Davydovo Outreach to Children - June 2016 Update
Dear friends of God’s mission in Russia,
Last month, I had the wonderful opportunity to travel with PC(USA) missionary Al Smith to visit with many of Outreach’s partners in Russia. It was an encouraging and rewarding trip.
We began in Kursk (actually, the village of Breznevo) with a visit to Pastor Andre Beskorovaini and his wife, Larissa. Andre is the only Roma pastor in the Evangelical Christian-Baptist Union of Russia. The Roma, or Romani, are a traditionally nomadic ethnic group, living mostly in Europe and the Americas and originating from the northern regions of India. They are widely known among English-speaking people as "Gypsies." Andre ministers among the 20,000 Roma who have settled around Kursk, and he is active in broader networking efforts that bring together leaders engaged in ministry with the Roma. As Al put it, it is hard to be a Baptist in Russia, and it is harder to be a Roma. I was blessed by Andre’s deep faith and his commitment to share the Gospel with his people. 25-40 people gather regularly for worship in the Romani langugae. A summer camp for children and music team outreaches are important parts of this growing ministry.
We next traveled to Oryol where it was my privilege to teach two groups of pastors and to preach at Second Baptist Church, hosted by pastor Valery Yeroshkin and his wife, Vera. Valery has served as general presbyter, leading the congregations of this oblast (state), for two decades. I was very impressed with Valery’s commitment to leadership development and by his vision for equipping leaders and members for ministry. It was in a conversation with Valery that I was struck by just how irreligious a place Russia continues to be. Although a majority of Russians identify themselves as Orthodox, only a small percentage of people worship regularly. In the cities we visited the pastors told me that between one-half percent and three percent of the people who say they are Orthodox worship weekly. The figure is roughly the same for Protestants.
I was reminded during our trip of the many mission agencies that flooded into the former Soviet states upon the breakup of the U.S.S.R. – and of how many of them pulled out after experiencing what a difficult context Russia is for mission. Outreach’s approach is to come alongside Russian congregations that we see engaged in transformative ministry to try to build their capacity for what they are uniquely positioned to do, to share and show the love of Jesus in their context. I think it is the right approach for us.
The centerpiece of the trip for me was a visit to the village and community of Davydovo, Russia, 200 km north of Moscow, one of The Outreach Foundation’s partners in serving vulnerable children. Although the village population is usually only about 85, its population swells each summer with the addition of families with special-needs children who come for two three-week camp sessions. About twenty-five families will participate in each of the camps. We were welcomed by Father Vladimir Klimzo and his wife, Olga, and we stayed with them for two days. Four years ago, my wife Terry and I volunteered at one of the Davydovo camps. This unique ministry provides a remarkable community of caring for families and children who often feel cut-off from any deep experience of community in their normal day-to-day lives. The summer camping program (the first session is now underway) provides support and creative activities for children and family members. They share in the rhythm of the community’s worship, share in the work of the community, eat together and participate in a wide-range of therapeutic programs.
The second phase of the ministry is an opportunity for families to explore what it is like to live in community for the long-term, discerning whether or not a permanent move to Davydovo might enrich their lives and help to provide a future for their children.
We met several families who are in Davydovo and discerning whether they will commit to stay. Galena and her son Alexander have been living in Davydovo for six months. Alexander is 22 years old, autistic, and has been deaf since birth. In recent years, Galena reported, Alexander became increasingly difficult to care for and defiant. After experiencing the summer camps during the last few years, Galena decided that she and Alexander would try living in Davydovo. For the first time they are living separately. She lives in a new dormitory building that can accommodate multiple families or adults; Alexander is living in one of the camp trailers with his tutor. He is socializing more and is doing much better keeping to a schedule, taking care of himself and taking responsibility for his work assignments on the farm. Galena’s work is to serve as hostess for the dormitory/guest house and to help in the village Kindergarten. They join other members of the community for communal meals in the dining hall.
In a few months Galena will decide whether or not to stay in the village permanently. It seems likely to me that she will because she has found in Davydovo a community of care, a place where her son is doing much better than he did in the city, and a place where she can see him having a future. The model that Father Vladimir envisions is one in which the families live in community, allowing the children to experience life in a way that will give them options they did not have when their parents alone were responsible for their care. There also are several families who do not have special-needs children who are trying out village life, and Father Vladimir hopes their number will increase. Those who decide to stay build a house for themselves and contribute towards the cost of a dormitory which can help to accommodate the children.
Another exciting, recent development at Davydovo was the community’s hard work during this spring’s Lenten season to make the summer chapel in the church useable for services. It was a big project, and all rejoiced when they were able to gather in the summer chapel for the liturgy on Easter. Previously, they were only able to use the smaller winter chapel.
Davydovo continues to be a place where many people discover what it means to be a part of a community of faith that has at its heart a remarkable commitment to care for others, especially children with special needs. It is a place of spiritual “rehabilitation” for many who visit from the city (and the U.S.!). As his vision for Davydovo continues to unfold, Father Vladimir asked me to express his deep thanks for the prayers and gifts that you have offered on their behalf. More information about the community may be found on the Web: http://davydovo-hram.ru/ (Try using your web translator.)
Finally, we visited Pastor Victor Ignatenkov and his wife Nadya. Their congregation, Central Baptist Church in Smolensk, is one of the churches I describe when people ask me what a “missional” church looks like. They are always exploring new ways of sharing God’s love and transforming lives with the Gospel. Through choir tours, regular ministry in at least 15 orphanages and schools, support and counseling for youths who are too old to stay in the orphanages, twenty years of summer camps (three this summer), marriage conferences, Sunday schools, Bible conferences and evangelistic teams the congregation is reaching out to bless others in Jesus’ name. Even with all that they have done, Victor expressed his concern that the church is not growing in Russia. At Smolensk, they’ve been talking a lot about personal evangelism and exploring ways to deepen the shared life of the church.
With Victor and his colleague Deema, the oblast’s coordinator of Rehabilitation Ministries, we drove far out into the country to visit a group of five men who are living in a house together. Alcoholism remains a huge problem in Russia, and the Baptists have a Rehabilitation Center in each of the oblasts. Of the men we met at this center, a few had been there as long as seven months; others had been there for several days. All had committed to the disciplines of living in community and immersing themselves in Bible study. As the men shared their stories, the house seemed more and more like a place for individuals who have no place left to go. Please say a prayer for these men who are facing the truth about themselves and seeking to be transformed by God’s truth.
After visiting Orthodox friends in St. Petersburg, I returned home grateful for Al’s help and with a new appreciation for how difficult a place for ministry Russia remains. Yet it was encouraging to see how God continues to be at work, both through Protestant and Orthodox congregations. I am thankful for your support, and grateful for the opportunities that The Outreach Foundation has to encourage and support our partners in Russia – and to be encouraged by their faithful service.
Read more about the ministry of Davydovo Outreach to Children by clicking HERE.
Amount needed in 2016
The Outreach Foundation seeks to raise at least $850 per month for Davydovo Outreach to Children. To make a donation, click the Donate Now link in the sidebar.
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