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A letter from Alan and Ellen Smith in Russia

February 8, 2010

Dear Friends and Family,

Again, we send our greetings to you. I write again so soon, because I wanted to share a bit about our visit to the Roma church this past Sunday. Donald Marsden and I took the train to Kursk Saturday night, arriving early on Sunday. Andrey Beskorovaniy and Pasha, a friend visiting from Michurinsk (where there is a Roma missionary and small group) met us at the station. As it was so early, we loaded into Pasha's (very cramped) Lada for the 25 km drive out to the village where Andrey's family lives to breakfast and talk.

The Roma church is in the city of Kursk, a large city with a population around 500,000, but Andrey's family lives in the village of Brezhnevo because it is much cheaper and they are able to have a small farm. They raise geese, chickens and pigs and have a garden and orchard. Andrey also keeps a horse. The Roma love horses and tend to evaluate the quality of life by whether or not one is able to keep a horse.

Sveta, the Sunday school director, had spent the night at Andrey's so that she could chat with us before church. She and Andrey are working together to plan their first summer camp. Andrey had thought this was other people's ministry, but then he began to see its value in evangelization. Sveta herself came to Christ through her daughter's participation in a summer camp in the Ukraine. They hope to reach both the children and their parents. Sveta has experience with daycamps. Andrey's son, Kolya (Nikolay), has experience as a camp counselor in various Russian camps. For what they lack in experience, they are turning to friends who have been running camps for years. They have borrowed materials and are adapting them as necessary to the Roma context. Their goal is a small camp this year, with about 40 children. It is a good way to begin. Several churches in the region are sharing a camp site, using the equipment in turn, so no one church has had the full expense to bear. Their church has been gathering money each month for their share in the expense of buying new sleeping bags. For a poor church (the Roma tend to be very poor), they have done impressive job of gathering resources.

As we ate breakfast, the family moved in and out of the room, drawing near the radiator to absorb its warmth before moving on to the tasks of getting ready for church. As so often these days, our conversation at some point moved to the current hard winter we are having. I commented on the mild, dirty winters we've had the past two years. Andrey acknowledged that winter should be winter (important for the environment and his gardens), but he saw the past two winters as God's blessing on his family, as they did not yet have heat in the home. The radiator system is a new thing. I can't even imagine how cold their home must have been. Even with double doors, and a blanket to block the draft, a chill rose from the floor into our feet throughout our time there.

After breakfast, we loaded into Andrey,s Gazelle (Russian) van, while the young people climbed into the Lada, and headed back into Kursk. The Roma congregation rents a classroom at a former Christian college. It is the same classroom we met in for the Roma Network Meeting a year and a half ago. Donald and I were warmly welcomed and made to feel at home in their midst. It was important to Andrey to have Donald participate in the service. Donald preached, helped to serve communion, and joined in blessing an infant. Andrey wants his people to see that they are fully a part of the larger body of Christ. Unity in the Body of Christ is very important to Andrey. He is part of a Roma Christian Association in Ukraine, with contacts in Belarus as well. The association is made up of different denominations. They seek to work together, because when they fall into conflict over their differences it is a terrible witness to their people. Andrey is the most ecumenically minded pastor I know in this country. One of the women attending his church had some doubts about whether it was the right form of worship in the Baptist church. Andrey suggested she go to the Orthodox church, adding that she needed to go regularly. The goal is to build the Body of Christ among his people and to connect them with their brothers and sisters in Christ wherever they may be.

Worship with the Roma congregation was full of music and prayer. They have a talented group of young people that make up a choir, and also serve as an evangelization team for outreach across central Russia.

We returned to Andrey's farm after church and continued our conversations, pausing briefly to meet the horse. Donald and I watched as Andrey played with the horse. The horse loved rolling in the snow and at one point got herself stuck against a small outbuilding. If Andrey had tried to help the horse up, he probably would have been kicked, but he threw snowballs at her until she got herself free. One can hear the love this man has for his animals as he speaks to them in Romani.

Across the afternoon and evening, we enjoyed the fellowship of this warm and loving family and talked on many subjects. Andrey is a man of vision. He has many projects and goals. The evangelization team, a group of talented young musicians, has created a DVD that is currently being produced. It will be distributed widely. We talked about possibilities for training. In the forefront, though, is still the summer camp.

One topic that Donald and I came back to was the health of Kolya, Andrey's 20 year old son, recently diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. As you might imagine, the diagnosis is weighing heavily on him and his family. There is treatment available in Kursk, but it is impossibly expensive, unless he can get classified in a certain disability group. At this point, his vision is affected and Kolya is unable to pursue higher education. Kolya is a very talented musician and fine preacher. He traveled out to Siberia in December to help a church there with evangelizations and the development of a youth program and is planning to be married in September. Please hold Kolya and his family in prayer.

We wish you all the peace and blessings of our Lord.

With love in Christ,

Ellen

The 2010 Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 195

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