I've been pleasantly surprised by our move to Russia. Of course, there are always surprises about any move, especially to another country. We had already spent over ten years in Moldova, and I knew the system, the markets, and nearly every road. I'd eaten countless Moldovan meals, picnicked with friends, and bounced up and down over far too many potholes.
But Russia has wilderness! It has snow! It has outdoorsmen!
It is the one thing I missed from the previous ten years. I missed the woods--hunting and fishing. For those who are not hunters, you need to understand that hunting and fishing is not just about killing an animal or fish, it is about the days and hours spent in quiet, standing alongside a riverbank or in the woods. It is the solitude and stillness of the moment.
I love the fact that the church leaders and pastors here love the outdoors as well. I was blessed to freeze in Siberia while the group of us went moose hunting. The snow was deep, the frost was hard, but the time with these men was invaluable.
And I learned an important lesson. Until you have had days in relationship outside of the ministry task, you'll never have the same heart. When you have shared the days together, froze in the snow and baked in the banya, you are closer to understanding one another.
This isn't too far off from the life of Jesus, as he walked, talked, fished, boated, napped, ate with the disciples. Yes, and did ministry. But he was with them, and did not just do for them.
May our relationships in life and ministry be filled with days living life together, as well as ministering to those in need. May we each find a band of brothers to do this journey.
With the switch to the new responsibility in Russia, I have found that one task that has been laid aside was my writing. The learning curve has been steep, and I've still not learned the scheduling for time with my new travel demands.
My goal in 2014 is to amend that.
In fact, as I am working through my goals for 2014, writing has topped the list. There are many aspects of leadership and vision-casting that are gripping, but personally, I realize that writing is an avenue for me to do both of those is some fashion.
I view communication as one of my key tasks as area director for Russia and Belarus. I need to make people aware of Russia and Belarus, of the incredible need and the immense opportunities, and of our desire to see workers called to serve here.
I am praying for a dozen solid, mature leaders that can lead church-planting teams. I am praying for at least two people with a passion to pastor International Churches in our major cities. I am praying for 100 workers that will come and be a part of a team. I am praying for the Minikels to raise more support even while they have this year or two in Moldova, so they will be able to come and serve with us in Russia. I am praying for someone to come and be the needed voice at Freedom Home Moldova. I am praying for someone in the church in Russia to rise up and desire to start a similar work here.
I know that we are only called to do that which God has enabled us. That is why my prayers are for more workers. To accomplish big tasks, it will take many people, solid support, and hundreds (and thousands) interceding for miracles.
The switch has not been many months, but I am starting to get excited. The needs are enormous. The possibilities are immense.
But God is so much bigger.
I just got back from a week-long trip to Russia, traveling to Krasnodar and to Khabarovsk. I met with our workers in both places, hearing their hearts and their vision. We have wonderful servants, experienced workers doing all they can to make a difference.
Yes, they are human. They face challenges, experience discouragement, and fight opposition.
But they are survivors.
Russia has chewed on them, but they still stand. Their love and heart for Russia comes through. And we are dreaming together.
With so many unreached peoples groups still in Russia, and the IMMENSE distances involved in just that one country, I'm praying for some teams that will go into the tough places and work together to plant the Church.
My first prayer is for an mature, creative-thinking, entrepreneur-type leader that is relational, passionate, and team-building. With the right leaders in place, we can add a myriad of individuals, each with their own giftings and skills.
What if four to six people decided to give six to ten years to one of those tough areas? If they can and started studying Russian, building relationships, praying intently, and discipling those that come to Christ.
What if they started a church that became a community center, a place of healing and helps, and where the Church had a reputation for care and concern for the whole person?
At times, I feel the enormity of the task. I am amazed at the workers we have serving already, but we are so undermanned for the needs ahead. Now I'm starting to dream about the next group that is about to come.
Dreaming that the Lord of the Harvest will send Russia more workers.
Isn't that the saying? The problem is that perception is NOT reality, and is often incorrect.
I merely mention this fact because it is a constant struggle with those who serve in missions. We often live in "exotic" places, and our travels take us to "exotic" locales. But perception is not always the same as reality.
People see a photo of Nancy and I in Red Square. "Wow," they say, "It must be wonderful to see the world like that!"
