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Birthday Grant

A Letter from Ellen Smith, serving in Germany, Belarus and Russia

November 2020

Write to Ellen Smith

Individuals: Give online to E200406 for Alan and Ellen Smith’s sending and support

Congregations: Give to D507149 for Alan and Ellen Smith’s sending and support

Churches are asked to send donations through your congregation’s normal receiving site (this is usually your presbytery)


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Dear friends,

I have often told you about Davydovo in our newsletters. It is an extraordinary place. My first visit there bordered on accidental. We were getting ready to return to the States for a year of Interpretation Assignment in 2010. It was one of the hottest summers Moscow had known, and the city was shrouded in smoke from swamp fires in the region. A few days before our departure, an Orthodox friend called, asking if I could visit Davydovo, where there is a camp for children with disabilities and their accompanying family members. It is called Preobrazheniye (Transfiguration) and is the Center for Social Assistance to the Disabled, Family, and Children. I have rarely said no to such opportunities. I set out the following day for the three-hour drive north into the Yaroslavl region. What I found was remarkable, and I returned at every opportunity. The camp was a model of church life that spoke to me. The camp leaders responded to the challenges that came to them, even if they didn’t know how to begin.

Somewhere along the way as we deepened our connections, we began talking about the Presbyterian Women’s Birthday and Thank offerings. Though interested, the Orthodox community of Davydovo’s response was repeatedly, “not yet.” They were deeply engaged in round table discussions with the children’s mothers about their children’s needs. The mothers wanted their children to have a secure future. The camp the community was running was a beginning. They knew they needed a clearer vision of where they were headed.

In the meantime, the village priest and director of the project, Father Vladimir Klimzo, and I began traveling to see similar projects in other places (there wasn’t a Russian model at that time). Presbyterians helped us find places to visit in the States. Father Vladimir and I visited Black Creek, Green Bay and Waukesha, WI, Ann Arbor, MI, Asheboro, NC, and Clinton, SC. Father Vladimir came to visit us in Berlin to see German models (a very different approach from the U.S.), and then we traveled together to France to meet Jean Vanier. Many Presbyterians have come to visit Davydovo as well and joined the conversation.

I watched as Father Vladimir and members of the community, including mothers of the children and adults with disabilities, sort through all the information we gathered. As a community, they dreamed dreams and built a vision of what was needed and how they wanted to achieve their vision. As they have implemented pieces of that vision, they have made adjustments. Finally, in late 2018, they decided they were ready to apply for the Birthday Grant, knowing full well that they might be one of the grant recipients. Al and I helped with translation and answered questions as best we could. Someone from a visiting group from the Presbyterian Peacemaking Program hand-carried their completed application back to the States, made the copies needed, and mailed the application.

We take it as a miracle that their application was accepted. There have been enormous challenges along the way, mostly related to COVID-19, the lockdown in Russia, and the interruptions to the supply chain, but they have persevered, been creative, and resourceful. The most recent update I have is:

Hello, friends!

In September of this year, using the funds we received in a grant from the Association of Presbyterian Women of the Presbyterian Church of the United States, we began the construction of a Leisure and Health Center for the disabled, which will host leisure and sports events, provide first aid, take art therapy, physical education, physiotherapy, and kinesiotherapy. We are also planning to create a sensory room, which is very helpful in coping with some behavioral problems, especially for children with autism.

And these will not be classes only for “special” children, but for all residents and guests of Davydovo!

All work is carried out with funds from the grant and donations from people who are not indifferent to our project. Thank you all very much, and deep bow!

This community center is actually the second half of the larger project. With the first half of the Birthday Offering Grant and gifts from their many friends, the Orthodox community in Davydovo constructed a house for adults with disabilities. After time in their center for adaptive living, these adults will move into their permanent home, with other disabled residents and a tutor. The community provides workplaces, whether on the farm, in the plant nursery, the woodworking shop, or the dining hall. There is a place for everyone.

There are so many that have been a part of the journey – all those that have come to visit Davydovo, those that hosted our visits to the States, the many that have made donations, and, of course, Presbyterian Women. Many Russians have been a part of the journey as well. Father Vladimir has loved hosting Presbyterians and connecting them with the Davydovo community and Russian friends in the Orthodox community. He hopes he will be able to host a group from Presbyterian Women. I hope that when we get through this pandemic, some of you will join me on a visit to this remarkable community.

Love and blessings,


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