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.