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Thursday, February 21, 2008

Preaching the Gospel of Grace

We just returned from an afternoon of teaching at the Rustai drug rehabilitation center. After a two hour drive from the city we arrived before lunchtime and were greeted at the gate to the center by Ksyusha, one of the young leaders. She had been standing outside in the cold praying that God would help her and give her wisdom in how to deal with one of the newest rehabilitants. Ksyusha, herself, is only about 10 months old in the Lord. As she was praying we pulled up to the gate and she greeted us with a big, warm smile and said that we were surely God’s answer to her prayer.

Ksyusha had been praying for this young woman, a declared atheist, who is resisting the faith based approach of the center. We encouraged Ksyusha to be patient and to not try and force this woman into praying a prayer of salvation without understanding what she was actually doing.

We had a time of noisy, boisterous worship and prayer. The singing was out of tune and the praying was really loud, but the joy and enthusiasm of the young believers is contagious and refreshing.

Our friend, Olga Loukmanova, was with us as a translator. None of the group had met her so we had fun introducing her. Then Michael taught from the Gospel of John chapter 3 which is the story of Nicodemus. Michael was teaching the difference between religious knowledge and personal faith. Everyone listened intently and took notes, and afterwards we had a question and answer period. These young believers ask some of the toughest questions!

Listening to the teaching

Five of the rehabilitants were less than 2 weeks old in the Lord, the oldest only 1 year in Christ! Olga is about 15 years old in the Lord and remarked to us what great fun it was to teach such young, impressionable believers.

On the way to the center we had noticed that the car was overheating so before we left to go home we asked some of the brothers to check it out. The diagnosis – bad water pump and possibly the timing belt was going. The advice – don’t drive the car. We were 100 kilometers from home and we really needed to get back to Nizhny Novgorod. Part of the worry was that we were in the middle of a forest with no cell phone service. If we broke down we could be stuck for hours in the 10 degree winter weather. We laid hands on the car and prayed for mercy and off we went.

Through the Russian Forest

On the way back through the forest we picked up a man whose car had broken down and learned that he had been waiting for 4 hours for someone to drive by that he could flag down. We were the first Americans that he had ever met.

We have a busy weekend planned and now we have a car that we can’t get repaired until at least Monday. Despite this we both said that this was great day and we wouldn’t trade places with anyone. We love being here and ministering to these precious young men and women.

We covet your prayers for safety, for our financial needs, and for workers to enter the harvest in Russia.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Ministry to the Addicted and Homeless in Russia

We are in the midst of a very busy week. It started with church on Sunday. The service was great and we saw 10 new people pray to receive Christ!

After church we took 2 of the workers in the Rustai rehab center to the market to purchase food and supplies. We then picked up several mattresses, some bags and 1 new guy who was entering the program and off we went on the two hour drive to the center.

Crossing the Volga River

On the Road to Rustai

After arriving at the center we shared a meal and spent a some time chatting. By the time we got home that evening we had put in a 12 hour day.

The next day we were supposed to have a language lesson but we received a call from our friend Vanya, asking us if we could drive another new guy to the rehab center. Of course we agreed and off we drove to the church office.

At the office we met this young man who was about to enter the rehab program. He was a wreck and you could see that he was under the influence of drugs at the time. Nevertheless he was willing to go into the program. We took two of the young women, Nastia and Ksusha along with us for the long drive to the rehab center. Ksusha, a young woman about 22 years old, graduated several months ago and is now one of the leaders in the program. Nastia a twenty year old had graduated from her first 3 months of the rehab program just the day before. She was beginning her second three month course and Ksusha was mentoring her.

Nastia at her Graduation

Ksusha is a really wonderful young woman. She has a sweet gentle spirit. It was amazing to watch her as she spent most of the ride to the center ministering to the young man who was entering the program.

Ksusha ministering to the new guy Uri before we leave for the rehab center

On the way back she spent time talking with Nastia about being a Christian and working in the rehab ministry. All this from a young woman who is less than 9 months old in the Lord!

Wednesday was a “free” day. Karen and I both spent it studying for some future teaching responsibilities we have.

Thursday, we had a language lesson and we also purchased a new printer – that will be a story all in itself, as the Lord taught us some cool stuff.

