Strengthening the Church through Education

White Party

IMGP0186Wednesday we had a White Party at English club. Why a “White” Party, you may ask? Well, this is White Month – it’s a holiday the Buryats celebrate. It starts with the holiday Sagaalgan, the New Year according to the lunar calendar and continues for a whole month. It’s a time of cleansing oneself from evil, impurity, bad karma and unluck. This is the first time I’ve celebrated the holiday, and it’s been meaningful to learn more about Buryat culture. However, this holiday has a lot of Buddhist rituals and traditions entwined throughout, which makes for a very dark and heavy time here. But, I want to share about what God did tonight at our White party. DSC09076We made pozi, a Buryat traditional dish, and everyone brought white food (white cookies, sour cream and cottage cheese, yogurt, etc). While we ate, everyone shared how they celebrate this holiday. Then, Art taught us how to make origami hearts, and we played a game. Nettie printed a picture with a verse (Is. 1:18) about God cleansing us from sin and making us white as snow. IMGP0182

However,wedidn’t really plan how to present it and didn’t plan how to share the Gospel with it. But nearing the end of our time, the conversation just happened! God brought us a Buryat girl who is a Christian and she shared her testimony and one girl opened up and asked some very good questions.IMGP0176

We had a great conversation about God and the Bible! This one girl expressed a desire to read the Bible and Renata gave one to her. We  are so excited to see how God is working!!! It wasn’t because we had a great plan or led a great discussion – it was all God!!! Please pray for God’s work to continue in the hearts of those who heard His truth. Please pray that they will know Jesus!!!!!

Let’s make a date

Summer  2015 Plans20140921_160650

Lisa and I have our official home service this summer. We plan to be home May 3 and return to Russia on October 23 .  Already the time is beginning to fill in with family events: graduations, weddings, and sweet times to enjoy our adult children and friends.

However, once again we will want to meet and connect with churches and individuals who support us financially and as faithful prayer partners.  Since you are reading, may we ask for your help.

   First, contact us and let us know when we can have time with you. The days of summer will come and go quickly, and we want time with each person who plays a part of this ministry.  Please get your request to us soon so we can plan a time with you.  We will be making contact with many of our prayer and financial supporters but want to make special priority for those desiring a time with us.

  Second, we need to expand our contacts.  We lose a few of our supporters each year as God promotes them to glory.  We will need new supporters who at this time are unknown to us to fill in the gaps.  The best way for that to happen is for those who already know and support us to help build new relationships.   So as you contact us, please have in mind a venue in which we could connect with others also:  Maybe a small group or Sunday school class, a picnic or dessert party, a time in the park or at the beach but with an opportunity to make new connections.   Then as the Lord leads, He can direct some to become new supporters.

  Third, we will have a significant amount of support to raise, approximately $1500 per month.  Not because we need a personal raise, but for a couple of good reasons.   As already mentioned we have lost some supporters through death, and we miss them personally, but that also causes a financial hole.  We must find new partners to fill those losses of support.   One other prominent reason is that current monies being used from generous one time donations to help stabilize our support needs will be gone in May.  God has used these one time gifts  to cover our support requirements this past term, but now the tank is about dry.

 The urgency to return fully supported in the fall effects not only our ministry but that of the whole team.  We look forward to telling you more about our summer plans and the ministry in Ulan-Ude, Russia, but for now  LET’S MAKE A DATE..

With all this in mind, please arrange a time to meet with us. We will do all we can to find time for you this summer.  It will be impossible to see everyone, but let us make you a priority.  Help make that happen by making contact soon.

Looking forward to this summer:  email us at blakera63@hotmail.com or call our home church Pleasant View Bible of Warsaw at  574-269-1562  or through SEND International  at 800- SEND- 808  and ask for Jill Hemingway, our coach. The important part is to make contact.

Here in Ulan-Ude, it is ushered in by fireworks bursting all over the city and carrying on until the next morning.DSC_0057

As we have explained previously, December 25 isn’t seen as Russia’s official Christmas Day, but the churches have adopted the practice of celebrating with the children and emphasizing family on a Sunday nearest the 25th. Our church chose the 28th. In preparation the Sunday school team began planning in November. Sadly those initial plans were waylaid for health struggles and other issues. Life is like that, and adaptations are made resulting sometimes in something even better than first planned.

