A letter from Al Smith in Germany/Russia
Ellen recently made one of her typical multitasking trips to Russia, which she will write about in a separate letter. One part of that trip involved traveling with a team from the Presbyterian Frontier Fellowship that included Bobbie, a specialist in training people with limited literacy to share the gospel through storytelling. As it happens, Bobbie was interested in meeting with the Roma in Russia, and the group's schedule allowed her to come to Russia a few days ahead of the rest of the group in order to do that. Since Ellen was otherwise engaged, it seemed logical for me to meet Bobbie in Moscow and take her to Kursk to meet our colleague Andrey Beskorovainiy.
When we arrived in Kursk on Friday morning I fully expected Andrey to meet us in his ancient Russian van, and I warned Bobbie about its many shortcomings. However, Andrey arrived in an equally ancient Lada 6 and explained that the van had, finally and inevitably, given up the ghost. He ended up selling it for parts. The Lada isn't in such great shape either, but it is considerably more economical to run and repair, and it displays a surprising amount of acceleration. Andrey took us to his house for some breakfast and rest before a scheduled meeting with members of his congregation in the afternoon.
Bobbie's method of using storytelling to spread the gospel seems to be tailor-made for the Roma, many of whom are very committed Christians but functionally illiterate. In a meeting at Andrey's church she demonstrated her method, which involves going through a given Bible story several times. She used the story of Bartimeus from Mark 10:46. The following day she demonstrated the method again at Andrey's house, using the story of the Samaritan woman at the well. We will be in discussions with Andrey over the next few months to arrange another visit, during which Bobbie can teach this method to Roma women, hopefully at a time of year when more of them will be available to participate.
As always, the Roma ministry in Russia is in need of your prayers. Our next big event will be the annual conference of Roma leaders and others interested in the ministry, scheduled for November 7-9 in Kursk. This event is much anticipated every year but represents a considerable challenge in terms of funding. In order to maximize participation, we try to cover all of the costs for food and lodging for all of the participants, although we require them to arrange their own transportation to Kursk. Based on past years, we estimate that we will need between $3,000 and $4,000. Additionally Andrey needs your prayers with respect to his car. It is a much better vehicle than the van, but it is still an older Russian car and needs some work, particularly on the suspension.
On another note, there is an opportunity to get involved directly with our Roma ministry. Do you like working with children? Do you have a Red Cross Water Safety Instructor certificate and/or experience in teaching kids to swim? Do you have a couple of weeks next summer to come to Russia? If your answer to all of these questions is “Yes!” then please consider coming to next year's Roma camp with me. This year's camp reminded me how few Roma kids ever get a chance for swimming lessons. There are some kids, especially boys, who can swim after a fashion, but none of them are strong swimmers. Nonetheless, all of them love to be in and around the water. In an ideal situation, we would have a female instructor to teach the girls and a male instructor to teach the boys, in order to avoid cultural difficulties, but even that can probably be worked around. If you are or might be interested, please let me know.
Finally, even if your circumstances won't allow you to teach swimming lessons in Kursk, you can participate in our Roma ministries by praying for us and by supporting our work financially. We definitely need both kinds of support. The prayer part is obvious; as for the other, well, the work we support in Russia costs money, but it also costs money to keep the Smith family and all of the other missionary families on the field. Please consider making a donation to our support—detailed instructions are available online on the PC(USA) website http://www.presbyterianmission.org/ministries/world-mission/ (or use the "Give" link below).
May God bless you in all that you do.
The 2013 Presbyterian Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study (Al), p. 283
The 2013 Presbyterian Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study (Ellen), p. 290
The 2014 Presbyterian Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 312, 320
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