Carol and I will be returning to Russia in February 2014 to continue training leaders at the House of Grace in Tsibanobalka. Below is a copy of the letter sent to our church, family, and friends explaining what we are doing. Please click on the link if you’d like to download a pdf copy.
Category Archives: House of Grace
On Sunday, Carol and I hosted a barbecue for the leaders of our church to meet our friends, John & Naomi Musgrave. We’ve known the Musgraves since the early 90′s when John was an elder at Crossroads Bible Church in Bellevue, WA, and I was on the staff. John & Naomi now operate the House of Grace in Tsibanobalka, Russia, where I will be teaching a three-day course for emerging leaders in February, 2014. The lunch provided an opportunity for our leaders to meet the Musgraves and hear firsthand about their ministry.
Naomi captured me at the grill, cooking our shish kebabs. It was one of those rare occasions I was on the other side of the camera.
Great weather, good food, and good friends discussing ministry made for a great afternoon.
My friend, John Musgrave, recently taught a seminar at the House of Grace in Tsibanobalka, Russia, where he explained the principles of good preaching to Russian pastors. He used the illustration of a jet to explain the parts of the sermon:
- Rev the engine (catch their attention)
- Get to altitude (teach the entire passage – context)
- Know where you are going (focus on the main idea)
- Land the plane (application should be clear and concise – don’t circle the airport).
I thought it was a very creative idea, and one I will have to “borrow” the next time I teach on the subject.
We wrapped up the “Life of David” class this morning. I gave the men an assignment to review 1 & 2 Samuel and look for key principles that summarized David’s life, or lessons that they learned from David.
When we met for the last sessions, the men shared some great insights from God’s Word. I then closed the class by looking at David’s instructions to his son, Solomon, in 1 Chronicles 28-29.
One of the best compliments I received was from Sandzhik who said, “Your last session was perfect. You shared so many good principles in your lessons, and I will use them in many sermons. When I study, I have a hard time finding principles, and you showed me how.” Afterwards I was talking with Misha, my translator. He said he took what I taught last year on the book of Joshua and used it in several sermons in his church. He took another lesson and used it in his home group. Those two compliments were worth the price of a plane ticket. It was an encouraging end to a good week.
At the close of the session, I told the men I had a gift for them. Some people had given me cash for this ministry and Naomi suggested using some of the funds to buy warm socks for the men. As I gave them the socks I said, “Our prayer is that your hearts are warmed by the Word of God, and your feet stay warm as you preach the gospel.” Thanks to those of you who made the gift possible.
After lunch, the group parted company and went their separate ways. Before leaving town, however, the men from Kalmykia joined John and me in visiting Naomi at the hospital. In all my years of visiting Russia, this was a first for me. It had OIR—Only In Russia—written all over it on so many levels.
- What is considered outpatient surgery in the States requires a weeklong stay in Russia.
- The sanatorium/private hospital is hidden behind a gated entrance. Victor Semukhim, who used to live in Anapa, and Lena, John & Naomi’s assistant who lives in Anapa now, didn’t know of its existence.
- You have to show your passport to get past the guard at the gate.
- The front entrance has eleven steps, all of which were slick with ice.
- Since it was the weekend, the front entrance was closed. Thus we entered from the side entrance. There is a huge patch of ice in front of the side entrance as well as ice on the steps. Not wanting to become another patient, I walked quite gingerly.
- Since the side entrance was locked, we had to ring the bell to be let in. Who should answer the door but Naomi herself. After going back to get the key, she let the twelve of us in. At how many hospitals does the patient have a key and let the visitors in?
- We could not go up to Naomi’s room, which was 85 degrees, but she could come downstairs, where it was cold enough to keep our coats on, to visit us.
- Since the hospital doesn’t have an elevator, Naomi had to walk up & down the stairs.
- I’ve made many hospital visits during my ministry, but none quite like this one.
- This tale sounds so farfetched; most people will think I made it up. OIR.
When we got home from the hospital, John said, “It is early, but what about next year? Would you be willing to come back and teach another class? The men seem to like your teaching.” I said, “You bet. It’s only a matter of choosing dates. The folks at my church anticipate this will become an annual ministry.” We don’t know what the future holds, but there is an open door of ministry here for me.
