A letter from Ellen Smith in Germany/Russia
Dear Friends and Family,
It is already February and I am keenly aware that I have been quite out of touch. The time between then and now has been very full. I was traveling in November to visit colleagues in faraway places, but in December I returned to the U.S. to await the birth of our grandson. Al and Emma joined me after taking a week in the St. Louis area to visit colleges. They drove up with Meg and her boyfriend as Allison was going into labor. Al stayed in Sheboygan with me, while the others went on to Green Bay. Al and I pulled an all-nighter waiting for that baby to show up. They finally had to go in and get him, because he was just too big. Malachai Eugene Warn made his arrival on December 22, a handsome little guy and a delight to all of us.
Al and Emma returned to Germany after New Year's. I stayed on to visit churches and be close by for a little while. I was blessed with travels out West to visit partner churches in California, Utah and Washington, where it was neither bitterly cold nor snowy (Wisconsin is trying to beat their 100-year records). I have had cause to reflect on the ways we share the places we love with those who come to visit. We all do this. We want people to see the best of our worlds. The folks in each of the cities I visited took the time to share the beauty of their place. In California we walked the Golden Gate Bridge and drove out to see the Pacific. In Utah we went to see Pipe Springs National Monument and Zion Canyon National Park. In Central Washington we drove through a beautiful nature preserve. The world is full of great and varied beauty.
This past week I returned to Russia to catch up with partners after my extended absence. I managed to get to Smolensk for a couple of days. In my work with the Congregational Twinning Program (a sister church program), I have accompanied many teams to visit our global partner, the Central Baptist Church in Smolensk. Five years ago their summer camp burned. Through the intervening years the project to rebuild the camp has been a major focus. This was the first time in so many years when I didn’t have a group, a seminar, or something related to rebuilding the camp, because the camp is now complete—praise the Lord!
I was blessed with the opportunity to worship with my Russian family and catch up on people’s lives. There were plans to discuss for spring and summer, but there was extra time to visit a new partner church in the city of Dorogobuzsh, and to catch up on the drug rehabilitation program run by the Smolensk church. Time over these five years has been so committed to the camp project that I had not visited the drug rehab center in a long time. Over the years, the rehab program has been in rented facilities, in varying parts of the region, but this last fall they were finally able to buy an old house in a village near Smolensk. Early Monday morning Victor Ignatenkov (Senior Presbyter for the region) and I drove out. What they had purchased was a tilting, tumbledown house, but throughout November and December they shored up the foundation, rebuilt the "pechka" (a traditional brick stove used for heating and cooking), laid new flooring, and added insulation. What was broken and falling down is restored beautifully to its purpose. Dima, the director of the rehab program, shared that this rebuilding process has been an analogy to him for what they are trying to accomplish with the men who come to them, broken and falling down. The returning light was evident in the eyes of the men in the program. Returning interest in life was evident as they shared their hopes for gardening this summer, and maybe the purchase of a few pigs. They have a large piece of land behind and an old apple orchard beside the house. In the old sty they already have a few chickens. It was a blessing to me to be in their midst and to hear hope blossoming.
We hope to have dates for the next Russian Mission Network shortly. I am amazed by the bonds that have developed among those who attend regularly. The importance of those bonds is reflected in the hearty welcome to new people joining the group. There is always room for others at the table. If you have not joined us recently, or have never come before, think about it.
As always, we are deeply grateful for the prayers you lift for us. Our schedule over the coming months is very full. We ask for your prayers for wisdom and stamina. We are into a new year and look forward to what the Lord has planned for us. We give thanks for your partnership through your prayers, correspondence, visits and financial gifts. The journey is better together as brothers and sisters in Christ.
We hope that you are neither snowed in nor iced over, and that you begin to see the signs of spring. They are there, if you only look for them. Watch the changing color of bark. Take note of the lengthening days. Listen for the birds. They know it’s coming.
Love and blessings,
The 2014 Presbyterian Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, Ellen, p. 320
The 2014 Presbyterian Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, Al, p. 312, 320
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