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Monday, March 31, 2008

Four Years in Russia!

At the start of the month we celebrated four years of living and working in Russia! We love being here and we would not trade this life for anything. Being here has brought us great joy.

Certainly at times we miss our family and friends in America. We miss talking face to face with our children. We have missed the birth of several grandchildren and many birthdays, and holidays. We miss being with Karen's parents during these years.

Despite this, we stay and enjoy the life we have. Daily we see people coming to Christ and receiving new life. Every week we are challenged by the Russian church as our definitions of church and ministry are stretched. Our original intent was to church-plant here. We spent our first 2 1/2 years building relationships. Many of these have been enduring and have led us to where we are today. Despite the time and the relationships our church planting efforts did not bear much fruit.

Last year we met Pastor Dmitry of Cornerstone Church. We immediately took a liking to him and he to us. It was one of those moments when you just know the Holy Spirit is doing something. With the approval of our field supervisor we changed our direction a bit and came alongside Cornerstone to strengthen their ministry and to help Pastor Dmitry to disciple the new converts.

We are grateful to be a part of The Foursquare Church. The cornerstone of Angelus Temple is inscribed with these words, "Dedicated to the cause of worldwide, interdenominational evangelism". We believe that by working with Association of Cornerstone Churches here in Russia that we are fulfilling those words, written by Aimee Semple McPherson, the founder of the Foursquare Movement. Because of that vision, we are able to work alongside an indigenous Russian church, helping them to grow and expand.

Church Planting - Russia

During the conference mentioned in our last post we hosted a young couple Slava and Ksenya in our home. Slava was a 20 year old drug addict when he gave his life to Christ and entered a rehab center. After rehab he joined a missionary team and went to the city of Tomsk, in Siberia. The team began a church and several rehab centers and Slava served as an assistant pastor and rehab pastor for several years.

Slava met Ksenya at a conference after she graduated from a similar rehab program. Three years ago they married and they now have a young son.

Two and a half years ago they joined a missionary team of ten people who came to Nizhny Novgorod to start this Cornerstone church. Slava and Ksenya served here for 3 months while attending the first Cornerstone missionary training school. After school they took a team of five and moved to the city of Samara, about 500 miles south of Nizhny Novgorod. They have now been there nearly two years.

During these two years this young couple has started a church which has an average attendance of 80 people, a drug rehabilitation center and a social center for homeless men. In addition to this they have sent a team from this new church to begin another church. The new church was started in January and now has about 18 people attending. In September they will send a new team to missionary training school and that team will be sent to another city in January 2009 to begin a new church.

We are privileged to know these young pioneer church planters. They have invited us to visit their church to preach and teach. We plan to do so sometime this spring.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Leave Your Boat

It's Saturday here in Nizhny Novgorod. Last night was the opening night for the celebration of the second anniversary of Cornerstone Church. About 250 people attended, which would make this the largest gathering of this church in it's two year history.

As usual the church was filled with people either going through drug rehab, or pastors and leaders who were former drug addicts and convicts. Also as usual, the worship was vibrant, loud and enthusiastic. Several of our friends from other churches were the musicians for the worship, and Cornerstone Church provided all the vocalists.

Karen was also a part of the worship team. Here is a photo of her playing her flute during worship.

Our friend Dinara led several songs. It was her first time to do this. She was so nervous and excited she was bouncing up and down. She did a great job. It is hard to believe that a year ago she was a hard core drug addict.

This morning we had a gathering of over 50 people at the Social Center. It was a combined group of leaders, pastors, rehabilitants and guys from the homeless center.

One of my friends, Pastor Anton from Novosibirsk gave a challenging message about Peter and Jesus. Anton challenged all of us to "leave our boats", that thing which gives us security, and trust and follow Jesus. Anton told us that Peter left everything to follow Jesus after meeting him for the first time. Anton warned us that the longer we knew Jesus, and the more encounters we had, the easier it becomes to not really follow him. Anton told everyone that it is our responsibility to follow Jesus, preach the Gospel, plant new churches and not live a life wrapped up in materialism. AMEN!

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

"Before, I Had No Life"

Sunday was another great day here in Nizhny Novgorod.

We went to church in the morning of course. Pastor Dima preached a really good and challenging message. The theme was "Social Responsibility". He asked the question, "What good is a church, and what good are we, if we ignore the needs of those around us?"

Wow, that's a good question! Cornerstone church has the right to ask, because they operate two drug rehab centers and a homeless shelter. The goal of each is to see people come to faith in Christ and then have that faith radically change their lives and reform them. We see it happen here every week.