Another OIR fun fact. All new drivers are required to have a sticker with an exclamation point on their car. The sticker for being a woman driver—high heeled shoe inside the triangle—is optional J This is the car driven by Lena, John & Naomi’s assistant.
Tomorrow morning I will attend Holy Trinity Church in Anapa with John. Afterwards, we hope to take Naomi out to lunch. (OIR – you can leave the hospital for the weekend as long as you come back. Say again?) After lunch, we will make our way to the Anapa airport and I will begin the homeward journey.
Thanks for praying.
The “life of David” class wraps up this morning. The group has been very attentive and responsive. We’ve had some good interaction.
Kalmykia is located in the steppes of the Caucasus Mountains, near the Caspian Sea. According to John Musgrave, the land is flat for as far as the eye can see. Ethnically, the Kalmyk people are descendents of the Mongols and the only Buddhist people group in Europe. Edward said they came to the region in the 400s. About 300,000 people live in Kalmykia with half of them in the capital city of Ellista, where Sandzhik and Edward pastor their respective churches. There are only 15 churches in Ellista, so there is a huge need for the gospel. The rest of the population is spread throughout small cities and villages with one church here, and a Bible study there.
Sandzhik and Edward have known each other since 1997 before they became Christians. They both came to Christ that year and now are pastoring churches in Ellista. The two churches have recently begun to work together with the idea towards merging. Sandzhik, who I’ve known from previous conferences, is a passionate evangelist, discipler, and church planter. The fact he brought nine men with him to this class is testimony to his commitment to train and equip others. Meeting men like Sandzhik and Edward encourages me about the potential for the gospel in their part of the world. They desire to reach their own people as well as see missionaries sent into Dagestan, the region south of them.
Despite the vastness of the region and the sparse population, high speed internet is already in Ellista and is coming to the rest of the region. John Musgrave has tried to cast a vision for Sandzhik and Edward to broadcast their ministries in order to reach more people in the outlying areas. The idea has great potential.
Day one of the “life of David” class is in the books. Being about one-third of the way through my notes probably means I’m about on schedule. The class meets around the dining room table. There’s been some good interaction with the men. They seem to be tracking with me by nodding appropriately, asking good questions, adding insightful comments, and taking notes.
The group is pretty diverse. Single, married, ages ranging from 20’s to 60’s, pastors, laymen, small group leaders, evangelists. 10 of the men came from Kalmykia. They drove 12 hours in two cars through a snow storm to get here.
Two men came from an alcohol rehabilitation center about 90 minutes away. Misha, my translator, came from Krasnodar, about three hours by bus (normally), though it took five because of the snow. I feel humbled in their presence and my life feels pedestrian compared to their challenges.
Dionis is a graduate of the rehab center and is now an evangelist. He evangelizes the criminal element in his city, going into the most dangerous pockets to share the gospel. I’m rather light weight compared to him.
After teaching the section on David and Goliath, I asked the men what were some of the giants that they face. Dionis said that he has been married for five months. A brother confronted him that he was spending too much time on his ministry and neglecting his family. His giant was the FEAR of what might happen or what people would think if he cut back on ministry. But he knew his family was his most important ministry so he wanted to do what was right. After the men shared, they prayed for one another.
I forgot how draining teaching through a translator can be. By the end of Thursday’s session I was pretty worn out. Once again, it shows how dependent I am on the prayers of others.
Naomi Musgrave came through her appendectomy well. She is recovering nicely, though anxious to get home. Thanks for praying.
During one of the breaks, Alexander, the pastor of the rehab center, received a phone call saying a child in his church had a brain tumor. Sandzhik shared a similar need about someone in his church. Before beginning the next session, we stopped to pray for these needs. Prayer is certainly a vital part of their lives.
House of Grace serves hearty meals to their guests. The men show their appreciation by eating hearty as well. They are quite talkative until the food is served. Then the conversation ceases as they dig in.
During the break times, the men enjoy their tea, playing chess, talking, playing guitar, and playing wii.
