A letter from Al Smith in Germany
After several months of adjusting to our new circumstances in Germany, I had the privilege of returning to familiar ground in Russia. Together with PC(USA) mission co-worker Gary Payton, I attended the semi-annual gathering of the Russian Roma ministry network, which took place November 4–6 in Kursk, some 300 miles southwest of Moscow. As has been the case for several years, the conference was hosted by the Kursk Christian College, which provided us with meeting space, lodging, and meals. The college is also the home of “Devlesko Lav,” the Roma congregation pastored by our good friend and colleague Andrey Beskorovainiy. In the course of the past several conferences Andrey has taken on more and more of the responsibility for planning our conferences, not only the praise and worship segments, but also the instructional segments. The theme for this conference was “The Holy Spirit in the Life of the Christian.”
As always, the conference started with praise and worship, led by Andrey and his team of musicians. The music team is composed of Roma young people, and their skills are formidable. In contrast to previous conferences, the majority of the song lyrics were in Romani and very familiar to the participants, if not to me. At the moment, I am having all the linguistic fun I can handle with German and Russian, but it would be better if I could speak Romani on some level. At least some songs have lyrics in both Russian and Romani.
After the initial praise and worship session, Andrey asked our friend Pyotr Romme to tell the audience about the history of Baptist outreach to Roma in Russia. After Pyotr’s presentation, we had our first “academic” session, led by Gennadiy Likhin, one of the instructors at the seminary, who discussed the various spiritual gifts provided to believers by the Holy Spirit, with a particularly lively discussion of the gift of speaking in tongues. The presentation was simultaneously scholarly and practical—I was particularly impressed by the depth and breadth of the questions and discussion by the audience.
On the second day of the conference, after various presentations by the conferees introducing themselves and their ministries, the theme of the Holy Spirit was continued by Kolya. I have written before about Kolya, whose body is handicapped, but whose mind and spirit are on fire for the Lord. As always, he prefaced his presentation by warning us that he has never attended seminary and that he is not a theologian; then he proceeded to walk us through both Old and New Testament manifestations of the Holy Spirit, linking them up as he went. After Kolya’s presentation and supper, the rest of the evening was devoted to praise and worship, which continued into the night long after I left at about 11:00 p.m.
After each day’s presentations the leadership gathered for working sessions devoted to planning for the coming year: where can we best use our resources to bring the gospel to as many Roma as possible? Over the years there has been a certain difference of outlook between the ethnic Russians and the Roma—the original outreach was organized by the Russians, but increased Roma representation is vital if the message is to be transmitted to Roma.
After Sunday’s closing worship service I took a late-night train back to Moscow, arriving with the 6:00 a.m. sea of commuters. I headed straight into the Metro and travelled to the southern part of the city to visit with my former colleagues at Hinkson Christian Academy. It was good to talk with them and with many of my former students. I even got to substitute in a science class, which was slightly eerie. Come Wednesday, I linked up with Ellen and flew back to Berlin to get ready for Thursday’s departure to the PC(USA) mission worker conference in Antalya, Turkey. All in all I had a busy couple of weeks, but it looks pretty tame compared to the solid month Ellen spent on the road.
Our work gives us the opportunity to travel to interesting places and meet fascinating people, both locals and visiting Americans, but none of it would be possible without your continuing prayers and financial support. Because of changing patterns of giving within the PC(USA), undesignated funds are no longer used as often for the sending and support of missionaries. Would you consider contributing to the cost of keeping us on the field? Contributions can be sent from congregations to our Directed Mission Support (DMS) account, D507149. Individuals may contribute through our Extra Commitment Opportunity (ECO) account; please read the information on the front of this letter to learn how to give.
May the peace of Christ be with you always.
The 2011 Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 203
The 2012 Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 275