Strengthening the Church through Education

Cold day

IMG_20151224_095043_hdrRecently we had a “cold day,” not just like every day in winter in Siberia, but because it was cold enough that we canceled school.  When the temperature dropped to a mere -35°C (-31°F), it seemed like the right decision.  We do have a limit when waiting for the bus, which arrives sometimes irregularly in cold weather.  So we enjoyed a little time inside and tried to catch up with those that follow our ministry.

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Last Sunday was also a true Siberian winter day with thickly frosted windows and negative temperatures. It was not only freezing outside, but also inside our church because the boiler heating system was not keeping up. I imagine in America we would have stayed home or canceled church, but not here as members huddled, retaining their coats or wrapped in shawls. This is not unusual nor is it a regular occurrence. The message was from Psalms 107:22-31 and Matthew 14:22-33 about the storms sailors face and the storms in life we all face yet turning to the one who controls even the wind and sea. Midway through the message in staggered a bedraggled man. Was he a homeless man seeking warmth? Protection from life’s storms? At the end of the sermon, one of the men who lives in the drug/alcohol rehab center came forward to repent. And then, the late comer went forward expressing his desire to pray – “Lord save me.” Maybe some in the congregation watched with uncertainty as he prayed yet joined him with their prayers over a soul coming before the Creator. That moment warmed hearts and souls to the one Who, not only calms storms, but can calm hearts and guides them to Himself and His haven. I later learned he was homeless and had been invited a couple of weeks earlier by a lady from our church as she walked to church from the bus stop. She talked with him after the service that day, and he expressed his desire to seek help at the rehab center.  Please pray for this man and for the lady who shared with him as she continues to share the warm love of our Creator, Christ Jesus in this physically and spiritually cold place.

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As you know our main purpose in being in Russia is to encourage the families on our team with school-aged children.  Recently, the Gustafson family posted this paragraph on their blog. We pass it on to demonstrate how our role as teachers empowers them for their ministry.

We’ve had a full fall. Some of the extra things beyond our normal ministry roles have been in the realm of schooling for the kids. It began with homeschooling Anneka. It was sweet to get this extra time with her and to watch her learn and grow. Ella started kindergarten 5 days a week and has been thriving there. She is a happy little girl and is very social and likes to be with her classmates. We switched Ike to a new preschool that is more suited for his linguistic needs, and already we see a difference in his Russian speaking and comprehension. Anneka has been a part of a theatre program and is kept very busy! This holiday season she has practices every day and will be in six performances. While this was beyond what we anticipated, she is learning through it to draw her strength from God and is watching Him answer (like in miraculously helping her to learn all of her lines in a day!) In regular school, her teachers have returned from America, and she really loves being a part of the one-room school house. Her teachers are excellent and help to free us up in ministry.IMG_3889

We truly pray and work to help these students feel loved and labor to give them the best education we can offer.  It is a calling God has given us; it is also a great blessing to watch Him do great things through us.

Stay tuned in we will need a couple of more blogs to caught up with January events  so more coming soon even in February.

A Time to Celebrate

IMG_20151213_110213This season almost naturally leads us to celebration.   We have had reason to celebrate throughout the year.   We have enjoyed rich times with family and endured deep sorrow, yet through it all we celebrate. For sake of this post I define celebrate according to Webster as to honor (as a holiday) especially by solemn ceremonies or by refraining from ordinary business.  So as we see, it can take on a deeper meaning. It involves honoring the things that matter to us and giving them our time and effort so that our heart priorities are our life priorities.

