A Postcard from Russia

This has been quite a summer, one of the busiest and hardest we’ve ever had. It has certainly been the most diverse.

Olga’s grandfather, Orest Groten (above), passed away in July. He is much missed. Born in 1918, he was a child of the Russian Revolution. He joined Communist Party in 1942 and lived his professional life serving the military, first in WWII as a radioman and later as an engineer designing ships and submarines. For almost all of his days he was a committed atheist. At the age of 93 he asked Jesus to forgive him of his sins. He was a loving father and grandfather, a real anchor for the family. He could combine being strict with being very loving. He taught himself to play the piano and accordion; he enjoyed life, had a wonderful sense of humor, and heartily welcomed an American son-in-law into the family. We are sad that he is not with us now, but we are glad that we will see him in heaven.

In June we helped a mission team from Teen Mania as they ministered in Russia and Estonia. In July, Mike drove through Central Europe and helped a team run a youth camp in Montenegro. Two interns, Caroline and Krystal, joined us for several weeks, and it was a joy to have them share in our lives and receive good things from the Lord. Caroline’s mother, Linda, also visited, spending time at dacha and at the Hermitage (that’s quite a contrast). Mike traveled through 14 countries in a month’s time, visiting Budapest, Vienna, Auschwitz/Birkenau, and Tallinn. There were many meetings in Russia, Estonia and Montengro: building relationships, planning for future ministry, encouraging one another.

From Mike: One thing that made the summer hard was my visa situation. When grand-dad died, I was driving in Slovakia on the way to Montenegro. Of course, I quickly started planning how to return to Russia in order to be with my family. However, my old visa had just expired and my new visa started in early August (I thought I would be in Montenegro the whole time and wouldn’t need a visa). It was a bit of a shock to face that hard reality, that I couldn’t go home. It was the first time that political borders and legal issues kept me from being with my family. It was very hard on all of us for me to be at a distance during those days.

From Olga: It has been the hardest summer I’ve ever had, very busy, non-stop for two months, and that was hard; and losing grand-dad was a shock. I feel like there are some things I need to learn all over again: what comes first and what comes second. First is my relationship with and abiding in God, and out of that flows everything else. That is my lesson for the summer.

The Lord has been saying this to us in many ways and at different times. Apart from the Lord we can do nothing, but if we abide in Him then his life will flow through us (John chapter 15). God has been calling us to abide in Him. Please pray for us that we’ll abide in Him and trust that all else will take its rightful place.

Sunset over Pühajarvi, Finland

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.


A Postcard from Russia — Snow and Heat

Winter has arrived in St. Petersburg. We’ve had quite a bit of snowfall over the past few days (see our car below). The city is beautiful as we continue to press on in our life and work. Here is an update about a few items —

MIR hopes to send 39 children on the hosting program in December. Laws recently changed in Russia, and this is making it much more difficult to send children on the hosting program. Please pray for the staff of MIR, to make good decisions and have favor with the government officials. Much needs to be done before the children travel on December 13.

Our relationships and work in Estonia continue to grow, and next year should see some significant activity. I (Mike) continue to help coordinate the establishment of a center for disabled children there. We’re planning a fact-finding trip to Norway early next year, which will include Estonians and Americans. Also, an architect has offered a house that we may be able to use as a Christian guesthouse — whenever he finishes it (it’s 80% done). And we’re hoping to send a few mission teams to minister in camps next summer.

Last week, I went to Camp Elama with Sergei to work on one of the stoves (below). Sergei is working to make Elama more useful throughout the year, and fixing this old smokey stove is a part of that. As we tore it apart, we discovered that it was built with the outlet from the firebox actually below the fire — not a good design. And the stove fairly fell apart, so Sergei will need to do a lot of rebuilding. We’re hoping to host a couple of camps at Elama this winter, and it’s good that Sergei has learned how to build stoves. Most of the buildings are now heated. That is a significant improvement over last year.

This will be the first year of our married life when we won’t be in the US for Christmas.  We’ll miss our family and friends in the States, but it will be good to have Christmas and New Year’s with folks here.

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 Postcard from Russia — Apples, Mushrooms and Berries


The end of the summer is upon us, and now is the time of harvest and of looking forward. The apples, mushrooms and berries (and carrots, peas, cucumbers and potatoes) are plentiful.

dacha_bday_09-9Last week we were at dacha again for Olga’s grandmother’s birthday; she is 77 years old this year.  On that day, August 28, eight years ago I proposed to Olga in the garden there. Each year since we’ve been at dacha to celebrate the birthday. It’s a blessing that we can have time with family. Olga’s grandfather, Orest, is doing fairly well, in his 90th year. Above you see Stormie, one of our cats, sitting in the window of dacha overlooking the apple orchard. (If you’re interested, here is a map of our drive home from dacha to St. Pete.)

God continues to bring new opportunities. We look forward to telling you over the coming months about a few things that are on the horizon. MIR is doing well, Stoneworks is growing, our ministries in Belarus and Montenegro are increasing, new workers are being called to work along side us, and key relationships are growing deeper. We are thankful for the fruitfulness that God brings.

In His love,

Mike and Olga Cantrell


A Postcard from Montenegro — Fruitful Relationships


I  just returned from a very fruitful trip to Montenegro, where we hosted a team from St. James United Methodist Church in Athens, GA.

Our relationships continue to deepen in Montenegro and the work is expanding. I was involved in three main areas:jovana

First, we ran a teen camp. We had more campers this year than last (it’s great to see growth), and our time with them was very deep and fruitful. Two young ladies made commitments to become followers of Jesus and several others were very encouraged in their faith.

Pictured above are the team and campers at Durmitor National Forest where we went for a day trip. Continue reading

A Postcard from Russia — Teamwork


I (Mike) am back in Russia after a great trip to Montenegro. Today Olga and I visited a couple of teams we have here in Russia. Above is the team from Oak Hills Church in San Antonio. Oak Hills has sent teams to Russia for many years, and they are always a very good team. They all told us their time here has been really wonderful — good relationships have been formed with the children in the camp, and the camps staff has also worked well with them. They sang a beautiful multi-part harmony acapella song for us. They are great! They sang at the opening ceremonies of the camp. It was a joy to be with such a happy, witty and enthusiastic group of people.teamwork_2.jpg

I am writing this from Elama, the camp we’re running. Today the children’s camp came to a close. About 60 kids were here for more than a week attending a Christian camp organized by Source of Life Church. On Monday we’ll start a youth camp for about 100 people. In August we hope to host a couple more camps, and we also have a few Christian families living here for the summer. It’s a real joy to see so much life here, especially when just a few weeks ago it was fairly lifeless. I’ll send an update about Elama next time.

Please keep us in your prayers as we come to mind. We have a lot going on, and we face some changes. I’ll write more about that later. Please pray that we’ll have wisdom and unity as we pray about decisions that are ahead. So many wonderful things — Montenegro, Elama, the teams in camps, the MIR staff, New Horizons — give us joy and thankfulness in our hearts, because God has allowed us to participate in His good work.