Thursday, August 7, 2008

God is love.

The following blogs were posted during my two month trip to Russia. During my time in Russia I worked with the United Methodist Church in Otradney, (a drug and alcohol rehab center in)Samara, (our church camp in) Voronezh, Moscow, Kirov, and Syktyvkar.

I tried to record my day to day activities, primarily through the stories of events and the lives of people around me. The blog is in reverse order, so you might want to start from the last page and work your way back through.

If you have any questions about my time in Russia you can e-mail me at

Love, Michael Airgood.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

(Ludmilla Garbuzova teaching the youth from her church.)

(One of the Russian youth leaders we worked with, Pasha.)

(Ludmilla Garbuzova standing in front of the stained glass windows at the art&design college where Moscow First meets each week.)

The youth camp was a great experience. There were about 20 Americans and 20 Russians. We met up with the Americans before the camp and did a little planning. The Russian youth were great. Some were Christian and some were decidedly not-Christian. It was difficult to speak to both audiences.

We told the kids about Jesus. It sounds so simple, and it really is that simple. We took a week, we got to know the youth, and we told them the good news.

Because it really is that simple. That's what it's all about.

We spent a lot of time investing in the future leaders in Russia. We want to make sure that if we (the Americans) can't make it next year, that the Russian leaders know they could have the camp without us.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

(This is a picture of me and American friends wearing large Russian hats. No one in Russia wears large fur Soviet hats.)

I love international travel because you lose any notion of time you ever had. My computer tells me that it is Saturday, and I simply have to believe it for lack of a better source!

Last Sunday I woke up after sleeping in for several hours. I rolled out of bed, brushed my teeth, and went downstairs to the Korean church. I had spent the night at the United Methodist Seminary and it is home to at least 4 different churches. The First Service Sunday Morning (some time around noon or thereafter) was in Korean. The Koreans re-started the Methodist church in Russia over twenty years ago. There were many United Methodist Koreans living in the Soviet Union and they petitioned the government to allow them to meet. They were allowed access to a small concert hall with a very large statue of Lenin on the front platform. Some Sundays the Korean-Russians would cover the statue with a sheet ... after the fall of communism they moved the statue off of the stage for Sunday morning worship. They invited Russian-Russians and eventually planted the first Russian-Russian United Methodist churches. So we owe a lot to the Koreans, and attending their church service was a fun experience.

(The Korean churches' Sunday School.)

The Pastors Shishkin from Syktyvkar happened to be in Moscow that Sunday and were the featured preachers for the morning. The Korean churches visit Syktyvkar every summer (they never visit during the 9-10 month snowy season!) and on their last visit they gave money for a new air-conditioner. Haha. (The church used the money to install central heating as their building had used three different wood stoves.)

After Korean worship, I went with my Seminary student friend, Katya Li, to Ludmilla Garbuzova's church. Katya doesn't speak a word of English, and she continually encourages me in my Russian studies. She speaks with simple words and sentence structure and it feels great to understand and be understood. She tells me I have a "hot heart." I think the same about her - but more so.

The art and design college where Ludmilla's church normally meets isn't available during the summer so they do home churches. This particular Sunday it was just the youth at Ludmilla's flat. More than twenty of them (not all, she assures me) gathered in her comparatively large flat (Ludmilla had been an important government official before she became a Christian pastor - one perk of government service is incredibly spacious apartments! 5 rooms!) for worship and preparation for camp. She teaches on trendy clothes and the idea that God looks on the inside and that it is our heart that must be adorned - by faith. She held the room's attention - effortlessly going into long discussions with different youth about difficult topics. Several of her youth are orphans. Most of them aren't necessarily Christian - they are just lonely and crave a loving atmosphere. Ludmilla is altogether a realist ... after the sermon, when we were discussing camp, she said, "How many of us smoke?" More than half the room raised a hand. "Well, this week would be a good time to quit, but if you're going to smoke be polite to others and the environment. Smoke in the woods as a group and don't litter the butts." Could you imagine a pastor in the states saying that?!

On Monday we went to the youth camp. Our friend from Kirov, Zina, came to the camp and I met her at the train station and I brought her to the camp. We spoke entirely in Russian and when, most of the way to the camp, I called Kira and spoke in English half of the train turned to stare. They had heard my heavy accent, but American accents are rare and they probably assumed I was from Europe. They were more than a little suprised to learn that an American knew more than tourist phrases! Zina laughed harder than acceptable in Russian and I joined her.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Well, I am officially back in the states. Pastor Kira helped me find the airport yesterday morning. We left the camp at 6AM. It took 3 hours to get to the airport ... by taxi, metro, and train. I made all three of my connections and am safely in Boston with my sister.

I will try and post some pictures before too long, so feel free to check back.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

This could potentially be my last post from Russia. I'm sitting in a McDonald's using the free Wi-Fi with my seminary friend Katya Li. Life in Moscow is good. Expensive, but good. I am going to the Methodist Youth Camp tomorrow. It promises to be an amazing time. I probably won't have internet in the forest.

Katya Li in front of a great reflective building.

I am flying home on the August 1st. Please remember to pray for me that day. I will spend some time with my sister, then time with my family, and then back to Toccoa August 20th (or there abouts!)

