Update from Tanya and Vova Burnashev

Many of you have heard of our dear friends Tanya and Vova Burnashev from previous updates.  I (Thomas) met Vova eleven years ago when I first visited Russia in his village of Namtsy, Yakutia. Since then Vova has grown into a mature Christian and married a wonderful young Christian woman, Tanya.  They returned to Yakutia in April of this year and serve as missionaries among the Yakut (Sakha) people. Below is a link to their latest update letter and a video of scenes from this summer that they’ve put together.

Tanya and Vova must rely upon monthly support just like other missionaries, and for them being Russian citizens in a country that has only a tiny Christian community, it is much harder to find supporters.  Please prayerfully consider supporting them. If you’re interested, leave a comment below and I’ll send you information as to how you can do this.

Burnashev’s letter (September 2013)

Watch video highlights from their summer ministry.

We’ve Been Bugged!

header pictureNo, this isn’t a story about Russian-American espionage (sorry to disappoint some of you). After Christmas I had every intention of getting an update out, but to rephrase an old proverb, the road to the best of intentions is paved with detours called “sickness.”

We were hit hard with multiple back-to-back illnesses for most of January and February.  Thankfully, it appears life is getting back to normal. I felt worse than I had in over 10 years, and to complicate things we were all sick at the same time. Being sick is bad enough, but being sick and having to care for sick kids is just buckets of fun. I’m sure many of you with children can relate.

But despite the fact that our home sounded like a tuberculosis ward for six weeks, the Lord still blessed us to serve and further the work that we do with InterAct.

Praise the Lord for healing, and please pray for a season of health and strength to continue the ministry.

A FAMILY CHRISTMAS

Christmas

Isaiah admiring our “fireplace”.

Christmas was a great time. We enjoyed the day together and we valued the special moments as a family. We, of course, missed our extended families, but the time by ourselves reminded us of the years we spent in Russia, which brought back great memories. Toward the evening, we made a trip about 25 miles East toward Mt. Hood to play in the snow. If a white Christmas doesn’t come to the Slawsons, the Slawsons go to a white Christmas!

THE ELISHA FOUNDATION (TEF) RETREAT

For several months prior we had been eagerly looking forward to being part of a retreat with The Elisha Foundation January 3-6 in Cannon Beach, Oregon. As you may recall from past updates, TEF has a wonderful ministry to the disabled community, and has already begun expanding the work internationally. InterAct is currently working to partner with them to see this work in Russia.

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Isaiah playing at the retreat

The long weekend was an amazing time, and the Lord opened up doors for us to both minister and be ministered to. We had the opportunity to lead a two-hour share time with parents. Disability opens up unique doors. The raw stresses that the parents of special needs children face often make them extremely open to pouring out their hearts when the opportunity arises. At the retreat there were both Christians and a few non-Christians. Greg Lucas, author of the powerful book Wrestling with an Angel preached, and the gospel was clearly proclaimed.  We had the opportunity to have a number of deep conversations about the Lord with several other parents, many of which live near us here in Gresham. We hope to continue these connections.

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Nadia enjoying time at the retreat

This summer I plan to be in Russia around the end of June/early July and meet up with Justin Reimer the director of TEF. There is a church in the city of Krasnoyarsk that is interested in partnering with InterAct and with TEF to see this type of ministry expanded there. In Russia the difficulties that the disabled and their caretakers face are exceedingly greater than in the West. Children are ostracized, parents shamed, quality of life is poor. The pain and distress the parents of disabled children face often results in great tenderness toward the gospel.

One major project we are working toward in the next year is to see Wrestling with an Angel  translated into the Tuvan language. This short, but powerful story of God’s sovereignty in the life of the father of a special needs sons is already available in Russian. In many native cultures like Tuva stories are very important, and this book has the potential to reach people in a very powerful way.

Please pray for this continued partnership with TEF and for the translation of this book into Tuvan.

GROWING THE FIELD

For the last three years we’ve really been praying that the Lord would raise up others who wanted to serve in Russia. Since we ourselves cannot be there now full-time, we want to do everything we can to see others placed there and equip and support them in whatever way we can. We are excited to announce that in the last few months we’ve seen two people apply to serve full-time on the Russia field! This is an exciting development that will serve to strengthen our team and the ministry we have in Russia.

Please pray for our new missionaries, that the Lord would use them to impact Russia for Christ.

GOD’S PROVIDENCE IN YAKUTIA

The Siberian Republic of Yakutia is where I fell in love with Russia, and where Cristy first visited Russia together. Though I’ve been there a number of times on short visits, we never made it to Yakutia to live long-term. But it’s funny how the Lord continues to bring this place and the Yakut people back into our lives.

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With our friends Vova and Tanya at their wedding in 2011.

InterAct’s work in Yakutia began in the mid-90′s. Our missionaries served there for over a decade working together with Russian Christians and native believers.  The Lord worked though these collective efforts and since that time the church has expanded from 400 Yakut believers to well over 1000. In addition there are now five established Yakut churches and over 40 home groups!

