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.