IMG_20151015_194929Our celebrations have been a little different this year.  We have already written about weddings and even funerals which are celebrations that cover both highs and lows of life.  Let me begin where I last wrote. October 15 we celebrated my birthday early with my siblings in Michigan. October 17, we celebrated my favorite holiday Thanksgiving with our adult children including the newest members.   My brother Wayne, so crusty and prickly on the outside and so loving on the inside, went home to glory on Oct 21.  Although we flew to Russia before the funeral service, we were able to share in the time via Skype and through thoughts I left behind to be read.  Toward the end of that I wrote, “So, for now my world is a little smaller, a little darker and a little lonelier but not forever; I’ll see you in the morning.” IMG_20151022_120907  The hope we have in Christ lets us celebrate life as we mourn a death, yes, and feel all the pain yet with a great hope.

Somewhere over the Pacific Ocean around the International Date Line, Lisa and I celebrated 28 years of marriage (Oct 23-25).   The day was shortened by the travel to Russia and for us was only a few hours long.  We celebrated not with ceremony but with togetherness as we sat in Peking waiting for our final flight to Ulan-Ude. IMG_20151024_093620  Honoring the most important  part of life, except our walk with Christ, is not just a party but it is also the day-to-day choices to love especially when you’re tired of traveling and just want to be selfish.

After 4 long days back in Ulan-Ude, we headed off to Thailand for the SEND Russia conference. It was a good time to connect with teammates from other parts of Russia.  As we arrived in Thailand there was one quiet celebration, Lisa’s birthday Nov.1.  Lisa is quiet about personal events, and we had responsibilities to take care of; so there was no cake but definitely ice cream plus a time to think and talk about life and our children.IMG_20151101_123912

We had one week watching two of our students while their parents attended meetings. Then a week to relax and enjoy the warmth and the sea, followed by a week of meetings to take care of SEND business.  In its own way, the conference was a celebration: of life, of work, of the ministry we are here to do.IMG_20151104_150002

Now we are getting into a little of our routine for just three weeks before we celebrate Christmas. Once for the US time December 25 and once for the Russian time January 1 and the official Orthodox date January 7.   In all of the parties and services we do hope to celebrate, not  just by having a good time, the birth of a Savior Jesus Christ.IMG_20151210_150344

 

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God gives us gifts we don’t understand at the time.  Little did we know how significant getting a hair permanent would be.  Thursday, October 15, we arranged for Lisa to get her hair done and time together with Art’s family in Michigan.  All five siblings were together, which turns out to be the last time until eternity.  We laughed and had a sweet time before our planned departure for Russia.

Saturday we had a great time with our four adult children and there spouses and friend.  It was a great time to be together one last time for now.DSC09834

Sunday was a precious time also with close friends for lunch and a round of memories and fellowship.   These dear friends have linked arm and arm with us for years, our bond with them helps us during these times of separation.DSC09872

On Tuesday as we finished packing things and weighing suitcases preparing for our flight on Friday, we had little warning of the week that lay ahead.   We had planned to leave after Anna came home from work and travel to Indianapolis for time with Lisa’s brother and family.   I (Art) had a difficult emotional time saying goodbye and finally had to turn away and just go.   With eyes full of tears, we managed to drive to Indianapolis.   Dinner was fine and time to talk was enjoyable.

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The next morning, Wednesday, we received a phone call from my sister saying that my oldest brother Wayne had a heart attack at work, was rushed to the hospital, and had died.  What a shock, we quickly traveled to Michigan, mostly legally, and helped with funeral and emotional needs with my family.  My brother’s two children are grown but it is still heart wrenching.   Leslie, my niece, was looking through drawers at Wayne’s house and “randomly” found his high school class ring, just one of several little love notes sent from heaven on a very hard day.   We cried together and prayed together a lot on Wednesday and Thursday.   Please pray for Leslie as a few other emotional events from the summer are making this time especially hard for her.    Ralphie, my nephew, is the name bearer as he is Ralph the third and now alone carries the name.

Through all of that day, the one central comfort was knowing that Wayne had put his faith in Jesus.   Although he wasn’t perfect, he did love the Savior. Since he did, NOW he IS perfect, and one day we will see him that way.

