A letter from Alan and Ellen Smith in Russia
April 12, 2010
Dear friends and family,
I began this letter as Al, Emma, and I sat in Sheremyetevo airport, waiting for a flight to Prague — from there to London. We had hoped that the visas we applied for in December would take us through the year, but when we returned we found that the school, through which we get our visas, would not be able to convert what we had obtained to the year-long visas, as usual.
The rules have changed once again, and so out we went again. We are blessed to have good friends in London who gave shelter to me and Emma, while Al traveled on to Washington, D.C., to process our visas. It is not the first time these friends have come to our rescue.
At the end of March, I (Ellen) attended the Congress of the Union of Evangelical Christians – Baptists (the Baptist Union). It is something like our General Assembly, but on a smaller scale. Church leaders were present from every region in Russia. Nearly every pastor with whom we work was present. The first afternoon, as we gathered for the opening ceremonies, I was seated with friends near the front of the auditorium. As I watched others flow in, I felt a certain awe at being there with so many faithful people. As we stood to sing the first hymn, I was surrounded by booming bases and tenors. At that point I looked behind me. There were women present, but the men outnumbered us vastly. How often do you find that on a Sunday morning? And when they sang, they sang from their hearts with great energy.
The most important activity of this Congress was the election of a new president for the Union. Yuri Sipko, a man I have great respect for, has served for the last eight years. That is his limit. I have listened over the past months as my colleagues have expressed concern over the challenges of finding someone to replace him. They had hoped to present two or three candidates for the election, but men declined to serve. One man stood for election, Alexei Vasilyevich Smirnov. He has been the head of the Office of Pastoral Ministry for some years, but he is pastor of a church outside of the Union. Not surprisingly, there were many that questioned why such a candidate would be put forward, but there were as many standing in favor and explaining their reasons for support as there were asking challenging questions. Alexei Vasilyevich took questions from the floor before the vote, standing before nearly 500 of his brothers and sisters in Christ. All but the delegates left the hall for the vote. After the vote, any protest that may have been present before passed away and the Congress moved forward to celebration of accomplishments in different regions, and recognition of faithful servants.
I’m sure all of you are aware of the tragic crash in Smolensk this past weekend, which killed the Polish president, his wife, many senior Polish officials, and the heads of the Polish military. It is a shock that such a tragedy could take place now in a place infamous for the massacre of Polish soldiers under Stalin at the beginning of World War II. The Katyn Forest is a burial ground for those Polish soldiers and thousands of Soviet citizens killed during Stalin’s purges. Our friends in Smolensk shared that the city is in shock, quiet and sad. They pray for those who grieve in Poland. I think it must stir up all the pain associated with the Katyn Forest for both the Poles and the people of Smolensk. Please pray for both.
In Russia, we are still very much in the season of Easter. Up to Pentecost, we will greet one another with “Христос Воскрес!” Christ is risen! This year, the Western and Eastern churches celebrated together. This only happens about every three years. I hope, as you gathered on Easter morning, you were aware that your brothers and sisters in Christ on the far side of the globe celebrated with you. Here, many gathered on Saturday night for an Easter vigil, just as many of you gathered for a sunrise service — we have different traditions, but one Lord! We very much wanted to send all of you Easter greetings, but I did not have access to my address list in England. Please know that we thought of you.
Love and blessings,
Ellen & Al
The 2010 Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 195