A letter from Ellen Smith in Germany
Dear Friends and Family,
Greetings from Berlin. We are all finally home, after cycling in and out of Russia over the last month and a half. Over the course of the summer, we had a 30th anniversary celebration, a 20th anniversary celebration, visitors from six U.S. churches, three camps, two Vacation Bible School programs, and many planes, trains and automobiles.
Al covered the first part of June, including the two anniversary celebrations, allowing me a little time at home before my return at the end of June. While Al covered summer camps in Kursk and Oryol, I covered the arrivals in Moscow with the help of Vlad the driver, since twice we had arrivals at airports on opposite sides of the city at the same time. Vlad is very reliable and very protective of me. Vlad and I had made many arrangements by email and I had told him that I would be arriving in the middle of the night, but would plan to stay at the airport until the trains into the city started running. As I exited customs at 2:45 am, my phone rang. Vlad was on his way to the airport with a team and would be picking me up so that I could get some sleep before two teams arrived later that morning.
Emma did not finish school until early July, so she was late, but still arrived in time to join the Oryol camp. She was able to help us with several departures in Moscow (over the course of two days) and then headed to Davydovo for the camp with the handicapped children and their families.
This year Meg came only as far as Berlin to cover the fort here and take care of the animals. Life is a little more complicated with our new residence in Berlin, but it is working for us. She was sorely missed in Russia but a great help to us in Berlin.
While Al and Emma covered the work of camps, I joined teams from Omaha and Charlotte as they visited their partners in the Smolensk and Ryazan regions. I had not spent time in the Ryazan region in some years, so it was good to catch up with both sides of that partnership. In both regions we spent time visiting families in each church and the fellowship was rich. While I stayed with them the pastor and his wife in Ryazan needed to go out to their dacha twice in order to water their extensive gardens. This gave me time for long talks with both of them. They talked about their neighbors at their dacha—one without hope and the other with a very Soviet mentality. Their gentle love reached out to the one. It is much harder to break through the shell of the other. As I sat in their garden, I rejoiced in the birds, the gentle breezes and God’s bounty.
We all returned to Berlin for some time with Meg before she needed to head back to the States, and then Emma and I headed back to Russia to welcome one last group, a new team from the church we attend in Green Bay, Wisconsin. Emma joined this church while we were home on itineration and it was a real joy to welcome them to Russia. We traveled to the Smolensk region, where they helped out with two VBS programs—in Gnozdovo and Yartsevo. The Gnozdovo church is partnered with the Presbyterian Church of the Cross in Omaha, Nebraska, but they had come earlier in the summer and could not make it for the VBS program this year.
Yartsevo is a new church for us. I had met the pastor earlier in the summer when he came to Smolensk for the day. It is a small church, but very active. Yartsevo is a tough place to be Protestant, maybe a tough place to be any kind of Christian. Their neighbors are hostile and people utter the most outrageous things about them—the old propaganda. They persevere and we could see the importance of their VBS ministry since not just children came, but many parents as well. Numbers were down for this VBS because of some of the rumors being spread, but it gave all of us more time with those who did come. Many of the parents joined in with the crafts as well as volleyball and badminton. They also joined us for the Bible lessons and fellowship with members of the church.
It is good to be home for a little while. Al and I both head to the States in September. Al will be traveling with Andrey Beskorovainiy (Roma pastor) for the International Peacemaking Program, and I will be traveling with Father Vladimir Klimzo (Davydovo) to see ministry models for work with the handicapped and troubled youth as well as to return a visit from First Presbyterian Church in Ann Arbor. Al and I and our guests will come together for the Russian Mission Network in Louisville September 27-29. Please consider joining us.
Love and blessings,
Ellen & Al
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