Translate into Russian

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

17 Year of Drugs and Crime – Set Free in Christ!

This is Marina. She recently graduated from her first three months of drug rehabilitation. Marina was a young teenager when the Iron Curtain crashed down and Russia opened up to Western influence. One of these influences was a greatly increased drug problem and Marina, like many Russia young people in the 1990’s, began using drugs recreationally. Soon she found herself addicted and she plunged into the typical drug lifestyle of abuse and crime to support her habit.

During this time period, her mother Ludmilla became a believer and began praying for her daughter. Ludmilla was a faithful believer, continually beseeching the Lord to deliver her daughter. In 2004 Pastor Dmitry Zaborski and a team of Russian missionaries arrived in Nizhny Novgorod with the plan to open a drug rehab center and plant the Cornerstone Church.

Ludmilla heard about this and began to attend the church from the first day. She became a leader in the church, organizing a ministry among the mothers of drug addicts and starting several cell groups. Over the last two years Ludmilla continued to pray for her daughter while seeing other young addicts set free from their addiction and find new life in Christ.

Finally, after 17 years of addiction and two years in prison Marina came to the end of her rope and made the decision to enter rehab. It wasn’t easy for her. Thanks to the love and patience of the staff she held on and slowly began to change. Her addiction was conquered and she gave her life to Christ!

In a recent church service she gave her testimony with tears streaming down her face. She thanked her mother for never giving up on her and praying for her through the years. Her plan is to continue on into the second three month course and begin to minister and mentor women who were like her as they enter the rehab program.

This ministry is a vital ministry reaching dozens of people with the message of freedom in Christ every month. We are privileged to be partners with Cornerstone, teaching and mentoring new believers. Thank to all those who contribute toward our support, allowing us to work in Russia.

Karen and Michael go to the Banya together

Inside the Banya

Through the steam you can see tubs for washing clothes or bodies, the benches were you sit and steam like a lobster You can also see buckets for rinsing, along with bathing accessories. There are two problems with taking photos in a banya, one is the steam makes it very difficult, and the other is that you are naked!

On Sunday January 20 we visited one of the Cornerstone Church drug rehabilitation centers. As with most of the centers this one has a Russian banya, bathhouse/sauna where those who live at the rehab bathe and do laundry. Sunday is banya day at the centers so we were invited to go to the banya. In the past Karen has gone with the girls and Michael has gone with the guys.

The banya is a time for both getting clean and more importantly a place for fellowship and socialization. The banya experience can take anywhere from ½ an hour to four or more hours. You steam for a while, go out to cool off, drink some tea and repeat the process as many times as you like or have time for. All of this is done communally (guys only with guys; girls only with girls) and completely naked. This is quite intimidating for us Americans.

This time, since most of the group had already gone to the banya and it was inconceivable that we might not want to go, it was decided that Karen and I would go together, without anyone else. Wow! Our first Banya together! So we gathered our things, trekked out behind the house through the snow and into the banya. We did the typical banya routine, but without the tea. We had a short, quick Banya as there were other things that needed to be done that evening. We definitely had been pushed out of our ‘norm’ and we found ourselves giggling a lot together Still, the time was relaxing and a fun experience as we “banyaed” together for the first time.

If you ever come to visit us in Russia we hope that you will be brave and enter into this Russian cultural experience which so many Americans never participate in.

Serving the Russian Church

With young Russian leaders

As missionaries to Russia, Karen and I believe that our primary responsibility is to serve the existing Russian Church. For us, this chiefly means teaching, counseling individuals and couples, mentoring young emerging leaders and discipling new converts. Late last year we purchased our Russian jeep with the purpose of using it primarily for ministry and service to the church and now, often, we are asked if we can drive people to various points of ministry.

On Sunday afternoon, after a great church service, Karen and I had the opportunity to spend the rest of the day with some of our young, former drug addict friends who now work in the Cornerstone Church rehab centers. We are always delighted to spend time with these young believers. Their new faith is contagious, and it is difficult to remember that there is an average age difference between us of 35 years.

Two of them asked if we could drive them out to the rehab which is situated nearly 75 kilometers outside of Nizhny Novgorod. It is in a very small, remote village which has limited bus service.

