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Thursday, July 22, 2010

Family Camp

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 Nizhny Novgorod at 2:00PM. The drive to camp was a pleasant trip of about two hours which included getting lost for a while as we drove down an endless dirt road.

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”.

After the message we were honored with a gift of a beautiful teapot and teacups from the congregation, and a signed “blessing certificate” from everyone who attended.

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 Nizhny Novgorod in the afternoon heat.

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

What is the foundation of our Christian faith?

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 Russia. Many older citizens eat only bread and potatoes and barely survive. We were happy to share from our income to help this precious little grandmother. I wish we could have done more.

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?

James 1:27
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

Resources for the Russian Church

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.