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A letter from Ellen Smith in Germany/Russia

August 2013

Dear Friends and Family,

The summer is not yet over, Al and I each have one more trip before the shift to fall activities, but in this midsummer lull, I thought it was time to catch you up on what you have been a part of in Russia this summer. I am aghast that I have fallen so far behind on my newsletters. It has been a year of transition. Mea culpa!

It has been a summer of adventure and misadventure. We have had more than our share of bleeps, but, as always, the joys have been greater. Our friends from Fair Oaks arrived May 29. Flying Air France, their luggage failed to arrive with them. Normally it would have been a minor annoyance, with a simple delivery later at the airline’s expense, but… Sending the group on to Smolensk, one member and I returned to the airport. Several hours later we returned to the train station with five large suitcases between us and no available trains, so we took the bus. It was an interesting experience. The bus had videos playing—utterly violent. It was hard to ignore, but we managed, and had friends to greet us on arrival in Smolensk.

Over the following two weeks the team put on two extraordinary marriage conferences (one in Smolensk and on in Yaroslavl), visited ministry in Tambov, and spent time with their partner in Kostroma. With the new camp facility in Smolensk, we were able to welcome participants from many surrounding oblasts. One couple had come from Kimry, in the Tver region, having simply heard news of the event. The Yaroslavl conference was more regional, bringing together the pastors and missionaries from the Yaroslavl and Kostroma oblasts with their wives. The pastors often gather for meetings, but the wives rarely have the chance to gather. It was a powerful thing. For some, it was the first time away from young children, blessing them with private time for each other. It was clear that some of the couples were struggling. They were able to find time with the two marriage and family therapists, and they also found support in the community as we separated into a men’s group and a women’s group. I don’t know what went on in the men’s group, but I listened as the older women shared their experiences with younger women trying to find their way. I was reminded of the rich blessings when our Fair Oaks friends put on women’s retreats in previous years. The women don’t get enough time together.

I slipped home briefly before returning for another visit to Smolensk. Members of White Memorial (Raleigh, N.C.) arrived for the grand reopening of the camp facility. We have used the facilities twice this year for conferences, but the camp was not completely finished. June 23 marked the dedication and the reopening for children. It was a joyful event. The hosts prepared a wonderful program that recalled the wrenching sorrow of the fire in October 2008 and the journey through reconstruction. It has been a long five years, but work never stopped and today the children are back and the Smolensk churches have a remarkable Christian retreat center that will be used year-round. White Memorial has been with them in this journey from the moment the news broke, holding them in prayer, sending a work team, and helping financially. Many other churches have helped too, and Presbyterian Women blessed the camp with a Thank Offering that helped to buy furniture and equip the kitchen and bathrooms. The White Memorial team spent a week helping out with the first session of camp. They joined in worship, played games, and did crafts. They were there for the first camp session 13 years ago. It was wonderful to have them there again for the first camp session in this new era.

The MacPherson team (Fayetteville, N.C.) was supposed to arrive as the White Memorial team took off, but for the second year in a row, they missed their connection and arrived a day late. It was frustrating for them, but everyone at this end adjusted and were ready to welcome them when they arrived. This was the 15th straight year that someone from MacPherson was present for the Oryol summer camp. As with White Memorial, there is a long history in this partnership and it shows in the depth of relationship. Having arrived several days ahead of the camp, the women of the team had an extraordinary opportunity. Irina Solovyova invited us to her final exam in piano at the university. With joy we accepted. Irina has been a part of the camp for all 15 years and traveled to the U.S. last year to participate in MacPherson’s West Virginia work camp. She’s part of the family. After her performance her judges sent a message to us. They said they wished all of the students had had the support that Irina had that morning in our presence. She played magnificently, but we take no credit for that.

First Presbyterian Church in Green Bay invited Emma to join them for Triennium this year.  As her school did not let out until July, she was not able to join us in Russia. Letting Al take over with the MacPherson group after the Roma camp ended, I slipped away to Berlin to catch a little time with Emma and help her get ready to leave. The time together was a gift. Emma’s trip to Triennium was also a gift and we are all deeply grateful to FPC Green Bay for making it possible.  Emma flew out on the 10th and I returned to Russia on the 11th, making it to camp before it was over, and then spent time with the MacPherson team in Moscow before they returned to the States.

The final group of the summer was from Harpeth Presbyterian Church in Nashville. Craig Parish, an old friend, brought five college students to the Tula youth camp. The MacPherson and Harpeth teams overlapped, so I didn’t make it to Tula until the last days of camp, but Craig also has many years of camping experience in Russia. I was glad to get some time with the group. They did a great job. Again, after so many years, there is a depth of relationship that is extraordinary.

Al and I will both be in the States this fall for the Russian Mission Network [Fayetteville, N.C., this year, October 3-5—please try to join us] and again in December for the birth of our first grandchild. I plan to stay through much of January to do some itineration, and to help Allison. My fall schedule is pretty full, but if you would like a visit in January, please let me know.

It has been a summer of adventure and misadventure. We have had more than our share of bleeps, but, as always, the joys have been greater. We and our partners are deeply grateful for the prayers and financial support that make the ministry possible. If you have not yet joined us in this ministry, would you consider adding us to your prayer list, sharing the news of our ministry with others, or making a financial contribution?

We wish you that peace that passeth all understanding this day and always.

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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