The weather had turned quite cold by the time we left church and as we made our way through the city and across the Volga River it began to snow. In the small city of Bor we stopped at the only supermarket so our friends could stock up on the week’s supplies for the Rehab Center. After loading up the jeep we drove away from civilization and headed off down a very rough road through the swirling snow. It was dusk and the road was becoming snow covered and slippery. We drove for over and hour passing small towns and villages and only occasionally seeing other cars. Suddenly the paved road ended and we continued on, bouncing along a deeply rutted dirt road. It is for places like this that we are happy to have a 4 wheel drive vehicle.

Soon we came to a one lane, log bridge. The bridge was covered in ice and snow and as you can see from the photo, the side rails on the bridge are less than a foot high. There isn’t much to keep your car from slipping over the side and plunging you into the stream below!

The Bridge

We joked about it with our Russian friends, snapped these photos and proceeded to crawl across the bridge. After making it safely across, we continued along the ruts and into the small village. The entire trip took about two hours.

One of the things that we admire about the Cornerstone people is that when they find an affordable place to rent they immediately begin to improve it. An “affordable place to rent” means that they found a place so run down that no one else wants it, but they move right in and go to work fixing it up to be habitable. This Rehab is located in a large, but typical Russian village house. The home has electricity but no indoor plumbing and is heated by two large brick ovens.

Tending the fire in one of the ovensWater is carried in from a hand pump out on the street. The only washing facility indoors is a small sink next to one of the brick stoves and the water drains down a pipe through the floor and onto the ground under the house. (for bathing, see “Banya” story above).

Since last October the team has been working on the house and turned part of the enclosed porch into an unheated kitchen. They have some free standing cabinets and a propane stove. The living quarters, though rustic, are warm, clean and comfortable.

We hung around for 3 hours relaxing, drinking tea, eating, drinking more tea and having fun.

Sharing a meal


Here we are with leaders and recovering addicts

We arrived home near midnight making it a very long but enjoyable day. When we spend time with these former, and recovering drug addicts who are finding new life in Christ, we feel privileged to be a small part of what the Lord is doing in their lives.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Russian Orphanage Visit

James 1:27
27 Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble...

On Monday January 7 we visited a Russian Children's home, or orphanage. The orphanage is about 60 kilometers outside the city limits in a small village named Smolino. We drove out to Smolino on the M7 Moscow highway which was an experience in itself. Russian road trips can be daunting as the highways are not in good condition and the snow and ice just adds to the need to drive defensively. Despite the snow, the fog, and smoke from some very large fire we made the trip in both directions without incident.

We made contact with this orphanage through our language teacher Sveta Kuzmentzeva. Her husband, Sergei, is a really wonderful guy. He works a a branch manager for the local CitiBank branch in Nizhny Novgorod. It is traditional for Russian businesses to give money or gifts to orphanages or other charitable organizations during the holidays. Sergei looked for an orphanage who had few outside sponsors and needed help. His bank made a donation of food and other items to the orphanage.

Sergei knew that we had clothing, hats mittens and scarves that had been sent to us by Northern New England churches, so he asked us if we could share these items with the orphanage and visit them. Of course, we were happy to do so and the two worship leaders of Cornerstone church decide to visit also and share some music with the kids.

The orphanage is located in an older, but serviceable school building which has been reconfigured to serve as a children's home. The building was spotlessly clean and was warm also. It was well kept up and the furnishings were in pretty good condition. Orphanages in Russia are under sever budgetary constraints and they often lack many of the items they need. This orphanage was doing a great job on a very limited budget.

Some of the kids

The best thing we saw about the orphanage was the staff. The directors and staff obviously loved and cared for the kids in this orphanage. It was evident every time to spoke about, spoke to and interacted with the children. Orphanage work is difficult and the pay is very low. In Russia you do this kind of work because you want to, not because it is a good job with a decent salary. The kids in this orphanage are blessed to have these people working as staff.

