A Letter from Ellen and Al Smith, serving in Belarus, Germany and Russia
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Dear friends and family,
Al and I are woefully behind in our updates, but we are trying to catch up. The last six months have been more challenging than usual, but also full of that community which carries us through.
In June, we had a unique partner visit. First Presbyterian Church in Clinton, SC brought a large intergenerational group for a visit. It was the first visit in many years and many wanted to participate – 17 people made the journey. Their partner church, a Baptist congregation just outside of Moscow, was not prepared to handle so many, so with FPC’s pastor, Jeri Perkins, we decided to split the group (something we don’t usually do). Pastor Jeri had been to Russia the year before in preparation for the visit. In addition to visiting the partner church, she had also visited Davydovo, the Orthodox community in the Yaroslavl region. Impressed with the ministry there, she was ready to have half of her group engage with their Baptist partner for an English language camp, while the other half traveled to Davydovo for the first session of the camp for families with handicapped children. The two groups had very different experiences (see photos). Al accompanied one half, while I accompanied the other. Both churches knew that the larger group was split, both knew that we were crossing denominational lines. The leaders of the two churches actually know each other, having met about four years ago when the daughter of one of the Baptist pastors was helping me as a translator in Davydovo. She called her dad to see if he would come up and meet Father Vladimir and get to know the community. That led to other pastors coming on another weekend. Impressed with the English camp experience, members of the Baptist church made the effort to come to the Russia Mission Network this fall to understand these Presbyterians a little better.
In sharing about the ministry with the handicapped in Davydovo, many questions arose from our Russian colleagues. One pastor shared about a family that has come to their church with an autistic child. The child can become overstimulated and is often emotional. The grandmothers of the church were giving inappropriate, even harsh advice to the parents. The church realized that they needed a congregational meeting, to teach people about this family’s needs. It has changed the atmosphere there. Colleagues who are engaged in orphanage ministry had many questions. They know of orphanages for children with special needs, but they have not known how to engage. The conversation sparked their interest and they asked if we might organize a seminar for them, so that they might better understand the needs of these special children and find good ways of working with them.
As the director of Social Ministry at MPC shared about their work with refugees, more questions arose. These were doors that our Russian brothers and sisters did not know about. It is a blessing to gather together and hear how God is at work in new ways. We are convinced that He wants us to join in community across the lines to find common ground and common purpose.
We are now in need of a church that will host the Russia Mission Network next year. I hope that we will begin to find a pattern that gathers us in Russia on a regular basis, but for 2020, the plan is to be back in the U.S. Would your congregation be interested? You don’t have to be a part of the Twinning Program or already engaged in Russia in another way. You can do a new thing.
As we approach Thanksgiving, may we wish you all the blessings of gathering together.
Grace and peace,
Ellen & Al
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