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A suggestion the Lord brought to Lisa that was to compliment the original plan ended up more prominent in the second plan. Traditionally, our church gives out the names of each of the children and the congregation buys them gifts presented on the Sunday we celebrate. This year Lisa suggested helping the children focus on giving more than receiving by making some homemade gifts for each family or unit in the church. We started making cinnamon, applesauce ornaments with the older class, cards with the middle group, and gift boxes with the youngest children the end of November.IMG_20141207_120123

Skipping  S.S. the first week of December, our church celebrated the wedding of a couple whose testimonies of God’s grace are amazing. We spent the next couple of weeks painting and finishing projects. The favorite week was making candy cane cookies! We, of course, had to taste them; but only AFTER, we had formed all the dough:). Watching how the children participated more readily each week that we worked on the projects and how joyfully they handed them out on the 28th blessed and encouraged our hearts. Before the children handed the gifts out, the children’s choir sang and several families agreed to either sing, recite, play the piano, or do a skit, then Lisa read the legend of how the candy cane was made and a poem–yes, in Russian in front of the entire church!

Look at the Candy Cane                               Посмотрите на Леденец

What do you see?                                         Что вы видите?

Stripes that are red                                       Полосы, которые красны

Like the blood shed for me                           Как кровь, которую пролил за                                                                                                                                                меня Христос.

White is for my Savior                                   Белые – мой Спаситель

Who’s sinless and pure!                               Который безгрешен и чист!

“J” is for Jesus My Lord, that’s for sure!      “J” – это Иисус, мой Господь, это                                                                                                                                           точно!

Turn it around                                               Переверните его

And a staff you will see                                 И вы увидите посох,

Jesus my shepherd                                       Иисус Пастырь мой

Was born for me!                                          Родился для меня!

DSC08821Sharing about our Savior’s birth provides a golden opportunity for evangelism at English club. We had a great time singing and sharing the Christmas story. Bruce shared a chalk art of the nativity along with a Christmas cookie account of the birth of Christ.

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We sang the “Twelve Days of Christmas” with flare and made paper ornaments.

We hope the new year will have much fruit as we share our lives as well as  God’s truth with these precious young people.

Our students returned from their trip but we were not able to resume the schedule right away due to a nasty bug that hitched a ride and had them down for over a week. Not to cut our short school year shorter, Art and I made house calls for a couple of days since the boys were gaining strength faster than the parents.With all the school that we missed we even had our wonderful teachers come to our house and do school with the boys when we were too weak to leave the apartment.

Matthew was pretty bummed when the sickness delayed his opportunity to do the Robinson Crusoe Reader, a book we used when our kids were in elementary that incorporates hands-on-learning. Each child has been given the freedom to use the medium they wanted to recreate a miniature display of Robinson’s life on the island. Recently, he finished the book, his model and his first major book report.

Although we did not send out information to everyone, we did let some know to pray for the pastor of the church that we attend here in Russia. Pastor Zhenya, his wife Natasha and their 7 children safely escaped their burning house in the early hours of November 6thMedvedovs  Pastor received major burns trying to rescue the kids, and a couple of the children received burns. They lost everything even the car which was parked near the house. God has graciously provided their immediate physical needs through the generosity of thousands of people.IMG_0931 The city has also given them temporary housing and offered to help them obtain a new house. Natasha was overwhelmed with clothes so she asked the ladies of the church to sort through them and distribute them to others who could use them.IMG_20141115_111949 Pastor Zhena was just recently released from the hospital and was able to attend church this week. Please keep the whole family in your prayers, not just for physical needs but also for emotional and mental healing from such a traumatic ordeal.20141228_115837

Thanksgiving was fun.   We had the team over to our apartment.  DSC08750 Lisa does not really like turkey, but she managed to build one from a pumpkin and cards with verses about thanksgiving.DSC08756 We have much to be thankful for this year.   We ate until we were full of pies, potatoes and . . . . chicken.

Art continues to meet with a small group for English Club. Along with Nettie our teammate from New York State, he shares times of conversation with the group of young people from various backgrounds: some Chinese , a few Buryat, and several Russians. 20141126_201038During one of the recent times, Art taught them to make origami Snowflakes.   It has been a rewarding outreach; we hope for opportunities to be direct with the gospel as we build relationships.

Christmas has already come, so stay tuned for more very soon about our celebration of Jesus’ birth.

DSC08736What is a teacher without any students? Well, at least without the two boys of the SEND family that we currently serve because they left for 3 weeks?  Idle? –not quite—although our primary focus is to work with the SEND missionary families teaching their children, our hearts and hands are ready to serve wherever the Lord can use us. October filled with other teaching opportunities, as well as a chance to help out a teammate with remodeling, a chance to host a young friend from Tambov, Russia, and a third trip to Baikal.