This orphanage was called a "correctional" orphanage, which means it gets all the problem children that other orphanages don't want. Most of the children are developmentally disabled or have other problems. The kids receive a basic education and some training in trade skills such as sewing or woodworking. The directors shared their frustration over the fact that the children are only able to live in the orphanage until they are 16 years old. After that they are returned home or are on their own. Many then go on to live lives of poverty or abuse as they have few job skills and are not able to cope with life on their own. The staff dreams of having another residential home were these kids can live until they are 18-21 and perhaps gains some more work and social skills. State funding is not enough to allow for this.

We didn't visit the orphanage with the idea of doing any evangelism or gospel outreach. The directors were up front about their beliefs and that some of them were Orthodox Christians. We were surprised when they said that we could share our faith with the kids. So in the future we may be able to do some simple presentations of the gospel and perhaps give the kids some Christian books to read.

We spent some time with the kids just letting them ask us questions. We received a lot of questions about America, and about our kids and our pets. One question however brought tears to our eyes. A little boy very innocently asked "Would you like to adopt someone?" Well, how to answer that? We told him that we had tried to adapt a young girl when we lived in Russia in the 1990s and that the government stopped the adoption, so we had decided that we probably should not seek to adopt a Russian child. The staff agreed that the government sometimes makes it difficult for foreigners to adopt children. In my heart though, I (Mike) could easily be persuaded to take a couple of the kids. Unfortunately the realities of missionary finances makes this very difficult, if not impossible. This is not a complaint, just the reality of the situation.

Dorm room for the children

In the future we hope to visit on a limited, but regular schedule and we may bring some of the drug rehab guys along in order for them to play soccer and do other sports programs with the kids.

If anyone who reads this would be interested we could use to following items to bless the orphanage. There are about 70 kids in the orphanage. They range from about 7 years old to 16 years old and about 75% are boys.

  • Underwear and socks - young boys and girls, and young teens.
  • Simple make-up and jewelry for the girls entering their teem years - this would greatly help them feel good about themselves.
  • Combs, hair brushes etc.

All of the above items are available to purchase here and we could do so if we had the finances. That would save any shipping charges from the United States. Please send us an email if you are interested in helping.

The children dancing and singing

Monday, January 07, 2008

It's Cold!

It was -17F today when we got up, that's cold!

Our car the VAZ Niva 2131 has been running great despite the cold. It starts right up every time though we do have to let it warm up for a good 15 minutes before we drive it. We have had two minor problems with it. The heater core died the day after we bought the car. I took it to the repair shop and had them replace it. I was covered under warranty but the shop had no cores in stock and it would take 6 weeks to get one from the factory! They said that I had 2 choices. Either I could go to any car parts store and purchase one myself, not get reimbursed and they would install it, or I could wait for 6 weeks until the repair place got their stock from the factory and the part would be free. Since it was November and getting colder every day I paid the $20 and spent a whole day in the garage while they did the repair.

About a week later the generator belt came off. We were traveling out of town and I had no tools with me to put it back on. We called a friend who gave us the number of a road-side repair service and one hour and a half later and $50 poorer, we drove away. All in all though, we really like the Niva.

We are able to track the location of people visiting our blog site and we are now averaging 10 hits a day, up more than double from last year. recently we have been getting a lot of hits from someone in Round Rock Texas. We don't know anyone there. If you are that person let us know, and thanks for taking the time to read so many of our stories.

Tomorrow (Tuesday January 8) we will visit a local orphanage and distribute hats, mittens scarves and girls clothing to about 75 kids. Thanks to everyone who sent this clothing. It will be a blessing to these kids. We hope to have photos available later this week.

We also have a "Facebook" page online.
Here is the address

If you have a Facebook page let us know and add us as friends!

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Russian Christmas Church Service

Today at Cornerstone church we had a Christmas celebration service. Russian Christmas is celebrated on January 7 according to the old Orthodox calendar. There wasn't a large production or a tree or even Christmas carols. Christmas in Russia, even in churches is not that big a deal. Many protestant churches do celebrate the day though and Cornerstone did so in a traditional Russian way.

First we had a poem and songs by four mothers. these mothers are a part of the mothers cell groups. Each one is a cell group leader and each has seen their son or daughter come to Christ and be set free from drug addiction over the last two years. They are grateful to Christ and to the church.
Mothers of Former Addicts - each is a house group leader

After the moms did their thing it was time for the little kids. Cornerstone church does not yeat have a lot of children. Most of those who attend are either older couples with children in the late teens to early thirties or young couple who have not yet had children. We usually have 6-8 kids on a Sunday.

