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A letter from Ellen and Al Smith in Russia

July 21, 2010

Dear friends and family,

Grace and peace to you in the name of our Lord, Jesus Christ! It has been a long time since we have written to you. Summer is our busiest time. This summer is more complicated as we are trying to close down our apartment for our return to the States for 10 months of itineration. In the midst of trips out to camps and packing, I am seizing a moment to sit quietly and catch you up on the ministry in Russia.

Meg arrived from Nebraska in mid-May, in time to catch up with friends before they all scattered — mostly back to the States. With the end of the school year we found a clear week to begin the process of sorting through our possessions to see what could be discarded, what stored, and what packed to bring with us. It has been a momentous task that we have returned to, as we have been in Moscow, but the summer has not provided as many days as we would have liked. Our first group arrived on June 9 and we have been juggling ministry and packing ever since. We still have no one to sublet our apartment. We have about one week left before we have to give up on that option. We found someone to buy our car this week, so we are encouraged.

We have not had many teams this summer, but there has been plenty to do. The first team, from Fair Oaks, Calif., arrived with a busy agenda. They began in Moscow, meeting with several pastors about the possibility of a marriage seminar/retreat next spring. Several pastors have repeatedly asked us about such a possibility, and Fair Oaks Presbyterian Church (FPOC) listened. They have several marriage and family therapists on their staff. The meeting helped focus in on specific needs and now FOPC is looking at the possibilities.

From Moscow we traveled with them to Kostroma to visit their partner church. There they put on a two-day VBS, a men’s gathering, and a women’s retreat. Two years ago they put on a women’s retreat for the women in the region. This year they partnered with a planning team from the Russian side so that in the future the Russians can put on regional retreats on their own. Women from at least five different churches participated in the retreat. It is a model that the Russians have been thankful for.

One member of FOPC also came to share the model of Upward Basketball with our Baptist brothers and sisters. He and Al visited with several churches and it looks promising to get the program started in the coming year. This is a youth basketball ministry.

As the team from Fair Oaks departed, Al, Emma and I left as well to renew visas. The visa problems this year have really challenged us, but we are now set until our return in June 2011. While we flew west, Meg stayed in Moscow, covering the ministry in our absence, meeting the second team and getting them down to Oryol. Al, Emma and I drove down on our return (two days later), leaving Emma in Oryol for the camp while we proceeded on to Kursk to work with Andrey Bezkorovainiy on plans for a Roma camp in August. We returned to Oryol briefly for the opening of that camp, before heading back to Moscow. From Moscow I drove back to Kostroma to visit the other Roma camp for this year, as well as the camp of a church in Yaroslavl that is interested in partnership. We had planned to use the rest of that week for packing, but I ended up pretty sick, recovering in time to head back to Oryol to pick up Emma. Life is like that sometimes.

The second team left this past Monday. Yesterday Meg and I drove down to Vyazma to help with the start of their VBS. Friends in Alaska and First Presbyterian Church in Creston, Iowa, had sent over craft supplies for this VBS, but never having seen such supplies, our friends in Vyazma didn’t know how to use them. Meg and I ran the crafts for the first day and spent time after the kids left showing them what they could do for the remaining days. We plan to return on Saturday for the closing of their VBS and to help with some more complicated crafts. In meantime Emma is sorting through her desk and Al and Meg are sorting through CDs, etc. I have been running laundry and going through clothes to discard. Tomorrow Meg and I will drive up to Rostov to visit an Orthodox camp for special needs children, then back to apartment stuff on Friday.

Al and the girls have three weeks left in Russia. I will stay on for one last group in the second half of August, returning to the States August 23. As we wind down, we have several prayer requests to lift up to you:

  • Please pray that we will find either people to sublet or a reasonable storage option. We also ask for your prayers for strength to get everything done in one of the hottest summers Russia has seen in a century.
  • Please pray for the upcoming Roma camp in Kursk. It is Andrey’s first effort. The first year is the hardest. Many of the Roma families are afraid because it is an unknown for them. The camp will run August 1-8.
  • We ask for special prayers for a young man in Vyazma named Victor. When we arrived yesterday we saw immediately that Victor’s left hand was in a cast. He was helping with the VBS and was his sweet, gentle self, not showing any signs of the weight of his injury, but it did not take long to realize that the cast covered more than a simple hand injury. About three weeks ago Victor had an accident at work. We are not clear whether he was working at a sawmill or merely with a table saw on a construction site. What we do know is that he had been working 12-hour days for three weeks without any break. His partner had already been injured, so Victor was working alone. His hand slipped. He has lost the last two fingers on his left hand. It would be bad enough under regular circumstances, but Victor is very talented musician. He has played both piano and guitar. Pavel, the pastor, told us he is doing okay emotionally for now, but he worries that when the cast comes off and he begins using what is left of his hand, it will hit him hard. They want to find a left-handed guitar for him so he can teach himself to play again. We are deeply moved by his strength in the face of this. Victor and his wife are also expecting their second child at the end of next month. Please pray for this family.

Love and blessings,

Ellen and Al

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


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