Later in the day I took four people to the Rustai drug rehab center. While there I went to the banya with two of the brothers. As usual it is always interesting to be sitting in a log cabin steam house speaking with guys in my limited Russian. Uri, is only 3 weeks old in the Lord. He said "Ah, life is so beautiful now, everything smells better, the sky is blue, the air is clean. I love my new life". Ivan, the other brother, who is only 4 weeks old in Christ said "Before, I had no life, I was like a dead person".

It is a real joy to see these guys come to Christ and begin the path of discipleship. Karen and I brought them both to the rehab center last month. Uri was so high and sick he could hardly function. He had been an addict for over ten years. He is married and has one child. Ivan was also high and had an "I don't really need rehab" attitude. Today he will tell you how lost he really was and what being a new babe in Christ means to him.

Later that night, I brought another brother back into the city. On the ride we were talking and he told me that he remembers the day Karen and I drove him to the rehab. He said he was sick and high and really didn't want to go. As he got into our jeep another guy told him that we were Americans. He though the guy must be crazy. Now, 3 months later he is serving Christ, his life is restored. His mom is going to church and he has a new future before him.

We love being a part of the work here. Every day Karen and I tell the Lord how grateful we are to be here and to work with these young men and women. We would not trade our lives for anything. Thanks to everyone who helps us financially and who prays for us.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Another Body in the Street

We were watching the nightly news last night and we saw another young person who had jumped from a balcony and killed themselves. The body was lying in the street with a blanket covering it, while people walked by indifferent to what they were seeing.

This is not unusual here in Russia. We see a drug overdose or suicide almost every week on TV. We often wonder how many never make it to the TV screen. A spirit of hopelessness grips so many people here. How hopeless they must be to stand on a balcony and jump to their death.

One of our friends tried this several years ago. She was a lucky one. She survived and later gave here life to Christ. Now, despite being crippled, in a wheelchair and jobless, she radiates peace and joy. Only faith in Christ can bring about this kind of change in a person's life.

When we see those who have killed themselves by suicide or the longer death of drug addiction an overdose we are reminded why we are here, living away from our family. Our calling is to preach the Gospel- the GOOD NEWS. Jesus said in John 10:10b "I came that they might have life , and might have it abundantly". The Gospel brings life. We see it every time we go to the rehab center or homeless shelter. Lives are being changed, people are receiving hope and families are being restored. We long for the day when we will stop seeing people killing themselves from despair and loss of hope. We covet your prayers as we minister here.

Monday, March 10, 2008

13 Years of Addiction - First Birthday in Christ

We just returned from a day at the Rustai rehab center. It was a wonderful day. We had a great time of worship. It was very moving to watch one young man fall on his knees, crying and worshiping God and singing that Jesus was his Lord. We took this kid who is about 20 years old to the center last week. He had a really bad attitude and obviously was only going to the center to make someone else happy. Eight days later and he is worshiping God with his whole heart! He has a long way to go, but he is off to a good start.

Michael taught for about 45 minutes and then we answered questions. After that we just hung out.

In the afternoon there was a birthday celebration for one of the guys. Valarie is a great guy who was addicted to drugs for 13 years. He was such a hard core user that he destroyed the veins in his legs through drug injections. Today was his 39th birthday, the first one he has celebrated since he became a believer. There was a small party and a meal for him. Each person gave him personal birthday wishes and he gave a small testimony afterwards during which he choked up several times and almost began to cry.

Valarie is in the red T shirt

It is so amazing to see all these tough guy, hard core drug addicts come to Christ and begin the process of re-making their lives. We feel so privileged to be a part of this work in Russia.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Her First Visit to a Mall - Eating at McDonald's

We just returned home after a busy day. It started with a church service at 11:00 AM. Karen played her flute with the worship team. It was nice to see and hear. She hasn't played in a long time.

Today is "Women's Day" in Russia. Pastor Dima preached about women and ministry. He generally encouraged women to be everything that God wants them to be and to minister in any capacity that they can.

One of the brothers graduated from the first 3 months of rehab today. His name is Roman and he is a really good guy. He is "on fire" for the Lord. We have seen some dramatic changes in his life over the last few months.

Roman Giving His Testimony

Later we took several people shopping for the weekly supplies of the Rustai rehab center. We actually shopped in a Super-supermarket which is located in the only true American style mall in our area. It was touching and interesting to have our friend Dinara with us. She is serving in the Rustai rehab. She is 30 years old and has never been in a mall before! It was a bit overwhelming for her. We had fun taking her for her first meal at McDonald's.

Dinara, Karen and Michael

After shopping we made the 2 hour drive to Rustai. We chatted for a while and then Karen and I went to the banya (a Russian steam bath in a log hut) together. After the banya, we shared a meal with everyone and then drove home. All in all this was a great day and we enjoyed it a lot.