I am in Silver Springs, Colorado writing from the home of Steve and Marjorie Koval. Steve and Marjorie were missionaries in Khabarovsk in 1996 and lived in the same apartment where Joyce and I lived in 1997. They also met and came to love our dear friends, Helen, Guenna, and Veronica who are visiting America now.
Last month I wrote that Helen, Guenna, and Veronica arrived in Seattle, Washington on July 9th and we have been on the go ever since. We spent a few days with my friend, Carol in Seattle before flying to Harrisburg. From there we spent time in Hershey, Delaware Washington D.C, Philadelphia Sharpsville (Joyce's home in western PA), on the Finger Lakes in New York, Niagara Falls in America and Canada and finally traveling across the country in my 1988 Mercury Grand Marquis (Yes!) from Delaware to California and back up to Seattle in time for them to catch a plane back to Khabarovsk on October 8th.
As we travel across the country, we are blessed in so many ways. We are trying to make contact with many who have known Helen and her family in Khabarovsk and the fellowship has been so sweet!
We left Delaware on the 10th of September and traveled to Joyce's home near Clark, PA, which is almost on the Ohio border. There, we were treated with a wonderful send-off dinner which was held in Joyce's church. We said good-bye to wonderful friends and listened to special music as we ate a delicious covered dish supper. What a way to go! Many hugs and a few tears were shared as Helen and her family said their last farewells to Christian brothers and sisters from Joyce's home.
From western Pennsylvania we traveled through Ohio and into Indiana where we spent Saturday evening and Sunday morning with Helen and Roger Spaulding. The Spauldings were missionaries to Khabarovsk in 1994 and have returned there for two more years. Helen and Roger are in their 70's and have been involved in mission work since the 1960's. Even though they were busy packing and clearing their house in preparation for their absence, they were happy to host us overnight and introduce us to their friends at church the next morning. We were happy to be present as their pastor commissioned them to go out again as missionaries to the Russian Far East. This time the Spauldings are called to work with the many orphans in the Khabarovsk. I know we will hear much more about their work as they settle in and work with the team already in the city.
As we worshipped in their church, God spoke to us through the message taken from Matthew 14 (The story of Christ and Peter walking on the water). The guest speaker of the morning seemed to be speaking to me as he told us to place our faith in Jesus and
step out of the boat. He spoke of how timid we are and how easily we lose our courage when we take our eyes off of Jesus. I found myself thanking God for His love and care and reaffirming my faith in Him. Again, we left the Spauldings with hugs and tears as we traveled north in Indiana to Upland where our Russian friend, Natalie is attending Taylor University there.
Natalie is staying with a missionary couple named Shirley and Chuck Moore who are involved with campus ministry at Taylor. The Moore's also have a connection with Khabarovsk and that is how Natalie came to know them and find herself living with them and attending the University. Shirley and Chuck have a daughter, son-in-law, and grandchild living and serving Christ in Khabarovsk. Darlene and Jim's ministry is to the deaf in the city and through this work they met Natalie who is proficient in sign-language and also works with the deaf when she is at home.
As we traveled to Upland, we met Natalie in Indianapolis where she attends a Russian church. We were expecting to worship in a Russian Orthodox Church and were surprised to find ourselves a part of a small congregation of Russians who gathered to worship each Sunday afternoon. The service reminded us of those we had attended in Russia where the pastor spoke in one language and used a translator to make God's message known. This time, the pastor spoke in English and a Russian/American woman translated. As we arrived, we heard the familiar sound of hymns being sung in the beautiful Russian language. My heart filled to overflowing as I sat down and saw Natalie up front translating for the musical part of the service. But, the greatest joy was to come.
When the pastor began the message of the day, he asked us to turn to Matthew 14 beginning with the 22nd verse. As I began to help Helen find the scriptures in the Bible she held, she excitedly said,
It's the same! It's the same verses as this morning!
Indeed, I realized that we were going to hear God's message from the same scripture as we had that morning! Then, Helen said,
It's from God!
