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Arrival in Elista

We arrived safely in Elista Tuesday afternoon. We were greeted by Sandzhik and his wife, Elsa, and another Elsa. The Soviet era hotel in town was deemed too expensive by Sandzhik, so he put us in a tourist village on the edge of town. While there is not an exact equivalent, I suppose you could say that we have a Russian version of a vacation condo in an area known as City Chess. One advantage of our house is that it has a large meeting room where we can meet with friends.

The downside is there is no WiFi, so communication will be sporadic this week. This morning, Wednesday, we ventured out to the local Cinnabon restaurant to use their WiFi. (Who would expect to find a Cinnabon in the middle of Elista, especially one that serves sandwiches and pizza along with cinnamon rolls?)

Today we will explore the city and do some sightseeing. I will try to post pictures later when I have a stronger WiFi connection. Tomorrow we begin the three-day class on the life of Moses.

Thanks for praying.

 

 
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Posted by on March 4, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

Travel Days

11041714_10152546932081371_802025558829378844_nWe left Tsibanobalka & Anapa yesterday morning, Monday, and flew to Moscow. John arranged for a taxi to take us into the center of town where we stayed at the Holiday Inn. It was about an hour’s drive. After relaxing for a couple of hours, we rode the Metro a few stops down in order to meet some old friends of John & Naomi’s for dinner. Back in the 90’s, John taught at an international school operated by Tatiana. Her daughter, Marina, was a kindergartener in one of John’s classes. Marina is now a teacher at the same school. It was encouraging to see old friends reconnect.

This morning, Tuesday, a taxi picked us up at the hotel and took us to the Domodedevo Airport where we will catch a flight to Elista. We allowed two hours for the trip but arrived in one. As I write this note, we have a three hour wait until our flight this afternoon. Sheremetyevo Airport, where we arrived last week and flew to Anapa, is in the northwest suburb of Moscow. Domodedevo is in the southeast sector.

My first arrival in Moscow was in 1992. I continue to be impressed that Moscow is a study in contrasts. In the past 20+ years, everything has changed, but nothing has changed. There are signs of affluence and prosperity. You see Burger King across the street from the statue of Lenin. You find Cinnabon and Subway in the Domodedevo Airport. But you also see babushkas (old women) sweeping the streets with handmade brooms. You see new cars and upscale malls near every Metro stop. But the average person cannot buy fresh vegetables because the cost of tomatoes has tripled in the past year due to inflation. Inflation has affected the cost of food—meat, fresh fruits & vegetables—but the taxis have not raised their rates for transportation.

We are all healthy, but weary. The travel, and especially the layovers and waiting wear one out. Yesterday’s travel was an all-day affair. Leaving early, waiting at the airport, flying, taxi ride. Today is a similar story. No complaints, it’s just part of the process. As I explain to folks, I enjoy the ministry part of these trips, but tolerate the travel.

A few years back, some suggested sending DVDs or teaching via Skype rather than going myself. On the one hand, that would be more efficient, cost less, and be easier on my body. On the other hand, it tends to be too formal and impersonal. It puts the emphasis on conveying information rather than building relationships. I have discovered the ministry of presence on these trips. There is great benefit to sitting across the table and sharing eyeball to eyeball. Not only am I able to teach the material, but I can adapt the applications to specific situations as I hear the stories of the people and what it means to be a Christ follower in their city. Since this is my fourth trip in five years and many of the men have been in previous classes I’ve taught, I’m able to build on existing relationships.

We’ve begun to talk about next year. When we started the classes five years ago, John asked if I was interested in coming back. This time he said, “When you come next year …” We’ve talked about possibly doing a marriage retreat or teaching some aspect of theology, rather than doing a book or biographical study like I’m doing on this trip. We’ll see how God leads.

Thanks for praying. I’m in your debt. We’ll keep you posted.

 
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Posted by on March 3, 2015 in House of Grace, Ministry, Photos, Russia

 

Sunday night in Tsibanobalka

Sunday’s theme could best be summed up in the phrase, “Sharing life together.”

In the morning, we worshipped at Holy Trinity Church in Anapa. The church was planted by Victor Semukhin and is where John Musgrave serves as one of the elders. The church is very unique by Russian standards, and/or American ones for that matter, in that they have a team of elders who serve together to shepherd the flock. Vanya serves as the pastor, and is assisted by Viktor, Kolya, and Kosta. Tall Vanya is an elder-in-training. Both Vanya’s, Kolya & Kosta were part of the class I taught the past three days along with two other men from the church.

