Milestones

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going home for the first time

The past two days have seen very significant milestones in our lives, and the transitions have been smooth and joyful as we move from one phase to the next. Now is a time of rejoicing and looking to the future.

We thank the Lord for His guidance and love as we turn the page on two significant parts of our lives:

First, we are VERY happy to announce that our adoption is final. Valerie is now officially a Cantrell! We received the final court order today.

Exactly two years ago, on December 28, we picked up Valerie from the orphanage.

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on her first day with us

When she came to live with us, she was three and a half years old and spoke just three words. For the past two years, Valerie has been under our guardianship but still a ward of the state.

No longer! She is now Valerie Evelyn Cantrell, a member of her forever family.

We are so very thankful for the many prayers and other support that people have given us over the years as we’ve dealt with lost pregnancies and infertility. It’s great to be a part of the body of Christ and receive blessings from God through His people.

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Valerie today

Also, there are changes at MIR. Twelve years ago I moved to Russia as part of a team to open a Russian charity named MIR. Through this work I met my wife and have been blessed with abundant life.

For the past twelve years I’ve been the president and director of MIR. About four years ago I stepped down from the day-to-day leadership of MIR when I became the executive director of Stoneworks International, and a couple of years ago MIR started a transition toward having fully Russian leadership.

Last night we had a MIR board meeting and finished that transition. I have resigned my position at MIR and no longer have any official tie to the organization.

Sergei & Kristina Tovstopyat

The new chairman and director is my good friend Sergei Tovstopyat. Sergei has been on staff with MIR for a few years, and he’s been the Executive Director since September. You can read about Sergei here.

We’ve agree that I’ll be the ‘grand-dad’ and continue to advise and help as much as is needed, but Sergei now is the leader and carries the responsibility for the direction of MIR. I happily hand over this role to Sergei. He’s a good man who loves the Lord and is laying his life down for the gospel.

Many people deserve thanks for their years of service to MIR: Mark Browne was the visionary who started the process, and founding board members were Alexander Kotenkov, Maria Mikhaylova, Dimitry Rozet, Mikhail Moshkov, David Hulley and Dan Wilson. Other board members have included Lyle Thomas, Zhenya Koltakoff, Larry Heller and Arkady Bizyanov.

In my role at Stoneworks, I’ll continue to support MIR in every way I can.

I’m very glad that MIR will continue beyond me as Olga and I look forward to the next chapter in our lives.

Dinner with Friends

A couple of evenings ago we had a dinner for the MIR staff at our flat, hosting 17 people. It was great to have a peaceful, fun time with our friends.

MIR has been going through a tough time financially and yet the ministry continues to expand and do good work. We’re expanding an ecological studies program, we’re planning for a big short-term team that will visit next year (40 teenagers!) and Yan and Nadya Boldyrev are becoming an active part of the core of MIR.

It’s an honor to witness such good relationships and self-less servants.

Here’s a short video of the evening:

A Postcard from Russia — Home Again

Each month, MIR hosts a prayer meeting (above) attended by people who give their lives in Christian ministry. It was great to attend after missing the past few meetings. MIR is facing some challenges just now, so your prayers are appreciated. A friend once told me that choosing a life of ministry means choosing a life of poverty. There’s truth in this.

These saints refuse to pursue worldly wealth and achievement; rather, they lay down their lives in service. They serve orphans, print Christian literature, help local churches, manage projects, provide counsel, fix computers, minister to college students, and more. Our fellowship and prayers reminded me of the greatness and comfort of God’s kingdom; we are His family, united by His Spirit, even though we come from varied cultures and life experiences, speaking different languages. These are good friends and valued co-workers.

New opportunities are on our doorstep. For instance, we hope to help open a center for disabled children in Estonia. In Russia, we will hold a pilot Ecological Camp at Elama where a British ecologist will teach children about the beauty and diversity of God’s creation.