Today’s schedule will be the longest in terms of my teaching. We will have breakfast at 8:30am, lunch at 1pm, and dinner at 6pm, with teaching in between. Yesterday I taught about 6 hours, today I will teach about 7+ hours, and tomorrow about 3. It is enjoyable and profitable, because the men really want to learn.
Thanks for praying.
Yesterday the House of Grace was cleaned from top to bottom and the beds were made in preparation for the next group to arrive. After making the beds, John Musgrave & I shopped for groceries. As I helped in the preparations, I reflected on some foundational principles behind successful short-term ministry trips that I learned during my time at Crossroads Bible Church. I had three key concepts drilled into my head by Dan Hollingsworth and Tim Jack. They were the principles of servanthood, flexibility, and leaving the fragrance of Jesus behind.
Servanthood is the idea that each team and person aims to serve the people we are going to and the missionaries we are working with. Rather than say, “Here’s what we are going to do?” we ask, “How can we help you? What do you need?”
Flexibility is the idea that we hold our agenda and schedule with an open hand rather than a clenched fist. If God wants to change things up, we will adjust accordingly. “Semper Gumby – Always Flexible” is our motto.
Leaving the fragrance of Jesus behind is the principle of seeking to be a blessing wherever we go. We want people to be sad we are leaving rather than wishing we had left sooner.
Those lessons were ingrained into my thinking and now color my approach every time I set out on another trip.
Today, I begin teaching on the life of David. Most of the men arrived during the night. The rest should arrive shortly. Please pray that I can connect with them. I want to tailor my material to best meet their needs and encourage them.
Please pray for Naomi Musgrave. She was not feeling well yesterday. After consulting a physician friend in the States via SKYPE, he encouraged her to get to a doctor as her symptoms sounded like appendicitis. John took Naomi to a hospital/sanatorium last evening. A doctor was called in. They did a laparoscopy and determined the offending organ needed to go. Surgery was done last night and she is now on the mend. Pray for a quick, smooth, and uncomplicated recovery.
It’s Wednesday morning, February 15, in Tsibanobalka, the halfway point of this trip.
Yesterday, the leadership team from the church in Krasnodar wrapped up their retreat. During their last session, John Musgrave taught on the topic of biblical leadership.He used several passages in the New Testament (Acts 20; 1 Peter 5) to teach on the five roles of a biblical elder/pastor—preach & teach, lead, guard & protect, care, and shared leadership. (See yesterday’s post for details.)
After the group left, we started the cleaning process. House of Grace gets cleaned from top to bottom. Part of the job was completed and the laundry was started. With 14 guests, there are piles of bedding and towels to be washed.
We relaxed in the evening with a meal of smoked salmon, crackers, cheese, sausage, guacamole, and champagne, while we watched Back to the Future. We celebrated Valentine’s Day and the end of a successful retreat.
Today, the beds will be made and the cleaning finished as we prepare for the next group to arrive tomorrow. This is the group I will be teaching. There will be 12 men in the class. 10 of the men are coming from Kalmykia, a region near the Caspian Sea. They will be driving 12-14 hours and arrive sometime after midnight tonight. Two of the men are coming from a rehabilitation center in the region. My translator, Misha, is coming from Krasnodar, about three hours away.
The weather here is just like at home in Seattle—gray, cloudy, temperature in the upper 30’s. We are having snow/rain showers at the moment. Wearing very cool slippers from Kyrgyzstan helps keep my feet warm.
The temp in Tsibanobalka feels downright balmy compared to what I experienced in Moscow when we landed Monday morning. The pilot announced it was -30. Needless to say, I camped inside the airport during my 8-hour layover.
For the most part, I have adjusted to the time change—12 hour difference. My body still feels like it is standing on its head, but that’s ok. Sleep aids—Tylenol PM & Melatonin—help speed up the adjustment process and make me feel somewhat human. For that, I am grateful.
Thanks for praying.
Tuesday morning, John Musgrave closed the Krasnodar church leaders retreat by teaching on the topic of biblical leadership. He used several passages in the New Testament (Acts 20; 1 Peter 5) to teach on the five roles of a biblical elder/pastor—preach & teach, lead, guard & protect, care, and shared leadership. He illustrated his points with a visible demonstration using eggs.
