Been a long time –

Goodness, it has been a LONG time since my last post. The time has flown by and much has happened.

In early December we arrived in the USA. Olga received her US green card, and Valerie is now a US citizen (we applied for her US passport a few days ago). We’re now starting the process of applying for Olga’s naturalization; that will take several months if all goes well.

We’ve had a very good time visiting with my family in Athens, GA. I’ve also had extensive meetings with mission teams and interns, preparing for the summer work. We’ll send teams to Montenegro, Russia and Estonia, and we’ll have two interns serving in Montenegro and Estonia.

A mission team member recently made a video about Camp Elama, our camp in Russia. This shows one aspect of our work and some of the great relationships God has given us, particularly with my good friend Sergei.

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.

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 . . . .

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 —

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 Summer Picture

I just had to share this —

Sergei Tovstapyat is a good friend and the Administrator of Camp Elama, our summer camp north of St. Petersburg. He just posted a picture from last summer of the lake at Elama. As you see, it can be breathtaking.


We’re now planning our summer at Elama. It’s booked solid, and we need some funds to prepare for the camps (improve the water system, add a shower, run electric lines). You can visit here if you’d like to help.

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.

A Postcard from Russia — Snow and Heat

Winter has arrived in St. Petersburg. We’ve had quite a bit of snowfall over the past few days (see our car below). The city is beautiful as we continue to press on in our life and work. Here is an update about a few items —

MIR hopes to send 39 children on the hosting program in December. Laws recently changed in Russia, and this is making it much more difficult to send children on the hosting program. Please pray for the staff of MIR, to make good decisions and have favor with the government officials. Much needs to be done before the children travel on December 13.

Our relationships and work in Estonia continue to grow, and next year should see some significant activity. I (Mike) continue to help coordinate the establishment of a center for disabled children there. We’re planning a fact-finding trip to Norway early next year, which will include Estonians and Americans. Also, an architect has offered a house that we may be able to use as a Christian guesthouse — whenever he finishes it (it’s 80% done). And we’re hoping to send a few mission teams to minister in camps next summer.

Last week, I went to Camp Elama with Sergei to work on one of the stoves (below). Sergei is working to make Elama more useful throughout the year, and fixing this old smokey stove is a part of that. As we tore it apart, we discovered that it was built with the outlet from the firebox actually below the fire — not a good design. And the stove fairly fell apart, so Sergei will need to do a lot of rebuilding. We’re hoping to host a couple of camps at Elama this winter, and it’s good that Sergei has learned how to build stoves. Most of the buildings are now heated. That is a significant improvement over last year.

This will be the first year of our married life when we won’t be in the US for Christmas.  We’ll miss our family and friends in the States, but it will be good to have Christmas and New Year’s with folks here.