Monday, December 13, 2010
Tuesday, November 09, 2010
Tuesday, October 12, 2010
Karen and I are on an extended trip to the United States. We will be attending 3 district conferences of the Foursquare Church, visiting Foursquare Missions in Los Angeles and speaking in various churches. Of course we will also be spending time with our children and grandchildren.
As I write this we are in Lakewood CO, in the Denver area. Nine days ago we left Russia, flew to Boston, spending the night in Nashua NH, and the next morning flew to Denver. Our first few days in Denver were spent at the Gateway District Foursquare conference. It was a good time as we renewed friendships and met new friends.
On Saturday, October 9, we drove from Denver to North Platte, Nebraska where we stayed with our friends Dave and Jonie Holland. Dave is the pastor of the Lighthouse Foursquare Church in North Platte. He is a good friend whom we have known now for about 12 years.
On Sunday we had the privilege of sharing about our work and life in Russia at the church he pastors.
After a very brief but wonderful visit we returned to Lakewood CO. where our oldest daughter and her family live.
We have another day and a half to enjoy visiting with our daughter's family and on Wednesday we fly to Boston and drive to Nashua, NH to spend the night. Thursday morning we will drive to New Jersey with friends Jason and Mary Grace Debow. In NJ we will be attending the North East District conference of the Foursquare church.
We will be doing a lot of travel over the next 6 weeks and I hope to update this blog with our travel stories and some photos. Below are a few photos of the Rockies outside of Denver.
Friday, October 01, 2010
Friday, September 03, 2010
Monday, August 02, 2010
Thursday, July 22, 2010
On July 9 to 11 we were the featured speakers for “Light of Christ” church at their summer weekend family camp. This was a real honor for us. Several of our friends are members of the church and, last spring for the first time, Michael preached in this church. It was at that time the children’s ministry director asked us if we would be available to attend and speak at the camp.
On Friday we picked up our co-worker, Sveta Kuzmetzeva, and her two teenaged daughters and left
Finally coming to a remote village we were able to stop and ask directions only to learn that we had passed our destination and needed to turn around.
The camp was held in what used to be a Soviet era pioneer camp. ‘Pioneers’ was a communist youth organization that most children belonged to during the years of the Soviet government. Today many of these camps have been abandoned and are very run down. Ours was a perfect example. The buildings were in poor repair with lots of rot and decay, but situated in a wonderful forest location. The church was able to rent the camp from a businessman who had purchased the place and doesn’t yet have money for renovations.
Soon after our arrival we went for a swim in the river, which is just a 5-minute walk from the camp. The temperature was in the high 90’s so the water was cool and refreshing.
After a great traditional Russian supper we gathered for our first session of teaching. Michael gave a brief message on The Foundations of a Christian Marriage. Afterward people commented that they enjoyed and were challenged by the message.
After tea and conversation we headed off to bed. Our room was a small counselor’s room with two very old beds, thin mattresses and sagging springs, but the biggest difficulty was the heat and the fact that we were sleeping in a very hot room with windows that had been nailed shut. It was sweltering!
We, of course, survived the night. Saturday after breakfast we had another teaching session. Karen taught on the theme How to Raise Children Who Will Follow Christ. Once again the teaching was well received. The pastor of the church commented that the teachings were both interesting and causing people to look at marriage in a new way.
Lunch followed, and then a time for swimming. Michael ended up spending the entire free time counseling someone so he missed the chance to swim. After lunch we had a separate time for men and women to gather and to ask questions concerning marriage issues, family life and Christian sexuality. Most of the adults attended. This was the first time we have done something like this, and overall we were pleased with the results.
There was more free time and once again Michael spent it counseling one of the men. He had to keep reminding himself, “You’re here to minister, not to swim.” That evening there was a time of praise and worship and some fun and games, then off to bed for another night in the “sweatbox.”
After breakfast on Sunday morning Michael taught the last session of the camp. The theme was “8 Keys to for Better Marriage”.
Before our final lunch there was another free time, but once again it was spent in counseling. This time we both spent time with a younger couple that was going through some difficult times. They thanked us for the time; telling us that just being able to talk with us helped them see their problems from a different perspective. They also thanked us for the weekend’s teachings, saying that what they had learned would be helpful in their marriage.