I was overwhelmed with the presence of the Spirit of God in my heart as I listened again to the message of faith as the pastor used God's word to encourage us to
keep our eyes upon Jesus as we live each day with it's share of troubles. God was making it perfectly clear to me and to all of us who were traveling together that He was with us and would stay with us throughout our travels and throughout our lives here and in eternity. Needless to say, we traveled the miles to Upland with great joy and trust in our hearts filled with awe and wonder as we pondered God's message for us that day.
Our evening with the Moores was relaxing and filled with peace. We enjoyed a wonderful meal with them and shared their ministry as we witnessed their special relationship with Natalie and other college students who stopped by while we were there. Their home is always open to any who come. I felt a wonderful quiet peace there and we were blessed.
In the morning, we toured the campus and attended an inspirational chapel service before leaving. It was exciting to worship and praise God with 2000 young Christian students there. This time, the sermon was about keeping our faith as we live in the world. The speaker was dynamic and the first Black Baptist minister that Helen, Guenna, and Veronica had heard. There was no doubt whom he served and his words echoed in my mind as we left Indiana for our trip to Branson, Missouri. Again, I heard the words,
keep your eyes upon Jesus.
Branson, Missouri was fun. We knew that Helen liked several American singers and Andy Williams was one of them. We saw three shows in Branson including the Andy Williams Show. The music was wonderful, and each show included either Gospel music or music which expressed reverence to God. I remember thinking about how much our culture speaks about God and remembered that even though our country has much sin and sorrow, God's presence is found in even the most unexpected places. Helen also noticed and told me that the Gospel singing was beautiful. God is alive and well in Branson, Missouri.
From Missouri we traveled west again toward Colorado. We spent almost eight hours traveling on Thursday and spent the night in Hays, Kansas. This was my first trip through Kansas and I found the prairie lands beautiful. I was anxious to see the
amber waves of grain, but the harvest was over. We did see miles and miles of corn and ripened sun flowers as far as we could see. Again, I marveled at the beauty of our country and was reminded of the beauty of our world. Steer grazed on the grass of the prairie and ranch homes could be seen surrounded by a grove of trees reminding me of an oasis in the desert. I thought of how God gives us
cattle on a thousand hills as we drove on and on across Kansas and eastern Colorado toward the mountains to Steve and Marjorie's home.
Steve and Marjorie Koval were missionaries to Khabarovsk, Russia in 1996 and lived in the same apartment where Joyce and I lived in 1997. They became friends of our brothers and sisters in Christ in Pastor Ura's Full Gospel Church in Khabarovsk and are still much involved with the vision and ministry of Ura as he works with the Ninian people and the orphans who live in the Ninian village about forty miles from the city. Steve makes at least one trip to Khabarovsk each year and Marjorie joins him when she can. They came to know and love Helen, Guenna and their family as Joyce and I did and it is wonderful to be here in Colorado with them now.
The Kovals live at the base of the foothills of the Rocky Mountain Range and Pike's Peak rises magnificently over their home. They will host us until Tuesday morning and introduce us to their part of God's good earth. I know we will be blessed in a marvelous way as we share these days with Steve and Marjorie and learn of the ministry God has placed in their hearts here and in Khabarovsk.
As our adventure continues, I will share with you all that God is doing through the wonderful experiences we share on our way to Seattle. Please continue to keep us in your prayers as we travel through our beautiful country. We pray that we will be open to His will and be willing to accept the blessings He has already planned for us along the way.
I apologize for the time I spent telling you about our trip, but I believe that God has already planned each mile and it will continue to be exciting to see what develops. The connections we are making concerning the work to be done in Khabarovsk are amazing. We see God's hand in all we see and do.
The team of American missionaries in Khabarovsk is growing. Sue, Ari, Zach and Tanya write me often with news of their mission there. I would like to continue their story in the remainder of this letter.
What a busy couple of weeks we have had since my last update! They have been weeks full of stresses and strains but, above all, they have been weeks where we are seeing the hand of God molding and shaping us. Thank you for your continued prayers and support. Knowing you are praying for me and for all that is happening here means so much.