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Several other missionary families serve here in Ulan-Ude who are not with SEND international. Art and I offer our educational services and resources as time and schedules permit. After our regular school day ends, Cristina and her mom come over once a week for some math with Mr. Art and twice a week for English with Mrs. Lisa.   Lately, I have been going to their house on the 2nd day so that Cristina’s little brother can listen, too, and sometimes even participate in our lessons.

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Since our school hours were temporarily unoccupied, we could teach a couple of homeschooled high school missionary teens a concentrated module of Biology, literature, and creative writing. Their mom and I sat down and evaluated what areas they have completed or not completed that could be recorded on a transcript towards graduation and whatever future studies they might pursue. She was also preparing to leave for the U.S. to be with an older daughter during the birth of a grandchild and needed to do some alterations on her wardrobe. Thanks to the loan of a machine from another missionary and previous experience working for a dry cleaner company doing alterations, we were able to get her fixed up. It is encouraging to observe these moments confirming that the Lord has prepared us in so many aspects for the roles He is using us in now.

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Midway through October, a young friend whom we met while working in Tambov, Russia last summer arrived for a short visit. Geoffrey is from Africa and studying in the Russian University. He and another SEND teammate came to explore this side of Russia which is quite different from the west side. They were able to see important spots around the city, visit a Buddhist temple, fellowship with believers here, and taste fine Mongolian (Buryats are descendants of neighboring Mongolia) cuisine at a local restaurant. Of course, it would not have been a real visit if we had not taken them to our greatest landmark, greater than the largest Lenin head— Lake Baikal. Alexandra D., Art’s language teacher whom we consider our friend, afforded us the opportunity.

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Graciously, she had invited Art and I earlier in September, right after school had started, to stay the weekend at her newly built home—a cabin of sorts—near Baikal. The Lord gave us awesome weather to experience real fall colors and a beautiful opportunity to share Him through His creation.20140914_151952 It was also an enjoyable, concentrated, Russian lesson. She introduced us to her neighbors. Art and she read and talked through the prodigal son parable while sitting outside on a log overlooking Baikal. As we were walking around the village discussing different structures and trees, we had opportunity to talk about many spiritual things. Continue to pray for spiritual awakening and a personal relationship with Christ. We told her about Geoffrey and she granted us permission to return to the cabin for an overnight stay. That made the third time in two months that Art and I traveled to enjoy beautiful Baikal!

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Geoffrey and our teammate wanted to make their trip most memorable by not just seeing Baikal but experiencing it first—FOOT. Thankfully, the Lord was again providing perfect, mild weather so late in the season that although frigid, the lake and air temperatures were not freezing.

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Maybe you can tell by the pictures that Geoffrey is gifted physically. When Valerie asked Art to help put drywall up on the ceilings in their new home, Art agreed and took Geoff. Along with a couple of other young guys they were able to hang 11 sheets and trimmings in one day. We were sad to say good-bye to Geoffrey who assured us he had a great time and promises to try and return. We are praying that the Lord will continue to lead this special young man as he finishes university and looks to his future.

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We enjoyed the change of pace while our students were traveling but missed our “boys” and were looking forward to once again the routine of teaching them.

Regular? Routine.

With the start of school, regular routines are resumed. Programs and activities at our church also recommenced. It is delightful to work with the team of adults and young people who run our Sunday school program. Art and I yet again fulfill a support role to encourage this group with the experience God has given us through the years working with children’s ministries. They ask us for lesson ideas, to do crafts, to do English lessons with Bible themes, and even for cooking class! The cooking class idea came from one craft lesson where we “painted” pictures with different herbs and spices. The smell made all of us so hungry that the kids asked if the next time we could actually EAT what we made.GE DIGITAL CAMERA After studying the Bible lesson on the potter and the clay and how God forms us into something for His use and glory, we took homemade pretzel dough, formed it into creations, baked them and ATE them. Now we are planning to do something with cooking at least once a month.GE DIGITAL CAMERA

Since the kids already go to school Monday through Saturday then receive hours of homework, the S.S. team is trying to think of more interesting ways to draw the kids into the lessons and into church without making it feel like school even on Sunday. GE DIGITAL CAMERA

September 7th, Sunday school opened with a special skit similar in storyline to Pilgrim’s Progress. Praise the Lord for a beautiful fall day to carry out the activity of journeying from the starting point-a corner of the church yard- through different “places” where leaders represented different characters, either ones to tempt and lead astray or ones to share the Truth and gospel. At one station, the children come to the cross and sing then are given a paper showing their admission into heaven, but the journey doesn’t stop after salvation –there is the rest of life. Sometimes we are tempted by the evil one who wants to cause us to doubt and leave the path, but the Comforter, the Holy Spirit, is there to encourage.

