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Monday, May 26, 2008

A Cry for the Homeless!

We were watching the local news today and saw a dead, homeless man. He had been hit by a car and was lying in a gutter as the rain fell and washed over him, running down the gutter. This happened in front of a bus stop and people were just lined up waiting for the bus like nothing had happened. The newscaster said that he was unknown and without identification papers.

Scenes like this are not that uncommon in our city. We were walking by the same area last year and we walked past another dead, homeless man lying on the sidewalk. People were ignoring the body as if it were another piece of trash.

I often teach at the homeless center run by Cornerstone church. I have friends who are/where homeless. They are wonderful guys. My heart cries for this unknown homeless man who could have been my friend, if only we had reached him. We need a larger facility for the homeless. We could easily use a facility that houses 50 or more people. Karen and I drive by older apartment buildings every day and we often comment, "wouldn't that make a great center for the homeless?" Nothing is impossible with God. If we had the funding we would purchase a place and expand this ministry.

So, will you pray with us? Pray for the expansion of the ministry to the homeless. Pray for the needed finances. Pray for the workers and pray that we will be a compassionate person, not turning a blind eye to the homeless among us. Seeing a dead man laying in a gutter is a sad thing It breaks our hearts and it certainly must break the Lord's heart.
Isa 58:5-8
Will you call this a fast, even an acceptable day to the LORD?
6 "Is this not the fast which I choose,
To loosen the bonds of wickedness,
To undo the bands of the yoke,
And to let the oppressed go free,
And break every yoke?
7 "Is it not to divide your bread with the hungry,
And bring the homeless poor into the house;
When you see the naked, to cover him;
And not to hide yourself from your own flesh?
8 "Then your light will break out like the dawn,
And your recovery will speedily spring forth;
And your righteousness will go before you;
The glory of the LORD will be your rear guard.

Some of our friends at the Center for the Homeless.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Visit to the Vacha Rehab

Recently I visited the new rehab center in a very small village near the town of Vacha. The village consists of seven houses, two of which are used for the rehab center. I was taking a new rehabilitant to the center to enter the program. I was able to stay for some teaching and to share a meal with our friends at the center. Here are a few photos.

The group was involved in Praise and Worship as we arrived

Our friend Valodya teaching

Receiving the Word of God

Our friend Shustri sleeping through the message

Preparing lunch in the open air

Two New Graduates

Last Sunday two brothers graduated from the first course of rehabilitation. Anton (on the left) is a young man, 25 years old, and was an addict for over 5 years. He entered the Rustai rehab during the winter and Karen and I would see him every time that we taught. Anton treats me as if I am his father. He is a great young man. He has already entered the second course of rehabilitation and is serving as a mentor to young men who are entering the system for the first time.

Sergei is a husband and father. He entered the Lesnaya Polyana rehab in February. We taught him every week during his course of rehabilitation. He was addicted to drugs and was a criminal. His family life was a mess and he really needed help. This Sunday it was wonderful to see him reunited with his wife and teenage daughter. They have been attending church during the time Sergei was in rehab. Hopefully this will continue and they will serve the Lord together as a family through the coming years.

Thank you for the support and prayers that allow us to minister to these young men. Faith in Christ is changing lives in dramatic ways.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

We Will Cross That Bridge When We Get To It

Last weekend we were part of a church leadership retreat at a small camp outside of the city. As we are one of the few people in the church who own a car we where asked to bring all the food needed to feed 40 people for 3 meals. Of course we did so. The reason we purchased the car was to facilitate ministry.

The "camp", a small hand-built brick house, is located about 45 kilometers outside of Nizhny Novgorod. The roads are paved most of the way, but the final kilometer is down a rutted dirt track. The road ends at a small stream which is crossed by the bridge you see in the pictures. Crossing this bridge was a bit hair raising, and I don't have much hair to raise! As you look at the photos they can give you a small idea of the condition of this bridge.

Karen took these photos as she walked across the bridge

The original planking is long gone
and has been replaced by boards and logs by people who use the bridge.
Presumably the supporting structure is OK

Karen is taking these photos while I drive across

She was also guiding me onto the best boards

Our Russian friends who were in the car with me thought the whole thing was pretty funny! I knew the bridge was reasonably sound because friends of ours had driven across it several hours earlier.

The retreat was fun. We were all crowed into this small house. We ate outdoors. The weather was cold and rainy. The mosquitos were thick. At night the temperature dropped to near freezing and there is no heat in the house. But still, we had a great time together!

Friday, May 16, 2008

Picnic at the Nudist beach

Life in Russia is always interesting and full of surprises. Here is a story about a recent adventure.