Reality....we went to Moscow to meet all the AGWM workers and the national church pastors and leaders. We flew on a mediocre airplane, endured horrendous traffic, and sat in endless meetings. We saw the square because we were there, walking with fellow workers on our team. Vacation? Not in even a tiny way.
Perception...."you travel a lot, jetting everywhere."
Reality....the roads here are so bad we have back problems. I can fly to Istanbul for less money than you can drive from Minneapolis to Chicago, and if I'm going to have face to face time with other workers, I have to fly to see them. And if you think flying the Russian Aeroflot airline is wonderful, you are greatly deluded!
Perception...."It must be nice seeing the world"
Reality....most days, I'd trade one "exotic" meal for a Five Guys burger, a Caribou coffee, and a Montana-grown prime rib. Part of our adventure is that there is NOTHING else to do here. We have no movies, no high school sports games, no outdoor adventures, and no shopping. We don't have the weekly simple pleasures, but we are blessed with a couple of great things a year.
Please forgive me if this blog sounded defensive. There is no intention of that. I only wanted to share the reality of life here. I will never complain, and I feel blessed. Yes, there are dozens of things that frustrate me and irritate me ("dozens" is too small a number), but we are blessed. I'm blessed to live close enough to Europe to have seen some sights over the years. I'm blessed to have friends scattered around the world, homes that made our visit affordable. I'm blessed to have the means to enjoy a great meal at the handful of decent restaurants in our country.
But that "exotic" life I hear so much about? I still haven't found it! :-)
We are flying back home to Moldova on Friday, only three days from the day I'm writing this post. It's been a month in the US, and we are all ready to be home. We came for the World Missions Summit, then needed to add time to get our Russia visas. We filled the time with services and visits to supporters and friends.
But we are ready to get home.
Or temporary home.
It seems strange to me as I realized "home" for us is now in the temp stage. With the new changes in responsibilities, it also means letting go of our current situation as we take on new challenges. We will be moving away from Moldova, the home we've known so well. Our house is comfortable, we know our situation and neighbors, and we've loved it there.
It will be hard to say goodbye.
I think the part of waiting that is the toughest is the unknown. I'm looking forward to moving to St. Petersburg, but I'll be REALLY willing to go once we find a place, or at least know if a decent place is available. I'm praying for a home, not a big house. I'd just love a place that has a yard to sit outside, a place for the dog to run. Big, small, separate or townhome....just a home.
We have a lot to do in the months ahead. I'm just waiting for a sense of being settled!
I am sure it is a part of getting older, but it is hard to make out a Christmas Wish List for myself now. Amazon.com makes it nicer (with those wish lists on the side). And yes, I do have one, mostly with some camping or photography wishes. Many of those wishes will never come to reality, since I am not sure if I can spring for a 24-70 mm 2.8 Nikon lens or the D800 that would look great in my hands.
(I wrote those two items down so you could have the joy of sticker shock looking them up! More impact than me just writing down the price!)
But after sending that out, I wanted to write out my Christmas wish list.
$5000 to buy the material to finish up the last floor of the elderly home. The church is doing such a great job already, that I'd love to come alongside them.
$4000 to get Amy* from Freedom Home set up in a village, having enough of a house where she could live near a great Christian family.
$20 from a pile of people to cover the daily expense of one girl at Freedom Home.
$5000 to cover one month of Freedom Home. Had a disappointment last week as I received news from someone that they were not going to continue the support the home. They had committed to helping for 6 months, and I was praying it would be extended to five years. Our goal is five-years worth of support. We then believe that we can transition the home to raising their own support.
$15,000 to give toward Don and Beth Minikel, missionary associates that are incredible ministry partners. They are in the US now, raising support for a March return (Lord willing).
$2500 to help the church in Bubuieci finish their building inside, paint and trim.
$8000 to cover the balance of the Ranger translation project into Romanian.
$4000 apiece to give to six different village churches so they can get into a church building rather than crowding into a living room.
$2500 to help put on a trauma-training conference in Odessa, using Kyle Miller in his strengths.
Ten solid singles or families that are ready to start moving to Russia, serving on a church-planting team, willing to go to the hard places where there are no churches.
A dozen MAs that are ready to learn the language, reach students, and support the work in Russia.
Lots of wisdom. And God's vision and direction.