Finally after lunch we packed up our stuff, loaded the car, and drove back to
This camp was a lot of fun for us. We felt stretched, but were pleased to hear that everyone enjoyed the teaching and felt that it was helpful. We have been invited back again to their next camp, sometime after January in the cold and the snow.
Oh, one of the fun things that happened in camp was that many of the youngest children were convinced that Michael, with his long white beard and hair, was “Father Frost” the Russian version of Santa Claus. They were all chattering among themselves saying “see, there he is.” One cute little boy, about 5 years old was really confused and asked why was it that Father frost spoke English!
Monday, July 19, 2010
This aftenoon we took a walk to the local Christian bookstore. Some of our best friends are owners of the store, so we always enjoy visiting. There is usually an opportunity to share a cup of tea and some conversation. Of course it is also a chance to browse through the books. We rarely leave without purchasing several books that we can give to someone else.
Today we purchased 3 large print New Testaments for some of the older brothers and sisters at the homeless shelter, a small book about a woman’s testimony and a book titled Foundations of Christian Faith.
After our visit Karen and I caught a local bus to the stop nearest our apartment, got off and began to walk home. Walking down the busy street I noticed an old woman, a typical Russian grandmother. She was tiny and frail and had her white hair covered with a scarf.
As we came nearer I noticed that she asked a couple who were walking in front of us a question. They ignored her and kept walking. As we approached I could see that she also wanted to speak to us so I slowed down to let her speak. Her voice was soft, and her eyes somewhat desperate. At first I didn’t understand her so I asked her, “What is it you need?”
“Can you give me some money?” She asked with great stress and humiliation in her eyes.
“Of course I can,” I replied, quickly digging into my pocket. Out came a 500 ruble note, which is worth about $16.00. Expecting only a few cents she was shocked and began to cry. Grabbing my hand she kissed it. Karen was also near tears as she watched.
Many elderly Russians are forced to beg on the streets in order to supplement their incomes. The average Russian pension is about $150-$200 a month. This is not enough to live on in
As we walked away I thought about the book that I was carrying, Foundations of Christian Faith. Too often our Christian faith is only about what we believe. Many discipleship courses are all about teaching information to new believers. I believe in teaching information. One of my favorite things to do is to stand in front of a class of new believers and impart to them some of the Scriptural basis for our faith. I have this great desire to help new believers really THINK about what it is to be a Christian.
At the same time I think the church often misses a great opportunity when we teach information, and rarely teach practical good works. Perhaps every church should have a course for new believers, teaching them to serve others, and offer practical opportunities for them to be involved in their local communities. We could open homeless shelters, feeding programs, elderly care, and teen mentoring programs or any of a hundred other ideas. This would be an excellent exercise in character formation and it would impact both those involved and those who are served. This would also show the world that Christianity, if put into practice, is a rational faith that can have a practical and useful impact upon the world.
Frankly, it sickens me to know that a small part of the Pentecostal/Charismatic church spends their time seeking for gold, diamonds and feathers as supposed signs of the Father’s love – (email me if you don’t understand what I am talking about here). Should we not, instead, be the hands and feet that show the world the Father’s love, demonstrating in a positive way how Christ has given us a new life and filled us with love for other people? Should this not be a large part of our foundations of the Christian faith? Shouldn’t the power of Pentecost flow through our acts of mercy and compassion?
Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.
Tuesday, July 06, 2010
To give or not to give, that is always the question in missionary work. Karen and I purchase many books and Bibles to give away as resources to the Russian church. We have given many books to the local rehab centers. We often give away books to individuals. Last week we purchased and gave away several Christian children's books to two young women, mothers in rehab, who had become believers recently.
Because of the generous gifts from some of you we were able to give away 150 Bibles in May, and we are in the process of printing 1000 copies of The Cross and the Switchblade to give to a local prison ministry. Our friends at Agape books gave us a large supply of slightly damaged books and said we should feel free to distribute them to rehabs and homeless shelters. We love giving away books. At the same time we try to be careful to not create a dependency so that the Russian church doesn't trust God to meet it's own needs. A healthy church is an indigenous church.