I will post some fun stories when I get back to the states (probably during my 8 hour layover at JFK.) Including: Korean church, Syktyvkar internet problems, Souvenier shopping adventures, more American interaction, etc. Can't wait to tell you more. Love, Michael.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

On Saturday we had an all church work day. We are preparing the church for the long winter months by chopping a lot of wood. We ripped out an old fence to put up a new one. The church building is a two story log-cabin type building with doors only five feet tall to keep the heat in during the winter. It’s a really cute little church. The people are great and I love the pastors. The pastors are husband and wife and they have done an excellent job planting a church here. When they first came there were no Protestant churches in Syktyvkar.

Pastor Olga with the special-needs daughter of a church member

On Sunday we went to church. The average age of the church in Syktyvkar is around 30. The pastors are the 3rd and 4th oldest members of the church! We are staying at the home of one of the families. Ksusha speaks English and her mother and grandmother are at their summer cottage ... so it's essentially a college dorm set up. It's been great. Ksusha was the second youth to come to the church and after 8 years almost her entire class is active at the church. Amazing story. Ksusha made me share my testimony in Russia again, this time with an audience of more than 20 people. I was so nervous, but I made it through it.

On Monday we went to the village. We visited a Komi church. It was a wonderful experience. We prayed and sang hymns in English, Russian, and Komi (and Lauren sang a song in Spanish!) The pastors made me share my testimony in Russian for the third time this week. After church was over we walked to the river. Three Americans and a gaggle of old Komi women played and splashed in the river for over an hour. It was so funny. The pastor of the church is a niece of the first Komi Christian. He spent 30 years translating the Bible into Komi. She held up the Bible and said, "We are so proud to have the Bible in our own language." We had tea and the Komi women tried to teach us some of the Komi language. It was worth a try!

(This woman is 78 and she does all of the work around the church.)

(Pastor Olga made sure to get a picture of me sharing my testimony.)

(This is the pastor of the Komi church holding up the Komi Bible.)

Well, time is flying by here in Syktyvkar. It’s hard to believe that tomorrow is our last full day here. We will have a 26 hour train ride to Moscow leaving at 7AM on Thursday!

On Tuesday we went to the art gallery and then had another all church work day. The church is almost ready for the winter ... and I'm almost ready for bed.

With Love, Michael.

Friday, July 18, 2008

I had a really exciting day. We met some of the youth from the Methodist church in Syktyvkar and went for a walk. After lunch we went to the house of one of the youth. Dima is handicapped. He can sit up for 2 hours sometimes, but he is usually bedridden. He is in his mid-twenties and maybe 3 or 4 feet tall. He does a lot of the technological work for the church. He lives a life full of joy and enthusiasm for the cause of Christ. We watched different plays the youth had done for church that he had videotaped. Every video was underscored by his high pitched squeals of laughter and delight. It was truly one of the most inspiring experiences of my life. (Branden, Lauren, and me with Dima at church) We began sharing our stories of how we came to faith. Ksusha was invited to church by the new girl in school. Anya was invited by Ksusha. Vica was invited by Anya. Dima became a Christian after the people from church would come and spend time with him every week. When it was my turn to share how I came to faith Ksusha said, "Michael will share his story in Russian." It might have been a joke, I don't know. I do know that I did it. I gave my testimony in Russian. I needed help with a few words, and I'm sure it wasn't pretty - but I shared my life story in Russian. I almost cried when I finished - partially because I was so happy and felt such accomplishment and partially because I was so touched by the whole experience. So that's where I'm at right now. I'm living in a beautiful little city where night doesn't begin until 2 AM and I wake up to the sunshine in the morning. I'm getting by with my Russian language - it's difficult and ugly, but it passes with a little help from my friends. I'm surrounded by beautiful people of tremendous faith. I love and miss all of you, and am so grateful for the continued prayer. Love, Michael.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Brandon, Lauren, and I are headed to Syktyvkar in the morning. It's only 8 hours by bus. I don't know if we will have internet access there. I have been pleasantly suprised everywhere else in Russia, but that isn't a guarantee.

So, here are a few prayer requests in case I am without internet.

Pray that we will find purpose. We don't know what we are going to be doing there.

Pray for understanding. There are a few girls in the church who can speak some English, but it won't be like Kirov where Kira Volkova could effortlessly translate for us.

Pray for joy. We will be leaving a very happy home and dear friends to go into the Siberian wilderness. I'm sure we will be pleasantly suprised, but prayer won't hurt.

Love, Michael.

(Kira with our small friend Sonya.)

My time in Kirov has been a tremendous blessing to my life. There isn't one particular story that stands out, or one incident that is easily shared; instead it is the culmination of small events in daily life that point to God.

The work in Kirov isn't easy. Kira told me that, on paper at least, there has been a Methodist church in Kirov for 12 years. The church was non-existent when she showed up 2 years ago. The average attendance at the Sunday morning worship service is 4 or 5. If numbers were the primary indication of God at work, Kira and Kirov would be dismissed quickly. I wish I had the words and the time to explain the daily ministries of Kira Volkova. We have seen a glimpse of this ministry.

