A letter from Ellen Smith in Germany/Russia
A gesture of love is anything we do that helps others discover their humanity. Any act where we turn to one another. Open our hearts. Extend ourselves. Listen. Any time we’re patient. Curious. Quiet. Engaged.—Margaret Wheatley (Source: Turning to One Another.)
Dear Friends and family,
Greetings to you in the name of our Lord, Jesus Christ, author of love!
I have been thinking a lot about love of late. I returned last week from Russia. I traveled there without apprehension. I must tell you the rhetoric of these recent months in regard to Russia has been distressing to me, because I know a Russia that the language has not described. I know a Russia that has welcomed me, not as a foreigner, but as a sister, and has loved me in spite of my many flaws. My experiences with the people of Russia have certainly influenced my expectations of them in these challenging months. Aware of her history and her flaws, I have not expected and do not expect the worst from Russia. On this visit I found, if anything, greater calm in the streets and the crowded metro, as well as greater patience.
I look at who we are as the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and World Mission and I think we stand out. We are not about feeding the hungry, but most importantly looking at the grassroot problems so that hunger might be alleviated. We are not about coming in to fix other’s problems, but rather standing with our partners and looking at our mutual problems. We are relational, recognizing that we know Christ better as we sit at the table with His people in other contexts and share with one another the Christ in our lives.
A year ago, in partnership with Smolensk Baptist Church, we hosted a second post-orphanage conference, this time focusing on Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder in children. We had several speakers, including Eamon Anderson, a member of First Presbyterian Church in Missoula, Montana, and social worker from the University of Montana Center for Childhood Trauma. Her presentation opened people's eyes in a new way. It was as if scales fell away, allowing people to see the troubled youth they work with, not as bad kids acting out but as traumatized children trying to get their basic needs met. It was a new frame of reference. As they made connections, they recognized the generational trauma in their communities. Eamon attended the Russian Mission Network meeting in the Fall of 2013, held at MacPherson Presbyterian Church in Fayetteville, N.C. There she also gave a presentation on trauma. For the Presbyterians gathered, it was also an eye-opening experience, deepening their understanding of issues in their partner communities and also in their own. We all know people struggling with the legacy of childhood trauma.
My most recent trip was about all of these things. After months of planning and some delays, I arrived in Moscow to receive Eamon Anderson once more for a second seminar on PTSD in children, this time in partnership with the Russian Round Table for Religious Education and Diaconia of the Russian Orthodox Church. The previous seminar had gathered volunteers from churches engaged in orphanage ministry from across Russia. This year we sought to gather professionals, Christian psychologists working directly with orphans, troubled youth, and children with special needs. Gathered around the table were 25 people from three countries of the former Soviet Union, all immersed in the issues of PTSD and anxious to learn more about how to help children heal. A few wanted a pill or some magical key to turn that would make it all better, but the majority grasped what Eamon was sharing—the importance of providing a sense of safety, of building relationships, of consistency, of providing these children with the opportunities to make choices. Eamon expressed the importance of training the day-to-day caregivers and giving them a new lens through which to look at these children. Persistent patience. The seminar was an affirmation for some that their instincts were correct and gave people the research and statistics to back up what they had wanted to advocate.
More invitations have come out of this seminar. What is possible, I do not know. I am grateful to the Russian Mission Network and to the individual congregations who helped to make this conference possible through their generous donations. I am grateful for all of the prayers that have been lifted. I am grateful for our church that does not just seek to bandage the wounded but seeks to understand the root causes of the problem, so that we might all look in a new way, listen in a new way, and respond with the love of Christ.
We cannot begin to express our gratitude for all of you who lift us up in prayer, who send us notes of encouragement, and who support our presence in Russia and Eastern Europe through financial gifts. Are there ways that we can help your congregations feel more connected to the ministries in Russia and Eastern Europe?
Peace 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
Read more about Ellen and Alan Smith's ministry
Dear Al and Ellen, I am a week late in sending out congratulations and best wishes for your anniversary Aug. 8! Together and as individuals you have blessed many in your work. May you be encouraged and may you feel loved - because you are! In the Name of the Prince of Peace, Mary @ Garden City Presbyterian Church, Garden City KS (& a native of Wisconsin)