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A letter from Ellen Smith in Germany

February 2012

Dear Friends and Family,

We greet you in the name of our Lord, Jesus Christ!

As Berlin moved into February, we did finally experience winter in this new city. We had about a couple of weeks of freezing temperatures and a bit of snow. During Emma’s winter break, on the coldest day of the year, we actually rented a car and drove down to the city of Quedlinburg, the ancient city of the kings of Saxony. Our timing was a bit off, but we had a lovely day.

Human "wheelbarrow" wrestling.

I am still not sure why, but at the beginning of February I finally gave in and signed up for German classes at the Volkshochschule (the people’s high school) and have been attending classes four hours a day, four days a week. To my surprise, I am enjoying it very much, and have made a friend in a young Latvian woman who speaks Russian—very convenient. We discuss the nuances of German grammar in Russian, keeping my mind active in both languages. This is a five-week course that is meant to be followed immediately by another five-week course (a series of about seven courses for those brave enough), but I will have to postpone the second until June (maybe).

This past week it became clear that two months away was too long, and I needed to add a trip to Russia. There were a number of pressing issues I needed to take care of, so I skipped two days of German and caught a flight.

Landing in Moscow on Wednesday, I was able to attend the Ash Wednesday service at St. Andrew’s, then catch a train to Smolensk at midnight. I arrived in Smolensk on February 23, which for most Russians is “Defender of the Fatherland Day,” but for the members of Central Baptist it has another significance. Three years ago, on that day, the members of Central Baptist began the summer camp project with demolition of the burned-out structure they had loved so dearly. It has been a faithful journey across these three years. Someone has been on this jobsite six days a week, even following Victor Ignatenkov’s accident, when he fell from the roof and broke his back. They are now so close. They are working on the final finishing work—the ceiling in the upper hall, flooring in a couple of rooms, baseboards, etc. We wait to hear whether the Thank Offering application they submitted last September has been accepted. That will allow them to put in bathroom fixtures, kitchen equipment, and furnishings for the camp. Without this, they will not be able to open the camp this summer. Many beyond the Smolensk congregations wait for the opening, because many other churches hope to use it for their conferences and camps as well. It is badly needed because there are so few facilities that Christians have unrestricted access to.

Pillow fighting on a log. Contestants don't last long.

I returned to Moscow on Thursday night, arriving early Friday morning. I caught the metro from Belorussky train station to Yaroslavsky train station, catching another train to Rostov, en route to Davydovo for Maslenitsa. Also known as Butter Week and Pancake Week, for Orthodox Christians, this is the last week before the Great Fast of Lent begins. Meat is already forbidden, and this is the last week that dairy products are permitted. This year the Russian churches (Baptist and Orthodox) will celebrate Easter a week later than Western churches—therefore our Ash Wednesday fell in the midst of their Maslenitsa. Our friends in Davydovo mark the last day of Maslenitsa with traditional village games. It was a marvelous spectacle that is very hard to describe—including many bliny (Russian crepes), folk music, skits, feats of strength and agility for the men and boys, and a massive snowball fight at the end of the day. I enjoyed the day very much, and even found time before and after the festival activities to discuss with Father Vladimir an upcoming trip of a friend to help with their summer camp and an invitation for Father Vladimir to visit the U.S.A. this fall and see programs for special needs children and adults.

Such a trip is a next step as our friends in Davydovo continue to develop a groundbreaking ministry to the physically and mentally handicapped in Russia. I am deeply grateful to First Presbyterian Church of Ann Arbor for this invitation. We hope that it will also be possible for Father Vladimir to join us for the Russian Mission Network meeting, which will be held this year in Louisville September 27–29. The proposed dates of Father Vladimir’s trip are between September 22 and October 12. If there are other churches in the upper Midwest that would like to host Father Vladimir as well and share outreach programs in their communities to people with special needs, please let me know. We would be willing to go further afield, but would need help with transportation. For now, we would ask for your prayers for a visa for Father Vladimir and his daughter, Anastasia, who is studying to be a psychologist. We think it would be very valuable for the ministry in Davydovo to have her eyes and ears on this trip as well.

It was a very quick and rather exhausting trip, but I think this may be a good model for the future—a short trip between two longer trips. Now, it’s back to German lessons. Gary Payton arrives in Berlin shortly. We will travel together to Moscow on March 12, where we will meet up with Amgad Beblawi, area coordinator for Europe. We look forward to introducing Amgad to the ministry in Russia.

We wish you God’s peace in your Lenten journey.

Love and blessings,

Ellen

Ellen: The 2012 Presbyterian Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 285

Alan: The 2012 Presbyterian Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 275

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