A Letter from Alan and Ellen Smith, serving in Russia, Germany and Belarus
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Ellen and I have been “on the field” now for almost 18 years. For 13 of those years, I have been working with Andrey Beskorovainiy and his Roma ministry. On one hand, every day brings some new challenge or opportunity, but on the other hand, recurring annual events provide a certain rhythm to the year: June brings the children’s camp, November the annual leadership conference.
This year’s leadership conference took place from November 8 to November 10, a time period that corresponds to the Russian federal holiday celebrating national unity. The official date, November 7, was celebrated during Soviet times as the anniversary of the October revolution of 1917 that brought the Soviet regime to power, so the culture is primed for a major holiday in early November. It is a good time to gather the Roma leadership from widely scattered locations to renew acquaintances and share successes and concerns.
The theme for this year’s conference was the Great Commission: “Go and make disciples of all nations …,” and the formal lectures were dedicated to that theme, more specifically to being ready to carry out that task. However, from my point of view, the most important insight that arose from the conference occurred in a conversation over lunch with my old friend Pyotr, a pastor from Belgorod. Somewhat unusually, Pyotr’s church has a mixed congregation of Russians and Roma. He shared that several years ago he took part in an evangelization program organized by the Baptist Union to reach out to prison inmates, although he had never felt a particular call to prison ministry. When he walked into a prison auditorium, he noticed a group of Roma men among the inmates and knew immediately why he was there. Just a few words of greeting in Romany, and he had the group’s undivided attention for the remainder of the visit.
Many times, we feel unsure about going out to unfamiliar places to tell unfamiliar people about our faith. The simple truth is that we do not and cannot know who might be waiting to hear us until we actually go. Perhaps we have connections in that unfamiliar place that we do not even suspect, or perhaps there is something about us that will resonate with someone there. Furthermore, we dare not waste the opportunities that come to us, for they may not come again. In Russia, access to prisoners is becoming increasingly difficult for many Protestant ministries — it is not clear that Pyotr’s group would be able to visit that same prison now.
Please pray for my friend and colleague Andrey. His father suffered a stroke a week before the start of the conference, and he passed away a few days after it ended. His passing leaves Andrey and his brother as patriarchs of the family, which continues to grow, as Andrey’s son and daughter-in-law are expecting their second child in January. Please pray also for the success of Andrey’s new foray into cattle raising; five calves are eating and growing to a marketable size. And please pray for solutions to persistent problems with getting reliable transportation for his family and ministry.
Ellen and I extend to you our best wishes for a happy and blessed Christmas season. We are always grateful for your prayers and financial support, both of which are essential to our ministry. Our work is like the visible part of an iceberg, interesting to look at and talk about, but only a small part of the whole. The whole enterprise of mission work depends on the support and prayers of faithful Christians throughout the denomination.
Peace and blessings,
Al & Ellen Smith
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