Yesterday we went to the children's ward of the hospital and told a Bible story. We made a craft. Kira and I were late meeting the rest of our group, but as we turned onto the long silent road leading to the hospital our quickened pace began to slow. She said, "I always pray when I walk this path. I pray out loud because on Saturday the road is empty. Will you join me, today?" We prayed for the children, their moms, and the nurses. We spend time meeting and sharing the faith with college students. Most of them are almost completely closed to the gospel message.

Kira has one of the hardest jobs imaginable, and I'm so incredibly proud of her obedience. I'm so proud that she was willing to leave everything behind to be exiled to a small city 14 hours North of Moscow to start a church. She went to the state appointed accountants office today to go over the books. Every day she is in ministry to those around her.

Her roomate, Zina, became a Christian in December. Zina is a ball of energy, so thirsty and hungry for God. Zina is a wonderful artist, and this week she made portaits of all of us. Zina is all the proof I need that there is hope for Kirov and for Pastor Kira Volkova's ministry here.

(Kira's roomate Zina, while painting a portrait of me.)

Monday, July 14, 2008

I think that all church planters should be assigned an adorable puppy. The work in Kirov is all about making new connections and talking with people. We speak English loudly until someone comes up to us who knows English and joins our conversation. We carry our puppy around until someone comes over to pet her and we begin a conversation. Kira does hopsital ministry and children's Sunday School. She keeps an open house and serves dinner for 12. Kira leads Bible studies comprised of people she has met and began conversations with. Yesterday, on Sunday morning, we met Vova and Victor. They are both new Christians who have come to know the saving grace of God because Kira was sent to Kirov. Every night we go out on the town and talk to people who speak English. We try and guide our conversations toward important matters. We usually meet some new people. Tonight we will go out for dinner with friends and then learn how to play Russian billiards.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Brandon, Zina, Lauren, and Kira.

I survived a night in the forest with pentecostal youth. Now, in Russia, the United Methodist church and the pentecostal church are practically indistinguishable. We both gather our members from the fringe of society and we both have female pastors. The churches in Russia work well together - except the Baptists, who are pretty angry that we have female pastors.

The night in the forest was great. They set up a bunch of tents in the middle of the woods near a lake. It was a lot of fun.

I talked with one of the boys who wants to be a pastor. His name is Michaiel. I called him "Michael also" as that was how he introduced himself to me. We talked for about an hour, in Russian. It was difficult, but we managed. We had a good laugh about all of the mildly inappropriate words I learned when I studied here in Russia. I've wanted to ask someone who wouldn't be offended which words are actually bad and which words are just impolite. I have it figured out, now. He is a great kid, with a great future. His dad was a gangster before he became a Christian.

We had an outreach concert. We all went out into the community and invited people. I went with the boy who plans on being a pastor, and a boy with a whole bunch of facial piercings, Yurah. We walked for about a mile before we came to any houses, and Michaiel went to the next set of houses. Yurah and I went from house to house talking with people. Obviously, Yurah did all the talking and I prayed. Yurah told me on the walk home that he was a new Christian and this was the first time he had ever shared his faith. It was really exciting to share in that time.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

I'm currently in Kirov - a large university city. Kirov is a young city, full of hopes and dreams. Kira Volkova, who spoke during the young adult address at our General Conference this year, is planting a new church here.

I'm with Brandon and Lauren, two great college kids from Auburn. They have a really fun dynamic and are up for anything. I think Kira's only problem is that we're so chill and up for anything that she has to make all the decisions. Haha.

This town is also very trendy. None of my clothes will cut it. We have been shopping at all of the second hand stores, but I will have to buy jeans in a normal store ... I will spend at least $100 (a gift from my parents!) to buy something trendy in my size. If I can find any.

Last night we went to the city center and sat under Lenin's statue and talked with people. It was amazing. We are doing a children's camp, hospital ministry, and Sunday school for children in the next few days.

Love, Michael.
I added some pictures to a few of the posts ... so I advise people to go through and look for added pictures. They're nothing special, but it adds a dimension. _ Michael.

A picture from Voronezh.

Church on Sunday was a great experience. Our group of Americans went to Moscow First UMC. The pastor of this church is Ludmilla Garbuzova. She compiled the Russian UM hymnal, and wrote many of the original songs. The church meets in an elementary school during the school year. During the summer they meet in small groups in peoples' homes.

We went to Ludmilla's home. The service was wonderful. Full of singing and young people. Ludmilla preached with so much expression that the translator was rather unnecesary. After the service we had lunch together.

Before I left we had prayer together for the rest of my trip.

It was one of those perfect moments. They gathered around me. They prayed for me. Ludmilla prayed in Russian. She and I had just discussed the possibility of pushing for a church plant in Konakovo.
"Bless him, Father."
Ludmilla is one of the best Methodist pastors in Russia.
"Use him, Lord."
She has made the Russian Methodist Church a singing church.
"Keep him safe."
Ludmilla's family is from Konakovo and she returns there often and knows many people.
"He is our brother and we love him."
I recommended Katya, a seminary student from Ludmilla's church, as the person to start the new church. I pledged my full support.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

The camp watchdog, Chappa, gaurding the front door to the hotel.