Some Christmas wishes. The first nine are easier than the last three. But we can dream....
Celebrating Nancy's birthday today, another year gone by. It isn't a major milestone, but once again, I'm reminded of the swiftness of time and the need to savor the moment. Too often I find myself flying through a day, never stopping to look around and fix the memory of the moment.
Nancy is a fantastic cook, a chef extraordinaire. She makes incredible meals nearly every day, simple meals of rich flavors. Yet I must confess, most times I eat the meal too fast, without slowing down the savor the nuances of flavors.
I've had a lot of reminders this week. Our German Shepherd, Britta died on Wednesday. My sister-in-law's mother passed away. Another birthday. Three daughters that are growing so fast that we need to plan toward college.
I believe the challenge of life is to remember the gift of time that God gives each of us. Yes, we are eternal beings, created in the image of God, forgiven through the sacrifice of Jesus, and led and guided by the Holy Spirit. But we are blessed with people around us, friends, family, and yes, even pets!
Enjoy today. In a few hours, it will no longer exist.
The theme of brokenness and being poor in the spirit has been echoing around me for a number of years. A great friend of both us and the work here is Kyle Miller, a counsellor that has been a great support to Freedom Home. His main teaching centers on the Beattitudes, a model of healing and restoration. (His link is here).
The beginning of healing and wholeness comes when we understand our poverty and can mourn our brokenness, our hurt and our pain. That is the beginning.
One observation we've had at Freedom Home. (Perhaps the home there is such a good example because of its intensity. It forces things to the surface quicker, and their isn't the space to avoid confronting your own issues). There comes a point in all staff and workers where THEY have to confront their own weaknesses, sins, flaws, and history. If they are unwilling...they'll not stay. Either their attitude will cause them to depart or we have to ask them to leave.
I am not talking about pagans here, but mature believers. But in order to mature as God wants you to mature, you have to confront some things. Such things as:
Pride--some tend to think they are "better," at the home to "help" these unfortunate women. When we think we are "better," pride has already entered our hearts.
Shame--perhaps it is our shame that prevents us from sharing our history. We are embarrassed to remember what we did. But when we share the secret, we break its power over us. We must not be ashamed of being "sinners saved by grace." We were sinners.
Relationships--the healing at FH comes because its a community, a family. We are imperfect, but we must be striving to grow. Conflict is natural, and we have to learn how to resolve conflict. We must learn how to ask forgiveness and learn how to let go of grudges.
Submission--you will never be a leader until you learn how to submit. I've seen that so clearly in some huge failures. One person could not submit to leadership, a huge spiritual flaw that will stop all future growth.
These are just a few examples. I could list a lot more: worship leaders that rely more on their natural music talents than on the Spirit of God, counsellors that think they have wisdom and words and skills, rather than relying on the Wonderful Counsellor, preachers that can craft their words in such a way as to bring the tears.
I've seen it in missionary letters, i.e. "We've done ______, or planted _______, or started ______" Who is getting the credit?
I've seen it in church missions reports, i.e. "We are the _____ largest giving in the district!"
Lack of brokenness comes when we need to look so great, so perfect, and so "holy" that we have no chance to let God in. If we become full of ourself, we won't have room for God.
Poor in spirit helps us empty ourselves of OURSELF. Then and only then can the Holy Spirit enter to give healing.
There are lots of examples of people full of themself...prideful, holding grudges, totally blind to their flaws.
But to find brokenness, we have to look a lot farther.
Could I be so bold to say that God really doesn't care that much about how many campuses you have, how many books you've written, how many sermons you've preached, how many churches and ministrues you've started, and how large of a conference you spoke at.
He does care if you are poor in spirit. And that you mourn over your own frailness. And that we are meek.
In my heart, I think I'll always be a pastor. I'm not a pastor in the formal, liturgical way. But I'm a pastor in the way I think, in my desire to see people grow spiritually, finding their purpose in the body of Christ.
One way that comes out is my desire to know people's stories. I love to hear about the history of each person, their joys and trials, stages of life, miracles, dreams, etc. I love seeing people over the long haul, not just a one-time visit, then never back again.
Elena is a woman in the village of Baraboi. A team from Bismarck, ND, was just there to help put a roof on the church building there. And nearly every day, many of the women visited homes. I asked if they could visit Elena that week.
