Alan and Ellen Smith
Dear Friends and Family,
Greetings to you from Berlin, where we recently moved! Emma, in the 9th grade, started school at the John F. Kennedy School - a German public school founded 50 years ago to bring German and American children together. There was a large American population here at that time with the Berlin Brigade, an American garrison in West Berlin. The experiment, which began with 50 children, has thrived, and now the school is the largest in the city. We are deeply thankful that Emma has a place there.
It has been an unforgettable summer. Sometimes I have to look back at my calendar and pictures to remember the details. The MacPherson Presbyterian Church team arrived, and two days later we all headed to Oryol for their yearly baptism on the river. I then returned to Moscow to continue sorting. While at camp, Meg got sick. Emma rose to the challenge and did a great job of translating and taking care of her sister. The team did a great job, too. We had MacPherson’s pastor, Jim Randall, two men that have spent the last three years helping with renovations of a house the church purchased as a base for the camp, and five youth who participated in all the camp activities. This relationship has been growing over the course of 13 years. The bonds between members of the two churches are deep and wide. MacPherson has invited the church in Oryol to send three people to North Carolina next summer to participate in their mission trip to a work camp in West Virginia. We are all excited about the prospect.
In the midst of my sorting and packing, I found a couple of days to go to Davydovo and spend some time in the camp for handicapped children and their families and to talk with Father Vladimir and some of the staff about their hopes and dreams for the camp and for community projects. Davydovo is a place I am drawn back to continually. It was a dying village until Father Vladimir and his family, with the help of many friends and some of the villagers, began to restore the church which after 70 years of neglect was in ruins. The community that came out of this experience looked around at the needs of the village and began to respond. They established a kindergarten, an elementary school for children struggling in regular classrooms, a shelter for teenage boys, and restored the farm, providing work for the community.
The camp for handicapped children and their families is another response to the needs they have seen around them. They are planning to establish a center for the handicapped and to think about the issues families fear most – what happens to the children when their parents die. Father Vladimir has asked me about the possibility of visiting some facilities for handicapped adults as they think about this issue. I would be grateful for any suggestions of places to visit.
We are looking for people to participate in one of the two camp sessions next summer. They are always looking for volunteers and would welcome an American group. They had some Romanians this year. The only common language was English. They managed. This would be an extraordinary experience for anyone. It is a place that restores the soul.
We had a team from Crestwood Presbyterian Church come to visit their partner in Kirovo-Chipetsk. Gordon Shaffer, the leader of that team, has been coming to Russia as long as I have, so he is quite comfortable taking his groups out there without our assistance. They had a great visit, and we had time to connect when they returned to Moscow.
I return to Russia soon to be with a team coming from Omaha, Nebraska to visit their partner church in the village of Gnozdovo. They will help out with an end of summer VBS and with celebrations for the opening of school at a nearby orphanage/boarding school.
The Russian Mission Network is coming up very soon. This year it will be held in Omaha from September 22-24, 2011. We have several Russian participants this year. It is always a powerful time of fellowship, exploring best practices (and not-so-good ones) and sharing what is happening in different parts of Russia. Please consider joining us. Everyone that comes adds something important to the whole. Let me know if you would like contact information.
From Al, writing to update us all on Roma issues, and sharing about the Roma camp:
Our ministry work with the Roma people took a back seat temporarily because of the move, but it continues. Ellen departs for her first of many trips to Moscow, as all three of us get accustomed to this new model for her ministry. Meanwhile, I am exploring my new assignment. Officially, I am now the “Coordinator for Minority Outreach/Evangelism,” in partnership with the Berliner Missionswerk. Last week Ellen and I and my Regional Liaison, Burkhard Paetzold, met with Wolfgang Iskraut of Berliner Missionswerk to discuss ways we might work together. I am sure there will be many such meetings, since this is a new position and no one knows exactly what it should look like. Sometimes I wish for the certainty that I used to have teaching math in the same classroom every day, but I am looking forward to the challenges ahead.
Meanwhile, back in Russia, our brothers and sisters, both Roma and Russian, continue to work to bring the Good News to Roma communities there. I have been receiving updates all summer from our colleague Andrey Beskorovainiy regarding his work. His most recent email included news from the children’s camp he put on in June outside of his home city of Kursk. This is the second summer they have put on the camp – last summer they barely had 30 kids in camp, because Roma parents are typically reluctant to leave their children in the care of others. However, after the success of last year’s
camp, he quickly had over 50 children sign up for this year’s camp. Despite constant rain that forced the camp, which was originally scheduled for 10 days, to close after only four days, Andrey regards the camp as a success. He writes that the kids helped and supported each other in spite of the weather, and that they were eager to pray in public.
In addition to evangelizations, summer camps, pastoring his own congregation, and farming to support his family, Andrey is also the main force behind the semi-annual leadership conferences for leaders active in Roma ministry. May’s conference was dedicated to the theme “Bible, Sin and Salvation,” with guest lectures addressed to that theme. As always, much time was also devoted to worship and praise, as well as planning for the coming months. The next conference will take place November 4-6, also in Kursk, and we ask for your prayers that this conference will be as successful as the one in May. I would also ask for your prayers for Andrey. Although he is a man of immense strength and energy, the multiple demands on him have been wearing him down. He was briefly hospitalized this summer for exhaustion. Please pray that God would give him both strength and wisdom to pace himself.
Love and Blessings,
Alan and Ellen