All of us together worshipping around the campfire at the church camp in Voronezh.

The moment I saw Zhenya, I saw a pastor. Zhenya is one of the youth from Resurection church in Voronezh. He isn't even one of the most committed youth ... but every time I talked with Zhenya I had an overwhelming sense that he would make a great pastor ... and an overwhelming urge to tell him as much.

So, on one of our last nights I invited him to go for a walk with me. I brought along one of the interpreters because I knew my Russian isn't great and because the things I wanted to tell Zhenya sounded strange in any language.

We talked for over an hour. Our lives are so very similar. I think that if I wasn't the exact person I am, I wouldn't have connected with Zhenya at all. We talked about faith and following the rules and so many things that I could tell were so important to Zhenya.

It was one of those perfect missionary moments where everything seems to come together. It was one of the best conversations I've every had in any language.

He had never thought about being a pastor before. The thought is in his mind now!

Katya (a seminary student who wants to start new churches), Me, and Zhenya.
I'm in Kirov already. Suprises can be fun. I'll explain that in a later post. I can't leave everyone with no details from my time in Voronezh.

The United Methodist Church camp in Voronezh is beautiful. It's in a secluded area of the national forest, just up the hill from the river. It has a few older soviet style buildings ... it will take a good bit of work to repair them, but it will be worth it. There are a ton of cabins and an entire campground just for children. There is so much potential.

I was part of a mission work trip comprised of 7 Americans and 6 Germans. The Germans spoke wonderful English for the most part, and any German that came back was used only in a joking, non-necessary way. The Germans were extreme people. Up at 6AM for a swim in the river and prayer before breakfast. They worked circles around the Americans. I miss them much.

A few days into our work a youth camp began. It was American and Russian with a great group of kids and adults from Alabama. I have been invited to spend a long weekend in their town by several people! It was great fun to spend time with Russian Methodist youth. I had a great conversation with one of the boys, which I will blog about later.

Here's my blog schedule:
Conversation with boy at camp
Church on Sunday Morning
Getting to Kirov

In that order. Love, Michael.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Quick Update

I have had a wonderful time working on buildings at the beautiful camp Krystall in Voronezh, Russia. What a great time working with Russians, Americans, and Germans. I have really funny stories, and in a few days I should have near daily internet access again. Be patient and you should hear them all.

I'm heading to Moscow tonight, Konakovo in a few days, and Kirohv on the 8th. It should be a good time of travel.

Love, Michael.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

The church sign in front or Ressurection church.

Church was a wonderful experience. I attended Church of the Ressurection in Voronezh today. It is a great little church. Almost a dozen of the young adult leaders were absent today, but there was still a majority of youth. There were many visitors today as the youth camp starts tonight in Voronezh, and people who are coming from far away came in last night.

Yulia, who was an exchange student in Kane, met me at church. She could have done a much better job at translating, and she chuckled a few times. But the service was very good and she also enjoyed it.

There are many African students learning Russian, and I believe they all worship at this church. We sang songs, prayed, and read scripture in Russian, French, German, and English. The pastor used to work at the university teaching Russian - I think it is a great testimony that many staff members have followed her here!

The African students regularly sing together for worship.

The camp is beautiful. There is still much work to be done, but it's in a beautiful location just up the hill from one of the cleanest rivers in Russia. I have been swimming every day, some days twice. I swam last night in the rain. It was great.

My Russian, although ugly and minimal, is passing. I sometimes feel like I am playing a great trick on people ... but then I remember that I really do speak Russian and I really am communicating with them. I've come a long way in a short time with this language stuff - I have a long way to go to consider myself "conversational" - but I feel your prayers.

I am reminded every day by the confirmation of God that I am called to be a missionary. That's what this internship is all about ... to make sure that this is what we want to do with the rest of our lives. Quite frankly I couldn't imagine doing anything else!

Love, Michael.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

I'm having a great time in Voronezh. We are working on a building that was in shambles when we got here. It's starting to look pretty good. There's a lesson in that somewhere.

It's been fun to be surrounded by Americans. It's an interesting mix. Church in 6 minutes. Gotta run. Much love, Michael.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

So, funny story. I read the times wrong on my train ticket. Now, thankfully I gave my ticket to a Russian person a few days ago so they could plan when to take me to the train station. I assumed when we left the house several hours earlier than I expected that we would make several stops and visit several people on the way. I was more than a little embarrased when I realized that my train would arrive in Moscow at 8 AM ... that I would have 12 hours to find the next train station and that I had no plans in the meantime.

So, I'm at the seminary now. I went to the bookstore that sells English language books and bought enough for the next week. (I had finished all of the books I brought with me and had begun to read footnotes and index pages on all of them!) One of the girls from the seminary will be on the same train as me tonight, so we will walk to the train station tonight.

My Russian is passable. As long as I know the person, the person is willing to try very hard to understand, the person is not afraid to act out any word I don't know, and the person can understand when I act out words. My Russian is passable.

Love you all, Michael.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Hello dear friends,

I leave in about 2 hours for the train station. I have an overnight train ride to Moscow. In Moscow I will fight rush hour traffic on the metro (with all of my luggage) to get to a different train station where I will meet a team from America. Then I will take an overnight train to Voronezh.