Recently we found a place to purchase a good Russian translation of the English language study Bible which in America is called the "Life in the Spirit" Bible. The Russian version is called the "Full Life Bible with Commentary." This is an excellent study resource with wonderful study notes from some of the finest of Pentecostal scholarship (no that is not an oxymoron). We decided to stretch this month’s budget and purchased three of the Bibles, for a total cost of about $100. We have been wanting to put study Bibles into the hands of young leaders and pastors and this is our first attempt.
On Tuesday we took one of the Bibles to Balakhna/Gorodets with the desire to give it to Pastor Oleg if he wanted it. When I said to Oleg, "I have a study Bible for you, if it would be helpful," he replied, "Michael, it has been my dream to own a study Bible. Just this morning I said to the Lord, ‘I would like to have one of these.”’
You can imagine how pleased we were that God had used us to answer his prayer request and to see his dream of having a study Bible fulfilled.
You might ask, ‘Can't those Russians buy a Bible themselves? Are they really that poor?’ In this brother's case, he works hard helping to support a rehab center that houses ten people, about half of whom have been taken in for free, and a Center for homeless people which currently has four residents, none of whom pay tuition while they work at putting their lives back together. In addition to this Oleg is working to start a new church and help support his family at the same time. A study Bible which costs over $30 is a luxury just out of his financial range. But, it was not out of his faith range. He prayed and God put it on our hearts. He received what he prayed for. We are happy to have been a small part in answering his prayer and blessing this brother as he serves the Lord faithfully.
The other two Bible's which we purchased will be given to two young leaders who work for the rehabilitation program in a different center. They have a monthly salary of about $200 and live in a communal house were they don't even have their own bed. These guys are deserving of the help.
If anyone would like to contribute $30 to purchase a study Bible for a Russian pastor please send us an email, or contact us on Facebook.
Friday, July 02, 2010
Sunday, June 27, 2010
In St. Petersburg I was kidnapped by Moldovan gypsies, and I became their slave. They brought me to Nizhny Novgorod, and I sat in the crowded places and begged. All the money was turned over to them. This lasted one and a half years.
13 September 2008 some young people came up to me and began to say that there is another life with Jesus who is the Lord of salvation. After talking with them I agreed to go to a social rehabilitation center called "Helping Hand.”
At the center I met other people who had been living on the street who had now found a new home and a new life. I found people whom I could trust and who genuinely cared about me. My heart began to open and I was learning many new things about God, the Bible and what it means to be a Christian. One day at church I publicly repented of my sins and asked God to give me a new life. Over the next weeks and months I began to grow in my faith.
In 2009, with the help of people from Cornerstone Church, God restored to me all the documents which I need for identification that had been stolen by the gypsies. Without these documents I am a ‘non person’ in my country. This was a great miracle of God because this is an impossible task. In 2010 I received my new legs and got up from my knees to my feet for the first time in years. I now walk on my feet that God gave to me and I praise Him with my whole life. From the broken fragments he made a new creation. Now I live with the Lord and serve him with my life, a gift which He gave back to me.
I live and I enjoy life and faith. The fact is that when people can not - God can. I lost everything in life, my mother, two sons, and I thought that I was of no use to anybody and I did not want to live. When Jesus came into my life everything changed! I was born again!
God saves and forgives all those who need it! Without God we lose everything, and with Him we find it. Jesus gives us faith, hope and love. Love in the Bible comes first. Read God's Word and seek your salvation like I have found. Glory, honor and praise to our Lord Jesus Christ!
Friday, June 25, 2010
Recently while watching the local news I saw a story about three homeless men. Two were dead; lying near the sidewalk while the third was talking to the news reporter. Seeing homeless people who have died here in Russia is not unusual. Stories like this are on the local news at least once a month. I still remember walking to the train station one day and seeing the body of an obviously homeless person lying on the sidewalk as people, going about their normal business, walked by. Today, while walking home I saw a homeless man eating from a pile of rotting fruit behind a fruit and vegetable stand.