Now a closing thought from Olga: This year’s fall has been specially beautiful. I think I don’t remember such glorious October as we are having now. And even though the fall means that the nature is falling asleep, it hold a promise of new life in it. And for me that is what I feel. There is a promise of new life. God has something in store for us. And not only for us, but all of His children. His plans are good, His plans have a future. We may not understand this, we may not see it, but He does.

A Tale of Two Dinners

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Olga and I have been very blessed by the great relationships God has given us here in Russia.  This was recently illustrated well.

We host a church home group at our apartment on Sunday evenings.  On Sunday afternoons, Olga teaches English to several people from our church.  In between is time for a meal and fellowship.  It’s great fun to have so much life in our house. The picture above is of the Sunday home group.

The next day, we hosted a pot-luck dinner for the workers at MIR.  Not everyone was able to attend, but we still had a good crowd. MIR continues to grow and do well.  Masha Oshkina (seated at right, below) is doing a great job as Executive Director.

MIR is now interviewing for the summer hosting program as well as preparing for other summer work.  We’ve added a new staff member, Tanya, seated second from left.

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You may notice that Oksana, the orphan who lived with us, was visiting.  She’s going through a tough time, and we’ve been very glad to have her around.

On Friday, Olga and I depart for a ministry road trip. We’ll first drive to Minsk, Belarus to visit Spring of Revival there. I’m especially looking forward to visiting the Minsk Family Home.  From there, we drive to Budapest, Hungary for a few days to visit with friends and explore opportunities for ministry.

Then, we go to Baska Petrovac, Serbia where we’ll visit friends and talk about partnership in ministry.

After this, we drive to Podgorica, Montenegro, where we get to see our newest family member, Andrej, and spend time with the church. Then we return with another stop in Budapest before leading up a Stoneworks retreat in Tallinn, Estonia.

It’s going to be a full few weeks, and we have gratitude for the great relationships we have in so many parts of the world.

Jesus promised that His followers would have abundant life, and we are thankful for it.

A Quick Guide to Russian Family and Friends

At the risk of offending some people by leaving them off, I’ll make a stab at giving a Russian ‘cast of characters’ to help minimize confusion —

Mike Cantrell: uhmmmm, me

Olga Cantrell: my wife, we married in 2001. She is the BEST!

Tanya Yaskevich: Olga’s mother

Alla Pavetic: Olga’s twin sister who now lives in Montenegro (see this post for the Montenegrin guide)

Orest and Ludmilla Groten (Grootten): Olga’s grandparents, Tanya’s parents, in the summers they live at ‘dacha’, an old log home in a village south of St. Petersburg. Continue reading

A Postcard from Russia — Russian Blessings

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Even though Olga and I are in the US, it certainly doesn’t mean that the fellowship and ministry in Russia stops. Last week MIR had a pot-luck dinner for staff and associates. Pictured above is the new MIR Executive Director Masha Oshkina. Masha wrote, “The potluck went really well, with no extra stress. It was the first time 23 people, including 7 kids, were filling MIR’s office. Everyone was relaxed, we had main course in russian_blessings_2.jpgthe kitchen area and desserts and music in the main office. I love having new families around.” She’s referring to two families (one a family of 6) who recently moved there as long-term missionaries. God continues to call people, even large families, to Russia. It’s a joy to see such life and growth.

Olga and I had a very good trip to the Northeastern United States. In less than two weeks we visited family, friends, churches and ministries in Pennsylvania, New York, Massachusetts, Virginia, Kentucky and Tennessee. It was a fruitful and relaxing time. We’re now in Georgia staying with my parents and will visit Texas in December (and may visit Kentucky again in November). In our next update, we look forward to sharing more about our lives in Russia and our new roles in the work in Belarus and Montenegro.

And good news is that the ministry continues in Russia: MIR is planning to send about forty orphans to the US this Christmas on the hosting program, short-term mission teams are in Russia now and more are on the way, long-term missionaries continue their ministries, and God’s love is shared in many ways. He deserves all the credit and thanks, and we are very thankful to be called to share in His good work, both here and abroad.

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Katya, Svyeta, Nadia, Masha