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Sunday, July 19, 2009

Siberian Adventure

We have just returned from a 15 day trip to the Siberia region of Russia which is all of the Russian land mass east of the Ural Mountains. When most Americans hear the word “Siberia” they assume that it is always cold there, but the truth is that in the summer it can be quite warm. We experienced weather from the mid 70s to the low 90s on this trip.

We had a full schedule planned where we were to present a marriage seminar in the city of Sharipova, preach in Achinsk, and then attend both a pastor’s retreat and the annual conference of the Association of Cornerstone Churches which is the indigenous church planting movement we work alongside.

Our trip began with an overnight train to Moscow and then a 4.5 hour flight to the city of Krasnoyarsk. Even though we had crossed four time zones we were still just a little more than 1/3 of the way across Russia!

From the airport we continued by car, about 300 kilometers further east, to the city of Sharipova. It was a planned Soviet city of about 50,000 people, built only 26 years ago, but it quickly went into decline after the collapse of the communist government and is now plagued by unemployment, and drug and alcohol abuse.

In Sharipova

Pastor Zhenya and his wife

Karen and I had three exciting days in Sharipova. Every evening we taught a seminar about building “Foundations for a Healthy Marriage”. The Sharipova church is small, less than 30 people, so we were surprised and pleased that 40+ people came out every night for the seminar, many of them unbelievers.

First Evening of the Seminar

Teaching with our Interpreter, Valentina

she was very nervous, having never worked with an American before

On our second day in Sharipova we were interviewed by the local TV station and they ran a 2.5 minute spot on us that evening on the local news! On the last evening Karen and I spent over two hours praying for people individually at the conclusion of the seminar.

Preparing for the Interview

We were hugely impressed with this new church and its pastor Zhenya. In a very decrepit shell of an apartment building that lacks doors and most of its windows, the church has a youth ministry. The city allows the church to use two rooms that have heat and electricity.

This is the Building - like a destroyed housing project

Our apology for the poor picture it was taken at midnight

This small church remodeled these rooms and here they have a large children and youth ministry to the poorest of the poor in a poverty stricken city. Most of these children come from broken families with addicted or absent parents. Some of the young girls are being pimped as prostitutes. The church holds youth services, Sunday School, after school fun programs and provides food for kids who never get enough to eat.

Youth Rooms the Church has remodled

Kids do crafts and eat here

Pastor Zhenya wants to hold a summer camp next year for these kids. The church could use ten tents. Pastor Zhenya didn’t ask for our help, but if you would be interested in providing a tent or two let us know. They can be purchased here for about $75.00 - $100.00.

On to Achinsk

We left Sharipova on Saturday morning and drove to Achinsk were I preached in two services on Sunday. The Achinsk church is large and has two services with a total attendance of almost 600 people. Despite being sick with food poisoning, and losing my place in my notes, the Holy Spirit moved and ten people repented that morning, some of them weeping as they prayed and asked Jesus to be their Lord.

Preaching in Achinsk

I was really sick

Signing Bibles for Teens after the service

Before the national conference began on Thursday,we attended a gathering of Russian leaders at a hostel outside the city for two nights. It was a fun time of relationship building and some teaching. We all went to the banya, and we had a large cookout Wednesday evening.

With Pastor Oleg from Achinsk

He is a former drug addict who now leads a 450+ person church

Leaders Cookout

Karen with Russian friends

Russian Pastors - all former drug addicts

More Pastors & Leaders

On Thursday we returned to the city for the start of the annual conference. The conference was attended by over 1500 young Russian believers. The first night pastor Oleg asked everyone who had once been a drug addict or alcoholic to stand up. About 1400 people stood to their feet! The atmosphere was charged with excitement and joy as they have had their lives dramatically changed by the Gospel.

At the Conference

The blue tint is from the plastic roof on the pavillion

Friday and Saturday were conference days. We had times of really wonderful worship and the teaching and preaching sessions were great. Karen and I were pleased when one of the pastors, who was from Sweden, preached in English. What a treat for us!