A Homeless Drug Addict - Nizhny Novgorod
The roots of homelessness are not easily understood. The hard-core homeless person often prefers the street to living in a shelter. Some are self deceived into believing that they are free from the bondages of society. Homeless people are an inconvenience to any society. They are an embarrassment that no one wants to deal with, and they are often treated as trash. Society wants to sweep them away and clean up the streets. They are labeled as lazy, worthless, criminals and troublemakers.
Homeless men, Moscow - from "PravdaOnline"
Homeless people are often addicted, many to alcohol, others to drugs or a combination of the two. Many of the hard core homeless suffer from mental illness. On the streets of any major city in America you can see those who are obviously mentally ill and living on the streets. The same is true in Russia. Here extreme poverty, broken families and lack of education are the hallmarks of many of the homeless.
The homeless individual, that “bum” on the street, is a valuable human being. He or she is valuable to God and he or she is valuable to each of us. When we recognize the broken yet very real image of God in such a person, we recognize that the image of God that we carry is also broken and in need of redemption. The image of God in the homeless may be more broken than the image of God that you carry, but the truth is that the image of God is marred in all of us. As we serve those who need help to restore their place in society, we also work at restoring ourselves. The poor, the broken the crushed are not to be objects of our pity and charity, they are to be the objects of our love. In loving the poor, the broken, the outcast we love Christ.
Mikhail a graduate from the Social Center for Homeless Rehabilitation with Pastor Artyom
As Christians it is our responsibility to see those who are less fortunate than we as fellow human beings, created in the image of God. Those who say that they believe in Christ must see the image of God in every human being, and be ready to help each human being see in themselves the same image of God.
Jesus said that if we are the “righteous” it will be evident in how we treat the hungry, the thirsty, the naked, the stranger and the prisoner. Salvation is the free gift of God received through faith, yet that faith must be evidenced by the way we treat “the least of these”.
One of the Ladies on her graduation day
When I see another dead homeless human being lying in the street, when I see the broken body of a drug addict who leaped to his death out of despair, when I see the dead broken body of an elderly person who has killed themselves from depression and the burdens of poverty and failing health I grieve. I grieve for what could have been. I grieve for the destroyed life. I grieve for the church which missed the opportunity to bring salvation and restoration, often because we are too busy doing “spiritual” things.
At the same time I daily see the joy that helping the homeless brings. I see the joy on Vera’s face as she worships God with reckless abandon, after being saved from the streets. I see it written in the crags and wrinkles of Vasya’s face as he introduces us as his friend’s to those who are new at the homeless shelter. I see it in Lyuba’s face as she gives to Karen a pair of used jeans as a “blessing” for being her friend and mentor.
Vera - formerly homeless, now serves others
We have dozens of formerly homeless, friends. These friends are men and women who are learning that they are made in the image of God and that they are valuable human beings, not trash to be swept from the street. We deeply value their friendship.
We serve here, both in joy and in grief. We long to see the day when the
With some of the brothers at the Center for Social Rehabilitation
Monday, June 14, 2010
Almost every week we visit the drug rehabilitation center located outside of the city of Balakhna http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Balakhna . The center is an outreach ministry of the new church plant in the tri-city area of Balahkna, Gorodets & Zavolzhe. There are typically about 12 people living at the center in various stages of rehab. I usually teach here every Tuesday and then Karen, Sveta and I go to Gorodets where Karen teaches in a house group.
View from the Center
At the center on area of spiritual discipline which is taught is fasting. Every week there is at least one fast day and often there are extended periods of fasting. We have noticed that at times the fasting is done because there simply isn’t always food available. Cornerstone churches operate their rehab centers by faith. There is some income coming in from those who can afford to pay a fee for the rehabilitation course, but others attend for free. There is also income from part-time work which some of the centers find. In addition to this most of the centers have gardens to raise food. However this still at times doesn’t fill all the needs, so people fast.
Karen and I are committed the principle of an indigenous church, one which is self-supporting, self-reproducing and self-led. With that in mind we try to not upset the balance of things by providing things that the churches can provide for themselves. At the same time we at times have resources which we can share which are helpful but do not detract from the indigenous nature of the Cornerstone movement.
