationships were great, the city was beautiful and we hope to return.

Then we drove to Minsk, Belarus to visit Spring of Revival, a Stoneworks program.  Olga Goncharenko and her team are doing a great job there.  We enjoy our time with them and fully support them in all they do.  Visit the Stoneworks site to learn more about Spring of Revival.

Then we headed into Russia and are now safely back in our flat in St. Petersburg.

We really enjoy this traditional music from Montenegro.