Our Travels

In case anyone is interested, here is a map of our recent travel from Russia to Montenegro and back. The return trip took us through countries we’d never visited before: Romania, Moldova and Ukraine.


We started the trip at dacha, about two hours south of St. Petersburg. We spent the first night in a motel near Warsaw and the second night with Jan and Nada Dudas in Bački Petrovac, Serbia, arriving in Podgorica, Montenegro on the third day. We had great fellowship in Montenegro.

After two weeks in Montenegro we headed to Moldova. On the first night we stopped again in Bački Petrovac after a 9 hour drive. The second evening was spent in Sighișoara, Romania where we met some great people and enjoyed seeing the town. The next day we arrived in Socora, Moldova after driving through the Carpathian range in Romania. There we visited with the Urasinov family.

From Moldova, we crossed into Ukraine and drove through L’viv. We had no trouble crossing the borders or driving through the country, though there was a clear military presence in the country. (I didn’t have a Belorussian visa, so we had to avoid that country.) We crossed into Poland near Lublin and spent that night near Bialystok, Poland. From there we drove into Russia, spent a night at dacha and arrived home in St. Petersburg yesterday.

On this trip we visited Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Serbia, Montenegro, Romania, Moldova and Ukriane. Total: 8043 km (4,997 miles). The trip from Montenegro was 3,660 km (2,274 miles) with a moving time of almost 52 hours.

What My Life is Like (these days)

So, what is my life like in my role at Stoneworks? Here’s a small look at recent events:

In late August, my family and I drove from Russia to Montenegro. For ten days, I was with a team from the US looking at some land (at left) we hope to purchase for a camp; I’ll write more about that in a separate post. I also spoke at the church, met with the church leadership and had extensive time with ministry partners. My sister-in-law and her family live there as well, so we had some good family time. Last week we returned from Montenegro. However. . .

In order to drive from Estonia into Russia one must reserve a time at the border crossing. When we arrived in Estonia a few days ago, after driving up from Montenegro (three days on the road), I went online to reserve a time but there were no available slots for several days. (I couldn’t have reserved a place earlier, because we weren’t exactly sure when we’d arrive in Estonia.)

So, the car and I were ‘stuck’ in Estonia while we sent Olga and Valerie (my wife and daughter) to Russia on a bus.

It was good to be in Estonia, since I was able to meet with Ursula Randlaine, the director of Sunbeam, as well as with Artur Põld and Andres Toome. I also delivered donations to Sunbeam: a laptop, a computer tablet, and some developmental materials. The mission team had carried them to Montenegro from various points in the US for me to deliver to Estonia (it can get complicated).

Since I will attend a conference in Finland this weekend, we decided it was best for me to stay in Estonia and take a ferry to Finland (which I did yesterday) rather than drive into Russia a few days behind my family only to immediately drive to Finland.

I’m spending today in a little cabin in Finland (no running water!). I have a decent internet connection and can do some work from here. Tomorrow I will drive 8 hours north to Rovaniemi, Finland (on the Arctic Circle) for a men’s conference with Yura Belonozhkin; next week Yura and I will go up into Finnmark, Norway to visit ministry partners. We will go all the way to the Barents Sea. From there we will cross into Russia and visit the Murmansk region before I head south to St. Petersburg (and home!).

In two week’s time, I will have traveled from the Adriatic Sea to the Arctic Ocean, all because of the relationships God has given us: our Living Stones.

Jesus promised that He would give abundant life, and I surely have received it.

“I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.”  John 10:10

Well, that was really something!

I’ve just arrived in Russia after a whirl-wind trip. I left St. Petersburg, Russia on July 12 with Caroline Bennighof, a Stoneworks intern, in Estonia we picked up Kristjan Pold and Krystal Smith (another Stoneworks intern) and drove to Montenegro. We helped run a youth camp there for a few weeks and then drove all the way to Finland.From there, I drove to Russia to complete the circuit. All together, we traveled 7932 km (4928 miles) in a van. On the way we visited Budapest, Vienna, Auschwitz/Birkenau, Tallinn and many other places, while traveling in 14 countries, from the Baltics to the Balkans.

This was a very fulfilling trip. On the drives to and from Montenegro, we had great times of conversation and fellowship. We listed to, and discussed, several recordings by Elisabeth Elliot. While in Montenegro, we worked very well together as we served at the camp, where we worked with a team from the US ministry Students With A Testimony (SWAT).

I am very thankful for the time. God blessed us all in many ways. Here are few pictures from the trip, in no particular order.

Travel Warning

The Government has issued a travel warning due to the bad winter weather.

They suggest that anyone traveling in the current icy conditions should make sure they have the following:

  • Shovel
  • Blankets Or Sleeping Bag
  • Extra Clothing, Including Hat And Gloves
  • 24 Hours Worth Of Food
  • De-Icer
  • Rock Salt
  • Flashlight With Spare Batteries
  • Road Flares Or Reflective Triangles
  • Full Spare Gas Can
  • First Aid Kit
  • Booster Cables

I looked like an idiot on the metro this morning . . .