I have no idea how often I will find internet there - it could be everyday, I have been pleasantly suprised every stop so far. But, with a team of 10 Americans, I doubt that we will all get to use it every day. We will be working to repair buildings at the newly purchased United Methodist church camp. I'm very excited about it. This will be the location of all of the annual conferences for Russia eventually. It's very exciting work.

Just in case I will leave you with some prayer requests.

* Pray that I make all of my connections (as I don't have my ticket, my team does.)
* Pray that we accomplish a lot.
* Pray for the Tver church. I love the city of Tver (having visited it on my first trip to Russia) and I found out this week that the Tver church has an average weekly attendance of 3.
* Pray that some of my german will come back (I took 3 years in high school) and it would be nice to remember simple phrases since half of our team will be East German.

I pray for all of you, that transitions will be smooth and that God will keep on showing signs of hope.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

This isn't a staged picture. When Anna (the woman in charge of the center) talks, people listen.

Gala is one of the workers, she bakes great pastries!

This picture was posed. Haha.

I've had a rough couple of days here. I have been sick. My boss said that it was probably bad strawberries. She was sick too. I imagine it was the cold liver paste I ate for breakfast the other day, but no matter. I was sick. Now, these next two sentences might seem strange, but they're both true. I never have any time to myself. I'm incredibly lonely.

I was more than a little depressed the other day, what with being sick and feeling very alone. It's difficult to not be able to express - I'm an expressive person and it kills me to only communicate on a basic level. I read Dostoyevsky and Pushkin at night to combat this, but it still doesn't make me feel like I have communicated.

I'm no mother Teresa. I don't have that SupraCompassion that she exhibited. One of the patients at the Rehab center cut himself ... now 50-80% of the patients have AIDS and I don't know which ones do and which ones don't ... and I absolutely panicked. I watched him struggle to open a bandaide for 5 minutes without helping. Some days I wish I had that extreme level of compassion ... but most days it simply isn't there.

Love, Michael.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

To all of my Supporters

Russia is a vast country and I am just beginning to explore! I have slept in 10 different beds these last 20 nights. Here’s a little update on what I have been doing these last few days. For more stories and updates you can visit my blog at

I spent a few days getting adjusted to culture and language by visiting old friends in Konakovo, where I was a high school exchange student. It helped to bring back many words. Language is still a daily struggle as I wasn’t that great three years ago when I left and haven’t studied since.

I spent one week in Otradney. Patrick Whaley and I helped run a children’s camp. The children were wonderful to work with – and the children’s director was superb. Every day she ran most of the programs, cooked two meals for 12 people, and scrubbed every floor in the church. She begged me to come back after I graduate, what an ego boost! We also spent time with the un-churched husbands of church women. The pastor translated for us. Our goal was for the men to get to know him. We succeeded and maybe a few of the men will join their wives in church.

Currently I’m working at a drug and alcohol rehabilitation center in Samara, Russia. There are a dozen people living at the center. It is a one year program. There is no smoking, drinking, cussing, sex, drugs or non-Christian music, TV, or movies. There is a lot of prayer. We wake at 6AM for prayer, breakfast, prayer, work, Bible study, lunch, prayer, work, dinner, and then the really intense prayer and Bible study begins. No fooling around after dinner – it’s a time for serious worship, prayer, and preaching. We go to bed after prayer, usually around midnight.

After church on Sunday, we went to a park to feed the homeless, as I have done on many youth trips. Arture and Andrey talked with two of the homeless men for quite a while. Arture shared his testimony of drug addiction and recovery. When our car came to pick us up I was very surprised when the two homeless men also got in the car. I couldn’t image where we would drop them off. Half-way home I realized these men were coming to the rehab center with us. I have few doubts that in a year both men will be drug and alcohol free, passionately serving the Lord. What a tremendous witness the United Methodist Church in Russia has; to not just feed the homeless but to offer them a new life!

A dacha is a country home surrounded by vegetable gardens. Every Russian who has shown me their dacha has faithfully pointed out every row and described what was planted where. I could care less. Here at the rehab center I have worked every day in our garden. I now understand why Russian people are so eager to share every row and plant with me – where I have seen endless greenery they see hard work, sweat, and blood. After putting in my own time in the garden, I get it. I hope in this letter you don’t see row after row of meaningless activities, but that you can see a little bit of the hard work, sweat, and prayer that goes into every day.

Next week I will travel to Voronezh to work with a team of Americans remodeling the United Methodist church camp there. Following that I will be headed to Khirov – Kira Volkova is a 24 year old church planter working to start a church in Khirov. She is training university students to start and lead a small group – the goal is that when these students leave the university for home they will have the skills and faith to start small groups in every town and village across the region. It’s a brilliant strategy and reminds me a bit of how Methodism was founded. I and two Auburn students will be working with her for a few weeks. Love, Michael Airgood.

Friday, June 13, 2008

(Oleg, the man who speaks a little English, praying at night.)

My first day at the rehab center went well. We traveled to another rehab center to visit the people there and encourage them.

