A letter from Alan and Ellen Smith in Russia
September 21, 2009
Dear Friends and Family!
Greetings to you in the name of our Lord, Jesus Christ!
I have spent the weekend with my father-in-law before heading out tomorrow to begin my four weeks on the road with World Mission Challenge. All the mission co-workers that will be participating in WMC gather tomorrow in a retreat center in southern Indiana for orientation and, we head out to begin speaking around the country on Friday. Among the 45 of us mission workers, we’ll visit 152 of the PC(USA)’s 173 presbyteries.
I have yet to share with you about the Russian Mission Network meeting. This year it was held at White Memorial Presbyterian Church in Raleigh, North Carolina. They have one of the oldest partnerships, which goes back to at least 1997. People gathered from all over the country, and a Russian pastor came from Oryol, Russia. His church is partnered with MacPherson Presbyterian Church in Fayetteville, North Carolina. Valeri, the Russian pastor, commented on the family feel of the network. It is a time of rich fellowship and sharing. For those of you who have not yet come, newcomers are warmly welcomed. The newest partnership, with Presbyterian Church of the Cross, in Omaha , Nebraska, had some great ideas to share about how to get the larger congregation engaged. WMPC regularly hosts a Russian culture evening, and we were glad to be a part of the August event, which included a speaker from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill—a sociology professor who spoke about the health of women since the collapse of the Soviet Union. It was an excellent talk.
I have spent the last month traveling across the United States. After a week at Hastings College in Nebraska, I returned to Green Bay briefly to recover from a college flu bug, and then headed west. My colleague Gary Payton and his wife Nancy had done some master coordinating. Nancy had been invited to do a women’s retreat in Montana, and Gary to teach and preach for the same congregation. Another church in the area had expressed interest in partnership with a church in Russia, soI flew out to Spokane, Washington, where Gary and Nancy met me.
We spent the night at their home in Sandpoint, Idaho, and then drove east. They dropped me in Kalispell, while they headed on to Cutbank. These cities lie on either side of Glacier National Park. What a beautiful part of the world! My visit in Kalispell was extraordinary. I had the gift of time to share with members of the congregation about the church twinning program, and time to get to know the pastors and some of the members. It is an extraordinary congregation, involved deeply in local ministries.
On Saturday, the senior pastor, Glenn Burfeind, drove me into the park and up the Going-to-the-Sun road to Logan’s Pass on the continental divide. What a ride! Words cannot describe the beauty of this place. From Logan’s Pass, we hiked. Now as much as I walk in Russia, it is flatlander walking. Add thousands of feet above sea level and an uphill grade, and I am not so tough. For Glenn, an avid hiker of these mountains, this was an easy hike, but he was very patient and encouraging. As we hiked, I felt caught up in the community around me, as people encouraged one another, offered a hand where needed, and paused to rest and enjoy the glory of God’s creation. It felt like an allegory of our walk with one another as the body of Christ. The drive, the hike, and time eating lunch overlooking Hidden Lake was a retreat for me—a retreat from a busy schedule, a time to talk deeply about ministry, mission, and life, a time for stories, a time to celebrate God’s creation. It was a gift that I will hold on to.
As the Lord brings us together in this thing we call twinning, I have noticed that as we share the struggles and suffering we see around us in our respective communities, we also want to share the beauty. I now have friends across both countries, Russia and the United States. I travel widely in both countries. So many friends have made me pause to show me the beauty of their piece of God’s creation. These times are always a retreat—a time to talk deeply about ministry, mission and life, a time to share stories, and a time to celebrate God’s creation. I have not found a place without beauty. The beauty restores. I am deeply grateful to all for the beauty they have shared.
I know people wonder why I fill up my time in the States with so much travel. Part of the answer is that if I must be separated from my family, I would rather be busy, but there is another part of the answer. The time to talk face to face at leisure about the work we are all engaged in is so important. My western schedule gave Gary and me a day to talk before I headed to Sacramento to work on plans for a women’s retreat next year. I look forward to time in four presbyteries as I travel for World Mission Challenge.
As for the family, Al and Emma returned to Russia a month ago and are holding down the fort there. Al is extremely busy teaching six classes and keeping up with things for me. Emma is having a wonderful seventh-grade year. We had been quite concerned for her with the departure of most of her friends and Meg, but she has found her niche and is doing well. I will add that she and her father have taken advantage of my long absence and slipped a kitten into the house, but Atilla has endeared himself to both Esme (our old cat) and Snickers (the dog). Meg has settled in well at college. We enjoy hearing from her. Allison is doing well also. She will come up later this afternoon.
We wish you all the peace and blessings of our Lord.
With love in Christ,
The 2009 Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 177