A Russian model of church leadership is a dictator. The one egg is on top of all the others.
An American model of church leadership is democracy. Everyone is equal.
A business model of leadership is a hierarchy.
A biblical model of church leadership is where the church rests on the elders and pastors. The leaders serve the church.
Some churches rest on the pastor all by himself. When that happens, he winds up burned out and crushed by the weight. But the church functions best when a team of leaders–pastors & elders–serve together to feed, lead, guard, protect, and care for the church.
While the principles are solid and biblical, the illustration was creative and worth the price of admission. When the men understood what John was saying and showing, the cameras came out and everyone wanted to preserve the concept. It was teaching at its creative best.
Reflections on the journey thus far
Going global – I flew on British Airways from Seattle to Moscow and then on S7 from Moscow to Anapa. On the Seattle – London leg, BA showed a commercial for HSBC bank before every one of their movies. The background music is “Thank heaven for little girls.” The commercial portrays a young girl setting up a lemonade stand while her father helps her in the background.
The girl paints a sign that reads, “Lemonade – $.50.” Her first customer is a Chinese woman and her preschool son. She looks in her wallet and only has foreign currency. The lemonade stand girl responds, “I take Hong Kong dollars.” She then greets the woman in Chinese and speaks to the boy in the same language. They smile in appreciation. The dad comes out of the house, drinks a glass of lemonade and the girl holds out her hand for payment. A tour bus with foreign speakers pulls up and the dad runs back to the kitchen to make more lemonade. The commercial closes with a view of her new sign that includes the price in US Dollars, Hong Kong Dollars, British Pounds, and German Marks. The announcer closes, “In the future, HSBC believes that all business will be international.”
It caused me to reflect; shouldn’t the same be true of ministry? Isn’t the gospel intended to be international as well? Doesn’t the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20) say that we are to make disciples of all nations?
Thankfully, I am part of a church that believes the gospel is to be proclaimed locally AND internationally. Which is why I found myself on a plane heading for Russia to train pastors and leaders.
Commitment to train and equip – John & Naomi Musgrave operate the House of Grace, a guest house for pastors in Tsibanobalka, Russia, near Anapa on the Black Sea. They are also involved in Holy Trinity Church in Anapa where John serves as one of the elders.
Shortly after arriving, John invited to join him for an elders meeting. The church is currently without a “formal” pastor, so the three elders plus an elder in training serve as the leadership team. (One of the men, Victor, is “pastor elect” and is taking classes at a Bible college in Krasnodar, where my translator, Misha, serves as Academic Dean. It is a six-year course with three two-week courses per year.)
The elders meet on a weekly basis to pray, evaluate, plan, and shepherd the church. The meeting began by discussing how the various home groups were going and if there were any issues, needs, or people to pray for. The men then prayed for the church. Following that, they debriefed the previous Sunday worship service and gave feedback on John’s sermon.
The four men are preaching a seven-week series on the life of Joseph. John preaches 1, 4, and 7 of the series. Victor preaches two of the sermons, and the other two men one sermon each. It demonstrates a commitment to making sure all elders are “able to teach” as well as spreads out the leadership responsibilities. In addition, one of John’s convictions is that Russian churches should be led by Russian pastors. Thus, John is training and equipping these men to lead and shepherd the congregation. Over time, Victor and the other men will preach more and John less.
Attending a meeting in another language is not the easiest thing to do when suffering from jet lag. For the most part I was able to stay awake and track with the discussions. But I did find myself fading and nodding at various times.
Leadership retreat – Part of the ministry of House of Grace is serving as a retreat center. Various groups rent the facility and John & Naomi provide the meals. When I arrived, a church from Krasnodar (about three hours away) was holding a leadership retreat. The pastor, elders, deacons, and small group leaders were present (about 14 men). While I could not understand the content, I was impressed by the seriousness of their discussions, the passion of their prayers and worship, and the commitment to using their time well. The retreat began on Sunday and wraps up with lunch today.
Cleaning – After the Krasnodar group leaves, the house will be cleaned from top to bottom and laundry done in preparation for the next group arriving on Thursday This is the class I will be teaching. Helping clean will be a good way for me to serve as well as getting over jet lag.