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A letter from Ellen Smith in Germany/Russia

March 2013

Dear Friends and Family,

Grace and peace to you in the name of our Lord, Jesus Christ.

I am home from Russia, after a three-week journey that culminated with an extraordinary gathering last weekend outside the city of Smolensk, Russia, at the Christian Retreat Center–Rodnik (Spring of Water, or the Source). In partnership with the Baptist church in that region we held a second conference on Post Orphanage Ministry.

The conference hall in Smolensk

The first was in November 2010. It was a beginning, modest in plan, and marred by the fall of Pastor Victor Ignatenkov from scaffolding the day before. As Victor lay in a hospital bed, specialists from Moscow and St. Petersburg and ministry teams from at least 13 different churches gathered to listen and share. It turned out that by just gathering people, it made a difference. Churches recognized the importance of the ministry and engaged more deeply. We tried to gather again in 2012, but schedules could not be coordinated. Determined to continue where we left off, we set a date for a new conference and then began looking for specialists.

In October we still did not have anyone, and we were lifting prayers. In November I was copied in an email exchange and knew that those prayers had been answered, but the timing was so close, I could not imagine that it would work for this year, only four months before the scheduled dates. But far away, in the state of Montana, Eamon Anderson had also been praying. She had lived and worked in a Roma village in Romania for four years and still felt a deep call to Roma ministry and to Eastern Europe. The answer to her prayer was in a tag on a Christmas “giving tree” at her church, First Presbyterian Church in Missoula. The tag was for the ministry of Gary Payton, our colleague, and mentioned the Roma work in Russia. She wrote to Gary, and Gary copied us in his response.

Eamon Anderson (right) and Olga Ignatenkova, translator

Eamon Anderson is a social worker and child welfare specialist from the University of Montana, engaged in social work and research on American Indian reservations in Montana, focusing on childhood trauma and child traumatic stress, training welfare workers, teachers and juvenile justice professionals. Other broad experiences made it even more clear that we needed her experience in Russia and for the upcoming conference, but how could it be possible to issue such an invitation on such a short notice? We began an email exchange, information from my side, questions from her side, and finally I mentioned the upcoming conference and an “if only.” Her response was immediate, she would check with her boss. Four months later, she stood before our gathering and shared information that spoke to people where they were, turning on light bulbs throughout the room.  Her deep cultural sensitivity and gentle delivery, modeling strategies for working with traumatized children and youth, added to the power of her words. As she discussed trauma in children, the symptoms, and the developmental issues for children and adolescents, people recognized not just the children that they worked with in the orphanages, but also people around them in society and adults in their congregations.  The presentation brought forward the deep need for healing in Russian society, and the need for prevention, to stop the generational trauma that is the legacy of the Soviet Union and its collapse. It opened people’s eyes for looking at the orphans and those that struggle in a new way.  The connections between multiple traumatic events in childhood with suicide, depression, alcoholism and drug abuse are startling. The need to look more deeply at root causes is undeniable.

Four colleagues: Ellen Smith, Liz Searles, Carolyn Otterness (RCA), and Burkhard Paetzold

After the presentation many people approached us to see if Eamon could come to their church to talk about parenting, to see if Eamon had any experience in drug and alcohol rehab, to see if she could come back to train. Three of our colleagues, hearing about the plans for the conference, joined us in Smolensk—Burkhard Paetzold (regional liaison for Central and Eastern Europe and facilitator of work with the Roma people), Liz Searles (a PC(USA) mission co-worker soon to be serving in Tulcea, Romania, with orphans), and Carolyn Otterness (Reformed Church of America, working with Roma out of Budapest, Hungary). We spent hours after the conference talking about possibilities. The topic resonates across all of our areas of ministry. Russia struggles with issues of domestic violence and substance abuse. The need for reconciliation and healing is deep across this part of the world.

In addition to Eamon’s presentations on trauma, we were grateful to have two presenters from Omaha, Nebraska—Kathy Moore speaking on essential life skills and mentoring programs, and Geri Clanton sharing information on human trafficking—all critical topics that added even more value to the program. We are grateful for their participation in making this a memorable conference.

People traveled to Smolensk from as far away as Perm (in the Ural mountains) and Volgadonsk (in the Rostov region, down by the Black Sea). We had 67 participants from 16 cities. It was a huge blessing to be able to use the new camp facilities. There was room for all. We are grateful for the support that made this conference possible, gifts to orphanage ministry in Russia and Belarus.

Please pray for ongoing work with orphans and those that have graduated. They are extremely vulnerable in their brokenness. Please pray for the ministry teams working with them. I give thanks to God for the bounty of his blessings.

Love and blessings,

Ellen

The 2013 Presbyterian Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study (Al), p. 283
The 2013 Presbyterian Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study (Ellen), p. 290
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