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Sunday, May 31, 2009

Another Sunday in Nizhny Novgorod Russia

Today we had a great day at Cornerstone Church, Nizhny Novgorod. Church services in Russia are typically longer than in America so the Sunday service in Cornerstone Church averages 2 hours.

Two Members of the Worship Team

The service begins with a greeting and then three or four worship songs. Russian Charismatic churches like their music LOUD! We have a special prayer for the corporate needs of the body and following this is a special time to recognize and pray over those who had a birthday that week. Birthdays for Russian people are important and so this recognition in church is traditional in most Russian Protestant churches. After the prayer individuals present flowers and gifts to those who had birthdays. Today we had eight people who celebrated their birthday during the week


Birthday Prayers

Since Cornerstone is involved in rehabilitation services we often have a time of testimony by those who are graduating from rehab. This particular week two brothers graduated and each gave a testimony about the changes Jesus has made in their life.

This brother, who was a homeless addict said

"I have never had a normal life before"

This brother, who had also been addicted and homeless said

"Thank you church and pastors for giving me hope"

Because Cornerstone has many ongoing training courses we also have graduates from these other discipleship classes about every other month. Today we graduated eight people from the “Foundations” course.

After congratulating the graduates a brief prayer of rejoicing and blessing is prayed over them and we move right into a short exhortation about giving before the offering is collected and we sing another song. Finally, the children are all called to the front, prayed over and sent to Sunday school. All of this takes between forty five minutes to one hour.

When the children are dismissed it’s time for the preaching of the word and it is Pastor Dmitry who usually preaches, though about once a month and sometimes more we have a different speaker. The message is a good forty five minutes and usually longer. In many Russian churches there are two sermons in the Sunday service!

In Cornerstone the message is concluded with a call to people to give their life to Christ. People are asked to raise their hands and then invited to come forward to pray a prayer of repentance and the whole church prays this prayer out loud together. At the conclusion of the prayer they are welcomed into the body of Christ, given a New Testament, and encouraged to attend a new believer’s class at the church office. The pastor encourages church members to bring the new believers to the class and to invite them to a home group.

Praying a prayer of repentance

The service concludes with a final worship song and at that time it is announced that those who came to the church with the desire to enter the rehab program should come to the front to speak with the rehab leaders and make the arrangements to enter the program. Because the hall is rented by the hour the equipment is packed up and taken back to the church office after the service.

So, this is a normal Sunday service for us. The numbers change a bit from week to week and the groups being prayed for also, but every week we see lives being dramatically changed by the power of the Gospel.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Church Planting - Kstovo Russia and Gorodets Russia

On Sunday, May 10, Cornerstone Church commissioned two new church planting teams. The team members are all recent graduates of the Bible/Missionary training school operated by the Cornerstone movement and located in Novosibirsk, Russia.

Karen and I know each of the team members and had a part in discipling them. We love these young men and women and will continue to work with them as much as possible through the next few years as they seek to establish new churches. One astounding fact is that none of these men and women is more than 2.5 years old in the Lord. The average is closer to 1.5 years! Another fact is that every one of them is a former drug addict and between them they have close to 50 years of addiction! They are so new in their faith, but so eager to tell others the good news of the Gospel which has set them free.

One team will go the city of Kstovo, a small city about 20 miles south of Nizhny Novgorod with a population of about 70,000 people. There may be 2 churches there but we are not sure.

The second team will go to the twin cites of Gorodets – Zavolzha. These cities are located about 35 miles north of Nizhny Novgorod and have a combined population of about 150,000. There are only 3 to 5 small churches in this area.

As you read these statistics keep in mind that the average city in America with a population of 75,000 can typically have 50+ churches. The city, in which I grew up, Anderson, Indiana, has a population of about 60,000 and has over 100 churches. You can see the great need for church planting in Russia.

As usual, the major part of the church planting strategy will be reaching out to the addicted, and the socially outcast. Each team will seek to establish a drug rehab center, a place of regular worship and eventually a facility of their own. It is very difficult for Protestant believers to rent facilities in Russia in which to hold worship services. Typically churches if allowed at all, can only rent a facility for several hours on a Sunday.

Please pray for these young pioneer church planters. They need wisdom from God. They need spiritual gifts. They need finances, places to live, meeting places and rehab facilities. They will receive all of this, but we need to pray for them as they seek to expand the Kingdom of God.

Friday, May 08, 2009

Ten Years of Addiction - Now Free and Serving Others!

Every week Karen and I meet with a new young pastor, Sergei Zhaldak. We have known this young man for a little of two years and have had the joy of being a part of the team which discipled him. Here is his testimony.

Karen & Michael
with Sergei (in blue stripes)
and his team

I was raised in an average Russian family. My mother and father were good people and gave me a good home. I was an average student, but didn’t like school and never studied. When I was in elementary school I began to play chess becoming a skilled player and competed in many regional tournaments winning many prizes against players much older than myself. As I entered my teen years I began to play less and spend more time with friends on the street


I first used drugs at the age of 15 and for the next five years I used them a lot. During this time I was reasonably happy and I considered myself to be in control of my life. I thought that I could quit using drugs whenever I wanted.

Coming into my twenties I realized that I was addicted and that I had no control over my addiction and I began seeking a way out. I overdosed at least ten times and often when I regained consciousness my ribs would be broken and my body bruised because my friends were pounding on me to keep me breathing. I should have been dead several times. Twice I entered the hospital to shake my addiction, but nothing worked and I returned to getting high as soon as I left the hospital. I continued this lifestyle for more than ten years and was very tired of the addiction. It was during this time that I cried out to God asking to be free and if He would do this for me I would dedicate my life to Him.

