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

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

Well, that was really something!

I’ve just arrived in Russia after a whirl-wind trip. I left St. Petersburg, Russia on July 12 with Caroline Bennighof, a Stoneworks intern, in Estonia we picked up Kristjan Pold and Krystal Smith (another Stoneworks intern) and drove to Montenegro. We helped run a youth camp there for a few weeks and then drove all the way to Finland.From there, I drove to Russia to complete the circuit. All together, we traveled 7932 km (4928 miles) in a van. On the way we visited Budapest, Vienna, Auschwitz/Birkenau, Tallinn and many other places, while traveling in 14 countries, from the Baltics to the Balkans.

This was a very fulfilling trip. On the drives to and from Montenegro, we had great times of conversation and fellowship. We listed to, and discussed, several recordings by Elisabeth Elliot. While in Montenegro, we worked very well together as we served at the camp, where we worked with a team from the US ministry Students With A Testimony (SWAT).

I am very thankful for the time. God blessed us all in many ways. Here are few pictures from the trip, in no particular order.

Video of Camp Elama

Last week we were at Camp Elama (in Russia), and this week we’ve been at Camp Gideon (in Estonia). Yan and Nadya Boldyrev made a video slideshow of our camp in Russia. We had a GREAT time there with Russian campers and an American team from Teen Mania. Jon & Denise Riley and their children also joined us.

Tomorrow Olga and Valerie will return to Russia, and I’ll go with the American team to Tallinn for a sightseeing day before heading to Finland for their departure home. Then I’ll head back to Russia, too.

Here’s the video —

Such is the Spirit

I’ve just returned from time with a mission team in Montenegro and I’d like to share one example of how the team served and how God spoke.

We ran a youth camp for a few days earlier this week. As a part of the camp, in one session the team had a time during which each camper was prayed for and team members would share impressions that they sensed as they prayed; the purpose is to share scriptures and words of encouragement and comfort.

One of the young lady campers heard about this ahead of time, and that day, as she was reading the Bible story of a woman anointing Jesus’ feet with perfume and wiping them with her hair (Luke 7) the camper said to God something like — ‘if this team is really hearing from you and if you really speak to people, then have one of the team members mention the story of this woman to me today’.

We all, Americans and campers, sat in a circle as the team shared their words of encouragement. Each team member prayed, asking God to give good words to share with each camper. Many good, encouraging words and scriptures were shared with all the campers. When the time came to share with this young lady, though people said many things to her, no one mentioned the story.

After we’d spoken to each camper, there was a time for team members to say anything they may not have had time to share before. Again, no one mentioned the story to the young lady. She was dispirited and sort of ‘gave up’ on the whole thing.

After we dismissed that meeting, one of the team members went to the young lady and said that the Lord had put something on her heart for the camper. It was Luke 7, the story of the woman washing Jesus’ feet!

The camper was in awe that the Lord would hear her prayer and love her so much as to answer it so specifically. Her heart was deeply touched and she was very encouraged. Only God could make that specific connection for that young woman. Her faith was increased and she felt the touch of the Lord.

God is love. He will be found by those who seek Him.

We had a work day at Elama on Saturday. It was cool and rainy, so we didn’t get as much work done as we’d hoped, but we had a great time of fellowship together. Elama will host quite a few people this summer.

I’m now in Montenegro, awaiting the arrival of a mission team. The busy part of the summer will quick be upon us.

Here are a few pictures of the day:

elama work day 021 Workday at ElamaMasha, Katya, Yan, Olga, Sergei (Kristina was with the kids, I took the picture)

elama work day 022 Workday at ElamaKsusha (one of Sergei and Kristina’s daughters) by the summer kitchen

elama work day 004 Workday at Elama
Sergei and Kristina

elama work day 005 Workday at Elamaof course, we cooked shashleek

elama work day 002 Workday at Elama
and you gotta have kvas!
elama work day 019 Workday at Elama
Masha Oshkina
elama work day 023 Workday at Elama
two years ago a mission team cut down a BIG tree; we finally got it cut up and moved; now we need to split it for firewood

A Trip To Elama

Yesterday Sergei and I went to Elama, our camp about an hour north of St. Pete. It’s time to start opening it up, and yesterday among other things we connected the primary part of the water system to be sure things are working. We also met with some workers who will clear some land and remove trash (see pictures below).

This summer the Elama calendar is booked solid. Next month we’ll host a team of 20 from the US who will run a camp for foster children. We’ll also host several church retreats.

You can see more at the Elama website. If you’re interested in helping, we need funds to help improve the bathing facilities. We’d also like to install flush toilets (we have outhouses now).

It was a great day, and I’m very glad we’re there for our 5th summer.

A Postcard from Estonia

I (Mike) have just seen the fulfillment of a dream. For the past two years we’ve thought that it would be great to send children from Russia to a Christian camp in Estonia. Well, it’s come to pass: MIR, in partnership with Love Russia UK, have sent 43 foster children and 6 Estonian orphans to Camp Gideon, on the shore of the Gulf of Finland. A team of about 30 from the UK met the children and have been running a two-week camp. Interpreters from Russia are also serving there. The foster parents also went to camp, and it’s been a GREAT help to them to have a holiday in Estonia.

Russians have a saying — the first pancake is always a mess. So, while things have not been as smooth as we would have liked, the Brits have already committed to doing the camp again next year.

The Russian government changed laws making it more difficult for MIR to send children from orphanages out of the country, and this is one reason we had to stop the hosting program to the US. However, we are able to work with orphans in foster families. This looks to be a fruitful part of MIR’s work from here on.

MIR has several new things coming up and yet is going through a tight time financially. We’ve been in the situation before: hard times that are accompanied by new growth.

Please keep us in prayer as we discern what God has next for MIR and the ministry in Russia.

A Postcard from Russia — Life at Elama

This was nice: All Nations Church had their camp at Elama last week. They posted this picture online with the following message —

We would like to thank Michael and Olga Cantrell and Sergey Tovstopyat for help in providing the place for this wonderful camp. We were truly blessed, we had a good time in prayer, studying the Bible, fellowship and relaxing.

Sergey Tovstapyat certainly deserves thanks; he is the camp administrator and has spent many hours making Elama a place of warm welcome. He’s been a great help to many people.

Thanks must also go to the many people who have donated time and funds to make Elama into what it is today. Looking at the picture, we give thanks for those who gave money for our mowers, we give thanks for the people who painted the buildings, we give thanks for the owners of the land who graciously let us use it. Elama has received help from Russians, Germans, Finns, Brits, and Americans. The list is long.

Elämä is the Finnish word for Life, and we want that place to be filled with God’s life through His people. It was great to hear that All Nations celebrated a baptism during camp — new life in Christ.