John preached this morning on Hebrews 10:24-25. His main points were: (1) don’t neglect attending church and meeting together because we need each other; (2) encourage one another—when you come to church, be prepared to minister to others with a word of encouragement; and (3) spur one another on (irritate each other in a good way) to produce good works. He ended with a personal challenge to do each of these three actions.

Once a month, the church celebrates a Day of Unity with a potluck dinner at one of the members’ home. John & Naomi opened up House of Grace for the occasion. It was encouraging to see the lively conversations, parents holding their children, and people doing life together. There was a boatload of food highlighted by John’s grilled teriyaki pork chops. We were giving away bags of leftovers at the end.

The church is healthy and growing. Three years ago, there were about 30 in the worship service. There were 72 chairs set up this morning with 80 in attendance. Children were sitting on parents’ laps and people sharing seats. 60 attended the potluck this afternoon. Considering this was the first of March and the church is even larger in the summer, they are experiencing great growth pains.

I commented to Vanya that the church appeared healthy and growing. He said they were not doing anything out of the ordinary. They were just preaching sermons, training leaders, and sharing together. I pointed out he was practicing Acts 2:42-47 and God was blessing the church. I noticed a large number of children and young families in attendance. John said it was due to two elders’ wives (both named Oxana) treating children as a ministry and not just a babysitting service. (It validates what I believe about the importance of children’s ministry being a key component to growing a church.) It also shows the time and effort that John has put into leadership development over the past several years.

I received one of the better compliments I’ve received from Sergey as he was leaving the afternoon gathering. He is relatively new to the church and attended last week’s class. He said the class on Moses gave him a much larger view of God. While I was teaching simple truths, it made him want to fall on his knees and worship such a great God. It was a very encouraging compliment.

Tomorrow we begin the travel portion of the trip. We fly back to Moscow on Monday and on to Elista on Tuesday. After a day of recovery and preparation on Wednesday, we start the second class on Thursday. Stay tuned.

Thanks for praying.

 
 

Saturday night in Tsibanobalka

IMG_2038As promised, I gave the class an assignment this morning. I gave the men 45 minutes to study two passages on their own—Deuteronomy 34 and Hebrews 11:24-28. The first tells of the death of Moses and the second summarizes his life. Then I had them divide into two groups and spend the next 45 minutes discussing how to teach the passage. It was an exercise in inductive Bible study and group process. One group took Deuteronomy while the other took Hebrews. Then we gathered at 11AM to share the results. IMG_2040Each group had a spokesman who taught the main points of the lesson to the rest of us. They showed great insight into the passage, highlighting several significant principles.

After the two groups finished, I explained that I preached through the life of Moses about four years ago. When I came to Deuteronomy 34, I decided to do something different and creative. Rather than simply preach the passage, we held a funeral as if Moses had died the previous week. We brought in several props—wooden casket, shepherd’s staff, sandals, and tablets with the 10 Commandments. One person read Moses’ obituary while others shared memories of their good friend. Then I preached a message on Deuteronomy 34. The men liked the idea and said they were going to schedule a funeral in the near future.

In our final session, I taught through Psalm 90, a psalm Moses wrote at the end of his life. The main idea of the psalm comes from verse 12—Count your days to make your days count.

IMG_7104We closed the class with a time of group prayer. I have observed that Russians take prayer very seriously and treat it reverently. They stand when they pray. Not only did they pray before meals, they wanted to pray at the beginning of each class session. It was fitting that we ended with the way we began.

After a hearty lunch, the men practiced a long goodbye before heading off to their homes.

Afterwards, John & Naomi, Lena our translator, and I began the process of cleanup. Dishes were washed, beds were stripped, floors were swept, and laundry was started. Then we sat down to rest before the next meeting.

In the late afternoon, John & Naomi and Lena met with three couples to discuss the future of the House of Grace. John & Naomi are transitioning to a ministry of mentoring pastors and wanted to find the right couple to take over the ministry of House of Grace. After a long discussion, the ten of us went to dinner at a pizza place in Anapa. It appeared to be a very positive discussion.

FullSizeRenderWhile the men were working on their personal study and group project this morning, I was helping Naomi in the kitchen, shelling eggs for deviled eggs. They will be served tomorrow at Holy Trinity Church of Anapa’s Day of Unity.

Today’s weather was a bit cooler, dropping down into the mid 40’s. Considering it is in the 20’s at home, I’m not complaining.

All in all, it was another good day of ministry.

Thanks for praying.

 

Bible study & cookies

Bible study and cookies & milk adds new meaning to Matthew 4:4.

