Alan and Ellen Smith - October 2017 Update
Regional Liaison for Eastern Europe
After a very busy summer in Russia, Ellen and I are back in the U.S.A. for a couple of months of mission interpretation, combined with a bit of family time and the Russia Mission Network meeting in Pittsburgh at the end of September. Although we have been somewhat overtaken by events over the past few weeks, it is high time to tell you about this year’s Roma children’s camp.
All of the camping programs of our Russian partners have been affected by new legal stipulations. After several tragic mishaps that occurred last summer in secular camps, the state has become much more stringent in enforcing various safety, health and sanitation rules involving children’s camps. These rules can be very specific and sometimes unrealistic especially when the camp involves children staying in tents rather than in fixed cabins. In many cases, children are living in homes that could not meet the requirements set by these rules. There are seemingly rules for everything, from how close together kids can sleep in a tent to how many hours per day they must sleep. Our use of a boat to ferry kids 30 yards across a stream to the campsite (to keep them, and their stuff, from getting soaked) undoubtedly violates a whole list of rules, despite the fact that adults literally guide the boat by hand for the entire voyage. The authorities claim to be enforcing these rules evenhandedly, but all of the publicized cases involve camps operated by Protestants.
The recent changes in Russian law regarding evangelism make any outreach to unchurched people outside of church premises much more complicated. The exact scope of the new law and how it will be enforced in different communities is still largely unknown, which has led to a great deal of caution on the part of Russian Protestant congregations.
In spite of these problems, our colleague Andrey was determined to have a camp experience for the children in the Roma community. Moreover, it seemed appropriate to pass on the responsibility for running the camp from Andrey and his son to Ruslan, who has been an integral part of the camp staff over the past several years. However, it seemed prudent not to have me stay at the camp, lest there be a visit by the authorities. Instead, I stayed at Andrey’s house – except for one visit to camp in the middle of the week – and helped out with feeding and watering the livestock.
Fortunately, everything worked without a hitch. The weather, which had been miserably cold and rainy for the week prior to camp, improved although it was too cold for the kids to swim as much as they would have liked. Every day there were Bible lessons focused on the theme of “God’s love for us,” and activities to go along with the lessons. The cool weather did not hinder the traditional round of lobbing water balloons back and forth across a volleyball net. The winning team stays dry; the losers get wet. Or is it the other way around? I was playing, too and have not figured out whether I was a winner or a loser.
The importance of these camps for Roma children is immense. Andrey reports that many children came to know about God through the Bible lessons, that many children learned to pray, and that many children learned a sense of order that they previously lacked. Furthermore, he points out that the staff of the camp were all once campers in similar camps who had come to accept Christ in their lives. In many cases, entire families come to Christ because of efforts to reach the children.
Andrey asks that we pray for the needs of his ministry, specifically for a more reliable vehicle to use on evangelization trips and for the camp. His current van is reaching the end of its useful life and needs frequent repairs.
Andrey’s camp would not have been possible without support from Presbyterians. Even though many of us cannot be present physically in camp, we can participate in the work of the camp through our prayers and financial support.
Likewise, Ellen and I are able to be present in Russia only because of the support and prayers of other Presbyterians. We are extremely grateful to those who support our work; if you are not currently supporting us, we would ask you to prayerfully consider doing so.
May God bless you and all of your endeavors.
Al and Ellen Smith
Read more about the Smith's ministry by clicking HERE.
The Outreach Foundation is seeking $20,000 for support funds for Alan and Ellen Smith.