This has been a relatively quiet month concerning news from Khabarovsk. I have been in contact with Ura, Ari, Sue, Tanya, Lena, the Spauldings, Elizabeth and Andrey. I will use this newsletter to give you information about Ura's ministry and the ministry of the team as they work in Khabarovsk.
Pastor Ura now has a telephone in his apartment and on New Year's Day I surprised him by calling to wish him and his family a Happy New Year. His wife, Jenya answered the phone and was shocked to hear my voice from so far away. She called Ura to the phone and we tried to "talk" with the very limited common language we shared. We said Hello (zdratsvuytye) and How are you? (kak delah?) over and over again. We also laughed a lot. Ura made me understand that Tatyana was visiting and I got to laugh with her and ask her the same question. Finally, I was able to communicate, "Happy New Year!". She replied the same in Russian, but I can't remember how to repeat it. I hung up and immediately wished I had asked to speak with the children, Nadya and Nakita. I could hear them in the background and realized they have grown so much since I have seen them. I miss them all very much.
I received a letter from Ura through Andrey in which he told me about his church and his preparations for his trip to America. Ura joined the Mission Society team in Khabarovsk as they traveled to Kazakhstan to visit the team there and learn about cell church planting. The Kazakhstan team has used the cell church model to build churches and the model has proven to be very effective. Ura plans to use this model to reach the people in his new neighborhood. He has been struggling with church growth since he had to move from the central part of the city to the northern edge of Khabarovsk. He asks that we pray for his church as the members reach out to those who live near them.
The Mission Society will be writing letters of invitation for Ura and Andrey to visit our country. Ura and Andrey have obtained their foreign passport, a Russian document necessary to obtain the final visa. Please pray that all goes well as the applications for the foreign passport are submitted and the letters of invitation are presented to the American Consulate. As I get more information I will write you.
I received good news from Elizabeth Salisbury this month. She wrote me from Colorado where she is receiving training to return to Khabarovsk. Her support money is in and as soon as her visa is issued and her packing is done she will be on her way to Khabarovsk to join the rest of the team. Her hope is that she will be able to depart no later than mid-March. When Elizabeth arrives in Khabarovsk she will spend much time learning the language and working with Fyoder, a Russian Christian brother. Fyoder became our friend as he studied the Bible with us and his vision is to develop a Christian resource and training center for the city. The center will provide resources needed for study and worship. It will also be used for conferences as the pastors of various churches work together. I will write more about this vision as it develops. Elizabeth sends her sincere appreciation to all who have kept her in their prayers as she prepares to go where God is leading.
Lena wrote to ask for prayers for the infant orphanages and for her work as she translates for American couples who come to Khabarovsk to adopt the babies. She wrote about Masha, a nice healthy six-year-old girl looking for adoptive parents. She has been shown to many families by different agencies for three years now. No one seems to be interested in her because most families want infants. Lena wants to send me a picture of Masha and I have agreed to make it available to anyone who might be interested. Please pray for Masha and for all the orphans who are desperately searching for parents. I will let you know when I receive the photograph.
Lena still helps the orphan babies by taking medications and formula to the hospital. This is possible because of your prayers and support. She is planning to connect her efforts with the Red Cross through a social worker she has met. She also has contact with the AIDS clinic and is planning to help a young mother with AIDS. You may remember some time ago I wrote about a young mother and her daughter who were hospitalized because of severe malnutrition. At that time Jan Surgeon and Lena gave special medicines and formula for the baby. The mother was very ill and the father isn't in the picture. Lena has kept contact with the family and wants to continue to help the baby and mother. Please pray for the Lena's ministry to the babies of Khabarovsk.
Tanya and Ari continue to visit and hold the babies each week. In Russia, the needs of children usually fall under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Education. Most orphanages are connected with the school system and their care is relatively good. But, the infants are in the hospital system which does not have the means to provide for them.
Ari writes: "They receive formula and vegetable puree, but the hospital has no funds to buy cereal, fruit, medicines, creams or lotions. There is one doctor and three nurses to care for thirty babies aged one to twelve months. There are also some 'invalid' babies who are a bit older. The staff has just enough time to feed and then change each baby before the process begins again. Feeding consists of lying the babies on their backs with a bottle next to them, propped up by a towel because there aren't enough hands to hold them as they are fed. Every baby we pick up is wet, so we change them and spend some time holding and cuddling them. Most smile, but some are very serious. Many have faces which look much older than their age as if they'd already lived long beyond their months."
Ari was home during the holidays and writes about her return to the hospital: "Although it was great to see our babies, I was struck by how different their treatment and little lives are in comparison to my niece's. There has been a baby boom in my family and the stark difference between those chubby, dearly loved babies and the underweight, under stimulated babies in the hospital was sobering. The numbers of orphaned babies have increased and it just breaks our hearts. Please pray that we, and the nurses who care for the babies daily, can give them the love they so desperately need."
I want to close by sharing an amazing story that illustrates how God continues to guide us in very ordinary situations. I am learning that as we seek God's guidance and follow His will in little things, He uses the little things to accomplish great things in our lives and the lives we touch. The story is about Olya, a young girl who attends Ura's church in Khabarovsk.
