A Tale of Two Countries

teamMontenegro 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.

team-pics-001In 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.

roma-retreat-006The 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

niksic-003The 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.

church-retreat-elama-005

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

One Way We Help

the first year they metMIR and Stoneworks, the two organizations I serve, are helping a Russian named Alina as she becomes a foster parent.

Alina participated in MIR’s New Family program a few years ago. Alina is partially supported by donors in the US, a family that hosted these children as part of MIR’s hosting program.

This is one example of how we help others do what God is calling them to do.

Here is a note from Alina:

Alina and kids 2009 250x187 Helping a Foster Parent in RussiaMy name is Alina. I work at a movie animation studio. I’m a Christian. God put on my heart to take part in the lives of orphans.

In 2008 I met three children (two brothers and a sister) and I began to take them on weekends and holidays from the orphanage to my home. [The picture at top left is from one of their first meetings.]

They have a mother, but she has schizophrenia; she visits them, but they cannot live together.

I want to arrange care for the two younger children, to take them into my home. The older boy turns 18 soon and it isn’t possible for him legally to be a foster child.

rollerscating 2009 225x300 Helping a Foster Parent in RussiaWe have become very close to each other and now we are like family. God blesses me so and gives insight into how to build relationships with teenagers and how to help them in the process to growing up. We love each other.

I believe it’s a miracle and a great blessing from God that the staff of the orphanage opened their heart for these relationships, they did not hinder our acquaintance and they support our fellowship for these past three years.

With the children we attend a church, go to movies, go boating, learn to cook, do homework, read the Bible and much more.

This gives children a sense of family life, that they are loved and cared for. Continue reading

A Postcard from Russia — Back Home

We returned on Sunday to a beautiful St. Petersburg, Russia.  The weather has been perfect, and it has been great to start reconnecting with family and friends after such a long stay in the US.  Olga took the picture above, in the park across the street from our flat.

We are thankful for the many people who have expressed their love and support for us after the loss of our unborn children.  It’s been a very real blessing to receive so much encouragement in so many ways.  Thank you.

Even as we battle jet lag, we face a busy schedule.  Today I (Mike) was at Elama while Olga was with her sister Alla who is visiting from Montenegro.  Elama is looking very good — the buildings have been painted, interiors have been remodeled, the pavilions are ready for use, and bunk beds are being built.

While we’ve had quite a few people working at Elama, in three days our first camp begins.  We’ll have 30 children from Novodvinsk and 10 adults as counselors.

In a week I go to Montenegro where I’ll meet a mission team from Athens, Georgia; we’ll run a teen camp there. Then I go to Estonia to meet our first mission team to that country. That team will minister in a summer camp with Estonian orphans and will also do some fact-finding for future mission teams.

We are very thankful for the many blessings we continue to receive.

Where is home?

The following was written by a friend (Kim) whose daughter (Katherine) suffered a severe brain injury.  Kim is traveling back and forth from her home in Georgia and her daughter’s home in California —

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One thing I’ve learned for sure living in Tinseltown is that all that glitters ain’t gold.

The “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous” aren’t all they’re cracked up to be.

I used to be envious of those people with multiple addresses you’d read about in Town and Country. “Mr. and Mrs. Anthony Astorbutt of New York, Palm Beach, and Nantucket announce the engagement of their daughter Abigail to Mr. Gregory Q. Gottrocks, IV, son of Mr. and Mrs. Gregory Q. Gottrocks, III of Washington, D.C., Martha’s Vineyard, and Paris, France.”

Or movie stars you’d read about in People: “Brangelina (or whoever) just purchased a $22.5 million villa on the Cote d’Azur.  They also have residences in Beverly Hills, New York, and a 2,500 acre spread in Wyoming…”

Well, Mrs. F. Brooks Arnold of Athens, Georgia, Los Angeles, and Pomona, California thinks they might be crazy.

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As is usually the case, the reality is far removed from the illusion. The vagabond life is not as carefree as it seems.  You can’t just call Mayflower and have the movers show up each time a change in locale is necessitated.  Personal belongings are strewn across the country. In this constant state of flux, just getting dressed in the morning poses a challenge.

Throwing on a pair of pants in Athens, I realize that the only belt that works with them is still in Pomona.  The shoes with the right heel height are in LA. In LA, I get dressed for church on a cold day, and go to grab my coat before running out the door.  No coat in that closet.  God only knows where the lipliner that matches that shade of lipstick is hiding.  Probably in a purse in the pile on the closet floor in Georgia.  And forget keeping up with little things like glasses and phone chargers and checkbooks. Continue reading