A Letter from Ellen Smith, serving in Russia, Ukraine, Belarus and Poland
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Dear friends and family,
What a beginning we have had to 2021. It has been a roller coaster of emotions leading to deep reflection. Many, globally, welcomed the new year as a chance to reset after a year that has tested us all. There was a longing for hope that 2020 daunted again and again, but January 1 was not the reset hoped for.
The events of January 6, Epiphany on the Western calendar, and Christmas Eve on the Eastern calendar, startled the world. For me, the day began with worship and fellowship in celebration of the Magis’ visit. Within a short space of time, as we waited for Congress to finally certify the election, the mob invaded the capital building. It was unreal as it unfolded. I remembered the stories of the mobs in Russia. Incited by Soviet leadership, it was often they that killed village priests. As the January 6th mob attacked the capital, many wanted to say that this wasn’t America, but it was undeniably real and not without precedent in the United States.
At worship mid-month, we remembered Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. I was deeply moved by words from his last speech. It is a powerful speech and more poignant because the next day, he was assassinated. He responded to the people that were deeply worried about the threats being made against him with courage and faith.
We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it doesn’t matter with me now. Because I’ve been to the mountaintop. And I don’t mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will.
That same week, I had been reminded by a friend of what I had shared with him years earlier from a Russian colleague. In the years of the great terror, from 1937-39, leaders of local Baptist churches were being arrested regularly – pastors, preachers, Sunday school teachers, choir leaders. Each time one was arrested, they would call another from within the congregation. No one knew what was happening to those that were arrested. Each man called knew he had 3-5 months to serve before he would be arrested too. They accepted the call and served faithfully, knowing that they, too would at some point be arrested.
That’s the question before you tonight. Not,“If I stop to help the sanitation workers, what will happen to all of the hours that I usually spend in my office every day and every week as a pastor?” The question is not, “If I stop to help this man in need, what will happen to me?” “If I do not stop to help the sanitation workers, what will happen to them?” That’s the question.
This month the Belarus, Ukraine, Russia Mission Network (BURM) hosted a Zoom call with Father Vladimir Klimzo of Davydovo. He shared an update with us about the ongoing development of their center for accompanied living (special needs adults). Families with disabled children and their deep needs came to them. The community had not sought them out, but in getting to know them, they could not turn away and they have deepened their understanding and their response to the needs with each passing year. That question of Dr. King’s is very much related. “If I do not stop and help these families and their special children, what will happen to them?“
We recorded the Zoom call and Father Vladimir’s presentation. If you would like to watch it, please let me know. BURM is getting more and more active. They are publishing a newsletter every six weeks and hosting events like the call with Father Vladimir. Won’t you come and join us. There is also a Facebook page for the BURM Network, where articles and events are posted.
In February, the Middle East and Europe Office is hosting a webinar on neo-populism in Europe. Read a description of the webinar and sign up for it on this link Presbyterian Mission Agency World Mission offers neo-populism webinar on Feb. 18 | Presbyterian Mission Agency. I hope you’ll join us. These are challenging times. What is the call of the church in these days? What is the call for each of us in these days? I was deeply moved by Amanda Gorman’s poem at the inauguration. Her closing lines are an inspiration:
When day comes we step out of the shade,
aflame and unafraid
The new dawn blooms as we free it
For there is always light,
if only we’re brave enough to see it
If only we’re brave enough to be it
May we be the light together.
Peace and blessings,
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