Anna, the woman in charge, tells me that our model is the first church as described in the book of Acts. We work very hard to ensure community - by praying together and reading the Bible every day. "Church isn't on Sunday, it's our life."

I had one of the best conversations of my life last night. It was one of the best because it was entirely in Russian and I understood almost everything, and I think that Ilya also understood. We talked about how we became Christians and that his brother isn't a Christian. We read the Bible together and talked about the verses. We prayed together. It was completely a "God moment" because my Russian is still barely passable.

(Me and a friend at one of the rehab centers.)

One of the men at the rehab center speaks a little english. He mispronounces almost every word, but he tries so hard and I'm quite good at guessing ... I can see it makes him so happy when he can communicate. I'm pretty sure that our language skills are on the same level, but people tell me that I speak quite well with very little accent ... and as long as people speak slowly, address me by name before asking questions, and use the forms of the words I know I can understand quite a bit.

At the end of the day I am so exhausted I can barely think, but I know that God has so much to teach me through these people and I don't want to miss out on it because I am lazy. I remind myself of the fact that if I wasn't lazy I could be communication much better by now ... it motivates me to work harder. I'm still lazy, but I'm doing better.

I have the slowest internet imaginable, so I probably will only post once a week, but keep coming back, I might suprise myself.

(the statue of Lenin on the grounds of one of the drug and alcohol rehab centers. Since the state still owns the grounds it can't be taken down.)

Pray that my Russian will improve and that my heart will grow. Love, Michael.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008


Lisa is eleven or twelve. She has pigtails and wears large bows in her hair, so it is easy to mistake her for eight. She's a little off. She talks loud, laughs louder, and doesn't quite fit in. She stumbles around during games, forgets simple rules, and occasionally cries when the boys tease her. She also makes new friends quickly and easily.

When we read "You Are Special" by Max Lucado, Lisa quickly grasped the meaning of the book. I could see in her eyes that something had clicked.

We lunched with Lisa's grandparents anв mother yesterday. They like that Lisa is interested in God: it isn't for them, but they're glad she's having fun and doing good. Her grandfather said that Lisa can make friends with anyone. They just bought a new Dacha (a small wooden summer house surrounded by a quarter acre of garden) and already Lisa is friends with all of the other children who summer there. We gave Lisa's mother the Max Lucado book to give to Lisa.

Today Lisa's shoes broke during a game of soccer. Shoes in Russia are very expensive. They are the cheapest quality imaginable and go for almost as much as high-quality name brands in America. Lisa cried because she was afraid she would get in trouble. The Pastor asked me if I would buy her new shoes. Since Lisa's family doesn't go to church I wanted to make sure they were not angry at the church for playing rough games. I was more than happy to buy shoes for Lisa.

We walked for a quite a while to the nearest children's shoe store. Pastor Roman held her hand the whole way, like a good shepherd. We found a good pair for only $30 dollars. (Practically a miracle!) Lisa was so thrilled to have new shoes to replace the broken ones.

I see in Lisa a great future. I see a wonderful church planter - easily making friends and easily sharing the good news of a God who uses awkward people to accomplish great things. When she tried on the shoes I was reminded of a verse I love dearly ..., " How beautiful are the feet of those who bring the Good News." I pray that she will continue to grow in the faith in this church and will one day live out the great future God has planned for her - a future of bringing the good news to a people in need of hearing.

Monday, June 9, 2008

New Plans.

So, there have been some major changes in my itinerary. I bought plane tickets to St. Petersburg to attend their Annual Conference, but a new door has opened here and I will stay here.

For the next few days I will be working and living at a drug and alcohol rehabilitation center. Many of the people living there have HIV/AIDS. I've been told that we wake at 5AM to pray and then we begin work. I will have very limited computer access for a while, but will post any chance I get. I will also have very limited access to indoor plumbing, and will use that every chance I get.

I'm very excited about this oppertunity. Sometimes God throws you into the place where your heart desires. This is one of those times. Please pray that I may be effective. I have been working on my Russian every day, but I will have no one to translate for me and will need to totally depend on God to give me understanding.

Sometimes the Russian United Methodist Church is viewed as a cult by the Russian people. Today I have a better understanding of "why." The UMC in Russia believes in a God who transforms lives. The UMC in Russia believes in a God who sometimes asks us to sell everything and give it to the poor. The UMC in Russia believes in a God who sometimes asks us to open our home to the poorest of the poor, the weakest of the weak, and the sickest of the sick. The UMC in Russia believes in people who do this everyday. слава Бог!

Sunday, June 8, 2008

I think I'm teething. Yep ... I'm pretty sure my wisdom teeth are coming in. We start the children's camps tomorrow.

I had dinner with the Russian Elizabeth Taylor last night. Riiya looks like Liz Taylor and has the personality to match. She made a huge cake for us. Probably the biggest cake I have ever seen. The frosting was honey and butter. So tasty.

Riiya dances along with the music in the video of her brother's wedding.

We went to the river and had shishkabobs today. It was a great time and a lot of fun to meet all of the church women's husbands. There were 40 in worship this morning ... 5 of us male (2 americans 2 clergy and 1 husband) In Russia, church really is a woman's thing. But, we're working to change that.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Igor's parents, possibly the cutest people ever. We see where Igor gets his height!