We had to leave before all the final services and get on a plane to return here to Ulan-Ude.    Although we can Skype in, it is still difficult to leave behind those so dear to us.   Our trip was uneventful which is good because God knows how much we can bear.    Praise the Lord for his blessings.   In these times you can choose to look at the loss of your dreams and plans with a family member or reflect on the blessing of the time you had,  I am sure we will do both.  So for now, I bless the Lord for my 52 years with my brother who was only 57 laughing a little, crying a lot and looking forward in hope to a time when I will never need to say goodbye again.   Thanks to all who pray for us.  Please carry us especially in the next few days.

IMG_20151007_191255A huge thank you to all those who prayed for us as we traveled to Colorado this last week! Traveling the 2300 miles with truck, trailer and returning with a horse went smoothly.

Rejoice also that our support need is just $190 short! While we were traveling, we received several email responses. THANK YOU!

IMG_20151007_095310Generously missionary friends from our home church, who were at the PVBC mission conference, invited us to stop in Kansas City, MO about the half-way point for the night. Laughter being good medicine was happily swallowed as we reminisced over old times when we were all a lot younger and not so experienced. Before continuing our journey, they gave us a tour of the Avant-Crossworld’s campus where they now serve and extended a second invitation to stop again on our way back even with the horse.

IMG_20151011_190428Although Anna has moved back to Indiana, we had graciously been invited to participate in her Colorado church’s three-day mission conference at Falcon Baptist Church. Our involvement included 5 sessions for the children’s program, Art preaching, ministry updates, lots of good food and sweet fellowship.

IMG_20151010_115239While we were in Colorado, we were also able to meet up with former teammates from Ukraine whom we had not seen in 5 years. Many things have happened for them in that time not the least being that their boys have grown!

IMG_20151012_071411This trip was a turning point for Anna and for us.   A single puzzle piece, a cross and a thousand pound animal given to her to train and keep were her last possessions still left on the ranch. And although the horse is pretty special, the training and friends she made in those transition years will remain dear and draw her back for visits and maybe even another move someday.

IMG_20151015_194931For Art and me, it marks the last days before our journey back to Ulan-Ude, Russia, the saying of good-byes to family and friends, the finishing of projects, and the packing up of things. We are still hoping and praying to be at 100% before flying next Friday, October 23. Please pray with us that the Lord will provide through his people.

IMG_20151002_193507 Missionaries typically have a sending church or home base. Ours is Pleasant View Bible Church which we started attending when we first arrived to the Warsaw area in 1989. Although the Lord has given us the amazing privilege to fellowship with His people all over the world, just a small glimpse of what heaven is going to be like described in Rev. 7:9, returning home has its own special memories. This is the first time since Pleasant View sent us out 7 years ago that we have been able to participate in their yearly mission conference which we used to help facilitate by serving on the mission committee.

IMG_20151004_175813Traditionally, the week-long conference begins with a big flag ceremony to introduce each of the missionaries and the countries they serve in. The upper elementary children are given the privilege of carrying in the flags which is a great way to draw their active interest into missions. Some other key activities are the Bonfire, Munchies with the missionaries, a mid-week prayer night and children’s program, men’s and ladies’ meetings with food of course, and the finale on the 2nd Sunday evening—the Taste of the World.

IMG_20151004_165939What Russian cuisine did we serve? Пельмени (Pelmeni)- “ear bread” – are Russian dumplings: small portions of ground meat  wrapped in a thin, noodle dough and boiled. Possibly an adaptation of the Chinese wonton, the Russian version originated in Siberia and was considered a “hunter’s food” and way to preserve meat. “Giant sacks of frozen пельмени would be carried by Siberian hunters when leaving on winter expeditions (where they would stay frozen, of course.” (http://www.sras.org/pelmeni_history)  Of the close to 300 we made only a small portion was left so it was a welcomed foreign taste.

