Alan and Ellen Smith
Dear Friends and Family!
Warm greetings to you from rainy Berlin. The city’s climate reminds me of St. Petersburg’s - Baltic! We did have a brief bit of snow earlier in the week. Everyone hopes for more - a real winter.
I was in Russia at the beginning of January, where, though warmer than normal, they are still experiencing real winter. There was snow when I arrived and more fell over the course of three days. Moscow in the snow is beautiful, and out in the countryside, it is even more so.
I arrived on January 4 to catch up with John and Amy Ruby (Wellshire PC, Denver, Colorado), who were visiting their congregation’s partner, Golgotha Baptist Church, and to await the arrival of Chuck Hasty (FPC Columbus, Georgia), who was visiting his congregation’s partner, Good News BC in northeast Moscow. It was a wonderful but busy week, as I moved back and forth between the two partner churches and celebrated Christmas again and again. The Orthodox Church celebrates Christmas on January 7. The Baptists in Russia begin the celebration of Christmas on December 25 and continue through January 7 - a full two weeks, but it rarely stops then. Most will continue to celebrate our Savior’s birth throughout January. Fortunately, I found buses that traveled between the two churches efficiently. I think I attended four worship services (a total of nine Christmas sermons), a Christmas play by Golgotha’s youth, a tea for grandmothers at Good News, and an orphanage visit outside of Moscow. It was wonderful. It was a privilege to be present in the midst of these partners and watch as they deepened their connections through rich fellowship. With the departure of the American partners, I headed north, first to Davydovo with Deb Burgess, who is spending the year in Moscow with husband and daughter, and then on to Kostroma to catch up with partners there and work on plans for the spring and summer.
It is always a joy to be present in Davydovo and to share that place with friends. Deb had heard about Davydovo since I started going there, but this was her first chance to join me. We had tried to work something out in the autumn, but her schedule did not fit mine. The Christmas season in Russia is not a time for schedules. Work stops between January 1 and January 9. As I was bringing someone new, Father Vladimir took the opportunity to give us an excursion in Great Rostov, stopping for a visit with a monk at one of Rostov’s six monasteries. Father Seraphim was a very engaging host, asking many questions and giving his opinion on many subjects. There is no doubt of his love for Russia. The director of the Kremlin museums also had tea with us and offered us a private tour of the Rostov Kremlin, which we gladly accepted. It was a wonderful morning. Once we got to Davydovo, Father Vladimir had other guests visiting en route to Uglich, and he gave us all a tour of the different ministries in the village. Now Deb can bring her family up to visit when it works for their schedule. I will be back in Davydovo again in March. I find it difficult to stay away, and I have others to introduce to Father Vladimir.
In Kostroma, it was exciting to see how well a relatively new orphanage and post-orphanage ministry is developing. They were able to put on a VBS type program at the orphanage over the holidays and are looking at a summer version later in the year. They visit regularly and are developing close relationships with the children and the staff. Our friends, Piotr and Olga, were at the post-orphanage conference in Smolensk a year ago and have taken the call to this ministry very seriously. They are working with six graduates now, two of whom come regularly to church. They look forward to the next conference, which we hope will be in the fall. We had planned to hold it in March, but schedules won’t allow it then.
I had hoped to travel to Kursk and Vyazma as well, but my time ran out. I have an invitation for Maslenitsa in February (the week before the great fast celebrated with lots of bliny - Russian pancakes). It would give me the opportunity to make some of the other trips that I could not manage this time, so I am considering it, but it promises to be a very busy spring, so…we shall see.
We are a part of a large team that serves throughout the world. You are all a part of that team, too. We hope you feel connected to the ministry. The patterns of support for missions have changed greatly. Your support is even more important now than in the past. If you are able to contribute to our support, we would be very grateful.
We hope you carry the light of Christmas with you and that you have greeted the New Year with joy and expectation.
Love and blessings,