Lately, Karen and I have been trying to make sure we take one full day off from any ministry commitment just to have time for ourselves and nurture our relationship. The weather has been warm in Nizhny Novgorod recently and on one particularly warm spring day we decided to have a cookout picnic along the Volga River.

We loaded our Niva jeep with a small barbecue grill, and then went to the local supermarket and purchased a few things. The day was nice and sunny, and off we went in hunt of the "right" spot. We knew that there was a long stretch of sandy beach along the river right alongside the city. We thought that this would be super because it only had off road access and was beyond the reach of regular cars (implication being that we didn’t want to be around any people). We had never been to this particular spot because not having a car until recently it was too far to walk and no buses run that way.

With a 4WD vehicle like ours you can drive into the sand and find a secluded place to picnic. Our Niva is prefect for this. We drove along, scouting our location and finally decided on one overlooking a lagoon and facing the city.

Driving on the beach

We unpacked our car and began setting up the grill. Across the way, in some scrub brush we saw several guys. We didn’t pay much attention at first, but then Karen says, “Michael, is that guy naked?” I looked and sure enough he was. He was standing there in all his glory, enjoying the sun.

Picnic Spot

This being Russia, and Russians having differing views on nudity than Americans we said, “Oh well,” and decided to continue with our picnic. After getting the charcoal going and setting up, we began to notice some more naked guys! There were two sunning on a blanket. The first guy was also watching us as if to ask, “Why are you here with your clothes on”?

As our food began to grill we noticed a woman walk by, stop and chat with the guys and move on. She was totally naked also! We had stumbled, quite by accident, upon the only unofficial nudist beach in Nizhny Novgorod.

By then we were totally committed to grilling our food and we really couldn’t stop and pack up. It was actually pretty funny. Everyone was far enough away and screened by low bushes that we could tell that they were naked, but not really see any vital statistics. We were happy for that.

Setting Up

So we grilled our food, enjoyed the sun, sat with our backs to the sunbathers, and had a nice afternoon. This was just another Russian adventure for two, sometimes, very naïve and humorously ignorant American missionaries.

View From the beach

Sailboats on the River

Sunday, May 11, 2008

If the Foundations Are Destroyed

Psalm 11

For the choir director. A Psalm of David.

1In the LORD I take refuge;
How can you say to my soul, "Flee as a bird to your mountain;
2 For, behold, the wicked bend the bow,
They make ready their arrow upon the string,
To shoot in darkness at the upright in heart.
3 If the foundations are destroyed,
what can the righteous do?"
4 The LORD is in His holy temple; the LORD'S throne is in heaven;
His eyes behold, His eyelids test the sons of men.
5 The LORD tests the righteous and the wicked,
And the one who loves violence His soul hates.
6 Upon the wicked He will rain snares;
Fire and brimstone and burning wind will be the portion of their cup.
7 For the LORD is righteous;
He loves righteousness;
The upright will behold His face.

We only occasionally write blog entries which expound a bit on the scriptures because the purpose of this blog is primarily to inform people about our day to day life and work in Russia. This post is an exception because a place we visited recently reminded us of Psalm 11.

The photos in this post are from a recent trip we took to a very small village in the countryside. The building is a crumbling, destroyed Orthodox Church building. We are not sure of the history of this particular building, but our assumption is that it was destroyed sometime after the Bolshevik (communist) victory following the Russian revolution and civil war.

During that turbulent time period from about 1919 to 1939 hundreds if not thousands of church buildings were destroyed and looted. Many priests and other believers including many Baptists and Pentecostals were either sent to labor camps where most of them perished or were killed outright.

Despite nearly 75 years of official atheism in Russia the Christian faith did not die. It survived to rise again. There are today nearly 2 million believers classified as “evangelical." This is more than in any time in Russia’s history. There are pockets, though small, of revival within the Orthodox Church and I am always impressed with some of the deep spirituality and reverence for God among some Orthodox believers. Atheism did not prevail! The Kingdom of God continues to expand.

It is my belief that Russia has not really faced up to it’s past. The tragic past needs to be acknowledged. The deep wounds inflicted upon the psyche of the people of Russia need to somehow be repented of. We love Russia and the Russian people. We weep for the tragedies this country has suffered in the past. We pray that the future will see healing and restoration of Godly principles to guide this great nation.

In front of this destroyed church building someone has placed an orthodox cross and small flower bed as a memorial to the terrible past.