Today, Friday, we taught in the morning at Lesnaya Polyana, the first rehab established by Cornerstone Church here in Nizhny Novgorod. Currently there are 17 people in the rehab program at this center. We had a good time teaching and answering questions. We love doing this and look forward to it every week.

In the evening we went to the Social Center. The Social Center is a ministry to the homeless. Cornerstone Church has rented a large (by Russian standards) rambling, run-down home. The house has no running water and only an outhouse. It was formerly used as a home for migrant workers and amazingly we were told that up to 100 migrant workers had lived here at a time.

The Social Center for Homeless People

The home is being renovated bit by bit as money becomes available. To describe it as run down is being nice. By American standards it was a dump that should be bulldozed down. At this point it is home to 14 formerly homeless men, and 8 or so of the rehab workers. The house is divided into two separate apartments with separate cooking facilities, shared bedrooms and a shared living room

The Guys at the Social Center

We were proudly shown into the newly renovated “chapel” the largest room in the house where meetings are held and which also will function as a communal living room.

We experienced some of the sweetest worship I have ever been a part of. One of the brothers, a former homeless man who has become a believer took a really battered guitar and led us into the presence of God with two wonderful songs. It brought tears to my eyes.

Men, off the street and worshiping God

I taught on the subject “How to Trust God While You Are Going through a Storm”. After the lesson we had a time to answer questions and just get to know the guys a little bit more.

Tomorrow we have a pre-marriage class for three couples. This is another task we enjoy. One of the couples, Sergei and Anna will be wed next Friday.

On Sunday I will preach at church and then afterwards I will take four people and bags and supplies to the Rustai rehab center while Karen stays home and studies in preparation for a Women’s seminar she will teach next month.

We love living here and ministering to these wonderful people. It was touching tonight to hear one of the brothers say how we had helped lay the foundation of his Christian life. One year ago he was a struggling drug addict nearly destroyed by sin. Today he is a leader in the church and his wife, daughter, sister-in-law and mother-in-law also have come to Christ. Thanks for your prayers and support which keep us here in Russia

Friday, February 08, 2008

Here Comes Santa Claus!

I know…it’s a strange title for an article in February, but recently when we visited one of the drug rehab centers to teach, a young guy said something that was both funny and a blessing at the same time. He said, “Michael, you remind us of Santa Claus and here is why. When you come to visit we are always happy, you always bring us the gift of God’s Word and share it with us, and…you have a long white beard."

SO, I guess I am Santa Claus from America. Really though, Karen and I consider it a huge blessing and responsibility to teach these young men and women. It is so encouraging to watch them come into the rehab, give their lives to Christ and begin the process of becoming His disciples. Every week we see changes happening in peoples lives. Every week we see someone graduate from the program and another 2-3 enter the program. What a joy it is to be able to share the riches of God’s Word with them.

The financial support and prayers that we receive allow us to live and work here in Russia. You are truly partners in this work when you support us in any way. Thank you for allowing us to be here helping to bring new life in Christ Jesus to so many desperate and hurting people.

Here are a few things that are happening and a few pictures from our work here

Water Baptism

On Sunday February 3, 12 new believers were water baptized in obedience to Christ’s command. They are all graduates of the Cornerstone Church new members’ class and most are less than 6 months old in the Lord. Here is a photo of those who were water baptized as they receive a baptismal certificate.

New Birth

During the last two Sundays a total of twenty people have responded to the challenge to become a follower of Christ at the end of the church service! Every Sunday, Pastor Dmitry gives an “altar call” and there is almost always a response. The last two weeks were unusual in the numbers responding.

The church continues to grow every week and now averages 150 people in attendance on Sunday morning. This is compared to an average attendance of 40 people per Sunday one year ago. The church will either have to go to 2 services soon or try to rent a larger hall, which is not an easy task in Russia.

We are blessed to have a 4WD vehicle!

We travel down this one lane, rutted dirt road leading to one of the rehab centers

And the we cross this narrow, one lane ice covered wooden bridge. The river below is about 40 yards across, 30 feet deep and 10 feet below the bridge!

We covet your prayers for our safety