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.

Thanksgiving in Russia

We celebrated Thanksgiving on Sunday. Since thanksgiving is not a Russian holiday, it’s a bit easier to have the meal on Sunday.

In addition to several friends, Olga’s mother and grandparents joined us. Olga’s grandfather, Orest Maxmilianovich Grotten is 92 years old, and we were very glad he could be with us. Above is Olga with her mom and grandparents. Valerie is not in the picture because she was busy having her face painted by Natasha Pavlova.

We had turkey and dressing (my mom’s recipe), gravy, mashed potatoes, and a variety of non-American dishes including Korean carrot salad and Russian mushrooms with onions. At times like this, I look back in wonder at the life God has given me. We are so very thankful for His love and guidance.

News about Valerie: we’ve submitted documents to the court regarding the removal of parental rights from Valerie’s birth mother, Oksana. We were expecting a court date this month, but the judge is on holiday and won’t set a date until she’s back on late January. So, we wait. We continue to be in touch with Oksana, helping her and encouraging her. Olga has visited her in prison several times, and we stay in touch by mail. Olga is homeschooling Valerie using some basic kindergarten material, and that’s yielding good results; Valerie is speaking better and learning her numbers pretty well. It’s fun to watch her learn and improve.

I go to the US this week; I will attend a Stoneworks board meeting in Chattanooga on December 7. Olga and Valerie will join me a little later. We plan to spend Christmas with my family in Georgia and Tennessee and then make a trip to Texas in January.

Ministry continues. We’re planning several mission trips to Russia, Estonia and Montenegro next summer. One team will be 40 teenagers! That should be fun. I’ll be in Montenegro in May with a team, in Russia with a team in June and in Estonia with a team in early July, then back to Montenegro with a team in late July (if all goes as planned). I’ve recently made several trips to Estonia and things there are going very well. I’ll have news about that soon.

I recently wrote a friend in the US something that’s been on my mind for a while: More and more, I’m feeling grounded in the knowledge that the flow of love is God’s most important action among men. The greatest commandment is to love God; the second greatest commandment is to love others; people will know we are followers of Jesus by our love for one another; God is love; He loved us enough to save us. All of these scriptures prove the primacy of real, heart-felt, selfless love.