A letter from Gary Payton in the United States (regional liaison for Russia, Belarus, Ukraine, Armenia and Poland)
April 24, 2012
Dear Friends in Christ,
Just days ago I returned to the States from Russia and visits with church partners and mission colleagues. Traveling with Amgad Beblawi, World Mission area coordinator for the Middle East, Europe, and Central Asia, and mission co-worker Ellen Smith, coordinator of congregational twinning, we renewed our connections with Baptist, Orthodox, and Lutheran leaders, with the Moscow Protestant Chaplaincy, and with the Narnia Center. Along the way we witnessed again the myriad ways in which faithful Christians live out their lives. In grand cathedrals, in simple churches, in megacities or tiny villages, through medical clinics or in children’s literature—the story of God’s love is told and retold.
For over a decade a truly unique ministry has been the Moscow-based Narnia Center. Founded in 2000 by Presbyterian mission co-worker Donald Marsden, the Narnia Center is dedicated to publishing books with Christian themes for children and youth and providing training in children’s ministry through seminars and workshops. The center’s name is absolutely deliberate. Through The Chronicles of Narnia British author C. S. Lewis created worlds and shared Christian themes with hundreds of millions.
Today’s Narnia president, Alexander Kharitonov, speaks of the “life-transforming stories” he and his colleagues publish. At last summer’s New Wilmington Mission Conference, Alexander put it this way: (View his presentation here.)
“Stories are powerful because they have the ability to touch human beings at the most personal level….They speak to the mind, the body, the emotions, the spirit, and the will. In a story a person can identify with a situation they have never been in. The individual’s imagination is unlocked to dream what was previously unimaginable. Jesus himself used stories all the time.”
Teaching through stories, modern parables if you will, just as Jesus did, is at the heart of Narnia’s ministry. 2011 saw their catalogue expand with the publication of five new works by Russian and international authors. Titles like Ignatius the Worm and His Miracles by Viktor Krotov and A Window to Another Dimension, three short novels by Russian, Ukrainian, and Israeli authors, are now in distribution.
It’s one thing for the adults at Narnia or a frequent visitor like myself to comment on their value to indirectly share Christ’s message; it is quite another to hear from a young reader. Last year Narnia’s works were distributed across six orphanages in the city of Vladivostok in Russia’s Far East. Reading one of Krotov’s Ignatius the Worm books, Tanya said:
“The book taught me that you need to [be]have properly, with all [your] friends and never leave a friend in trouble, but to help others. Even when you are small like a worm, you have to help. And, this book made me think about my behavior with my friend.”
While publishing is a core mission of the Narnia Center, so is the education component of children’s ministry and children’s literature. In 15 separate events in 2011 Narnia staff shared their wisdom in seminars and roundtables. Three examples illustrate:
- In Moscow, a seminar on “Fathers and Fatherhood in Children’s Fiction” as part of the series “Christian Context of the Children’s Reading”
- In Yaroslavl, a roundtable on “Special Needs Children and Literature for Them”
- In St. Petersburg, a seminar on “Love and Gender Identity in Children’s Literature”
How are we connected with the Narnia Center today? First, congregations and individuals across the PC(USA) continue to support this ministry founded by a Presbyterian mission co-worker a decade ago. Second, Anna Godiner, a fiction publications editor, led workshops at last year’s Association of Presbyterian Christian Educators gathering titled “Children’s Fiction Books as Parables of the Kingdom of God.” Third, Alexander Kharitonov recently visited churches in Pennsylvania, Illinois, Nebraska, and California beyond his time at New Wilmington.
Yet even with its publishing and educational successes, the Narnia Center needs our help. The global economic crisis, particularly in Russia, has had a profound impact on their support, their bottom line. Let us hold the dedicated staff of the Narnia Center in our prayers. And, as I have done, I ask you to consider a gift to sustain this important ministry in Russia. Just click here: http://www.presbyterianmission.org/give/E051800/
As I close, let me share the Jewish Teaching Story that Alexander first shared with me:
“Truth, naked and cold, had been turned away from every door in the village. Her nakedness frightened the people. When Parable found her she was huddled in a corner, shivering and hungry. Taking pity on her, Parable gathered her up and took her home. There, she dressed Truth in story, warmed her and sent her out again. Clothed in story, Truth knocked again at the doors and was readily welcomed into the villagers' houses. They invited her to eat at their tables and warm herself by their fires.”
May the Peace of Christ, the teller of stories, be with you,
The 2012 Presbyterian Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 285
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