Soon after our arrival in Khabarovsk, we met Pastor Ura and he asked if we would go into the homes of two members of the congregation to begin home Bible studies there. This was exactly what Joyce and I had been commissioned to do by the Co-Mission leadership and we were thrilled to have this invitation so soon. One of the homes we visited each week was Olya's home where she lived with her parents, an older brother,a younger sister, and two younger brothers. Neighbors of all ages came to the studies. It was such a joy to go to this home each week.
Before long, I knew that it was time to encourage a member of the Bible study to begin to take the leadership role. Although Olya was very young, about sixteen, she became the obvious choice to lead. When I approached her, she didn't feel adequate but after a little time and lots of prayer, Olya began to lead the weekly study. It was very exciting to watch how God led her teaching. She had a tremendous gift for teaching and I learned from her lessons each week. We often talked with each other and I remember asking her what she planned to do when she graduated from high school. I told her that she should become a teacher because God had gifted her with a great talent for teaching. She smiled and thanked me, but told me that it would not be possible for her to continue her education. I understood because I knew how hard her parents worked to have enough to survive. She told me she would have to go to work, probably as a sales clerk and help out at home. There just wasn't enough money for her to attend college.
Soon after I returned home in 1998, I received letters from members of Ura's church. Olya's letter was exciting to read because it was filled with hope and promise. In part of it she wrote, "Dear Charlene, I saw in you a person who went forward in spite of all problems. I also want to look forward and not look to what happened in the past or to what is happening now. I try to follow our God and to live with Him. Next year, I'm going to Irkutsk to enter the Theological Institute. I want to study there two years and become a preacher and a teacher of Sunday Schools. I believe God will show me what to do afterward. Love, Olya"
About six months ago, I received another letter from Olya. It was a friendly note telling me that she had enrolled in the Bible Institute and asked me to pray for her that she would be accepted to study there. Enclosed in the letter was three dollar bills with a short note asking me to accept the money as seed money to be used as God directed me. I was overwhelmed as I took the bills from the letter. I knew how desperately Olya needed this money. I remember weeping as I asked God what I should do with this sacrificial gift. I didn't receive a direct answer but I felt I should keep the money until I was sure how to use it. I placed the money in my wallet where I would see it each time I spent money. About a month ago, I became certain that I should return the money to Olya 100 fold. I knew I was to send her $300 to help with her educational expenses. In December I wrote Andrey asking him if Olya was still in school and if he could find out what her needs might be. I thought she might need some money for books, etc. I didn't hear anything about Olya for a few months.
The beginning of this month, I received a letter from Pastor Ura and he gave me the following information:
"Dear Charlene, you asked abut Olya and her education. Now I will try to explain everything about this issue for you to understand. Olya is studying in Irkutsk in a Bible College. In order to be able to study there she needs to have a sponsor which she doesn't have. The sum of money needed from the sponsor is not big. I think if there would be $100, then we could pay for her education through the end of this study year and even a part of the next one. I have a very good personal relations with Olya and she writes often and much to us. She misses the whole church very much. We help her sometimes with money and she is very grateful to us.
The Senior Presbyterian (Bishop) of the Far East called me today and he was interested to know if Olya would have a sponsor. I told him I had to think and pray for a while. Then I remembered your question about Olya's needs. I need to reply to him in two weeks. It would be very good if such a sponsor could be found to help in Olya's studies."
As I read Ura's letter, I knew God was answering my prayer concerning the three dollars in my wallet. Now was the time to use the money as God led my way. When I first knew that I should use $300 to help Olya with her education, I remember thinking that perhaps I could buy her a few books or study materials. Imagine my surprise when I learned that the $300 will probably be almost exactly what she will need to complete the two years of study! The cost for education in this Bible Institute is so little because the school is subsidized by the Presbyterian Church of South Korea. These Evangelical Christians also support the seminary in Khabarovsk where Ura received his education. Thank God for the work of these committed Christians!
And so, as God led Olya to entrust her sacrificial gift of $3 to me, He led me to send it back to her 100 fold. Now, I respond with awe and wonder as I think of how God will use the pastors and teachers in Irkutsk to prepare Olya to serve Him. It will be exciting to see how God will use Olya in His marvelous plan for the people of the Russian Far East. I am so privileged to be chosen to be her sponsor as she follows God's will.
As always, it is my pleasure to continue to tell the story of God's work in Khabarovsk. I want to thank all of you for your prayers and your support for the helpless and homeless in this far away city. As you know, this is the time of year when we receive notice of the gifts given to various charities. I was overwhelmed to learn that you have contributed more than $6,600 to the needs of orphans and homeless in Khabarovsk. God Bless You All! Please continue to pray for all of God's servants in Khabarovsk as they join God in His ministry to "the least of these". If God leads you to send a gift to be used in the orphanages or for Ura's vision for the homeless and the orphans of the city, please make your check payable to Fishburn UMC and tell us how God is directing the gift to be used.
In His Love,
Fishburn United Methodist Church
1215 Fishburn Road
Hershey, PA 17033
Andrey's web page in English: http://get.to/faith