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A letter from Alan and Ellen Smith in Russia

November 18, 2009

Dear Friends and Family,

As winter settles upon Russia, we send you are warmest greetings. Christ’s love abides with all of us, kindling our hearts for His service.

Photo of 9 people standing in front of a burned-out building.

After the fire on October 23, 2008.

You may recall that on October 23 last year, the Smolensk camp was set on fire. The building, an old wooden structure once used for a kindergarten, was a total loss. Initially, the churches grieved and were overwhelmed by the loss, but then they decided to build a new structure that could be used year-round and serve as a Christian retreat center for many churches in Russia. The project now includes two buildings—a dormitory for the children and a second structure to house the kitchen, nurses’ station, sick room, and guest rooms. By law, the kitchen and nurses station cannot be housed in the dormitory, so this second smaller building was not optional. In March of this year, the churches in Smolensk tore down the charred structure and began the process of rebuilding. They have generously gived their time and energy

When I visited in late March with a team from Presbyterian Church of the Cross in Omaha, Nebraska, I saw the excavation for the cellar. When I visited in August with two members from White Memorial Presbyterian Church in Raleigh, North Carolina, I was stunned by the progress. They were already at work on the second floor of the smaller building and were ready to lay the ceiling tiles above the first floor of the dorm and begin the second floor.

Photo of a one-story building made of yellowish bricks. Four men are standing in front of it. The building is unfinished: no windows, no roof.

The dormitory one week before the roof was scheduled to be put on.

A joint team from White Memorial and the Presbyterian Church of the Cross arrived October 30 to travel again to Smolensk. This time, they came to help with construction. When we arrived, we were delighted to see the smaller building completely enclosed (the sub-roof in place) and the second structure ready for roofing. We spent the week doing what we could. None of us were experienced builders. Three of us spent time cleaning up the job site during the first two days, while others did plastering and closed in the basement windows of the dormitory with wooden frames and plastic. The rest of the week, we all worked together to close in the much larger windows of the first floor in the same way. As the temperatures dropped, and the wind began to blow, we felt the urgency of this task. The roof for the dormitory was scheduled to be put in place last week. Without the roof, winter weather would have destroyed at least 30 percent of the work already done. If we had not closed the windows, there was the danger that winds whipping through the building would lift the roof right off.

Photo of the corner of a room. Scaffolding stands before two windows, which have been covered in black plastic.

Our team worked inside this room to seal the window openings.

As we worked, men from both churches in Smolensk came regularly to do what they could, and women from three different churches took turns preparing lunch for everyone. We were humbled by what we witnessed. Many gave their time. Victor, senior pastor and senior presbyter of the region, laid brick to finish interior walls in the dormitory. When the temperature dropped below freezing, he moved inside the smaller building to plaster interior walls—heavy, grueling work. At one point, three pastors were plastering. One pastor, who is also an electrician, wired the smaller building, and another pastor installed a toilet so that we could all stop using the outhouse. They worked long after we were worn out and back at our lodgings. Victor told me it was easier for them, because they were at it all the time, and had built up stamina. We were humbled by their commitment to getting this camp rebuilt. They all volunteer their time.

Photo of a small two-story building made from yellow bricks. The windows have not yet been put in.

The smaller of the two buildings, which contains a kitchen, nurses station, and guest quarters.

The job is far from finished. There is still plastering, plumbing, and electrical work to do, tile to lay, windows and doors to be installed, and finishing work on the roof to be done. The churches have used the funds raised remarkably well, and they gather funds themselves each Sunday, but more is still needed. I rarely ask, but this is an extraordinary circumstance. If your church will have a Christmas alternative, gifts in honor of someone who has all they need, would you be willing to add a few items for the Smolensk Retreat Center? A list of items needed would include:

Windows – average cost $250 (they must be insulated for Russian winters)
Doors – average cost $240 (with hardware)
Tubing for heated floors $2.65 per  meter
Wall tiles $l4 per square meter
Toilets – $75
Sinks – $70
Showers – $525

(For any of you that have ever spent time in a Russian camp, you will appreciate the importance of the last three items.)

We believe this facility will be a blessing in many ways—for year-round camps, youth conferences, women’s conferences, pastors’ gatherings, work with orphanage graduates, etc. It is a type of facility that is badly needed. We ask for your prayers for this project and for all who labor on it. They will continue to work through the winter. It’s cold. Please pray for their strength and their safety.

Another prayer request is for the Roma Mission Network which will gather November 27-28 in Ryazan. It will be a time for mutual encouragement and plans for the coming year.

We are finally returning to the States next year for itineration. We will be in the United States from the end of August, 20l0, until the end of May, 20ll. If you would like us to visit your church, now is the time to get on our schedule. The next Russian Mission Network meeting, scheduled for the first weekend in October at Wellshire Presbyterian Church in Denver, Colorado, is already on our schedule; we hope you’ll join us. We have set aside the rest of October to celebrate the wedding of our oldest daughter, Allison.

As we approach Thanksgiving, we must express thanks for your partnership in the ministry in Russia. We are so grateful for your prayers, your letters and emails, and the financial support which makes it possible for us to serve here. We feel very deeply the bonds we have with you, our brothers and sisters in Christ.

May the peace and blessings of our Lord be with you this day and always.

Love and blessings,

Ellen and Al

The 2009 Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 177

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