Saturday afternoon we said our goodbyes in Achinsk and drove 4.5 hours west with another young couple to the city of Tomsk. During the conference Karen and I received an unexpected invitation to visit this city and minister there and were delighted by the opportunity.

Lena and Maxim

We drove with them to Tomsk

Tomsk City Limits

While there we attended two church services and ministered in two of the church rehab centers. The Tomsk Cornerstone church is the first church that was planted out of Achinsk ten years ago and today the church is more than 650 people. The church publishes a monthly magazine, hosts a radio program and has many other ministries as well as over 100 house groups meeting during the week.

Sunday Church Service, Tomsk

People who responded to call for Repentance

Our friend, Pastor Oleg Tikonovf

Fromer drug addict and criminal - now leads a 650 member church

With our friend Alonya - City Center - Tomsk

The Tomsk church owns a large tract of land and two buildings about 4 kilometers outside the city. In a miracle of God’s provision these buildings and land were purchased by the church for what it would cost to purchase a two room apartment! One of the buildings houses a rehab center and a center for homeless people. The second building, which has never been finished, is even larger and is currently in the process of being built out for occupation. It will have apartments, office space, a meeting hall and dorms for the growing church and rehab ministry.

This building houses recovering addicts and homeless people

This Building is being slowly built out - for offices and rehab ministry

The church has plans for a 2000 seat auditorium on this property

Karen with sisters at the prison halfway house operated by the church

Here we are with the entire group of former prison inmates

They now have hope for a better life -

Thanks to Jesus Christ and a church who cares about them

1:00 AM Tuesday morning we were taken by car 100 kilometers to a train station were we caught a 4:00 AM train to Krasnoyarsk, ten hours and 600 km back east. In Krasnoyarsk we stayed overnight in the local rehab center operated by the Krasnoyarsk Cornerstone church. We really enjoyed our time with the young church planters who are sacrificing so much in order to see the Kingdom of God advance.

Brothers and Sisters

at the Krasnoyarsk rehab center

The smaller brick building in the center

houses the Krasnoyarsk rehab minsitry

Early the next morning we headed to the airport for our long trip home and after traveling nearly 3000 miles in 18 hours we made it back to Nizhny. We were tired but, pleased with the great things that God had done. Despite the length of this post we could tell many more wonderful things that happened on this trip, but those stories will have to wait for another time.


Elizabeth said...

Thanks for the write-up. I think these kinds of visits and seminars are good for coming alongside existing ministries and encouraging them.

And yes, Siberia does have that reputation. I think most people think of it as a "frozen wasteland" (to quote "Fiddler on the Roof").

Amrita said...

Praise God for what we read hear.
The pictures speak of the glory of God displayed in the transformed lives and people dedicated to serve him.

Oh I wsh I was with you all too to witness all this glory.

Elizabeth Mahlou said...

Well, you certainly hit both common and uncommon places in Siberia -- one of my favorite places in the whole world. I spent much time there during the Cold War and right after. I am not sure how/why you missed Novosibirsk and Irkutsk, two unbelievable beautiful locations, the former for its birch and kedr forests, the latter for the deepest lake in the world. I suggest returning there -- in the winter. It's georgeous, and cross-country skiing in the steppe is great fun. Good people there, too!

Michael said...

yikes. helping peopl—É is always a wonderful thing to do, but pushingyet another artificial belief system on them is not. go help, but leave the dogma at home.

Michael and Karen McDonald said...

Michael re your above comment about pushing another artificial belief system - you would have to ask the Russian believers if they think that Christian faith is an artificial belief system and that we are "pushing it" upon them. We were invited by the Russian churches of Siberia to speak and teach about marriage relationships. This is a great need in this country, as in America and many other countries. Dogma or not, the truth is that a truly Christian marriage based upon mutual respect, love, sacrifice and service is a good way to live. No one has to believe this - we are not pushing anything.

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