We of course teach and preach, but we try to avoid positioning ourselves as the needed “experts”. We occasionally give financial gifts towards projects, if we have the available money. With the help of those who support us we have been able to purchase hundreds of Bibles and books, and we are currently in the process of printing 1000 copies of “The Cross and the Switchblade” for prison outreach.
With all of that said, last week we saw a need and decided we should do something. We purchased several large bags of basic foods and delivered them to the center in order to help them out a bit. We will probably be doing this once a month for the next few months just to get them through some lean times.
The Scriptures teach that if we see a brother or sister in need and we don’t do something to help with that need then we have sinned. There is still a delicate balance between helping with a need and creating an unhealthy dependence upon outside funding. May we all find that balance.
Sunday, June 13, 2010
Discipling young believers has both a formal and informal component. The formal typically comes though times of teaching, observing ministry and helping hone ministry skills, one on one mentoring and giving books and other study tools to developing leaders.
Informal mentoring and discipleship is more of a natural process of sharing lives together. In Russia this means drinking lots of tea, going to the banya and other relational activities. Shared meals, and ministry trips together are also ways to mentor/disciple young believers. Often in these settings we are asked just to share from our years as living as a Christian couple. During these times we seldom see immediate evidence of our ministry, but often we later hear comments about things we said which touched people’s lives challenging or encouraging them in their walk as believers.
Last week we had our regular schedule of formal discipleship times, teaching at 3 rehabilitation centers and one house group. During the week Karen asked some of the leaders in Balakhna/Gorodets if we could plan a cook-out / banya day. Everyone thought it was a great idea, so went to work to make it happen. We bought meat, prepared some salads, brought along some pickles, jams and relishes that we made last fall.
Pastor Oleg cooking shashlik
Just enjoying our friendship
The cookout took place at the recently opened Gorodetski Social Center. This is a typical Russian village home which the church has rented as a shelter/rehab for homeless people. As is common with most village houses there is a garden behind the house and a banya. When we arrived the brothers were starting a campfire for the cookout, and the wood stove in the banya was heated and waiting.
Pastor Oleg after the Banya
Karen made pasta salad, and American style cole slaw. These are always a hit with our Russian friends. Most Russians who have not tasted these look at them with a “what is this” look, but after a taste they quickly load their plates. There was enough shashlik (Russian Shish kabobs) so everyone could stuff themselves.
We enjoyed the day sharing our food and our lives. After the meal, over a cup of tea and cookies we discussed the possibility of organizing a children’s neighborhood evangelistic outreach. The weather was wonderful, warm and sunny. After dinner we all gathered in the house for a couple of hours of music and worship together.
Anya and Ira
Natasha playing with the resident kitten
Monday, May 31, 2010
Today the woman who owns our apartment came by to collect the rent. She is a friend and a believer so we sat, drank tea and chatted for a while, talking about her family.
During WWII when her parents were children her mother's family lived in Leningrad (St Petersburg). In 1941 her grandfather disappeared in one of Stalin's camps never to be seen again. That year, because of the war, the city administration sent many of the children out of the city to live in a refugee camp. Margarita's mother and aunt were in the group. Shortly thereafter the city was completely closed off by the Nazi siege making it impossible for those who stayed to leave and over 1 million citizens died from cold and starvation during the siege. Because of the danger children began to be evacuated from the camp further to the east. The children who were not evacuated from the camp all died when the Nazi's bombed the refugee camp. Today there is a memorial at the camp location dedicated to those children
Margarita's mother, then 11 years old, her aunt age 17 and their mother were evacuated to the small city of Bogorodsk where the three all lived in a one room apartment. The mother was ill and could only lie on the sofa all the time. The two daughters age 11 and 17 began to make hats and handbags to sell in the local market, earning just enough money to not completely starve to death. They were among the fortunate who survived the war. In 1945 they returned to Leningrad, but everything they owned was gone and all their friends were dead so they returned to the Nizhny Novgorod area. The two sisters entered college and went on to become school teachers.
