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A letter from Ellen Smith in Germany

October 2012

Dear Friends and Family,

Greetings to you in the name of our Lord, Jesus Christ!

I have been home from travels in the U.S. for about a week now. Al is still in the U.S. visiting his father. He will be home next week. He will have his own newsletter to write about his travels with Andre Beskorovainiy, the Roma pastor from Kursk who served as an International Peacemaker.

As I journeyed with Father Vladimir Klimzo, the priest from Davydovo, I wrote many newsletters in my head, and this is my second attempt at a real draft. Each version has been different, and I hope my final effort will pull together the various pieces. In all honesty, I am still processing the trip. I am sure that those of you who have traveled to visit with partners understand that it takes time. To say the least, it has been an incredible journey. It has also been, I think, the busiest month I have known in years.

Father Vladimir with the ACAP community (in the back row) -- Waukesha, WI

I began my trip in Hastings, Nebraska, collecting our car from Meg, who studies at Hastings College. From Hastings I drove to Green Bay to get organized, finding time for a meeting with Michael Lukens (a professor at St. Norbert College and stated clerk for Winnebago Presbytery) to discuss a developing project with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Russia and Other States (ELCROS) on the writings of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. More later on that subject. Father Vladimir arrived on the 22nd of September, and we wasted no time getting started.

We had many goals as we made plans for this trip. Father Vladimir wanted to see models of ministry with at-risk youth and special needs children and adults, the focus of ministry in Davydovo. He was also invited to participate in the Russian Mission Network (held in Louisville this year) and in Dallas II, a consultation to create collective impact for mission [http://www.pcusa.org/news/2012/4/16/dallas-ii-october-consultation-create-collective-i/]. Father Vladimir traveled at the invitation of First Presbyterian Church of Ann Arbor, Michigan. A group from this church visited in Davydovo last fall and, hearing of Father Vladimir’s interest in seeing models, stepped in to make this possible. Across the two and a half weeks of his visit, we traveled from Green Bay, Wisconsin, to Waukesha, Wisconsin, to Louisville, Kentucky, to Ann Arbor, Michigan, to Dallas, Texas, and back again to Michigan.

We visited Rawhide Boys Ranch in New London, Wisconsin—an extraordinary, Christian-based organization working with troubled teens. We visited ASPIRO in Green Bay, an organization committed to helping disabled adults develop fully and attain some level of independence, providing them with work and opportunities to engage in their community. We visited ACAP, Adaptive Community Approach Program, in Waukesha, Wisconsin—another organization committed to helping the disabled live their lives fully and completely. We visited St. Louis Center in Chelsea, Michigan, a residential center for people with disabilities (children and adults). We visited His Eye is on the Sparrow in Ann Arbor, Michigan, an organization providing family-type supported living for disabled adults. We also visited Dawn Farms, a drug and alcohol rehabilitation center.

Pastor Andre Beskorovainiy, pastor of a Roma congregation in Kursk, Russia and Father Vladimir Klimzo, priest for the parish of Davydovo in the Yaroslavl oblast of Russia. Both are talented musicians. Andre was traveling with Alan Smith as an International Peacemaker. Father Vladimir was traveling with Ellen Smith to see ministry models for outreach to at-risk youth and special needs children and adults. We all came together in Louisville for the Russian Mission Network.

Each of these organizations was generous with time and information. They shared their models and documentation to help Father Vladimir and the community in Davydovo understand more fully what it takes to further develop their own community—things like bylaws, codes of ethics, financial structure, and budgeting. Touring the homes like settings at Rawhide and His Eye is on the Sparrow was valuable as Father Vladimir continues to think about the facility they hope to construct—a center for at-risk teens and a year-around retreat facility for families with handicapped children.

In the midst of visiting these centers, we headed to Louisville for the Russian Mission Network, where we connected also with Al and Andre Beskorovaniy, the Roma Baptist pastor we work with. We must admit to a feeling of trepidation in bringing them together for this gathering. The relations between Orthodox and Baptist are often strained, but we hoped that these two extraordinary men would be able to cross the artificial boundaries that often exist in society. God’s blessings are bountiful! We remain in awe of what we witnessed. The two men came together the first night as countrymen, as musicians (we had a wonderful guitar concert) and as brothers in Christ. The friendship developed over the course of our weekend, and Pastor Andre now looks forward to visiting Davydovo this summer.

I have been engaged with partners in Russia for 14 years and I am comfortable in that setting, but there are still lessons to be learned cross-culturally. This 20-day journey with Father Vladimir provided more than a few. We spent hours driving the many miles, and Father Vladimir enjoys conversation. We used both languages, and sometimes it took both languages to sort out the nuances of a single idea. Words are important and often we define them differently. It is important to take the time to understand another’s point of reference. It is worth the time it takes. Google translation is not an adequate substitute. It is always interesting to me to see my own country through the eyes of another culture. All of the Russians I have traveled with in the U.S. have been amazed at the number of churches in America. It was the beginning of a new understanding of the U.S. for Father Vladimir. It is always a joy to hear stereotypes being discarded, though painful to hear what those stereotypes have been. The trip was anything but easy. There were times of misunderstanding, but as friends and colleagues we took the time to sort through them.

It has been an incredible journey, and I am still processing. It is good to be home, though I head out again shortly in the other direction. I have a new region to visit, Saratov, and new connections to make. The journey continues.

Love and blessings,

Ellen

The 2012 Presbyterian Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study (Al), p. 275
The 2012 Presbyterian Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study (Ellen), p. 285

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