On the cross hangs a sign which reads


Grief, I believe is a cultural characteristic of Russia. Grief evidenced in many other outward expressions, but grief nevertheless. I believe that this hidden, deep grief will never be healed without the accompanying needed repentance.

If you are one of our dear Russian friends who reads these entries and you disagree with my assessment, please email me and let me know. I understand that we are outsiders looking in. We love Russia, we love the Russian people. We have prayed for Russia for more than 30 years. Our desire is to see Russia fully express the desires of God for your country and people.

America is not without her cultural sins, racism, genocide of the native Americans and slavery. Oftentimes these things were done in the name of Christ, bringing shame to the Bride of Christ and having deep lasting negative cultural implications for America.

At best all of us are imperfect and broken people. We all need to keep repentance as a part of our personal lifestyle and those of us in leadership need to live it, preach it and teach it.

Ps 97:2 Righteousness and justice are the foundation of His throne. (NASB)

Isa 28:16-17
16 Therefore thus says the Lord GOD,
"Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone, a tested stone,
A costly cornerstone for the foundation , firmly placed.
He who believes in it will not be disturbed.

17 "And I will make justice the measuring line,
And righteousness the level;

Jesus is the Chief Cornerstone of the foundation of the Church, the Body of Christ. Our only hope rests in Him. His Kingdom should be evidenced by Righteousness and Justice. That righteousness and justice should also be a chief characteristic of our lives.

May the Lord restore the broken foundations of His Church.

Friday, May 09, 2008

Roadside Cafe

Russia has few real chain restaurants like those in America. Pizza has become popular and in our city there are now 3 chains in operation. McDonald's has also been successful as well as a KFC owned fried chicken chain called Rostiks.

Outside of the large cites you can find small restaurants and cafeterias, though they are not what you would usually picture in America. Fast food options while driving long distances are basically nonexistent. Cross country highways here are not like superhighways in America but are 2 lane roads. If you happen to be driving through a village there are small convenience stores where you can buy snacks or you might find the occasional roadside cafe like the one here.

Just yesterday we were driving back from a day at one of the rehabs and we decided to try and stop someplace to get something to eat. Here is where we ate.

The Cafe
The sign says - Shashlichnaya - Hot Dishes - Cafe - Beer.

A Shashlichnaya is a place that sells what we would call shish-kabob. In Russia this is a popular meal. The meat is usually chunks of beef, pork or chicken, complete with bone and lots of fat and gristle. This is a typical roadside place. The picture actually makes it look nicer and cleaner than it was. Around the side is a small dining room and a place to eat outside. It was only about 50F out, so we chose the dining room.

Karen outside the dining room,
waitress carrying our food from the kitchen to the diningroom

When I went to the car to get our camera I found this little guy
wandering around outside the dining room.

Karen in the dining room
Here is our meal
We ordered a "combo plate", The meal was a fresh Russian style salad (no lettuce), roast potatoes, sausage, a little bit of chicken and some roast lamb. the meal was completed with a pot of hot tea which was flavored with, of all things - oregano! I enjoyed it.

We hope you enjoyed this "taste" of life in Russia

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Moving Day!

Wow, it has been 3 weeks since we have posted anything on the blog. We have been busy and a lot is happening, so here is a new story and several more will follow today or tomorrow.

Cornerstone Church opened their first drug rehab center in a rented house near Nizhny Novgorod, several years ago. The center was name "Lesnaya Polyana", (pronounced Pole-Yahna) or "Forest clearing".

Recently, "Lesnaya Polyana" was closed because the owner sold the house. This caused a bit of a panic as this was the primary rehab center for Cornerstone church. At times, up to 25 people were living in the center going through the rehab program. A new place was needed right away.

Another church owns several village houses where they had a rehab center several years ago. The center closed and the houses were empty. Cornerstone was given permission to use them rent free. That was good news! The bad news is that they are 125 kilometers (85 miles) from Nizhny Novgorod, which is inconvenient to say the least. Despite the inconvenience the decision was made to move the center to the small village on a temporary basis. We were asked to help with the move which we did.

The village is about 5 miles off a paved road, down a deeply rutted dirt track. In the winter it is nearly impossible to reach the village. In the summer it is do-able. We are ever so thankful for the Russian made Niva Jeep 4WD vehicle that was provided for us by our friends in America.

Here are a few photos.

Preparing for the move at
Lesnaya Polyana

Packing the Truck
(Sorry for the glare)

Our last view of the rehab where hundreds of addicts have been set-free in Christ
The words on the roof say

80 Miles & 2 hours later
Driving through a village

The Truck Almost Didn't Make It
We had to dig it out

At the New Center