A letter from Alan and Ellen Smith, serving in Germany, Russia, and Belarus
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After a very busy summer in Russia, Ellen and I are back in the USA for a couple of months of mission interpretation, combined with a bit of family time and the Russia Mission Network meeting in Pittsburgh at the end of September. Although we have been somewhat overtaken by events over the past few weeks, it is high time to tell you about this year’s Roma children’s camp.
All of the camping programs of our Russian partners have been affected by new legal stipulations. After a number of tragic mishaps that occurred last summer in secular camps, the state has become much more stringent in enforcing various safety, health and sanitation rules involving children’s camps. These rules can be very specific, and in many cases, unrealistic, especially when the camp involves children staying in tents, rather than in fixed cabins. In many cases, children are living in homes that could not meet the requirements set by these rules. There are seemingly rules for everything, from how close together kids can sleep in a tent, to how many hours per day they must sleep. Our use of a boat to ferry kids 30 yards across a stream to the campsite (to keep them, and their stuff, from getting soaked) undoubtedly violates a whole list of rules, despite the fact that adults literally guide the boat by hand for the entire voyage. The authorities claim to be enforcing these rules evenhandedly, but all of the publicized cases involve camps operated by Protestants.
The recent changes in Russian law regarding evangelism make any outreach to unchurched people outside of church premises much more complicated. The exact scope of the new law and how it will be enforced in different communities are still largely unknown, which has led to a great deal of caution on the part of Russian Protestant congregations.
In spite of these problems, our colleague Andrey was determined to have a camp experience for the children in the Roma community. Moreover, it seemed appropriate to pass on the responsibility for running the camp from Andrey and his son to Ruslan, who has been an integral part of the camp staff over the past several years. However, it seemed prudent not to have me stay at the camp, lest there be a visit by the authorities. Instead, I stayed at Andrey’s house—except for one visit to camp in the middle of the week—and helped out with feeding and watering the livestock.
Fortunately, everything worked without a hitch. The weather, which had been miserably cold and rainy for the week prior to camp, improved, although it was too cold for the kids to swim as much as they would have liked. Every day there were Bible lessons focused on the theme of “God’s love for us,” and activities to go along with the lessons. The cool weather did not hinder the traditional round of lobbing water balloons back and forth across a volleyball net. The winning team stays dry; the losers get wet. Or is it the other way around? I was playing as well, and have not figured out whether I was a winner or a loser. In addition to the general funding for the camp provided by Presbyterians, the camp benefitted from craft supplies donated by Second Presbyterian Church in St. Louis, Missouri.
The importance of these camps for Roma children is immense. Andrey reports that many children came to know about God through the Bible lessons, that many children learned to pray, and that many children learned a sense of order that they previously lacked. Moreover, he points out that the staff of the camp were all once campers in similar camps who had come to accept Christ in their lives. In many cases, entire families come to Christ because of efforts to reach the children.
Andrey asks that we pray for the needs of his ministry, specifically for a more reliable vehicle to use on evangelization trips and for the camp. His current van is reaching the end of its useful life and needs frequent repairs.
As I mentioned above, Andrey’s camp would not have been possible without support from Presbyterians. Even though many of us cannot be present physically in camp, we can participate in the work of the camp through our prayers and financial support. Likewise, Ellen and I are able to be present in Russia only because of the support and prayers of other Presbyterians. We are extremely grateful to those who support our work; if you are not currently supporting us, we would ask you to prayerfully consider doing so.
May God bless you and all of your endeavors.
Al & Ellen Smith
Please read this important message from Jose Luis Casal, Director, Presbyterian World Mission
Dear Friend of Presbyterian Mission,
What a joy to send this letter! As Presbyterian World Mission’s new director, I thank God for your faithful support of our mission co-workers. The enclosed newsletter celebrates the work you made possible by your prayers, engagement, and generous financial gifts. We can’t thank you enough.
After I began in April, I met with mission co-workers and global partners and was blessed to see firsthand the mighty ways God is working through them! Our global partners are asking us to help them move forward with life-changing ministries. Because of your support, we can say “yes” to these creative and exciting initiatives.
I write to invite you to make an even deeper commitment to this work. First, would you make a year-end gift for the sending and support of our mission co-workers? We need your gifts to end the year strong. With your help, we filled two new mission co-worker positions and plan to recruit for others. The needs in the world are great, and World Mission is poised to answer the call to serve.
Second, would you ask your session to add our mission co-workers to your congregation’s mission budget for 2018 and beyond? Our mission co-workers serve three-year or four-year terms. Your multi-year commitment will encourage them greatly.
Our mission co-workers are funded entirely from the special gifts of individuals and congregations like yours. Now more than ever, we need your financial support.
In faith, our mission co-workers accepted a call to mission service. In faith, World Mission sent them to work with our global partners. In faith, will you also commit to support this work with your prayers and financial gifts?
Jose Luis Casal
P.S. Your gift will help meet critical needs of our global partners. Thank you!
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