The kids sang a song and then each one had memorized a part of a story which they told one by one. It was amazing to see these innocent young kids talk about Christ. In every case at least one of their parents was a drug addict last year at Christmas time. This year they were able to celebrate Christmas with a spiritually healthy family which has been made whole by the power of Christ.
The Children of Cornerstone Church
After the children finished their part of the service, Pastor Dmirty gave a very brief sermon about the meaning of Christmas. When he finished he asked for people to come to Christ and publicly receive Him. Two people came forward for prayer, a common occurrence at this church.

To finish the morning the entire congregation shared communion. Attendance was about 140 people, probably the largest Sunday attendance of this two year old church.

Visit to a Russian School

Russian School Classroom

On December 28 we visited a school in the city of Zavolzha. We were invited there by our friend Natalia, who is an English teacher. She asked us to visit her class to meet and speak with her first year students. Several of her students had been questioning the need for them to study English, so she said she would introduce them to some "real Americans", with whom they could speak.

It took nearly two hours to drive to Zavolzha. Once we arrived we were greeted at the door with a noisy crowd of Jr High students who all wanted to see us and say "Hello, my name is ...." in English.

Once we were actually in the classroom we were surrounded by students who wanted us to either sign their notebooks, or in many cases to actually sign our names on there arms! Young kids are so much fun, like a pack of young happy puppies. We spent our time in class hearing a spelling be, listening to some English language presentations and listening to several songs.

Russian Teachers

After the class we were invited to have tea with several of the advanced students and their teachers. It is impossible to actually evangelize in a Russian school but we believe that these times if relationship building are important. Natalia is not a believer but she knows that we are missionaries. We have had several short discussions with her about faith and we are praying that she will open her heart to receive the love of our Savior.

As you read this story please pray for Natalia, here students and the millions of Russian children who have little opportunity to here a clear presentation of the Gospel in a way that they can understand it.

Table Set for Tea

Our Friend Natalia

We Give You Our Hearts

As missionaries we often ask ourselves if we are really having an impact with the work we do. Traditional ways of measuring effectiveness include people expressing faith in Christ, water baptisms or churches started.

How we touch people’s lives in other ways is often difficult to measure. This month we have had opportunity to see that we are impacting lives here in Russia.

December 30th was Michael’s birthday. In Russian churches if you have a birthday you are asked to come to the front of the church and everyone prays for you and you might also receive a gift. For Michael’s birthday he was presented this balloon sculpture. The large center balloon is filled with smaller heart balloons.

When the gift was presented he was told, “Michael, we didn’t know what to give you, so we decided to give you our hearts.” We received this gift as evidence of how we have been received here in Russia and how our work has impacted this church.

Another fun gift that Michael received was his own Banya hat and a bunch of oak branches which he will dip into hot water and use to beat himself and someone else with while in the banya.

Freed From a Life of Crime & Hopelessness

Here is another testimony of someone set free by the power of a Risen Savior!

This is Sasha who recently graduated from the first 3 months of rehab.

He said that nothing worried him because he had no principles and no purpose for living. He simply existed. He had been a drug addict and criminal for more than a decade. His life included crime and enslavement to drugs with multiple jail and prison terms. Because the people of the church came to him on the street and introduced him to Christ, today he is drug free and continuing on into the second course of rehabilitation.

Homeless No More!

Alexei was a homeless alcoholic for 17 years. His mother-in-law, however, was a believer and despite the fact that Alexei divorced her daughter she continued to pray for him to yield his life to Christ. This summer he entered the Cornerstone Church social center. Slowly he began to change as daily Bible studies, fellowship, encouragement, help with getting a job and a place to ‘come home to,’ gave him the desire to change his former, hopeless lifestyle.

On the day that he testified in church he was almost jumping up and down with joy for the new life he has found in Christ. Practically the entire church was in tears as his mother-in-law came forward and hugged him and he thanked her for her faith and continual prayers on his behalf.