A Postcard from Romania

Well, I’m in the middle of a grand tour. Over a week ago I left Estonia, driving south for three days to Montenegro. My time there was excellent and full of life. I spoke at the Word of God Evangelical Church in Podgorica and had great fellowship with family, friends and ministry partners. It would have been nice to have more time and hopefully Olga, Val and I will visit next year.

Then I drove to visit friends in Serbia and a few days ago arrived in Sighișoara, Romania (in the heart of Transylvania, above). Yesterday was a full and joyful day. I spoke at three churches (one Romanian and two gypsy/Hungarian) and felt that the Lord encouraged and comforted many people. It’s gratifying to return to minister in fellowships, to see familiar faces. Last year I was here with a team that prayed for many people. Last night a man told me how much that blessed him and prepared him for the year.

Here is my view at one of the village churches last night, just before I spoke:

This week I’ll have other meetings and on Friday or Saturday I will drive to Odessa, Ukraine in preparation for our Stoneworks conference next week, where we will welcome over 30 adults and about 20 children.

One lesson that continues to resonate with me: if anyone wants to be fit for service in the Kingdom of God, they can not put their hand to the plow and look back.

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.

A Postcard from . . . . Everywhere

Since our last Postcard we’ve been all over Europe. At the end of August we drove from Russia to Montenegro (you can see a photo record of the trip here). The picture above was taken when we gassed up in Augustow, Poland. We spent almost a month in Montenegro, visiting family, friends and ministry partners. Valerie had a GREAT time, especially at the beach (here is a video of her first experience of the sea).

Then we drove from Montenegro to Rathenow, Germany, the town where Olga lived for a couple of years when her father was stationed at a Soviet military base in East Germany. Olga has many good memories of that town, and it’s where she and her mom first heard the gospel preached; this happened just as the Soviet Union was collapsing. The commander of the base surprisingly allowed a group of Christians to share their testimonies.

From Germany, we went to Estonia. Olga and Valerie returned to Russia while I applied for my new Russian visa and spent time in Estonia and Finland. The picture below is of Finland in Autumn.

So, in the span of about 6 weeks we were in these countries (in order): Russia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Serbia, Montenegro, Bosnia, Croatia, Slovenia, Austria, the Czech Republic, Germany, Estonia and Finland. It was quite an adventure.

Valerie is doing very well. She’s growing like a weed and speaking better and better all the time. She’s a good kid and we all love each other. We are gathering documents necessary to petition the court to terminate Oksana’s (Valerie’s birth mother’s) parental rights. We think this will happen in a few weeks. Then we can then move to adopt Valerie, however there is a six-month waiting period after termination of parental rights before we can adopt.

The ministry continues. You can see the most recent Stoneworks update here. Several projects are in various stages: we’ll host a mission team of 40-60 who will minister in Russia and Estonia; two teams from Georgia will go to Montenegro; we continue to work on Sunbeam (the center for children with disabilities in Estonia) and I hope to have some good news about that soon.

Even though the world faces difficulties and we are affected by those forces, our hope is not in the things of this world; our hope is in Christ who is a good shepherd. Remember, He has prepared good work in advance for you to do. His best is always in the future.


From Russia to Montenegro

Last week we made the drive from Russia to Montenegro. We traveled in two cars with our friends Sergei and Christina and their twin girls. Here is a photo record of the trip. (You can see a slideshow/video of a previous trip here).

We started early in the morning from dacha in Russia. Sergei said his goodbyes to Olga’s grandfather, Orest Grotten.

Olga posed for a portrait with her grandparents, Orest and Ludmilla

Orest said goodbye from the kitchen window

We packed up our cars and headed out!

The sun came up as we headed South, past Pskov to the Latvian border. Continue reading

Team Arrival!

A team from St. James United Methodist Church in Athens, GA arrived today. We drove over to Dubrovnik, Croatia to pick them up. We’ll be in Podgorica, Montenegro for a couple of days and then head up to the mountains to run a youth camp all next week.

They are a great group and we’re looking forward to some good times together. I’ll post more news as we have it . . . .

Milanka’s Baptism

Yesterday we went to the Adriatic coast for a baptism. Milanka has been a member of the church for a while and wanted to be baptized. Several of us went for the occasion and had a great time. Her story is below the picture and video–

Posted a year and a half ago, by Vladimir Cizmanski, the pastor who baptized Milanka —

Milanka is the mother of our brother Dejan who has been coming to our church for four years.

Milanka was very mad at Dejan when he accepted Jesus. She forced him to move out of their apartment, but Dejan was firm in Jesus. Now, she has decided to follow Jesus as her Savior.

She said that she feels like flying, and she was wondering why she delayed giving her life to the Lord. The enemy was very active around her during the past year, whenever she wanted to come to the meeting and publicly confess her decision to follow Jesus, three times something happened that kept her away.

Even now, after she made her decision, enemy was very furious. Right after few days he started to attack her very strongly through a bad relationship with her close relative. She just told me yesterday that she made everything right now and that her wings to fly came back.

It is so encouraging to see people as they are fighting and getting victory in the name of Jesus.

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.