A letter from Al and Ellen Smith in the U.S., on Interpretation Assignment from Germany/Russia
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Dear Friends and Family,
Christmas greetings to all of you! Our part of the world is much in the news these days. In the midst of troubled times, it is important to remember that Christ was born into times such as these, and He remains our hope and our compass as we navigate our way. Ellen was in Russia when the airplane en route to St. Petersburg blew up over Egypt. She managed to get to Berlin for a week to explore the refugee crisis. More recently France has also experienced grief and unrest. The rising levels of fear concern us and the dialogue about refugees has distressed us. People are fleeing violence, seeking refuge and hope. If Christ is within us, what should our response be?
Ellen spent time in Berlin with our colleague, Burkhard Paetzold, trying to get a picture of Germany’s response to the refugee crisis. They have opened their doors and expect to receive as many as 1,000,000. Ellen and Burkhard visited the intake facility in Berlin and talked with people volunteering there. Some in Germany criticize the government’s efforts, but the situation is overwhelming and, in our opinion, the Germans are making the best of it, seeking to receive the refugees with order and with kindness.
After Germany, Ellen traveled to Russia to accompany members of a U.S. church visiting a Russian church partner and to be present at the 11th year of the Roma mission conference, held again in Kursk. We look on with joy and awe at the many ways this network of evangelists and missionaries has grown and matured through these years. What started out as a small, Russian-led effort to reach out to the Roma has grown into a Roma-led cooperation with Russians included in the outreach. The ministry continues to be about evangelism and leadership development, and the good news is that this is happening. This year’s conference, however, met with a jolt. When Ellen arrived in Kursk she learned that Pastor Andrey was hospitalized, and she learned as she traveled directly to the hospital that he had had a toothache last August. Neglected, it had abscessed and Andrey very nearly died. The family was too caught up in the crisis to let anyone know. He had been on life support for two days and the family thought he was dead, but the church community prayed fervently. Andrey opened his eyes when one of his brother pastors came and prayed over him. Now he is recovering, but he and his family need your prayers as well. The doctors had to do a tracheotomy, and his family’s understanding is that it cannot be closed. Now Andrey must learn to breathe and to talk again.
Throughout the days Ellen spent in Kursk she was humbled by the courage and deep faith of this family and the church community. Please join us in prayer for Andrey, his wife, Larisa, and the church of Devlesko Lav.
This fall we have been privileged to visit congregations across the United States during our Interpretation Assignment. We have traveled from coast to coast and back again. It has been a blessing to worship in many different communities and to have the opportunity to share about mission in Russia and Germany. Two months of itineration remain before we head back to Berlin. We hope to be in Russia again by mid-February. If you had hoped to see us during this time but were not able to schedule a visit, please be in touch with us at Ellen.Smith@pcusa.org. Ellen will be back in the States again in 2016, both in the spring and in the fall.
All mission work, including our own, is a collaboration led by the Holy Spirit among many people: in our countries of service, in Louisville, and in many congregations across the U.S. Please accept our heartfelt thanks for your vital role in this ministry. We are thankful for all of your prayers, your notes of encouragement, and your financial gifts. As you are no doubt aware, our denomination is experiencing difficult times. If you are able to increase your financial contribution for our sending and support, we would be very grateful.
In these Advent days, these days of preparation, let us all remember the words of the angel to the shepherds—“Fear not!” (Luke 2:10). We wish you all a blessed and joyous Christmas season.
With love in Christ,
Al and Ellen
The 2015 Presbyterian Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 333
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