A Postcard from America

 

Now THAT is a birthday picture. Valerie has just about the most birthday parties of any person I’ve ever seen. Even though her birthday is in July, we decided to throw a party now so she could share it with her friends here in Athens, GA. We met at my dad’s farm, and part of the festivities included a ride in the dump truck. This summer I’m sure we’ll have parties at dacha, at Camp Elama and perhaps even in Estonia.

Our time in the States is coming to an end. Though we’ve been here for quite a while, the time has flown by. It’s been great to be here, and now we look forward to going home and experiencing new adventures on the other side of the ocean. We leave a week from today. Our apologies to all our friends near and far who we hoped to visit but did not. My mom’s health has kept us close to home for the most part, and homeschooling has also kept us grounded.

Much has been accomplished while here. I’ve helped several mission teams and interns prepare for summer ministry. I’ve also had many meetings with friends as we’ve encouraged each other in the faith. I’ve also spoken/taught quite a bit. If you’re interested, you can click on the link on our homepage and listen some of my teachings.

springtime in the USA

My mother’s health continues as it has. Several weeks ago she broke a hip, and interestingly in some ways she’s doing better now than before she broke the hip. God has provided a great team of care-givers to help mom and dad while we’re gone.

We will go to St. Petersburg and then quickly go to dacha to open it up for the summer. I will go to Estonia in early May while Olga and Valerie remain in Russia. I will drive to Montenegro with my friend Heikki. In Montenegro I’ll meet two of our interns and one board member; we’ll meet with ministry leaders and potential new partners in Montenegro, Serbia and Romania before arriving in Estonia where the interns will serve with Sunbeam, the center for disabled children.

As we go, we are quite aware of the increased tensions in that part of the world. Please keep us in prayer, that we’ll love God more than anything else, that we’ll have wisdom about where we are to be, that we’ll be a blessing to our friends in those many countries, and that we’ll have discernment about His will for our family.

 

A Postcard from Montenegro – Truly Significant

I recently returned to Russia from Montenegro and Austria. I made initial contact with a ministry in Vienna and had a great time visiting Matt and Liz Eck. I hope one result will be a partnership between Stoneworks, Calvary Chapel-Vienna and the youth ministry in Montenegro.

The picture above is truly significant. While it may appear to be one of many such Christian youth meetings, it is much more than that. With a population of about 600,000 people, Montenegro has less than 200 Evangelical Christians. There are three main fellowships in the country, the largest being the Brethren Assembly in the capital city of Podgorica. On any given Sunday, perhaps 35 people will attend their service.

So here is why the picture above is so significant: twenty six teenagers attended the youth meeting a week ago. Twenty six! This is a VERY significant number of people for such a small church. Not all of the teenagers are yet followers of Jesus, but all have been invited to hear more about Him and all have willingly come. Some have been involved in the Brethren youth meetings for a few years, some are part of a Roma (gypsy) fellowship, some received Samaritan’s Purse shoe-box Christmas gifts and expressed an interest in the youth meetings.

Vladimir and Marijana Cizmanski have ministered there for many years; Violeta Pavetic, an early convert of Vladimir’s ministry, is now the youth leader. They are laying their lives down for Christ, and the fruit is the beautiful souls and loving relationships so evident in the meetings. As is always the case, challenges and difficulties accompany the expansion of God’s Kingdom. Please keep Vladimir, Marijana and Violeta in your prayers as they fight the good fight.

Olga and Valerie have their passports and visas, and we will arrive in Athens, Georgia on March 5. I’ll make a quick trip to Estonia next week and hope to give a great report on Sunbeam then; we are so VERY close to opening the program. We’re also beginning to plan the summer. We’ll host mission teams in Russia, Estonia and Montenegro, and we’ll have interns serving in Montenegro. It’s great to be a part of so much life and growth. The Lord is good to us.

Our minstry flat in Estonia

Here’s some news about our flat in Estonia. For a while I’d been thinking about finding a ministry flat in Johvi. Olga, Valerie and I will spend more time in Estonia over the coming year or two (as we build the center for disabled children), and I thought it would be good to have a home base in Johvi. I’ve also wanted to find a place where Christian workers in Russia can take a retreat.

I found a place earlier this year. I’ve only been inside it once. I looked at it before returning to Russia (and coming to the US) and then worked out a deal with the owner, an Estonian lady who now lives in the UK. She is willing to rent it to us for just the cost of utilities. I offered to remodel the bathroom, since it was in pretty bad shape.

Members of the church recently finished remodeling the bathroom, so it’s like new now. The flat is within walking distance from the bus station; it’s important to have easy access for people coming from Russia. It has one bedroom and a living room. The kitchen and bedroom had already been remodeled. It has a washing machine (which is nice), new windows and new heating. We just had WiFi internet installed. The living room needs some work, and so that’s next on the list of things to fix up.

A few people in Russia have already expressed interest in staying there. This is perhaps the first step toward my hope to have a Christian guest house in Estonia. I hope this flat will become a sanctuary, a place of rest and retreat.

here’s the way the bathroom looked before:

Thoughts about ministry in Russia

Here are some thoughts to help you prepare for ministry in Russia.

Throughout the past 2000 years, Christians have been going abroad to share the gospel of Christ.  Prepare yourself for service by practicing self-discipline. Your trip to Russia is not a vacation, it’s a vocation–call from the Lord to be a blessing to those He loves very much.  Be prepared to serve, not be served. Be willing to be the very last, and servant of all.  Of course, when you do this, you will have abundant life–a life of love, peace and strength.

Pray often and submit your spirit to the Lord.  You will be sharing in the work He is already doing.  Don’t assume that you’re making your own decisions–follow the Lord.  His will will be done.

Remember, as a follower of Christ, your life is not your own.  Since the Lord has called you to minister here, He will provide what you need when you need it.  He is a loving Father who knows what you need before you ask.  This will be an opportunity to learn this lesson deeply, if you’re willing to die to yourself.  If you’re not willing to die to yourself, consider whether or not you’re a disciple of Christ, because selflessness is necessary to being a Christian.  My experience is that we learn this more and more as we walk with the Lord.

Pray to learn contentment in every situation; ask for wisdom and faith.  These things are gifts from God that will be needed here.  I find myself using the word “learn” often as I write this.  To be a learner is the definition of a disciple.  You won’t come here with all the answers or be prepared for all that will happen.  You will come dependent on God to light your path one step at a time; “each day has enough trouble of it’s own,” so don’t be anxious for tomorrow.

If you feel overwhelmed or weary, remember that the Lord is your Good Shepherd; He will lead you through the hard times.  Also, tell your team members when you’re tired and ask them to pray for you.  Be transparent, vulnerable, human.

The Kingdom of God is not America.  Be careful not to associate American ideals with Godly wisdom. They overlap at times, but they are not the same.  Speak what the Bible speaks, and be silent when it is silent.  Show love and mercy to all who cross your path.  The Kingdom of God is much larger and more diverse than the USA, or Russia, or any other country.  Point everyone toward God the Father through Christ the Son.

Be encouraged. God is Love. Jesus did not come to condemn; He came to save!