A letter from Ellen Smith in Germany/Russia
Dear Friends and Family!
С Рождеством Христовым и Новым Годом! Frohe Weinachten und Glückliches Neues Jahr! Our warmest wishes to all of you for a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.
The year is quickly drawing to a close. For the first time we will be spending the Christmas holidays without our older girls. They will be with their grandfather in Green Bay, and we will be in Berlin. We will miss them very much, but we knew this year would come at some point. After our extended travel schedules this fall, this seemed like the right year to let it happen.
It has been a gift to live in other parts of the world. At Christmas, we reflect on the different ways we live in Advent and celebrate the birth of our Lord and Savior. In Germany we have enjoyed the Christmas markets. Advent is a festive time, gatherings with friends at these outdoor markets. The markets have many booths selling Christmas food and decorations, but more important is the festive atmosphere, the food and the gluhwein. By contrast, Advent in Russia is a time of fasting and preparation. The celebration of our Lord’s birth does not begin until Christmas day, January 7. The celebration will continue through much of January. Much of the traditions we associate with Christmas in the West, Christmas trees and Santa Claus, were secularized during the Soviet times and moved to the New Year’s celebration. In both countries Christmas day is a time to gather at church for worship.
It has again been a busy year. We have had 13 groups of people visit partners in Russia over the course of the year, many overlapping in the summer. Al has made three trips to Russia (plus one to Carpath Ukraine) and I have made seven trips, and will make an eighth trip next week. We have each traveled to the U.S. with Russian partners for extended travel and we have hosted Russian guests in Berlin. We have two new partnerships, and the possibility of two more in the future.
The camp in Smolensk is nearly complete. It should reopen this summer. Praise the Lord! It has been three years of toil and much prayer. We see both the Roma ministry and the ministry with special needs children and their families gaining new focus. We celebrate that Andre Beskorovainiy has been officially recognized as leader of the Roma Network in Russia. This is no small thing. It has been a long process shifting the leadership from Russians to Roma. There is no question that the Russians engaged in this ministry love the Roma, but they have not always recognized the ability of Roma to take on leadership roles. Father Vladimir and I have been talking about how the ministry to families with special needs children needed to develop further, but it is a complicated thing. To take on too much too fast is a recipe for failure. Identifying next steps when there are so many needs in the ministry is no easy thing. Our travels across Wisconsin and Michigan this fall have been hugely helpful in gaining some focus, and we are deeply grateful to those organizations that hosted us and to First Presbyterian in Ann Arbor for making the trip possible. In January Father Vladimir will come to Germany to visit organizations engaged in this ministry in Hamburg and Berlin. With understanding of the different models, it will be possible to focus on the next steps for Davydovo. After a year’s hiatus we look forward to another Orphanage/Post-Orphanage conference in March and a Marriage/Family conference in June. We would ask for your prayers for both of these events.
Our family is doing well. Allison and Drew continue to live in Sheboygan. I tell them as often as I am allowed that I look forward to grandchildren. They will let me know when they are ready. That is, of course, as it should be. Meg is in her senior year at Hastings College and busy working on applications to graduate school. Her interest is Medieval Irish history. Emma continues to enjoy the John F. Kennedy School in Berlin. She has been very busy this fall with the school musical "Beauty and the Beast." They did a magnificent job. She is also in the school choir and they had a glorious Christmas concert this past week at the Berliner Dom, the Lutheran cathedral in the center of the city. We have started attending a different church, the American Church in Berlin. It is a church with very active ministries that we are finding our place in. This above all else has made Berlin feel more like home.
As of February 1, 2013, I will be taking on new responsibilities as the regional liaison for Eastern Europe and Central Asia. We look forward to the New Year and all that the Lord has planned for us. We wish you peace and joy this Christmas season and in 2013.
Love and blessings,
for Al, Ellen and Emma
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
Read more about Alan and Ellen Smith's ministry