Russian short-term mission trip
Five Southern Wesleyan University students and two faculty members are part of a team of 17 short-term missionaries who traveled to Russia June 7-22 to work with orphans.
The team includes Dr. Mark Elliott and Dr. Rod Blackman along with students Ansley Junkins, Heather Stancil and Amanda Hedrick.They took with them all of the supplies needed to conduct Bible studies, crafts, sports and drama with the children of Sherpets Orphanage near Ryazan and orphan graduates studying at a vocational school in Kostroma.
Below are reports from the team:
Our team of 17 short term missionaries from Clemson United Methodist Church and Southern Wesleyan University hosted a summer camp week for 30 children at Sherepets Orphanage, Ryazan, Russia. Also, with the help of Russian Protestants and Children’s HopeChest staff, our team helped with the restoration of the Russian Orthodox Church of the Nativity near Kostroma, Russia.
1. Our first day in Moscow we accepted an invitation from Father Zaccheus of St. Catherine the Martyr Orthodox Church to visit his parish. Father Zaccheus (Wood) is an American, a graduate of St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Seminary (N.Y.), and dean of his parish which is the Moscow representation church of the Orthodox Church in America. He plans a collaboration with the Moscow Protestant Chaplaincy in a soup kitchen project for the neighborhood around St. Catherine’s. Fr. Zaccheus was a warm and gracious host who shared with us quite candidly about the successes and challenges of his parish ministry. At the end of our visit he showed us a unique monument in the church yard to the victims of 9/11. I would like to introduce Fr. Zaccheus to the Russian-American Christian University (RACU).
2. Joining us on our visit to St. Catherine’s were United Methodist Bishop for Russia, Hans Vaxby, and two of my former students serving as missionaries in Moscow: Matt Miller, Evangelical Free Church, seconded to the Russian-American Christian University; and Caleb Kyzer, Campus Crusade Student Venture. Each of the three gave us talks in the church yard about their ministry in Russia.
3. It was a special treat to interact with two of our translators in Moscow, Natasha and Sveta, who are the first Russian orphan graduates to attend the Russian-American Christian University. Children’s HopeChest and RACU both have every reason to be proud of these delightful, hard-working and path-breaking young women.
4. Activities with 30 children and teens at Sherepets Orphanage in Ryazan included crafts, sports, drama, and Bible studies. The kids loved the beautiful illustrations in the Bible story books we gave them and some of the children read every story in a day or two. Lena, a painfully shy 16-year-old told me the Bible studies were her favorite activity of our camp.
5. Members of our team worked together very well - a good mix of youth with a lot of energy and spiritual passion and adults with life experience and spiritual discernment. Team members were willing to do whatever needed to be done. As an example, businessman Randy Collins took on assignments as varied as choosing a laptop we purchased for computer instruction in the orphanage, on the one hand, to trimming sticks for the orphans’ first-ever marshmallow roast, on the other hand.
6. By the end of the week Victor, the orphanage director, was no longer anxious over whether or not his children could be trusted with our American group. He thanked us especially for successfully involving teenage orphans who typically stand aloof of attempts to draw them out. Above all, he expressed the desire more than once that we return to Sherepets Orphanage in the future.
7. Our second week involved helping in the renovation of the Church of the Nativity near Kostroma. While we only had four orphan graduates working with us when we had anticipated 15, the experience nevertheless was a moving one because of the body of Christ working together: Russians and Americans; youth and adults; orphan graduates and several ex-offenders in a rehabilitation program; and most amazing of all some 40 United Methodist, Wesleyan, Baptist, Pentecostal, independent church, and Orthodox believers working together as we moved dirt, moved a great deal of lumber, poured a foundation for new entrance steps, cleaned thick layers of debris from the church floor and cut grass in the church yard.
8. In the Kostroma region our group also had an opportunity to visit Sudislavl Orphanage to see what a Western church (Riverchase United Methodist-Birmingham) sponsorship of an orphanage can mean in the lives of its children. It was a very emotional experience for Darlene and me to see the children again and the director Olga Dmitrievna.
9. Darlene and I had the privilege of visiting the foster home of Masha Shemyakina, whom we had sponsored from Sudislavl Orphanage. Masha, her brother, Fedya, and two more children from Sudislavl are now four of the ten children in a wonderful Christian foster home – an answer to our prayers. What loving parents Masha and Fedya now have. Children’s Hope Chest has helped promote the concept of foster homes as an alternative to orphanages.
10. Russia is the location for a great deal of misunderstanding among various Christian churches: Orthodox vs. Catholic; Orthodox vs. Protestant; Baptist vs. Pentecostal; new churches started by Western missionaries vs. traditional Protestant churches. That is why it was so encouraging to see the friendship that has developed between Father Georgi Edelstein (Russian Orthodox) and Pastor Andrei Danilov (Pentecostal) in Kostroma. While we were working on Father Georgi’s church, about 10 members of Pastor Andrei’s congregation pitched in to help us for three days. And the same week, during our stay in Kostroma, this stalwart priest and pastor helped spearhead the first meeting of church leaders in the Kostroma region. Both of these Godly men are remarkably courageous in standing for civility and Christian fellowship in a sea of intolerance. (Andrei’s son, Gleb is interested in applying to RACU, which I think would be great. He is a fine, talented young man.)
11. Let me conclude with two stories from our help with the renovation of the Church of the Nativity. Elena, our head translator in Kostroma, cheerfully hauled lumber with the rest of us. She commented on the grass and small tress still growing from the belfry of this 1824 sanctuary, much abused following its closure in Soviet times. There is an old Russian saying: “When people grow old, they lose hair; when [Russian] churches get old, they grow hair.”
Father Georgi was deeply appreciative of the help and encouragement from Russian and American Protestants in repairing one of his four churches. He now anticipates services in the church by February 2008 after a gap of many decades. But he said to me on this visit, as he has in the past, “You know, Mark, it is good to restore the church. But much more difficult and much more important is to restore the human soul.” That can be a watchword, both for reviving the church in Russian, and for rekindling self esteem and fostering faith in Christ in the lives of Russian orphans.