This is Dmitry. I love how big I look in pictures "with the natives" Haha.

This is the picture of Jesus that hangs above my bed, an original hangs in the worship space in Toccoa.

This is the church building in Otratney. Very much like any Methodist Church in small town, USA. Isn't it?

Thursday, June 5, 2008

I'm a complex person. I need a great deal of encouragement to survive the difficulties of life. At home and at school I surround myself with people who build others up and generally avoid those who tear down. The downside of this, however, is that when I am away from that support system I need to find encouragement in other places.

I found that encouragement today. We drove several hours on busy highways to a little town off the beaten path call Otratney. The Methodist church building here looks like most Methodist churches in America. The largest problem is a lack of men in the church. We are here to try to engage a few of the men and get them in contact with the pastor. It's been a long time traveling and I was fairly discouraged. We are staying with the pastor, which is fine. I was quite surprised, however, when I went to my bedroom to see a familiar picture of Jesus hanging over my bed. The portrait of Jesus is a copy of the one that hangs in my church, which an artist did live, in front of my home congregation. I'm sure he does the same painting over and over, but I had never seen it before I started attending Toccoa First ... and here, in a little town off the beaten path - I find the same picture where I lay my head.

A strange thought occurred to me today. My mother tells me that my great grandmother belonged to the Salvation Army. When her oldest son came home with tales of being picked on for being in the "army of the Lord" they decided to go to a mainline church - the United Methodist Church. I grew up in this church, became a Christian in this church, and have chosen to follow God in vocation through this church. Here in Russia, because it is new and different it is sometimes viewed as a "sect" or a cult - how we might view the Jehovah's Witnesses. We fight against this designation every day. However, I notice the beautiful, gentle irony in the fact that it is precisely because my great grandmother left a church that was considered too abnormal that I stand here today telling Russian youth and young adults to join and stick with a church that many consider too abnormal. Only a God so big could orchestrate such a beautiful irony.

Love, Michael.
An excerpt (actually an entire blog) from my friend Meredith ... particularly pertinent in my life at the moment. Everything she writes, quotes, or finds amusement in is absolutely brilliant. Check it out at

"Think of God working in the solitary things, for the grass does not merely grow around our populous cities, and where men take care of it, but up there on the side of the bleak Alp, where no traveller has ever passed. Where only the eye of the wild bird has beheld their lonely verdure, the moss and the grass come to perfection, and display all their beauty, for God's works are fair to other eyes than those of mortals. And you, solitary child of God, dwelling far away from any friend, unknown and obscure, in a remote hamlet; or you in the midst of London, hiding away in your little garret, unknown to fame, and forsaken by friendship, you are not forgotten by the love of heaven. He maketh the grass to grow all alone, and shall not he make you flourish in loneliness? He can bring forth your graces, and educate you for the skies, in solitude and neglect."

- Charles Spurgeon, "Solitary Saints"

I am in Samara for the week. We rode an overnight train. We were met by the husband of one of the girls who has been to America before. Samara is a beautiful city with many old buildings. I'm having difficulty finding a converter to charge my computer, so no pictures yet. Sorry.

We will be working with children, youth, and men this week at a little church in the outskirts of town.

Next week we will fly to St. Petersburg. I can't wait to see that city I've heard so much about.

I'm having a wonderful time and enjoying everything I am doing. Love, Michael.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

I am leaving Moscow tonight. I am heading to Samara for a week. We will be working with a United Methodist Church that looks like a United Methodist Church in America. The town is very welcoming to Americans and the church - a far cry from the occasional attitude found in many places in Russia. I'm sure it will be a good trip.
From there we will be going to Saint Petersburg for the Saint Petersburg annual conference. I'm sure it will be really interesting. I've heard there will be a group from America and I will get to meet a missionary from England.

I'm not sure how much internet time I will get now that I am leaving the seminary in Moscow ... but I will try to update as often as possible. I'm more than a little sad to leave this place - here I have met my first United Methodist friends from Russia.

I have some exciting news from Konakovo ... I had planned on writing about it in detail, but simply haven't had the time. Yelena Nikolaevna, Lena as we all know her, has been baptized. She is the English teacher who came to my town twice and with whom I lived for a semester. She always told me that when she repented she would repent sincerely. I'm not sure if she was baptized into the Russian Orthodox church or the Baptist church, but I feel that she is very sincere in her new religious convictions ... she is less angry and less nervous. It is good to see that God changes hearts.

Love, Michael.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

My missionary arrived last night. I spent the entire morning walking around the Seminary here in Moscow looking for anyone who might be an American - we had never met nor seen any pictures of each other. We met in the stairway and talked for a few minutes before lunch. We were separated at the table and then rode the metro subway together. Not much face-to-face interaction yet.

I met the Bishop of Eurasia. He is a very interesting man who speaks English very well. I have been told that he is Swedish and that he was the bishop of Helsinki before becoming the bishop of Eurasia. He is working diligently on learning Russian. The current situation doesn't demand a working knowledge of Russian. Translators are fairly inexpensive and available, all of the missionaries (American and Korean) have a good understanding of English, most of the young pastors became Christians at camps centered around the English language and therefore know it well, and most business can be done in English. I would go nuts living somewhere if I didn't know the language, but for someone like my missionary who travels to 15 different countries with 10-12 different languages it is simply impractical. If he learned Russian and tried to speak it in Moldova the people would think he was partial to Russia.