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Was Art picked for the “evil” character because he is so mischievous or for the small amount of words he would have to say? Either way the kids love his teasing and fun and usually return for more.

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Eventually, they finished their journey and went to heaven where angels invited them to the “Lord’s” banqueting table—yes, a real feast! Thirty-five children attended that Sunday and continue to come fairly regularly.

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-October, our team had a monthly meeting, and Christmas program ideas were discussed. Traditionally, a list is made of all the kids then their names are distributed to the adults in the church who purchase small toys. This year we are trying to help the children focus more on giving than receiving. Please pray that details will come together in a timely manner to effectively accomplish the goal. Pray for the children’s hearts to be open and that we would have wisdom to know how to reach them.

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Not only has the Sunday school started, but also choir. Meeting weekly with the folks in choir and singing praise together, even if we don’t always understand all the words or stay on the right notes, blesses and encourages Art and me. The people have lovingly accepted us. After each practice, everyone writes their prayer requests and names on small slips of paper which are folded then drawn from a container. To spontaneously write things for others to pray about on our behalf has challenged our language skills. Often someone offers to help me out by allowing me to dictate the idea then they write it in an understandable and proper form. Pray that we will glorify and edify each time we perform in our church, other churches, public gatherings, and conferences.

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One other plan for our church this fall is to move from our current building and location to a more modern building a half hour across the city. The plan, developed to help resolve a conflict that started just before we moved to Ulan-Ude, has changed many times; therefore, we have not written a great deal about the situation. It is complex and has been in process for a while. Please pray for reconciliation between the church leaders, reconciliation between hurt church members, resolution to the conflict, conviction to those that need convicted, grace for all involved, and most importantly that the name of Christ would be glorified. Thank you for praying for us and for the ministries that the Lord has called us to be a part of here in Ulan-Ude.

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Our last blog ended by telling you about our mad dash around the city to help our new teammate Bruce with documents for his visa.  Please pray for Bruce as the government has filled their quota for the year in this area so his documents were denied and he must do that circuit again after the New Year.  Hopefully he won’t have the same time pressure he had the first round.  One of the reasons we were trying to complete it all in a week was because of the team conference planned for the following week.

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Each fall our team meets to evaluate and plan ministries for the year both for individual and team involvement. Leadership from SEND North America joins us to be part of the discussions so that as a whole we are striving towards the same goals.  Our team brainstormed old and new ideas of intentional ways we could reach our 5 main goals for Buryatia.  Of course they all fall under the main vision of evangelizing the unreached people group called Buryats and encouraging the Russian churches. After the initial business days in the city, we traveled together to the banks of Lake Baikal for some team building time through discussions on trust building and prayer. Great fellowship ensued around the fire, swimming in the cool waters, sunning on the beach, and playing games. The missionary “kids” especially loved the climbing trees nearby and playing with Ebony, our dog. No, it wasn’t just the big kid.

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Art had his own trust/team building project of significant importance.

Step 1: the hole, an appropriate distance from the camp

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Step 2: constructing a sturdy and steady seat.

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Step 3: it works! I’m sure you can all guess what modern convenience he and his team engineered.

After our fun in the sun and sand, it was time to return to the city where more sand, sun and even fun could be found.GE DIGITAL CAMERA  Art and I had one week left to finish basic preparations for our school term, another short one due to travel and home service plans.  The first month was going to be crucial for reviewing and laying down some solid groundwork before the students and their family went away for several weeks to a conference specifically for missionary families with children to provide educational consultation, evaluation, and relationships with other missionary kids.

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We mentioned previously that we moved the location of the educational program which meant also unpacking resources, assembling furniture, and arranging our materials before actually writing lesson plans.

The new location affords Art and me an hour long bus ride each direction which modern technology makes into usable time.  When the batteries are not fully charged or car sickness limits reading or listening, praying is not in the least hindered.

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My current classroom is such a contrast from the first room I had at the old location—a long table in the dining room with no windows and no air flow plus having to carry two boxes with all my books and materials down every morning before the students arrived. Some days, I felt like I never saw the sun. This year up on the 7th floor, the view is spectacular, the lighting radiant, and a window provides fresh air. A cabinet and shelves help to organize everything. We do have to be careful not to be distracted by the airplane repair factory.  The sound of plane engines revving is even more exciting than that of a race car! One day we were startled by a thundering sound which we amazingly realized was the aftershock of an explosion, miles away.  Art had seen the puff of dirt rising before we felt the percussion. Sorry the picture is not very clear but we also experience the black haze from all the factories including the ones that provide our heat which was just turned on recently.

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