Team Arrival!

A team from St. James United Methodist Church in Athens, GA arrived today. We drove over to Dubrovnik, Croatia to pick them up. We’ll be in Podgorica, Montenegro for a couple of days and then head up to the mountains to run a youth camp all next week.

They are a great group and we’re looking forward to some good times together. I’ll post more news as we have it . . . .

A Postcard from Montenegro — Fruitful Relationships

teencamp_durmitor

I  just returned from a very fruitful trip to Montenegro, where we hosted a team from St. James United Methodist Church in Athens, GA.

Our relationships continue to deepen in Montenegro and the work is expanding. I was involved in three main areas:

First, we ran a teen camp. We had more campers this year than last (it’s great to see growth), and our time with them was very deep and fruitful. Two young ladies made commitments to become followers of Jesus and several others were very encouraged in their faith.

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A Postcard from Estonia — Resting in Him

I (Mike) am currently in Estonia again after a quick trip back to Russia.  Olga and I continue in a time of prayer and seeking God’s will for our next steps.  But, it is not a time of passive waiting. The Lord has given us good work, and we continue to see His hand in our lives.   We’re working in several areas, and over the next few months we will:

— welcome short-term teams to minister in Russian camps
— minister in Montenegro with a team from the Wesley Foundation in Athens, GA
— host several church groups and families at Elama, our Russian camp
— visit ministries and missionaries in Budapest and Minsk
— help several volunteers minister at Camp Gideon, an Estonian Christian camp
— continue to learn more about possibilities in Estonia

Above is a view of the medieval town of Tallinn. We’ve seen much wildlife here — storks, foxes, deer, hawks — and beautiful scenery.  And I continue to find watermills all over the place!

Recently Thomas Umstattd visited us from the US and created a video called What is MIR.  It’s a good oversight of MIR and the foundations of our work in Russia.  We’ve also recently updated the Stoneworks website.

Above all, Christ has been reminding us to abide in Him.  Apart from Him we can do nothing of eternal value.  Love and faithfulness are necessary, and the tasks and fruit of ministry will be a natural outcome of ‘abiding in the vine’.   Now is the time for us all to surrender our lives daily, trusting that our Father knows what we need before we even ask.

A Postcard from Estonia — Estonian Beauty

I am currently in Estonia researching ministry opportunities for possible future mission work.  I’m staying with John and Sara Russell, the founders of Street Cry in St. Pete who are now starting a new work in Tallinn.  Olga will join me this week before we return to Russia in about 10 days.

A few days ago I visited a Christian camp, Camp Gideon, near the Russian border.  We are hoping to be able to send Russian and/or Belorussian orphans to this camp, where American mission teams can meet them and preach the gospel without fear of reprisals by Russian authorities.  Camp Gideon is owned by the Estonian Methodist church and has hosted orphans in previous years.  We pray that God will speak to the hearts of people to serve orphans in this way.

Estonia is a special place — a mix of Russian and European culture, very welcoming to westerners, and yet a large portion of the population are Russians who were ‘stranded’ here after the USSR collapsed.   Continue reading

In Estonia

camp gideon 10 300x225 Estonian fact findingAfter a nice drive from Russia, I’m in Estonia looking at opportunities for ministry. Yesterday I visited Camp Gideon, the first Christian camp in Estonia. It’s been owned by the Methodist Church since the early 90s and is directed by Artur Pold, a minister who is also a congressman (called a Deputy here).

The camp is very large and has about 800 meters of beach on the Baltic. It’s snowy and beautiful there now, and it’s sunny and beautiful there in the summer. Here you can see the Baltic sea just beyond one of the buildings. It is quite a piece of property.

We’re hoping to bring orphans from Belarus and/or Russia to this camp. Perhaps American mission teams could come and meet them here. It would be very good for the kids to be in an environment where they can freely hear the gospel. The cost is about $15/day for food and housing, plus transportation.

Probably the most important thing I’m doing now is establishing and building relationships with believers here, and I’m looking to see which of those relationships God is establishing closely. We want the work to flow from our relationships, rather than have the work define the relationships.

Over the next few days I’ll be visiting orphanages and shelters, and I’ll also be looking at some property that could perhaps serve as a summer camp and ministry center.

Stoneworks — News from Montengro

Montenegro was a part of Yugoslavia and is located in the Balkans, across the Adriatic Sea due east of central Italy.  It’s a small country (pop. 650,000) with only about 200 protestant believers.

Stoneworks continues to partner with the Brethren Assembly in Podgorica, one of only three Evangelical churches in the country.

In May, I’ll go with a team from the University of Georgia to do a variety of projects — prayer-walking in cities where there is no local church, running a four-day youth camp, leading children’s ministry meetings, teaching English and most important of all, building relationships.

Here’s a report from Vladimir Cizmanski, pastor of the Brethren Assembly:

Be very careful, then, how you live-not as unwise but as wise,
making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.
Eph.5:15-16

 

It has become a tradition for us at the beginning of the year to write about the distribution of shoe boxes full of Christmas gifts that we receive thanks to the international organization Samaritan’s Purse.

