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Planning Summer Camp

A letter from Al Smith serving in Germany/Russia

April 28, 2015

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Dear Friends,

Spring has arrived here in Berlin: the flowers are blooming, the trees are leafing out, the grass is turning green. On the other hand, there was snow last week in Russia while I was there, and the temperatures are, shall we say, fluctuating. Nonetheless, one can tell spring is on the way, because everyone is getting ready for the big spring holidays, May 1 (Labor Day for most of the world outside the U.S.A.) and May 9, which this year marks the 70th anniversary of the defeat of Nazi Germany. Massive celebrations are planned for Moscow and many other cities.

After arriving in Moscow I took the last available train to Kursk, another 500 kilometers out, in order to spend some time with our colleague Pastor Andrey Beskorovainiy and discuss the plans for this year’s Roma children’s camp, as well as other evangelization trips Andrey has been asked to make. Andrey is the pastor of the Devlesko Lav (Word of God) church in Kursk and the only ordained Roma pastor in the Russian Baptist Union. Andrey and I have worked together for almost 10 years to help him bring God’s word to his people. The annual camp is a high point of the summer for many Roma children.  The Roma people, more commonly known as gypsies, suffer from discrimination in housing, education and employment. Most Roma families are in dire financial straits, especially now when sanctions connected with the conflict in Ukraine are causing increased levels of unemployment all over Russia. Few, if any, of these families have ever taken a family vacation. In camp there is a week of activity devoted solely to the children: Bible lessons, songs, crafts, games, and, of course, swimming. Some of the kids are regulars in church and Sunday school; for others it is their first exposure to the gospel, and a first exposure for their families through the children. In the past couple of years Andrey has been able to attract kids from other cities so everyone can widen their circle of acquaintance. The camp also serves the youth and young adults of the congregation, developing their leadership skills.

Of course putting on a week’s worth of summer camp takes many weeks of planning and preparation. The campsite is used by many church groups over the summer, which allows the costs for tents and kitchen equipment to be spread over a much larger group. However, food must be purchased in prodigious quantities, as well as propane gas for the kitchen, gasoline for the generator, and gasoline for transportation, and many other unpredictable, but inevitable, expenses must also be covered. Program materials must be purchased or made from scratch. The congregation takes a collection each week to defray some of these costs, but the community could never cover the entire amount from their own resources even in normal economic circumstances, much less now.

Andrey’s evangelization trips also take advance planning. He and his team of musicians donate their time but need help to cover the cost of transport and food on the road. Andrey and I work to try and identify these opportunities and arrange for the necessary financial support. Once they arrive at their destination the host church or group will take care of their meals and lodging. These visits are vital for many newly organized or struggling groups of believers. Even if they are getting some support from Russian believers in the area, it is always helpful to have Andrey and his group put the gospel message into a Roma cultural context and when necessary to explain and preach in Romani, rather than Russian.

I was particularly anxious to see how our friends were doing in the face of the economic  sanctions. In general they are getting by. Prices are up, incomes are down, imported items, especially foreign food products, are not to be found in the stores. Andrey continues to work as a watchman/dispatcher at a local agricultural firm, although he has not been paid for the past several months. He is slowly recovering from the financial stress of the winter, when the van he had recently purchased on credit suffered a catastrophic engine failure. He no longer has the van, nor the calves he was raising, nor his beloved horse. He has a much smaller, older horse to pull his farm wagon, and a smaller but more reliable car. He is still helping family members from Ukraine who have been dislocated by the fighting, as well as taking care of his own large immediate family, including two newly adopted Roma kids from Moscow, Lyuba and Robert. I was happy to see that both Robert and Lyuba are flourishing in their new environment, adjusting well to the novelty of life on the farm and life in a Roma household.

Ellen and I will be flying back to the States with Emma in August to help with the transition to college, then staying through January 2016 in order to attend the Russian Mission Network meeting  (to be held at Zehpyr Point Presbyterian Conference Center on Lake Tahoe, September 23-25) and to visit churches and presbyteries who are interested in hearing from us about our work. We would love to come and talk with you and share our experiences. Since there are a limited number of Sundays available during our time in the States, we encourage everyone to get in touch with us as soon as possible if you are interested in a visit.  Please contact us by email at al.smith@pcusa.org or ellen.smith@pcusa.org.  We are working on developing some regional schedules to cut down on our travel and the cost of our visits to individual churches. We plan to be in the Carolinas for the first half of September and in Ohio and Pennsylvania during the first half of November. Other pieces of the schedule are still coming together.

Our brothers and sisters in Russia continue to cherish our partnership and our prayers. All of the camps and conferences, building projects and evangelization trips depend on the work and prayers of many Christians both in Russia and in the U.S.A., but they cannot happen without financial support. Additionally, it takes financial support to recruit, train, send and support mission personnel, both our family and all of the other families sent by the PC(USA) to various parts of the world. It will surprise no one that during these challenging times the funds available from the church’s general revenues to support the sending of mission co-workers are declining. In order for us to continue our worldwide mission efforts, we need the prayers of our church, but we also need financial support. Read a letter from Hunter Farrell, director of World Mission here: http://contentz.mkt6217.com/mson/2015/05/01/nkn3liBGcMJR/index.html.

If you are already contributing, you have our heartfelt thanks. If you are not, we ask that you prayerfully consider committing to an ongoing financial contribution.  Together we can walk alongside our brothers and sisters to build a more equitable world.

May God bless you in all of your work.
Al & Ellen Smith

The 2015 Presbyterian Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study,  p. 333


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