IMG_20151004_194438We mentioned doing the Children’s program using our old camp material about “The Missing Missionary” in the last blog. You know children have listened well when they come up to you later in the week, recognize you, and answer questions about the lesson. The Bonfire the first night and the Taste of the World finale were like attending a family reunion since the missionaries present this year were home-grown and sent out before and during the time when we were sent out.

Praises:

  • Being with the local body of believers and spiritual family reunions
  • New and increased support partners–only about $300/mo shortfall
  • a truck and  trailer to transport Anna’s horse from CO to IN

Prayer Requests:

  • Good connections with the Falcon Baptist mission conference in CO Oct. 9-11
  • The Lord’s provision of the last of our support
  • Safety transporting the horse and its transition to help Anna’s complete transition back to the mid-west.

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October is here, crisp and clear. We are just coming down from Jonathan and Cassie’s celebration. DSC09669

It was a wonderful day, and I was so proud to hear both of them honor Jesus Christ in their vows to each other and through taking personal communion right after their vows.DSC09714

It did not earn them any merit, but it was a great picture of Christ being central in their new family.

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We really have not had much time to bask in the light of the wedding as Pleasant View Bible Church’s mission conference started on Sunday. We have had the chance to see other missionaries sent out from our home church at about the same time as us; and although we all look a little older and our children don’t look like children any longer, each of our missionary friends have shared how God is greatly using them.

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We enjoyed Wednesday night’s Kids Action Club as Lisa and I helped the children find the missing missionary.   It took the form of a skit from our CEF camp days. Lisa was the missionary detective, and we found clues that helped us teach the children that they can be a missionary right where they are and maybe somewhere else sometime in the future.

Rejoice with this exciting note, we are currently at 92% of our support! Through several people responding this summer, our beginning support need of $1250 has been reduced to around $450/month to finish the task. Please continue to pray for the remainder needed. If the Lord leads you to help, please act quickly as we leave in just 22 days and would love to have this cared for.  Send us an email which we can relay to SEND, and we will quickly be at full support.

Time sure flies and soon, so will we.   Praise the Lord for His great love and for all the good times with family and friends this summer.

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The pedal to the metal and not letting up.   The summer continues into fall as we try to finish up all that has been packed into this year’s home service.   We need to pause long enough to bring you up to speed.   Our daughter Elisabeth’s wedding was right after our last post.   God gave us a beautiful day, all went well and of course the bride was stunning.   It was a little non-traditional as the couple chose a three-sand ceremony to represent each of them and Christ in a three strand commitment (Eccles 4).IMG_1772

It was also different because they chose to have rice crispy treats in place of a cake. The treats were stacked and decorated with flowers.   One more thing, instead of rice, bird seed, or even ice shavings, the couple was celebrated by the releasing of helium balloons as they arrived at the reception. The balloons looked sparkly floating into a clear blue sky.   So now Elisabeth Brown faces the challenges and joys of married life with Brandon.

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We have also continued our travels to churches and times with individuals. We have enjoyed meeting new pastors and friends of friends, building relationships, and seeking funding.   Praise the Lord for those who have joined and increased their support. To date we have just below $600 per month to raise with five weeks left and two mission’s conferences ahead. We are trusting God to finish providing the last of the needed funds. We do enjoy so much getting back together with all the people who have built into our lives.

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One of those people graduated to heaven just after we last posted. Janet Perzee was a dear friend we worked with during our Camp Good News days. After a battle with a blood clot disorder, Janet went home August 21.   Art was asked to officiate the memorial service which he did. It was bitter sweet as we celebrated Janet’s life and ministry to the Lord. Please pray for our friend Tom as he grieves, that the Lord would draw him closer and deeper in this time.

We plan some good family time this week and still anticipate one more wedding. But all too soon October will be here and we will be on a plane. We don’t want to miss one person or one thing God has for us while we are still here.   If you have a chance to catch up with us, we will be in Warsaw Indiana at Pleasant View Bible Church’s mission conference starting September 27 through October 4.   If you are in the area, stop in to see us.

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