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A letter from Al Smith in Germany

19 November 2012

They say time flies when you're having fun.  Suddenly it's November again, which means snow on the ground in some parts of Russia and time for another Russian Roma ministry conference.  I was back in Russia from November 7 to 14 and was able to visit in Yaroslavl as well as attend the Roma conference.

This year's conference was definitely different from those I have attended in the past. For one thing, Andrey and I were both in the U.S.A. from mid-September to mid-October for the International Peacemaking Program, which made planning for the conference considerably more complicated. The other, more significant, difference is that Andrey was unanimously elected to be the leader of the Roma ministry.  As many of you will remember, this ministry began through the efforts of non-Roma, both Russian and foreign, and there are still dedicated Russians working with Roma communities in various locations.  Our friend Pyotr Romme has devoted innumerable hours to this ministry since long before I ever became involved in it. However, it is time for the Roma people involved in the ministry to take over the central planning and leadership roles and for the rest of us to help out as and where we are needed. The problems and challenges facing the Roma Christian communities are and will continue to be substantial, and there will be work enough for all of us to do.

In addition to the changes in leadership, the conference featured several high points:

We had an influx of people from Ukraine who had not been with us before, including the leadership team of a new church, planted by Andrey's church, in the town Stakhanov, where Andrey grew up.  After much work and prayer, they are getting ready to call their first pastor, which has to be regarded as a huge step forward. Several people pointed out to me that Stakhanov is located in a “red zone,” where many people remember the “good old days” of the Soviet period with nostalgia, rather than with relief.  I guess that makes sense, given that the city was named in honor of a Soviet coal miner who became famous for “overfulfilling the plan,” which is Soviet-speak for producing more coal than the quota required.

Another high point concerns the experience of a Roma group that began to attend a Russian church. Not uncommonly, the pastor and the congregation were initially wary of having a group of Roma among them. Now, a year or more later, the Roma are welcomed and valued and may well comprise half of the congregation on Sunday morning.  We work hard to support Roma groups starting their own churches, where they can hear God's Word preached in their native language, but I rejoice to hear that this church has overcome cultural prejudice and found new brothers and sisters in Christ.

And finally, there was the music. The praise group from Andrey's church just keeps getting better every year.  As a frustrated guitarist, I can only shake my head in wonder at the sounds Andrey's son can get out of the guitar, and the rest of the group is just as good.  This year's musical selections featured fewer Russian songs and more songs in Romani—not so good for my comprehension, but beautiful to listen to.

At the present time we are actively looking for people and churches to support the Roma ministry, both through prayer and materially. The following projects and activities all need support:

            Travel for Andrey and his team to do evangelizations

            The 2013 summer camp for children

            The 2013 leadership conference

None of these projects can happen without the prayerful support of Presbyterians in the United States.  Andrey and his team contribute their time and energy to this work, to the detriment of their own financial situations. We cannot always go with them, but we can support them with our prayers and contributions.

“Presbyterians Do Mission in Partnership” is not only true of relations with those we serve in Russia or elsewhere.  It is also true of the whole enterprise now known as the Presbyterian Mission Agency. Our efforts as mission co-workers depend on the prayers and contributions of other Presbyterians that support not only our programs and projects but also the underlying expenses of keeping us in the field. With that in mind, would you consider making a contribution to our support?  The Extra Commitment Opportunity account number (for individuals) is E200406 (you can contribute online using the "Give" link below), and the Direct Mission Support account number (for churches) is D507149.

Peace and blessings,

Al

The 2012 Presbyterian Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study (Al), p. 275
The 2013 Presbyterian Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study (Al), p. 283
The 2012 Presbyterian Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study (Ellen), p. 285
The 2013 Presbyterian Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study (Ellen), p. 290
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