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A letter from Ellen Smith in Russia

June 2011

Dear Friends and Family,

Greetings in the name of our Lord, Jesus Christ!

A group of people writing notes during a seminar.

Participants at the marriage seminar.

I returned early this morning on an overnight train from Kursk. I went down yesterday to meet with Andrei Beskorovaniy, the Roma pastor with whom Al works. Andrei is busy getting ready for the summer camp for Roma children, which begins June 26. The first year was the hardest. This is now the second year, and still challenging, but they already have nearly twice the number of children signed up. His wife, Larisa, is struggling with blood clots in her legs and was bedridden yesterday. She could use your prayers. She hopes to spend some time in camp, but the family makes their livelihood selling milk from their cows, and in June they must be milked three times a day. Life is hard for Roma women.

Today I am trying to catch up on paperwork before heading out again. It’s been very busy since my return on June 6. A team from Fair Oaks, California, arrived June 7, and we headed immediately to Rucheyok, a Christian retreat center 100 km north of Moscow. Maybe four years ago, two of the senior presbyters began asking me about the possibility of a marriage seminar. They saw challenges to family peace and unity at all levels within the church and outside and sought tools they could use to develop this kind of ministry. I have been listening for the right trainers ever since. About a year and a half ago, I made the connection at the church in Fair Oaks, and we have been working on this ever since. It has taken meetings on both sides of the Atlantic and many emails to manage logistics, sort through the needs of the churches here, and work on how best to cross the cultures. Even so, we all approached the start of the seminar with much prayer and only a little trepidation.

The group of seminar participants together for a photo.

Participants at the marriage seminar.

We planned for 25 couples, and received 11. Just as with camps for Roma children, the first year is the hardest. Our Russian partners have had many seminars from many different missions and denominations and they have learned that not all presenters can cross cultures, so they are sometimes just a little leery. They are all also very busy. As it turned out, we had just the right size group (smaller is better for fellowship and relationship building) and just the right people. Gathered were pastors and missionaries who can develop this ministry in their own churches and regions.

The Russian coordinator of the conference found excellent translators, and our presenters, Pastor Cliff Graves and Toni Horvath (licensed marriage counselors), did a great job. This conference covered the themes of communication and forgiveness. I watched as the couples listened deeply and took copious notes. When we separated into a men’s and a women’s group, I listened as the women opened up and shared their frustrations as well as their own strategies for maintaining good communication with their busy husbands.

From the beginning our hope has been to put on a series of marriage seminars. Our Russian participants were all very satisfied with the seminar and hope we can continue.

Ellen smith using a scythe in a grassy field.

Ellen attempting to use a scythe.

From Rucheyok, the Fair Oaks team returned to Moscow and we caught a night train to the city of Kostroma, where their partner church is located. This visit was the first time that a pastor has been able to visit from Fair Oaks Presbyterian Church. The pastor in Kostroma was delighted to have a brother to share with, and he used Cliff extensively with opportunities to preach and teach every day. We also found time for rich fellowship. The two churches have been in partnership for about five years, so there are many warm friendships. We visited the orphanage that the Kostroma church is engaged with and even had a workday out on the dacha where the church’s summer camp is held. Some painted and others cleared the high grasses. I had lessons on how to use a scythe. It was fun, but I need more lessons.  We finished off with shashlik (shish-ka-bob) cooked over an open fire.

After three days sightseeing in Moscow and much conversation about the possibilities before us, the team departed on Monday. I need to travel up to Davidovo and Yaroslavl later this week; a Russian friend is getting married on Saturday; Meg and Emma arrive on Tuesday (on separate flights); and the next team arrives on Thursday. Busy times... I have much sorting and packing to do over the coming month. We depart for Germany on July 24. I will have a month to help us get settled before returning to Russia on August 24.

We ask for your prayers for the summer camps and visiting teams, for Meg and Emma’s travels (Emma has a 10-hour layover in Zurich and arrives at 2 a.m.), for Larisa Beskorovaniy, and for our move to Germany.

Love and blessings,

Ellen & Al

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

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