Matthew 4-4

 
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Posted by on February 28, 2015 in Bible Study, Photos, Russia, Scripture

 

Friday evening in Tsibanobalka

10991700_1559175807684026_8243340034666843585_oAnother day of teaching is in the books. I began this morning with the ten plagues in Exodus 7-10 and ended with Moses losing his temper in Numbers 20. Needless to say, we covered a lot of ground. The last lesson was one of the most important. It illustrated what can happen when we don’t deal with a recurring sin. Moses killed a man in anger at the age of 40. He stormed out of Pharaoh’s presence at the age of 80. Nearing 120, he struck the rock in anger rather than speak to it. While his anger was forgiven, his loss of control and act of temper cost him his place in the Promised Land. Today’s lessons included some lively discussion and thought provoking questions. The men are thirsty for knowledge and desire to learn and grow.

The men don’t know it yet, but I will give them an assignment in the morning. I will ask half the group to study Deuteronomy 34 and the other half to examine Hebrews 11. Then they will come back and teach the main idea of the passage to the other group. I will close the class with Psalm 90 which Moses wrote at the end of his life.

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One of the features of House of Grace are the meals. No one goes away hungry as John & Naomi Musgrave serve tasty and plentiful meals. They do it to honor their guests and treat them as special people. From a US standpoint, the meals cost about $2 per person. From a Russian standpoint, the meals include items that the average person could not afford. During dinner, Lena and Vanya were discussing the cost of things such as meat and vegetables as well as the merits of sugar, honey, and fructose. They commented how much the cost of food has gone up recently. (When Carol and I were here last year, $1 = 32 rubles. Today, $1 = 62 rubles. It got as low as $1 = 70 rubles recently. It’s great for Americans but terrible for the Russians.) It makes John & Naomi’s hospitality that much more valuable.

The weather this week is downright balmy. It got up to 57 degrees F today. Considering it’s in the 20’s back home in western MA, it’s quite warm for me. It’s the first time in weeks I haven’t worn a hat indoors to keep my head warm. On the drive from the Anapa airport on Wednesday, I commented that I’m not used to seeing so much green. While I am enjoying the warmth, my translator was bundled up in a blanket as she was cold. Guess it’s a matter of perspective. ;)

Thanks for praying.

 
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Posted by on February 27, 2015 in House of Grace, Photos, Russia

 

Thursday evening in Tsibanobalka

IMG_2021Thanks to all of you who prayed for the first day of class. God answered prayer. After a night of restful sleep, we enjoyed a good day of stimulating discussion.

Students started arriving about 9:30AM and the first session began at 10:30. 10 men are part of the class, along with Lena, our translator. During the opening session, I asked the men to introduce themselves—who they are, where they are from, and what ministry they are engaged in. IMG_2022Half of the group comes from the Holy Trinity Church in Anapa, where John Musgrave serves as one of the elders. Vanya, the pastor, and Kostya and Kolya, two of the elders, are part of the class. Several other men are part of a church/alcohol rehabilitation ministry in a village near Krasnodar pastored by Sasha. Around noon, Sergey arrived from Crimea. He traveled all night by bus to come for the day.

We met from 10:30 until lunch at 1PM. IMG_2023Then we reconvened at 1:45 and went until 5:10 when we broke for dinner. All told, about six hours of teaching today. I covered the first six chapters of Exodus from Moses’ birth up to the beginning of the 10 Plagues. Considering I am one-third of the way through my notes, I guess I am on track for a three-day class. Part of the time I lectured and part was filled with discussion and Q&A. There was much more discussion than in previous classes. John mentioned that the Anapa elders meet each week to dissect and discuss the upcoming sermon. Their training was evident in the quantity and quality of their questions. It made for a very interactive and interesting experience.

1507339_1558934411041499_1818744849395380593_oAfter dinner, I talked for quite a while with Pastor Sergey from Crimea. Due to the changing political climate, a large number of people not only left his church but the area as well. It has made for a challenging ministry. He asked a number of questions about how we do evangelism, Christian Education, special services, recovery programs, and more. Later, Pastor Sasha joined us for the discussion on recovery programs. Sasha’s ministry involves an alcohol rehabilitation center that makes use of a former collective farm. What they grow helps support the ministry.

As I listen to these men talk about their respective ministries and families, I am humbled by their commitment to Christ. My problems appear very pedestrian compared to their experiences.

Thanks for praying.

 
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Posted by on February 26, 2015 in House of Grace, Russia

 
 
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