I got lost in a rainstorm in Red Square. If I had been with someone I loved it would have been very romantic. There were couples making out everywhere. I know it isn't "the" city of love, but Moscow is, without a doubt, "a" city of love.

I read an article by Bishop Vaxby today about God's grace - it was very moving. He spoke of the reality that we must tell people that God loves them just where they are, but we must also "warn" them that God has a habit of changing people. I like this Bishop a lot ... I still will pray for more and stronger indigenous leadership, but I really like this Bishop.

Monday, June 2, 2008

June 2, 2008

Americanets. It's a familiar word - one I hear often. It is usually followed by snickering children and red-faced parents. Occassionaly it is accompanied by angry older faces or drunk wretched stares. I'm easy to pick out of a crowd.

I'm in that phase of living overseas where everything feels foreign but at the same time it all seems so normal. In Russian they have a phrase, "Shto, normalno." Maybe translated - and what's wrong with that?

The unceremoniously emptied beer bottles long before noon - Shto normalno.
A pink poodle - Shto normalno.
A train car full of students running to a different car to avoid the ticket-checkers - Shto normalno.

It's that feeling that I know something is wrong - something is outside of my norm; but I also know that everying is alright - maybe it's my norm that's wrong.

I love and miss all of you. My missionary arrives tonight - He will be the first General Board of Global Ministries (with whom I want to serve) missionary I have ever met. I'm very excited.

Love, Michael.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

I am safely in Russia. I had to find an un-marked building in the middle of the city after taking an un-marked bus to an un-marked metro station, standing in line for half an hour to buy one ticket, taking two transfers, and walking through a construction zone. Yep, I'm in Russia.

Pray that my Russian comes back quickly - I can't tell if the people I'm staying with are telling me I can only stay one night or I can stay as long as I want. Haha.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

I gave up my cell phone this morning. I feel as though I lack hands. Every few minutes I reach for my phone to call a friend or relative - to complain about a long line or relate a funny story about funny Finnish people and their tall, strange ways. I'm like a smoker who's just put down his last cigarette: I would give anything to use my cell phone one last time!

I'm sitting in a waiting lounge at beautiful JFK airport. Only a few more hours and I will be in Moscow. I'll try to get some sleep on the airplane - We will board at 1AM Russia time - a good time to fall asleep in any country or time zone.

I've had some bad news this week; one of my good friends from my older-adult Sunday School class had a massive stroke this weekend. The uncertainty is very hard on this traveler, but she is a wonderful Christian - and I realize that every time I leave this sort of situation is a possibility. I know we are only sad because we do not see the future.

Only a few more hours and one more layover and I will be in Russia. Still no word on getting picked up at the airport - I'm prepared for the bus/subway ride and walk. I mean, how lost could I possibly get in Moscow?

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Trip Outline

I have finally found out a little more about my time in Russia. Here is a quick update so everyone back home can have an picture of what I will be doing.

I will arrive in Moscow on Thursday. I will either be picked up by a seminary student or I will have to find the seminary by way of bus, subway, and walking. I'll find out which when I get there. Haha. I like spontenaity.

My missionary will arrive in Moscow on the following Tuesday - so I have a long weekend to get used to the time change, the city, and the language. I plan on taking a day trip to Konakovo (where I was an exchange student in high school) to let them know when I will be vacationing there.

Patrick Whaley and I will travel to Samara, Russia in early June and spend a few weeks there. We will work with a church in the area for a week, spend a week working with a drug rehab center, and a few other projects.

After that (on June 24th) I will travel to Moscow to meet up with a team of Americans and together we will travel to Voronezh to work at a United Methodist church camp. I will take a few days vacation to Konakovo to visit old friends.

My missionary will have returned to the states by this time - so I (and two other America college students) will be working with a United Methodist pastor, Kira Volkova(4th from the left) and her very young church. Kira spoke at General Conference this year during the young adult presentation - she represented the global community of young adults. I'm thrilled to have the oppertunity to work with her.

Patrick Whaley will have returned to Russia by mid-June and I will go to Moscow to work with him at the youth camps.

I will return to the states August 1st, will spend a few days in Boston with friends, my sister and I will drive back to Pennsylvania, and I should be back in Toccoa by mid August.

A great summer packed full of adventure with a lot of really exciting ministry oppertunities makes me, Michael Airgood, one very happy camper.

Please pray that I can safely find the seminary and that my Russian language skills will return quickly.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Well, I'm not quite in Russia, yet.

I'm in Kane, PA for the moment. If I am able to get on-line while I am in Russia I will blog to this site. I will be heading to Boston for a few days on the 25th of May and then heading to Russia on the 28th of May. I will be in Voronezh, RU June 24 - July 5th. I plan on heading to Konakovo (where I was an exchange student) for a few days of vacation after that.

Beyond those specific plans everything else is still up in the air. My passport and visa are in hand and I am ready to travel!