An uncle served in the Soviet army. He fought during the siege of Leningrad as a machine gunner. He was wounded by an artillery barrage and spent months in the hospital. Later he marched with the Soviet army through eastern Europe, into Germany and he was part of a group of Russian soldiers who met the American army on the Elbe river in 1945. He with the average soldiers were happy to meet the Americans. Everyone hugged, drank and celebrated together. Quickly, however, the communist officers separated the two groups so as to not allow the Russians to be “contaminated” by the capitalists.
As we listened to this story I wondered about the great-grandparents. They would have been living in St. Petersburg during the revolution and the civil war. What did they live through? Why did one of their sons end up dying in a Stalinist labor camp? What was life like for them after 1919?
As Margarita said, “Our family story is the story of Russia. You can sit and talk with any family here today and hear the same story.” The story of Russia is the story of a strong, resilient people who have suffered much. We are always amazed when we get a glimpse into the lives of the average Russian family, and we hear some of the heartbreak, tragedy and triumph.
Here is an interesting link showing photos of modern St.Petersburg merged with photos from the war http://sergey-larenkov.livejournal.com/809.html
Saturday, May 22, 2010
“The Cross and the Switchblade” was one of the first Christian books I read. I was 18 years old and searching for God. I was asking Him to reveal Himself to me when I stole a copy of this book! I can remember sitting on my bed reading the book and crying and I prayed, “God, if there are people anywhere like this in the world, I want to meet them." The book had a powerful impact upon me. It was several weeks after that I was invited to a revival meeting at First Assembly of God, Anderson, Indiana. That night I heard the Gospel preached and responded to the altar call. Since that day I have been trying to follow Christ as a disciple.
Over the years I have heard many similar stories about the impact of this book. People are touched by the power of God when they read it. I believe that this book crosses culture and that it continues to impact lives over 40 years after it's publication. Because of this Karen and I have been seeking to purchase a bulk amount of the book in the Russian language in order to distribute them in Russian prisons and rehab centers.
We received permission to reprint the book for free distribution from the Russian copyright holders! We then talked with a local publisher who said they could print a very simple version for about $.30 per copy! We were excited and in just two weeks we raised $600.00. This would allow us to print 2000 copies! So we were making plans when we received news that there was a big misunderstanding. The printing cost would be much higher, but still reasonable at about $1.40 per copy if we print 1000 copies. If we print only 500 copies the cost is almost $2.25 per copy, so it makes more sense to print 1000. With that said, we still need about $600.00 in order to be able to print this book.
We are asking everyone who reads this to prayerfully consider giving toward this project. We have the opportunity to impact thousands of lives. Books distributed in the Russian prison system are passed from hand to hand, and read over and over again. Each book will contain contact information for a local church, faith based rehab center and a center for those needing transitional housing as they leave the prison system. Thanks you for reading this. Pray with us for the completion of this project and the continuing impact of this book as people read it. Working together we can reach thousands of people with the life-changing message of the Gospel.
Tuesday, April 06, 2010
Every day they are out on the streets and back alleys bringing the message of life and hope to those whose lives have been destroyed by drugs and alcohol, and helping homeless people find themselves and the dignity that they have lost.
People newly released from prison have a place to go to gain fresh perspective of life while they reorient themselves to living on the outside.
On the left is a group of people from the Social Center for the homeless. They were invited into the sanctuary before anyone else could be seated.
Each time someone chooses to come in off the streets they are brought into a group home environment where they are tenderly cleaned up, given fresh clothes, their own bed and are worked into becoming a part of a family again. The family consists of those who have been where they are and understand what they are going through. After a period of adjustment they are assisted at finding a job. Over the course of a year they grow in a new found relationship with Christ as well as a new found hope and sense of dignity in their personhood.
Below are the people who came forward during the Sunday service in order to pray to receive Christ into their life. Most of them will go to a rehabilitation center on Monday.
The young woman in red has recently been released from prison. She wants to get free from the curse of drug addiction. The lady on the left is her mother. Mom’s name is Faith. About a year and a half ago Faith came into the Social Center as a homeless alcoholic. She is now a radiant woman of God who mentors young women going through the rehab program. We are all praying together for her daughter to find the same liberation that her mom found.
Some of the faces of passionate worship: