A Postcard from Russia

I’m finally able to post to the website. Our site was hacked and it took quite a while to clean up all the files and get things ship-shape.

Last Sunday after church we went for a walk in the Summer Garden here in St. Petersburg. Spring is finally (pretty much) here, and it was nice to get out and enjoy relative warmth. I took the picture above at one of the many fountains in the renovated garden.

On Saturday, I go to Africa for my second trip there. I will visit Uganda, Congo and Tanzania, where I’ll teach at a conference, preach at churches and continue building relationships with my new friends. I’ll have more news when I return.

Olga and Valerie will remain in Russia. We’ve opened up dacha and there is always a lot to do there. Homeschooling is winding down and we’re already looking forward to 4th grade. Valerie had a piano recital and a dance recital, both went very well.

So we move ahead, always looking to our loving father to guide the way.

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 – 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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Pastor Andrei Furmanov wrote this great article about Russian Dachas —

In the days when the USSR was still a country collective farms, which were the backbone of Russian agriculture, were unable to produce enough, and the money for importing food was sufficient to only buy grain. The result was an official policy was that citizens of then USSR were supposed to grow a lot themselves.

Dachas were formed as cooperatives supervised by trade unions and the by-laws of these cooperatives were strict enough. First of all, the land technically of course did not belong to the members of those cooperatives, all land was state federal property at those times. It was leased to trade unions and could not be sold. Another serious restriction was that the usage of this land had to be limited to growing things.

One simply could not make a lawn on his or her land and enjoy the grass. That would be illegal and immediately would result in kicking the person out from the dacha cooperative and replacing him with a more devoted “weekend farmer”. Not more than one dacha per family was allowed.

The typical size of land given by the state to a family varied from 4 to 12 “sotok”, 6 and 8 being the most common (not surprising, now a popular newspaper for dacha owners is titled “6 Sotok” and everyone perfectly understands what they mean by that). One “sotka” = 100 square meters, so typical dacha land area of 6 sotok is equal to 0.16 acres.

Statistic says that now more than 30% of Russian families have dachas. And traditionally most of the dachas were distributed by the trade union organizations at the major industrial enterprises. Therefore in many cities the figures are even higher. Majority of dacha owners were workers, according to the party policy.

We are not saying that other social groups were not allowed to have dachas. It’s just important to realize that having a dacha was not a sign of belonging to elite class, and almost every family could easily get it if at least one family member had been working for 5 or 10 years at the same factory or plant.

But we have given you enough dry facts… Let us add some emotions to that long technical introduction to the concept of dacha – one of the key concepts of Russian life in both Soviet and post-Soviet times. Continue reading

Snapshots from Russia

We were all at dacha for the May 9 Victory Day holidays earlier this week. I go to Montenegro tomorrow to meet a mission team, and it was nice to have this family time before my trip.

The little white flowers are called “Under the Snow” and are considered to be the first flowers of Springtime. The daffodils are also blooming now.

The buds are on the trees:

We organized and cleaned the summer kitchen. It looks worlds better than it did:

Of course, we have a meal together. We cooked shashleek the day before and had good leftovers as well as traditional Russian salads.

Great-granddad Orest came to visit our home a few weeks ago. I like this picture:

The Wounds of War

Recently we were at dacha, Olga’s grandparents’ house in a small village named Dolgovka. The house is well over 200 years old. It was clearly built by a wealthier family; the house is one of the largest and was built with high-quality materials and workmanship. Now, it’s run-down and needs a lot of TLC.

One interesting part of the history of the house is how it weathered WWII. In October 1941, the German army moved through the village. In early 1944, the German army retreated along the same route. The Germans used the house as a headquarters. It’s interesting to think of German soldiers sitting in the chairs we still use.

There were battles in the village, and the house still has shrapnel damage from bombs and shells that fell nearby. One lady who was living in the house at the time died from shrapnel wounds. I took some pictures of the damage that remains:

This is an upstairs bedroom door. You can see two places where shrapnel pierced through.

Here are two scars in the eaves of the house:

This is a hole in an interior wall. A few years ago I dug this piece of shrapnel out of the log wall opposite.

This scar is on the door of a wardrobe.

And this is the upstairs gable. The elongated holes are gaps between siding boards, but all of the round holes show how shrapnel peppered the building. One was not safe in a wooden building during a battle.


I Had a Proposal to Make

Ten years ago today I proposed to Olga in the garden at dacha. We’re at dacha again, just like 10 years ago, to celebrate her grandmother’s birthday today.

Earlier that morning Olga and I both felt God’s clear call for us to be married (she had a dream and I had a miraculous revelation as I was praying), so we both knew that I’d ask her to marry me that day.

Before I proposed to Olga, I asked Olga’s mother to bless our marriage. She had to sit down when she realized what I was about to do! After she gave her blessing, I gave her a camera and asked her to take a picture when I proposed. She was crying and it was hard for her to focus on us as she stood on the porch overlooking the garden.

It was a film camera and by the time we developed the film I’d forgotten that she took the picture. It turned out pretty well:

By the way, this was the first time I told Olga that I love her. We were both guarding our hearts and following counsel from Elisabeth Elliot in her book Passion and Purity: only say ‘I Love You’ when the next sentance is ‘Will You Marry Me’. It’s good advice.

A Snapshot from Russia

You don’t see this every day —

At dacha last week, a member of our family (who shall remain un-named) was cleaning the inside of the reservoir we use for the water system.

(That’s our banya in the background.)

A Postcard from Dacha

We are back in Russia after a great visit to the US. We arrived in St. Pete a little over a week ago. After battling jet lag, we are finally back on schedule.

This weekend we are at dacha (rhymes with ‘gotcha’). A dacha is a Russian country house, anything from a hovel to a mansion. Olga’s grandparents own a house in a small village south of the city. We came here to open up the house and prepare for the summer. Part of that involves planting. Above is a picture of Olga planting carrots. We’ve also done a lot of mowing and cleaning (and eating and sleeping).

This is Valerie’s first visit to dacha and she loves it. She had her first Russian banya (sauna) last night and really liked it. We’re very happy to have time here. For those of you who have asked, Valerie is recovering splendidly from her hernia surgery. She barely missed a beat.

Next week I (Mike) go to Estonia to do some work and have meetings about the center for disabled children we plan to open in Johvi. We are renting a flat in Johvi, and I need to spend some time there, too. Recently two missionary families stayed there in our absence. It’s a real blessing to people.

Camp Elama is getting ready for a full summer, I’ll be with a team in Montenegro in July, and MIR will send about 50 foster children from Russia to a Christian camp in Estonia. Stoneworks is hoping to open a home in Belarus for young men who have graduated from orphanages; we’re calling it Timothy House. There’s a lot going on, as usual.

We are happy and thankful for all our good friends and family all over the world. God has blessed us, and we thank Him.