Here's my latest newsletter. You are all in my prayers as you minister to our dear Russian brothers and sisters.
I'm writing from Delaware where I am spending some wonderful days with my friends from Russia. Helen, her husband, Guenna, and their granddaughter, Veronica arrived in Seattle on July 9. I flew there to meet them and we spent several days with my friend, Carol before coming to Harrisburg on the 12th. Each new day is exciting as I experience America through the eyes of my wonderful Russian family.
We toured in Seattle and again in Hershey and it was good, but they most enjoy relaxing in our homes and being a natural part of our families. On our drive to Delaware on the 18th of July, I traveled route 896 which is where many Amish families live. It was interesting for all of us. We saw so much activity. There were families walking along the roads, many buggies - some open courting buggies and some closed with families. Little children dressed in their Sunday clothes waved at us from the windows of the buggies and gave us a thumbs-up or a peace sign as we passed. At one home we saw a church gathering. It was a modern ranch house with no electricity, and we knew it was a church meeting by the row of horses and buggies along the front fence and the small children playing in the yard. I had planned to take Helen and family to the Amish tourist spots, but our drive along their homes was much more informative and interesting. Guenna and Helen were impressed with the fertile farm land and the beautiful crops in spite of the drought in Pennsylvania right now.
We have been able to make contact with friends of Helen in Connecticut and in Colorado. If possible, we will try to help them to meet in person. One plan which is getting more and more possible is to drive them back to Seattle and see a whole lot of America on the way. Between Joyce and I, we have friends who will be happy to house us all the way west. We'll see and I'll keep you informed.
Helen reinforced the news of the economic crisis in Russia and brought me up-to-date about our neighbors in the apartment house where we lived in 1997. Most of the news is depressing because many of our neighbors are elderly and cannot afford to buy good food and medicines due to the recent inflation. As we talked, we spoke about the homeless problem there now and we learned there is a homeless man living beside the dumpster outside the apartment where we lived. The neighbors are taking him food and they are kind to him but Helen said that the problem is so great that many will starve or freeze this winter. She told me more about the homeless who are living at the city garbage dump where Ura is taking his ministry now. The rest of my letter will give details about this part of Ura's vision and I know it will break your heart. The story will be told by Ari and Helen.
I introduced Ari in my last letter and explained that Ari has been called to full-time mission work in Khabarovsk, Russia. She works with the church-planting team and as a result, she is involved with the pastors of several Russian churches. She recently wrote me about her experience with Pastor Ura of Khabarovsk as they went to the city garbage dump to minister to the homeless there. Jack Stevenson and Frank Decker , two representatives of the Mission Society were in Khabarovsk to help with a work mission for the orphanages of the city. They accompanied Ari and Ura as they took food and Bibles to the homeless.
Jack, Frank, Tanya and I went to the garbage dump with Ura and a man named Sasha who sometimes attends the Full Gospel Church. (Ura's church) The day we went, we met at Ura's house. Sasha and Jenya (Ura's wife) had packed 42 boxed lunches to distribute. They bought disposable half liter containers with lids and silverware at the paper optum where you shopped while in Khabarovsk. They made a rice dish called 'ploff' (pork, carrots and onions with rice) for the main dish. On top of that they put a cabbage and cucumber salad. They wrapped two pieces of bread in plastic wrap and put that on the top. All together, Ura figured that it cost $.50 per meal. I don't remember if that included the containers.
From there we went to the dump. Ura took us up on a bluff that overlooked it. Charlene, I'd never seen anything like it, but I've never been to a garbage dump in the states either. It was the size of a good-sized mall, including parking lot. The trucks looked like toys and you couldn't see the people. The zoom lens on my camera helped. Frank and I took a lot of pictures and Jack had his video camera with him.
We got back in the van and drove to the entrance. I don't know what was worse, the smell or the sight of it all. We stopped the van nearby to get a better look. There were little tents and shelters of sorts built out of the garbage that had been salvaged. There were narrow dirt paths, but basically garbage everywhere. Ura said that there are about 30 people who live there, but nearly 400 who come out to dig through the garbage. There's a kind of hierarchy there - a little community or pecking order. A table is set up near where the trucks enter. There is a person there who buys some of what is found. We saw people of all ages carrying something to dig with and boxes to hold what they find.
The people stand out in the middle of the garbage heap and wait for the trucks to drop what they've brought. It's hard to imagine that they could find anything at all because the people in the city have already picked through the garbage and most people don't have much to throw out anyway.
After we watched for a while, Ura approached a woman and asked her if anyone would be interested in a meal. She said that she'd go and ask. It took hr a while to make her rounds, but soon a few people began to come. Most were probably a little shy and suspicious, but we handed out close to 35 boxes and hard-covered New Testaments. I was encouraged in that they didn't just toss the Bibles to the side. Most were very careful with them and some of them looked through the Bibles. We left most of them eating, and Ura told them that we'd be back again. Since then he's gone again, this time delivering over 50 lunches. This time they ran out of food and Ura was told that almost 400 people were there regularly."
