A letter from Alan and Ellen Smith in Russia
February 17, 2009
Dear Friends and Family!
I have been waiting to write you all until I could share the news that at last my visa challenges are resolved! As of yesterday, all is in order, and I will not have to leave the country for a year. Praise the Lord! Not only that, but Meg’s visa has been extended until the end of the school year. She turned 18 in November, which meant that she would not be able to get another visa on Al’s work visa. The extension solves a major problem for us. Again, praise the Lord! Meg will go to England in June to visit friends and get a short-term visa to cover the summer. She returns to the United States in the fall for college. That issue has also resolved itself this week, as Meg made her decisions to attend Hastings College, a PC(USA) institution in Hastings, Nebraska. Hastings has a unique program that Meg has been accepted to called “Vocations and Values.” We are all very excited for her.
January and February tend to be quiet months for us. I have spent the last six weeks catching up on paperwork, and giving the family more of my attention. I’ll have to get on the road soon before they get too used to this, but in the meantime I am working on costumes for the school play, “Much Ado About Nothing” (in which Meg has a role and is also a student director) and for the next four weeks I will be covering Emma’s science class (her teacher has returned to the States on maternity leave).
We did welcome Jon Chapman (PC(USA)’s area coordinator for Europe and ecumenical councils), Michael Parker (PC(USA)’s new coordinator of international evangelism), and Gary Payton (regional liaison for Russia, Belarus, Ukraine and Poland) at the beginning of February. It was an important visit, as we made office calls with church partners and spent time discussing the growing ministry with Roma in Russia. Donald Marsden, who now works for Presbyterian Frontier Fellowship, was also present at as this meeting, along with Piotr Romme, who came in from Kostroma.
The Roma ministry has taken huge strides forward in this past year. It was good to have such a meeting, looking at the “what next” issues that lie before us. This week, Piotr and a young Roma Christian, Misha, left on a three-week expedition to share about Roma ministries with Russian churches from here to Krasnoyarsk in Central Siberia.
We recently received funds that will enable Piotr and his wife Olga to travel with Al and me to Hungary and the Ukraine in June to see programs with the Roma in those two countries. The connections made in November with the visit of the Otternesses (RCA missionaries in Hungary), Pastor Otto Jenei (Ukrainian Reformed Church) and Bela Horvat (a Roma leader in Carpath Ukraine) were very important. This visit will be a follow-up.
We have had other exciting news this past month, as the International Peacemakers Program has invited Piotr to participate in their fall program. I will be back in the States for Mission Challenge, and Piotr and I will be one of 3-5 pairs that will be itinerating together on behalf of the two programs. The Lord has blessed this ministry in new ways. Please hold Piotr and Misha in prayer as they make their winter journey with the expedition and please pray with all of us that we follow where the Lord is leading.
In our Christmas newsletter, one of the few hard copy letters we send out, we shared that our plans for 2009 have changed. Originally we were due to return to the United States this fall for a year of itineration. After the heavy load of traveling associated with my visa challenges this past year, we asked the staff in Louisville to consider extending us for another year. They actually went one better and renewed us for another 3 years, allowing us to postpone itineration until 2010-2011. For those of you that were hoping to see us this coming year, we hope that you will understand the delay.
To update you on the Smolensk camp, which burned this fall, the church has overcome an important hurdle—they have received permission to rebuild. I think you cannot understand the challenge this is in Russia. It is a mountain of paperwork. Furthermore, Pastor Victor was in Moscow not long ago and had with him plans for building a new camp. The plans include a dormitory with kitchen facilities and a multi-purpose room for indoor activities, as well as a second smaller building for a caretaker’s apartment and health station, which according to camp codes must be in a separate building from the dormitory. The church in Smolensk steps out in faith. With the permission they have gained, they must get started in the spring, and then they will have eight months to get the building under a roof. They can do the finishing work more gradually. If you would like to contribute to the rebuilding of the camp, the Outreach Foundation has established an account to receive these funds. We are very grateful to those of you who have already made donations.
We look forward to the first group of 2009 in March. We have three groups scheduled for April and May, and a couple of groups scheduled for the summer. If you are not yet on our schedule but want to be, please be in touch with us very soon. The summer schedule fills quickly and I will be in the United States from early August until late October.
For those of you that have not heard, the Russian Mission Network Meeting has now been scheduled. It will be hosted by White Memorial Presbyterian Church in Raleigh, North Carolina from August 13 to 15. We hope many of you can join us.
Peace and blessings,
Ellen and Al
The 2009 Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 177