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 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 Estonia — A Full Life

We’ve just returned from Estonia where we had a quick visit with a mission team from our home church in Athens, GA. The team is ministering in Camp Gideon, a Christian camp in the shore of the Gulf of Finland. This team is particularly memorable in that my aunt, Judy Cantrell, is a member. That’s her above at right with Valerie and other team members. So, it was good to have some family time as well as mission time with the team.

The team went to a restaurant where you catch your own meal. Olga caught her first fish (ever!). Here she is with Bill Arnold, who has been a great help in many ways. In addition to serving the children, the team is also involved in construction projects, and Bill is taking a leading role in that.

Our summer plans are in flux. I won’t be going to Montenegro as intended, since the mission team that planned to run the camp had to cancel their trip. Thankfully, the youth in Montenegro have been able to connect with other ministry opportunities. I’ll spend more time in Estonia, where I’ll meet with the architect of the center for disabled children and do some other work.

You can read the most recent Stoneworks newsletter here. This will give you an idea of the variety of activities going on this summer. I am very thankful to be a part of such a great team. Our work continues in Estonia (mission teams, center for disabled children), Russia (mission teams, Camp Elama) and Belarus (summer camps, visits to orphanages and shelters, the Minsk Family Home).

I continue to be reminded of how unity is more important than activity. Even though we have a lot going on, it’s more important to abide in Christ, to live with and depend on Him, and to work for unity with those around us; we trust that activities will be a natural result of our relationship with Christ and with one another. Jesus said, ‘by this people will know that you’re my disciples — by your love for one another’. God values love above all else: first loving Him and then loving one another.

Let’s all set our hearts to love God more and more. For He is the beginning and end of all, the cornerstone and the capstone.

A Postcard from Estonia — Moving Ahead

Olga and I have spent some time in Estonia recently. Dave Hulley (seated at left, below), the board chair of Stoneworks International, was here to learn about our new work. It was good to introduce him to our many new friends in Estonia; Dave then spent time Russia visiting with folks there. This weekend leaders from a ministry in the UK will meet us in Estonia to learn more about our projects and how we partner together.

We are in a planning stage for a few upcoming projects in Estonia. I met with Artur Põld (seated in front, below) to discuss the center for disabled children we plan to start in Jõhvi, Estonia. The original lot we hoped for is not available, but we looked at other properties and talked about various aspects of the project. In addition to discussions about the building and legal issues, I’m helping coordinate experts in the USA who will help plan programs for the children, and the architect has begun preliminary planning. I’ll meet with the architect on Monday.

We also visited Camp Gideon (above, note the beautiful Gulf of Finland in the background) and spoke about short-term evangelical mission teams that will serve there in July and August.

The very best part of the trip has been the deepening of relationships. We had a very good time of prayer with several members of the church (below). It is very good to walk with people and see how God is working in their lives. Most of all, we’re thankful for the good relationships God is giving us.