"It has taken me a while to write because I wanted to process things as well as talk to Ura some more. As I thought about what I saw, I was reminded of Ezekiel 37 and the valley of dry bones. To me, it reflected what I saw at the dump - a valley whose dry bones were the hope and dignity of the people there. These people need to know that there is a God who loves and cares about their needs and God will use people to reveal Himself to them. Feeding will help them - the bones will be covered with muscles, tendons and flesh, but the breath of life will only come when they know that they can have the very Creator of the universe dwelling in them. They are believing and living the lie that this is all they can expect - that they are worthless - that they only deserve what others have discarded. They don't know or can't believe that they were created in the very image of God - that they are irreplaceable in His sight, and that they are loved beyond measure.
These are a forgotten, overlooked people. There are no government programs in place to help them or to even acknowledge them. Pastor Ura has a vision and a burden to reach them with the Gospel of Christ, and it will happen when he meets them where they live and work. He'll meet them first with the food of earth, and then with the food of heaven.
At this point, I'm not sure what my role will be. I knew that I'm supposed to share Ura's vision. I have volunteered to help prepare the meals, but I'm afraid that I'd be more of a hinderance than a help with the people because of my limited Russian, but I'll defer to Ura's advice and to God's will."
And so, the story continues as Ura is led to feed the homeless and continue to follow the calling of God to minister to the orphans and the homeless of Khabarovsk. I haven't heard from Lena lately about the orphans but I learned from Jan that the gifts you have sent have created a fund that is budgeted to help to provide continuous help for medicines and vital food for the babies. However, the fund will be depleted and we know that American help is a short-term solution.
As I talked with Helen about this situation, she told me that there is a new problem for the poor in Khabarovsk related to the homeless at the garbage dump. It seems that the shops which sell meat and other produce cannot sell all of their products because of the economic crisis and therefore must dump much old food. This food finds its way to the garbage dump where it is found, cleaned up, and resold on the streets for a much cheaper price than the shops. Poor people are buying this food to survive but there is a danger in getting spoiled meats and worse. You see, there are fewer restrictions concerning the dumping of chemicals than in our country and the food may be contaminated with poisons when it is discarded. Therefore, many poor people have become ill from the food they buy on the streets. The city has published warnings in the newspaper so the citizens will be careful where they buy. But, in order to survive, many will still take their chances with the tainted food.
Please continue to pray for the situation in Russia. I plan to get the information to Ura concerning the tainted food. Perhaps there is a way to encourage the shops to sell old food at a discount or give it to someone like Ura before it is contaminated by the garbage. I somehow feel that God is already directing Ura and other Russian Christians to find a way to improve the situation there.
Before closing I want to give you some exciting news about my vision for Ura to visit America next year. In my last letter I wrote, "I have been led to ask Ura to pray about the time of his coming to America. I feel it will be in the year 2000, perhaps late Spring and early Summer, but I want to know where God is leading Ura before I go ahead with any more plans."
I wrote my Russian friend, Andrey and asked him to ask Ura about the timing for his visit. Here's Andrey's answer:
"I met with Pastor Ura personally last Sunday. I gave him your question about the proper timing for his visit and he didn't contemplate a moment (contrary to what he usually does - you know). He answered right away, 'I thought it would be good to go to America before Easter or right after that holiday.' It seemed to me that he had the answer ready even before I asked him the question."
I knew when I read Andrey's letter that God had confirmed the message He was giving me about the timing of Ura's visit. Now, it is time for me to invite you to be a part of God's plan to use Ura in a special way in our country. I want to remind you of the verses God has given Ura to share with Americans while he is here. One of the verses is Acts 10:4 which says, "Your prayers and gifts to the poor have come up as a memorial offering before God."
Ura believes that, "everyone who participates in prayers and gifts will testify for a long time about the answers to their prayers. Prayers that have been made for a long time will be answered."
He also said that God has given him a title for the sermon he will share. It is taken from James 2:13, "Mercy Triumphs Over Judgement" I can hardly wait to hear the message Ura has for us all.
Please take this vision for Ura to visit America to the Lord and seek the role God may want you to play as it unfolds. I don't pretend to understand the power of prayer, but I know that God delights in our dependence upon Him and He answers prayer.
It is not too early for you to let me know if you or your church would like to have Ura visit you during his time here next year. There are no guidelines for a visit. He will speak in churches or in private homes no matter how large or small the group. We cannot set dates yet, but you can let me know if you would like to be scheduled and I will give you details as soon as they are developed.
Please join me in thanking God for Russian Christians who are beginning to know that God is calling them to find long-term solutions for the seemingly impossible problems of the babies and the homeless. Please continue to pray for Ura's vision and for the work of missionaries and Russian Christians in Khabarovsk. Thank God for his guidance concerning Ura's visit to America. If you are led to support these ministries in Khabarovsk you can do so by sending your check payable to Fishburn U.M.C. and tell us how God is directing the gift to be used.
I am happy to continue to tell the story of Khabarovsk, Russia and will be happy to visit you and/or speak with any church or group.
You can write me at:
Fishburn United Methodist Church
Attention: Charlene Reitz
1215 Fishburn Rd.
Hershey, PA 17033
Telephone: (717) 534-1087
In His Love,