I met Elena 3-4 years ago, visiting with her and her husband. They were already in the early 80s, and we had a long talk. She showed me her husbands war medals. We talked about life. Their house was the cleanest one in all the village. And they were wonderful.
I sent a couple photos later with the pastor to give them. I've checked on them, just finding out her husband passed away this year. And she is now shrunken to even a smaller level, but still with her smile.
What's that story have to do with anything? Only that if the stories of individual's lives are interesting to me, how must they be to God? As the Creator and Savior, He is fascinated with our lives, the day to day workings. The Father knows Elena's name, and he hasn't just checked in once or twice a year. As King David, wrote, He knows when she lays down and when she rises; He knows her in the morning and night, through good times and dark days.
The Lord is our Pastor (the Russian word for shepherd).
The people of Moldova are loved and known by God. The people of Russia and Belarus have a Lord that looks over them, hurts when they hurt, rejoices when one finds salvation.
I just sent my e-letter out, and I'm writing additions to the letter that I didn't have space to fit in!
FINALLY...that word means a lot.
It comes when God finally brings a vision to reality. It comes when we see the miracle we've waiting so long for. It comes when we see God's direction, or sense Jesus' presence. It comes when the Holy Spirit brings a sense of revival to our hearts.
In my e-letter, I wrote about saying finally as we staked out the building for New Life. I think back to 5 or 6 years ago, when a team from Oregon and Montana came and whipped up the "temporary" building for Viatsa Noua (New Life church). We had dreamed for the day when the permanent building could be built.
I had no idea when or if, but got a call a few months ago about a gift that took that dream from Way In The Future to NOW. Now I'm praying it will be enought to get in done...and finished...and open. It might now get the entire thing complete, but we are going to get the main structure done!
The other finally's I'm dreaming for:
Leova...another of our COHEU Adopt-a-Community homes. The church had some tough things happen in the past and was really knocked down. Dan is the pastor of the church, a nice guy, but I'm praying for another church to come alongside him. I'm dreaming for a church of 200, reaching the kids and youth in that town and going ministry that makes it the most important church in town!
University students...I'm dreaming that God helps Viatsa Noua use their building, and that someone with a big vision, starts a Friday night or Saturday night student service there. I'm dreaming for 400 students each service, from a variety of churches. A church that is drawing to the 100,000 university students that know NOTHING about Jesus.
House of Prayer...a new dream, of only a week. After a week with IHOP here, using Viatsa Noua's temporary building for a week of prayer and worship. Around 10 other churches, from all denominations, met together, sharing the load and leading prayer and worship. Could we dream that it starts a movement of unity and prayer?
And now I'm starting to dream for Russia and Belarus. I'm dreaming that God will raise up scores of workers that are willing to go to the hard places of Russia, the unreached areas that have NO church. I'm starting to dream for a large number (I'm still holding that number privately!).
And I am dreaming for some champions who would help with the start of the Freedom Home Odessa, and someone who will start Freedom Home Russia (could we say multiple homes in Russia?)
What are some things you've been waiting for? What are some finally's you've been able to say in the last few months?
I recently wrote in my latest e-letter about our upcoming change. Taking the role of area director gives me a lot of mixed feelings.
There is a sense of loss because we love Moldova, the churches, pastors, and fellow missionaries. We REALLY love the girls and their kids at Freedom Home.
There is a sense of excitement because we know that God confirmed this path. We are excited because people are people, and there is incredible need and incredible opportunity in Russia and Belarus for ministry.
We will still be moving to Moldova on Friday (a slight delay of plans due to an embassy holding our passports too long). We will work to transition all we can the rest of this year. Then we will take the next six to eight months traveling into Russia, visiting with all the missionaries there, church leaders, etc. Sometime in 2013, we'll hopefully have figured out where to move, then we'll move to Russia.
Nancy will still stay connected to Freedom Home for a few years, mentoring the staff and assisting when needed. We're already dreaming and moving toward another home in Odessa, working in partnership with a church and pastor from Russia!
And together with the missionaries on the field, we'll pray and dream for opportunities to raise up teams to go where the Church is not going, reach those they aren't reaching, and do what they aren't doing!
And we really don't know what is ahead. God promised to be a path in front of us, not high beams shining a mile down the road. It's time to trust.