Alan and Ellen Smith

Dear Friends and Family,

We send you our warmest greetings in these fluctuating days of German winter.

January, normally a quiet month, has been full of adventure. After the three week tour of programs for people with special needs in Wisconsin and Michigan, Father Vladimir and Ellen began to talk about a similar program in Germany. He continues to seek models to build his understanding of ministry possibilities for Russia, where they are so behind in this area of outreach. He wants his steps to be carefully planned and not stumbling. Resources are too valuable to waste with hurry. As Germany is so near, Father Vladimir was able to build a small delegation, including his daughter, Anastasia, who works with children with cerebral palsy, and another woman working with orphanages for the deaf and blind in Sergeiev Posad.  

We are deeply grateful to our colleague, Burkhard Paetzold, who helped us with contacts, as we worked on building the itinerary. Al does speak German, but there are issues of etiquette in this new culture that we were unsure of. In chatting with the various organizations we found online, Burkhard was able to add to the list of places we should visit. The scheduling was quite complicated, but in the end we had a very good plan.  

Over the course of four days, we visited four sites, one of them twice. We traveled to Saxony to visit Missions of Lieske, a farm and sheltered workshop that provides long-term care and employment for people with special needs. They have beef cattle and pigs, which they use to produce sausage and meat. They have a wood shop that produces lumber, as well as fencing and outbuildings. They have a fishery and a brewery as well. The clients are lovingly cared for and encouraged to reach their highest potential. When space opens up, they tend to take young people coming out of school, age 19 or 20. If an adult has lived his life with his parents until their death and then comes to Lieske at age 45 or 50, he struggles to adapt. He has often been too sheltered and too accommodated. When they come to Lieske, they come for life. Parents are welcome to visit, and the clients are able to go home for visits. For parents who worry about what will become of their children when they depart, places like Lieske are a huge blessing.

On our second day, we began in Potsdam at Oberlinhaus, visiting their school for special needs children and their rehabilitation center for people with traumatic brain injuries. After this, we drove to the small city of Furstenwalde to the ministry of Samariteranstalten, which has a long history of work with the handicapped. Scheduling for Samariteranstalten was complicated, so this was the first of two visits. Over the course of two days, we visited their long-term adult care facilities and talked about the issues they are trying to address - a school for children with special needs (boarding and day program) and their sheltered workshop (similar to what we saw in Green Bay at the ASPIRO program).  

Finally on Thursday, our last day, we traveled northeast of Berlin to Lobetal, an extensive farm/dairy and long-term care program for people with special needs. In all honesty, this day was a fiasco. We had a map to Lobetal on my computer, but as we passed through the center of Berlin, a stray wi-fi connection knocked my link out, leaving us completely blind.
Somehow, we found our way to the day’s translator and a McDonald’s, where I could reconnect, but we arrived an hour late (not appropriate in Germany). The person we had planned to meet had already left, but others in the dairy operation kindly sat down with us and answered all of Father Vladimir’s questions. Lobetal is an enormous program, serving some 950 clients. Father Vladimir, pictured here, and his colleagues are engaged in first steps. Lobetal is a mile down the road. Still, it was interesting and valuable.  

We are deeply grateful to the American Church in Berlin, the congregation we are a part of, for the use of the church van over the course of the week. So many people came together to make this visit a success, and we are grateful for the warm hospitality we received and the wealth of experience we were able to tap into.   

Ellen will return to Russia on the 19th to meet up with our dear friend and colleague, Gary Payton, for the transfer of duties. Gary retires from service as Regional Liaison on March 31. Ellen moved into this position on February 1. We have a lot to go over as we travel between Moscow and St. Petersburg, visiting partners. 

We would ask for your prayers for all the travel before us, for the upcoming post- orphanage conference in Smolensk, and for the discernment of our Russian colleagues as they sort through all that they have seen.  

Love and blessings,

Ellen and Al Smith

PS: We will both be in the United States in May for Meg’s graduation from Hastings College. If you would like to have a visit from one of us, please be in touch.