Our involvement at the infant orphanage has taken off! I cannot even express to you the joy we have felt these last several weeks, getting to go and spend time with the babies! We have been there four times already. There are about thirty babies that we get to hold, love, feed and change and change and change. They don't have diapers for the babies so we are quite careful when we pick one of them up, knowing that at any minute we could get
hit. They are not just unknown babies to us any more. They are precious boys and girls with names (that we are learning) and distinct personalities. Some smile, some don't. Most of them are very small for their age and are developmentally behind most children their age because of lack of stimulus. One little girl, Sveta, is eleven months old and doesn't weigh more than ten or eleven pounds. My heart went out to her the very first time I saw her because she was so little with such big sad eyes. I have yet to see her smile, yet there is a look of contentment on her face when she is held.
Two weeks ago, Ari, Tanya, and I took several of the babies outside for a walk. Sveta was constantly looking around and taking in the fresh air and sunshine. I have no idea when she was outside the last time. There is no one with enough time to walk them.
Please continue to pray for these babies and the staff who work with them. We have been able to take food, some clothing, 300 new bed sheets (remember the no diaper thing!), medicines, baby powder, and lotion. We can do this because God has touched the heart of many to minister to the babies. Your gifts have been an outward sign of God's love to the director and the staff who work with the babies. We have seen the effect it has had on their spirits and we are seeing the babies become healthier as well.
Oh, the stories could go on and on... This past week, much of our time has been spent preparing for the rest of our team who are coming in just days. It has been a challenge to get all of the details worked out. Please pray for us as we make final decisions concerning apartments for Tom and Ellen Tarver and their two children, Daniel and Tanya. They are returning to Khabarovsk as full-time missionaries soon. We have found an apartment for Helen and Roger Spaulding, a retired couple who are also returning for a two-year term. Please continue to pray for our team as we strive to do God's will in the Russian Far East.
The Lord reminded me and re-reminded me this week of 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18:
Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus. My computer has been on the fritz this week and after taking it five days in a row to the computer place, it is still not working. It was hard to demonstrating these verses in my life. It is much easier for me to complain and be frustrated than to be obedient to God's word. But, to exhibit the joy, the prayer, and the thankfulness in ALL circumstances is God's will for me (and all of us) this week and every week. Praise God that He speaks to us and loves us enough to discipline us and mold us.
Until next time.
Ari also sends her love and appreciation for your prayers and support as she works in the orphanages, with Ura's congregation, and with Bible studies. She, Sue, Tanya, and Zach welcome the Tarvers and the Spauldings to the team and to the ministry God has planned for the people of Khabarovsk.
Ari tells me that Ura will return to Khabarovsk on the 27th of September. He and his family have been visiting his mother and other family members in the Ukraine. This is the first time he has been home since he joined the Navy more than ten years ago. I know there will be much to tell concerning the blessings God had for him as he made this wonderful journey home.
Lena continues to work with the team to bring help to the orphans in the city. She has recently began work with a Christian adoption agency from America The agency is based in Washington state and adopts babies from Khabarovsk and Vladivostok. Lena met the director of the agency as she translated for American couples who came to the city to adopt babies. She is now employed by the agency and is very busy working in this wonderful work. I know God has His hand is her work as she is dedicated to God and to the orphans of Russia. Please pray for Lena's work, her family, and her health as she works with the team and with the adoption agency in Khabarovsk.
There is much more to tell and I will write again soon. It is with great pleasure that I continue to tell the story of God's work in Khabarovsk. I am happy to visit you and/or speak with any church or group.
Please continue to keep God's people in your prayers as they live and work in Khabarovsk. Some of you may be moved to send a gift to be used in the orphanages or for Ura's vision to the homeless and the orphans of the city. If so, please make your checks payable to Fishburn UMC and tell us how God is directing the gift to be used.:
Fishburn United Methodist Church
1215 Fishburn Road
Hershey, PA 17033
In His Love,