One day a young woman with whom I would often get high began to tell me about a wonderful rehabilitation center she had attended where everyone was friends and people were happy. She had been in this rehab program but had left and was now using drugs again, but she was very enthusiastic about the program. She told me that if I wanted to break my addiction I should consider going into the program.

Shortly after this I decided to attend a meeting where we were told about the rehab program and we heard testimonies from former drug addicts. We were instructed that if we wanted to be admitted into the program we would first need to attend Cornerstone church on Sunday so I decided that I would go


That Sunday I went with my sister to Cornerstone church for the first time. I never imagined that a church could meet in an auditorium at a music school so right from the start it was a very strange experience for us. The small hall was filled with people raising their hands, people praying out loud, lots of loud music, and then the pastor preaching. I thought it was all very odd, but I really wanted to enter rehab and be free of my addiction so I stayed until the end.

After the service we met with the rehab leader and he told that there were no open places in the rehab so we would need to wait a while before we could enter the program. I was very disappointed and went home and got high.

The next morning I decided to call the leader and ask again if I could enter the program. He told me that if I really wanted to enter that badly they would make room for me and then he told me to arrange for someone to drive us out to the center the next day at noon. My father agreed to drive us to the center the next day in his car.

The morning of my entering the rehab program I was awakened by an addict friend who had come by and wanted to get high together. My decision was made. I told him, “No, I am going into rehab today.” That afternoon I entered the program.

At first the program was very strange to me with all the praying and Bible reading, but soon I came to believe that Jesus could help me and save me and I began to grow spiritually. My addictions left and my spiritual strength increased. After graduating from the first course I went on to the second course and it was during this time that I learned how to serve people and learned the basics of how to disciple people.

When I had completed both courses I wanted to continue serving God in ministry so I became one of the leaders and served in the rehab center for a year. While doing this I decided to enter the ministry full time and in the fall of 2008 I moved to Siberia where I attended a 3 month Bible school/Missionary school.

I graduated in January 2009 and moved back to the Nizhny Novgorod area where I gathered a small team and today we are living in the city of Dzerzhinsk which is situated about 50 kilometers from Nizhny Novgorod. There are many drug addicts and homeless people in this city of 250,000 people. We hope to begin a church, a rehabilitation center and a social center and though we are only just beginning we know that God is with us and will bless our work. I am already dreaming of new cities were we can establish churches and rehab centers in the future


Pastor Sergei Zhaldok

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Permanent Residency At Last!

Today we visited the local immigration office where we received our "Residency Permit for Foreign Citizens"! We are now considered permanent residents of Russia. In case you are wondering, no we have not renounced our American citizenship, and yes we will return to America to live sometime in the future.

Becoming a permanent resident allows us to travel in and out of the country freely, not needing to apply for a visa every time we do so. It also shows both the Russian government and the people to whom we minister that we are serious about staying in Russia for the long term. Foreign missionaries are looked upon with great suspicion in Russia. One reason is that most missionaries who live in Russia have always had one year visas,which they renewed every year. Russians want to know, "If you say you love Russia, why don't you become a resident?" In some cases Russians think that possibly you are a spy or agent of the American government.

Last year the Russian government changed visa laws. Missionaries can still apply for and receive a one year visa, but you can only stay in the country for a total of 180 days per year and then only 90 days at a time. This has caused immense difficulties with missions agencies. Families now need to leave the country every 90 days, stay out of the country for 90 days, and then come back in. This is very expensive and disruptive to ministry. We are so thankful for our Residency Permit. We can stay as long as 5 years before we renew the permit, and we can travel in and out of Russia at will. Very few missionaries in Russia have residency, and we consider this to be a blessing from God on our work here.

Thank you to everyone who has prayed with us through the last year as we went through the application process. We appreciate you all so much. May God receive the Glory!

Sunday, May 03, 2009

An Incredible Month of Life and Death!

We have been back home in Russia now for just over one month. What an incredible month it has been!

In Cornerstone Church we have seen over 30 people pray a prayer of repentance in the Sunday afternoon services and we have seen nearly one dozen people graduate from the drug rehabilitation program. Despite the graduations the rehabilitation center remains full. We have seen at least twelve other young men and women enter rehab during the same time period.

Praying to Receive Christ on Easter Sunday
Graduates for the Second Course of Rehabilitation
These men were hard core addicts and criminals
In our own personal ministry we have begun two house groups which meet weekly. One house group is for engaged couples preparing to marry and the other group is for married couples. Both house groups center on relational issues from a Christian perspective.

In addition to this we have a regular schedule of teaching each week at both the drug rehabilitation center and the social center for homeless people. We are also meeting each week with a team of church planters in the city of Dzerzhinsk, about 30 kilometers from Nizhny Novgorod. We will begin a regular teaching session with them this week.

Recent Graduates of the
First Course of Rehabilitation

On a sad note we continue to see suicide and overdoses taking the life of young people in our city. Every week we see several people who have O.D.'ed and several who have killed themselves, usually by throwing themselves out a window or off a balcony.

The spiritual fight in this place is real. We fight for people to be free from addiction's destructive behavior. The only way for this to happen is through the life changing power of the Good News of the Gospel. Thank you for standing with us as we live and work here among the people we love.