Alan and Ellen Smith
Dear Friends and Family,
Greetings from Berlin. I have been home for a week and a half, and Al flew to Russia this past Wednesday. He is meeting with Russian partners and will be attending Transfiguration Baptist Church’s 20th anniversary celebration in Oryol and then Saltykovka Baptist Church’s 30th anniversary celebration in Moscow region. In between, he gets to go to Davydovo for a few days. Rob and Terry Weingartner of The Outreach Foundation are currently in Davydovo helping out with the summer camp for handicapped youth and their families as part of Rob’s sabbatical.
For the moment, I am resting from my recent travels and helping to coordinate Al’s travels until I return to Russia at the end of June. We have a busy summer ahead. Two Roma camps are scheduled, and four teams arrive during the first two weeks in July. Emma, our daughter, will come to Russia to help as soon as her school is out.
My travels in May were very full. I arrived in Moscow just before Victory Day and got out of the city as fast as I could, heading to Kursk on Al’s behalf to help Andrey Beskorovaniy with camp preparations and applying for his visa. Andrey, the Roma pastor, has been invited to the U.S. for the International Peacemaker’s Program this fall. He will be traveling with Al. Andrey is a dynamic speaker and musician and has much to share about the Roma in Russia. From Kursk, I returned briefly to Moscow before heading to St. Petersburg to welcome the women’s group organized by The Outreach Foundation to see the ministry in Russia. Marilyn Borst and I co-led our team of eight.
In St. Petersburg we did some sightseeing, but also visited with Father Alexander Sorokin of the Fyodorovskaya Cathedral. This is a church that during Soviet times was used as a milk factory. It took years for the eparchy or diocese in St. Petersburg to get it back, and, as Father Alexander shared with us, what they got back was not a church. The cupolas had been removed and the interior gutted and restructured. They have been working on the massive renovations for the last eight years, while building the congregation in a small church constructed on the property in the 1990s, the Church of the New Martyrs. Father Alexander’s church has a great outreach to young people, hosting many small discussion groups. They hope to finally be in the cathedral later this year.
From St. Petersburg, we traveled to Davydovo, the village in the Yaroslavl region. We were able to worship with the congregation, see the social ministry, and spend time with Father Vladimir talking about rebuilding the life of the community. From Davydovo, we traveled to Moscow and spent time with the staff of the Narnia Center - a publishing ministry that has also organized many seminars in children’s ministry through the years.
From Moscow, we traveled to Smolensk, visiting two of the orphanages that the Smolensk churches work with, spending time at the summer camp, and visiting the Katyn Memorial. You may remember Katyn as the site of the massacre of Polish officers by the Soviets at the beginning of World War II. In 2010, the Polish president and much of his cabinet died in a plane crash on their way to visit Katyn. Katyn is also a burial ground for repressed Soviet citizens, including many Christians who died for their faith.
Again and again, as we visited with these church communities, we heard stories of the cost of Soviet times - the terrible persecution, the fear and betrayal, and the damage it did to society. Father Alexander, Father Vladimir, the staff of Narnia Center, and Pastor Victor are all deeply engaged in reaching out to children and youth to restore what was lost. As we walked through Katyn forest, one of the members of our team asked Victor if he feared that what took place in Soviet times could happen again. Victor’s response was powerful, “After what we have been through, we are not afraid of anything.”
Our brothers and sisters in Christ in Russia know the valley of the shadow of death. They trust in the Lord and fear no evil. The summer ahead will be challenging, but it always fills us up again to be with our brothers and sisters in Christ. We look forward to the busy days.
Love and blessings,