From Russia to Montenegro

Yesterday Olga and I arrived in Montenegro after driving from Russia. We covered 2500km in three days, and drove through the heart of Eastern Europe: Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Serbia and Montenegro. It was a great trip, and now we’re getting ready to meet a team from the US that will help the church here. I’ll post more about that trip soon.

Here’s a slideshow of our drive —

A Postcard from Russia — Away They Go!

It is that time of year again —

This morning (VERY early) we put 34 children and their chaperons on their adventurous flight to the States. For the next five weeks they will be staying with host families in Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, Virginia, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Maryland, Delaware, New York, and New Hampshire.

This project has taken a lot of effort and heart by many people over the previous several months, and today after the whirlwind of activity to get them to the airport and then through security, check-in and passport control, Olga, Masha Oshkina and I stopped to reflect on what good work it is. We are very thankful and honored to be a part of this work. Le Ann Dakake and her staff in the US do a tremendous job of handling the complexities on the US side and providing all the support we need to do our part over here.

Though we do not work in adoptions, we are always very happy when a child finds a home, here or in the US. I spoke yesterday with the directors of a US adoption agency that handles many of the adoptions that result from this program. They remarked that they are very pleasantly surprised and impressed at how well the children fit into their adoptive families. It’s a joy to know that good families are being knit together and that we have a part in what the Lord is doing in these relationships.

You’ll notice if you count that there are less than 34 children in the group picture. Four children are disabled and weren’t able to get into the picture on the short notice we had. It is a testament of the Lord’s love that families from so far away would have hearts big enough to open their home’s to the ‘least of these’.

In addition to our hosting program, work continues at Elama (our camp) where we will host a children’s camp and a youth camp next month. We now have a dock on the lake! It was built on Sunday afternoon by a work team from a local church. We’re also welcoming seven short-term mission teams from the US to serve in summer camps, and I (Mike) am going to Montenegro to meet up with a mission team from Athens, Georgia. We’re starting to serve there, and it’s gratifying to see our desires coming true — helping the local church in Montenegro. We’ll be helping run a youth camp in the mountains there. My next Postcard from Russia will probably be from Montenegro!

Travel Tips

I thought I’d keep adding to a list of things I’m learning about how to prepare for travel here in Russia.  I hope it helps.

  • When flying: drink lots of water; this dramatically helps my jet-jag recovery time.  Taking Melatonin at the start of the flight helps me, but it doesn’t have the same effect for everyone.  Wear comfortable shoes and clothes. Bring lip balm–it’s very dry in a plane.  Bring ear plugs–many airlines offer them, but bring some just in case.
  • Travel/camp towels are great (I got mine at REI).  They are super absorbent, pack into a small space, and dry quickly.  Get a large one.
  • Speaking of: bring quick-drying clothing.  Nylon is good, cotton is not.  I’ve done a lot of laundry in a sink, and it helps to have things that dry fast (I’ve learned this the hard way).  Also, you might get caught in a rainstorm and want to dry out quickly.
  • Bring a small calculator–you’ll be able to figure out the money exchange rate when buying at the market.
  • Pack light.  This will leave more room for supplies for the kids.
  • Check with your airline to see what the weight limit is per piece of luggage.  Also get them to allow one or two extra checked bags per person–tell them what you’re doing and keep moving up the chain of command if you’re told you can’t get free or reduced rates.
  • Pack a change of clothes and toiletries in your carry-on; it’s common to have checked bags get delayed, and you’ll want to freshen up after the trip.
  • Bring new or very clean $20 bills or larger denominations.  It’s hard to change dirty, wrinkled, or old bills here; there should be no writing or discoloration.  Ask for sequentially numbered bills at your bank.
  • Money belts that go under your clothing work well; I usually use a leg wallet.  Find a hidden compartment on your luggage to put your money there when you get to Russia.
  • Things I think you should definitely bring: camera, bug juice, a hat, a team medical kit, some clothes detergent, vitamins, water-proof shoes, good socks (get hiking socks at an camping supply store), shampoo, tooth brush and paste, floss, deodorant, layers of clothing, a water-proof wind breaker, a warm shirt, a small flashlight, a notebook and pens, an easy-going disposition, a decent watch, a travel clock with new batteries, hand sanitizer, toilet paper (get the small travel rolls at Wal-Mart), maybe a team water purifier if you’re staying in a camp (you’ll be able to buy water, but it’s good to have a small unit; I have one called First Need), transformer and adapters if needed (it’s 220 volts here, and the outlets are different), a self-less heart and dependence on God.
  • Things to leave at home: bulky towels and coats, fancy clothes, anything of great value, vanity (now that I think about it, don’t even keep this at home; it’s too much trouble).
  • Good gifts to bring for new friends: American flags, stuffed animals, pocket knives, toiletry kits, perfume, nice soaps, toothbrushes and toothpaste, pictures of your home state, coffee mugs with a cool logo, ball caps, coffee (for adults), sweets (for me), small toys, colorful stickers, school supplies.
  • Bring a picture album of your family and friends in America–but be careful not have pictures of your house or valuable items; kids here can feel really bad if they compare their life with yours in these areas.  So, talk about relationships and activities, not about what you own.
  • Buy a Berlitz Russian Phrase Book and Dictionary (ISBN #2-8315-6238-4).  Invaluable when trying to pick up some of the language or talk with kids.
  • 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.