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The BURM Network

A Letter from Ellen Smith, serving in Russia, Ukraine, Belarus and Poland

Fall 2021

Write to Ellen Smith
Write to Jessica Derise

Individuals: Give online to E200406 for Ellen Smith’s sending and support

Congregations: Give to D507149 for Ellen Smith’s sending and support

Churches are asked to send donations through your congregation’s normal receiving site (this is usually your presbytery)


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Greetings all!

I was blessed recently to get an exception to the travel ban, allowing me to travel to Moscow in order to help Pastor Jessica Derise finally get settled. She has served the Moscow Protestant Chaplaincy congregation virtually since March 2019. It was decided in August that the congregation could not wait any longer for their pastor to come. We hit the ground running. We connected with the Embassy and relevant partners and held her installation the second Sunday in September. She has spent time getting to know her congregation and the city. Already her presence is boosting the spirits and the attendance at MPC.

While in Moscow, I met with other friends and partners as well. One such meeting has inspired a change in the agenda for our upcoming Belarus, Ukraine, Russia Mission (BURM) Network meeting. We had been planning to focus on water issues in Eastern Europe and other parts of the globe, but the speakers we had hoped for are from Belarus, and I had not been able to communicate with them. Another friend from Belarus just happened to be in Moscow while I was there, and we managed to have dinner together. The situation in Belarus is heartbreaking. Belarus has been in the news more than any other time in the last 20 years, but it is not always easy to get a clear picture of what is happening. Since it does not seem that Belarus is on the radar of most Americans, we decided to change the agenda to focus on the situation in Belarus instead.

I have had a caring relationship with partners in Belarus since 2002 when I joined a group of reformed pastors traveling to Belarus to explore the life and ministry of the church in Belarus. We did not know what to expect when we traveled to Belarus since very little information was available. What we discovered was exciting, vital congregations engaged in rebuilding church life, developing social ministry and healing the legacy of the Soviet Union. At first, I visited the country three to four times a year and saw how the church ministered to those suffering from HIV/AIDS, those in drug rehabilitation programs, orphans and people with disabilities.

Suddenly, visiting Belarus became difficult. The government began controlling access and required foreign visitors to adhere very closely to strict itineraries. I stopped going for a while, because my visits seemed a burden to our partners, but gradually I was able to reengage. In 2018, we gathered in Minsk for an International Peacemaking Seminar focused on Ukraine, Russia and Belarus. Minsk, at that time, was a relatively neutral space for both Ukrainians and Russians. This has changed dramatically since the August 9, 2020, election – an election that most count as stolen. The initially peaceful demonstrations following the election were violently repressed, and now many protesters are either in prison or in exile, and others have become silent.

The Belarus, Ukraine, Russia Mission (BURM) Network will hold its annual gathering October 28-30, 2021. Due to COVID, the conference will be online, as it was last year. Over the course of three days, we will have three sessions of three hours each on three themes. Each day we will gather from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. EST.

Thursday’s session will focus on the importance of partnership and will include breakout sessions on reenergizing existing partnerships and developing new ones. Two Russian partners will present. You don’t have to have or want to establish a partnership to join in the conversation. We will also be talking about an overture to the General Assembly that the BURM Network has written.

On Friday, we will focus on Belarus. Our speakers will be the World Student Christian Federation (WSCF) executive for Europe, a pastor from Poland and a representative of the WSCF from Belarus. We will focus on the internal struggles in Belarus and the migrant issues on the borders with Poland, Lithuania and Latvia. We will be discussing the militarization of migrants – a new or not so new global issue. There will also be an opportunity for Q & A with our speakers. It is an opportunity for a deeper understanding of local and global issues.

Saturday’s program will focus on the trauma children experience due to migration. We will have speakers from both Russia and Ukraine, as well as PC(USA) staff. The issue is global, so our goal is to hear about the Russian and Ukrainian contexts and understand their place within the larger global context.

We sincerely hope that many will join us. There is no requirement to attend every session, but we hope you will. There is no fee for this virtual conference. We hope the conference will spark good questions and, of course, answers that deepen our understanding of the region and beyond.

Mission Crossroads magazine has published an insightful view of the ministry of the Sant’Egidio community in Ukraine. The article, written by Yuriy Lifanse, can be accessed by clicking here.

Peace and blessings,


Please read the following letter from Sara P. Lisherness, the interim director of World Mission:

Dear partners in God’s mission,

I don’t know about you, but daily my heart grows heavier. News about the pandemic, wars, wildfires, gun violence, racism, earthquakes and hurricanes cloud my vision. It’s hard to see hope; our world is in a fog. Yet we trust that God’s light and love transcend the brokenness of this time.

God is at work transforming the world, and you, through your prayers, partnership and encouragement, are helping us share this good news. Thank you for your faithful and gracious support of our mission personnel.

How can we see through the fog? What will the church be after the pandemic? Could it be that God is doing “a new thing” and is inviting us to perceive it?  Through all the uncertainty we know that God’s steadfast love and care for all creation will prevail and that God’s Spirit is at work in each of us.

We all have an integral part to play in fulfilling God’s mission. As we seek to grow together in faithfulness there are three important steps I invite you to take in supporting our shared commitments to God’s mission:

Give – Consider making a year-end financial contribution for the sending and support of our mission personnel. Your support helps mission personnel accompany global partners as together they share the light of God’s love and justice around the world. Invite your session to include support for mission personnel in its annual budget planning.
Act – Visit The Mission Yearbook for Prayer and Study to delve deeper into the work God is doing through the PC(USA) and its partners in ministry around the globe:
Pray – Include our mission personnel, our global partners, and our common commitments to share God’s grace, love, mercy and justice in your daily prayers.

Thank you for your faithfulness to God’s mission through the Presbyterian Church. It is my prayer that you will continue to support this work with your prayers, partnership, and financial gifts in the coming year. We hope you will join us and our partners in shining a beacon of hope throughout the world.

In the light of hope,



Sara P. Lisherness, Interim Director
World Mission
Presbyterian Mission Agency
Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)

To give please visit

You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven. Matthew 5:14-16

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