The difference this year was that we received twice as many as in previous years (20,000 this year).  This project is becoming more and Shoe boxesmore important to us as we have more personal contacts each year.

 

This time over 1,000 children came to our building to attend our Christmas program and receive a shoe box.  We were able to take the opportunity to inform their parents about our other activities such as Saturday children’s club, English Language course, summer camps and special events.

We have recently had twenty eight children coming to the Saturday Children’s club which is a great thrill for us.  We are praying for this ministry that is so important for the future lives of these little ones.

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A Postcard from Russia — Elama, Camp Life

In previous postcards we’ve mentioned the camp we have use of: we’ve named it Elama, the Finnish word for Life (pronounced EH-lah-mah). Before 1939 it was a Finnish health resort, after the war it was a Russian children’s camp before closing about 25 years ago. We’re slowly bringing it back to life, and this is the first of several years of rebuilding that are needed. Still, the fruit of this summer has already surpassed our hopes.

In addition to a few Christian families that are living there all summer, in July we hosted two camps run by a local church. First was a children’s camp with 80 participants and then a youth camp with 100 participants. Since we don’t have much decent housing, the campers stayed in tents. Even the kitchen was under a tent, and the picture at left is of the ‘dining hall’. The church did a great job of improving the land — clearing the swimming area, building outhouses, clearing trash, they even built a dock in the lake.

Later this month, we’ll host a week-long church camp for thirty children and other groups will have picnics. Elama is available free of charge to all. This summer we’ve installed the beginnings of a water system (we now have one sink with running water), we’ve begun repairs to several buildings, obtained a couple of small refrigerators (donations), purchased tools, cleared away a lot of trash and scrub brush, and swatted a lot of mosquitoes! We ran out of money for this summer, so some tasks (painting, roof repair, heating, a new well, etc.) will have to wait until later. There is still very much to be done. Groups from the US and the Netherlands have expressed interest in sending work teams. An architect in the US has agreed to help design a pavilion/summer kitchen that we hope to build next May. There is a lot of activity and many opportunities. Elama is coming to life, just as we had hoped.

Please pray that we’ll have God’s wisdom as we make decisions about the future of Elama — may it always bring glory to Him and peace to the people who are there.

 

A Postcard from Montenegro — Surprising Blessings

I (Mike) arrived in Montenegro on July 2, a day before the team from St. James UMC in Athens, GA arrived. We’re in the Montenegrin mountains for two purposes this summer — 1) to help host a church retreat, and 2) to help run a youth camp.

We’re staying at a house on the edge Tara Canyon, the second deepest gorge in the world. It’s a bit of a working farm, but we didn’t know that when we booked the house a few months ago. Pictured above are Lee Davis of Athens and Sasha, one of the young men attending the camp. They were helping gather hay, building a relationship as they worked together. As I planned this trip, I never expected I’d take a picture like this. Our time here has been full of great surprises.

A little background — the population of Montenegro is about 650,000.: Christ Church, a Brethren assembly. Vladimir Cizmanski is the pastor, and his wife Marijana (pronounced like marianna) leads worship.

The church retreat last weekend went very well. The church members and our team were a good fit. This is the first retreat in the church’s 10 years of existence. Everyone enjoyed it very much and want to do it again next year. We’ll see them again this weekend at their church service. It was surprising how quickly we bonded with the church, and our short time with them felt much longer. They love to worship the Lord. The are picture at left and below on the right.

Vladimir has hoped to run a youth camp for 10 years, and now we’re able to help. It’s an honor to help establish traditions that we hope will continue for years to come. There are four kids from a refugee camp; they’ve lived there for about ten years after their families fled from the war in Bosnia. One of the young men told us that this camp the best thing that has ever happened to him. At left are the kids on an outing we took to Durmitor National Park.

We are teaching about godly relationships, but since many of the children have not heard the gospel and know little about church life, we’re also telling them basic truths about God and the church. For instance, when Jerry Meredith, the pastor of St. James, introduced himself as a pastor, Marijana (who was translating) said, ‘they don’t know what a pastor is so I need to explain it to them’.

Each day has many pleasant surprises, and this is a joyful time for us all. I am honored to be serving this church and these people. We are in the midst of a precious and special time. As we prepared for this trip, we sensed that God wanted us to focus on loving Him, loving each other and loving the people we meet. People are more important than programs. And I can say that we have experienced the power of God’s love.

Olga is in Russia now. She’s been helping the mission teams there as well as visiting Elama and the campers there. She is now at dacha. It’s good for her to be there, since her grandparents’ health is failing a bit and they are very happy to have her with them. I’ll return to Russia on the 17th and immediately go to Elama to work with the youth camp there and visit the teams we have working in other camps. This summer is full of good relationships, good work and good places. It’s a blessed time.

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