During my first visit to Yakutia in 2002 I stayed in the home of a Yakut family in the little village of Namtsy. There I met a young man named Vova who was 14 at the time. We didn’t really communicate as he didn’t speak English or even Russian, but his native Sakha tongue. One night during my visit his father Ilya had asked me to explain Christianity to him. Through a translator I spent several hours going through the Bible, explaining the story of the gospel. It wasn’t until years later that I discovered that Vova, who had been listening quietly, was impacted by that moment, and the Lord ultimately used it in his conversion.

The Lord has grown Vova into a passionate follower of Jesus Christ, who not only speaks Russian fluently now, but English as well. When we still lived in St. Petersburg, he moved to the city to study at a Christian University, and we were able to renew and strengthen our friendship. The Lord blessed him with a wonderful Christian wife Tanya, and after several years of equipping and studying they are moving back to Yakutia to be missionaries among the Yakut people.

We are particularly excited about this in InterAct as Vova and Tanya have expressed a strong desire to parter with us in helping equip the Yakut church. Already we are in discussions to see the native church resourced there to grow further.  So often we think of a “missionary” as someone from our own country going to another, but through faithful mission work, the Lord so often raises up “missionaries” from one’s own people. Praise God for his work!

Please pray for Vova and Tanya as they prepare to return to Yakutia, and that they would be used by him to spread the gospel among the Yakut people and strengthen the church.

OTHER WORK

There are lots of other things I do for InterAct to support the ministry not only in Russia, but on our other fields of Alaska and Canada. While these activities are not always the most exciting to write about, they are still a blessing to be a part of and see the Lord use.

New Website: InterAct’s website has had a complete overhaul!  If you haven’t dropped by in a while, visit it on the web at www.InterActMinistries.org.  I enjoyed working on this project.

New Videos:  Another ministry I do for InterAct is put together videos that are used for presentation purposes, recruitment, project fundraising, etc.  You can view these videos at InterAct’s YouTube channel at www.YouTube.com/InterActMin.

SUPPORT

We are thankful for our partners in ministry. Without the support and prayers of other believers we could not do this ministry.  You can find out more about supporting the work here.

family photo fall 2012

December Update

PROCLAIMING THE FAITH IN RUSSIA

“First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is proclaimed in all the world.” – Romans 1:8

While we’re thankful we can continue much of our Russia ministry with InterAct from the home office in Oregon, nothing beats setting foot on Russian soil again.  I had the opportunity to visit again for three weeks at the end of September through October and introduce InterAct’s Executive Director Dale Smith and his wife Carol to Russia for the first time.

St. Petersburg: Serving with the Church in Exile
 “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” – Matthew 16:18

Worshipping with Uzbek believers in St. Petersburg (Dale & Carol Smith, center)

The Sunday we were in St. Petersburg I had the privilege of preaching at the Central Asian church that primarily serves immigrants from Uzbekistan.  I preached on Luke 9:50 “for whoever is not against you is for you” and spoke about the core essentials of the Christian faith. Most believers in this church are young Muslim converts and when I have the opportunity to preach I always try to cover some basic Christian doctrines.

After worship we had a time of fellowship.  I translated for Dale as we talked with some of the believers as they told us stories of the persecution of Christians in Uzbekistan. In Russia, though, the door is open to reach these Muslim immigrants, and this church is very active in evangelizing the Uzbek community of about 1 million people in St. Petersburg. Every time I’m around these amazing believers I cannot help but think of Matthew 16:18.  Satan would like nothing more than to destroy the church in Uzbekistan, but he cannot prevail.  The gospel is reaching the Uzbek people despite efforts to destroy the church in Uzbekistan!

Krasnoyarsk: God’s Grace is Hurting Lives
“He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.” – Psalm 147:3

After our time in St. Petersburg we flew 5 hours East to the Siberian city of Krasnoyarsk to meet up with the rest of our team for our annual conference.  Our time together was a bit more constrained than usual, but a blessing nonetheless. Together we covered how our ministries have progressed, brainstormed, and made plans for the coming year.

We also had the opportunity to meet the pastor of a local church with whom we hope to partner.  Their church already has an active ministry to disabled children and we are hoping to work with them, in partnership with another organization here in Oregon (see below) to send missionaries to Russia to work through the church and minister to the disabled community.  Such a work would involve reaching out to families with special needs to minister to them in word and deed.  So often people in Russia are resistant to the gospel, but when it comes to them through suffering and difficulty, so much hardness is melted away.

Tuva: God’s Word Bearing Fruit
“For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” – 1 Corinthians 1:18

After our time in Krasnoyarsk we traveled about 12 hours south over the Sayan Mountains to Tuva where we spent a week.  Tuva is a much different environment than the rest of Russia.  The infrastructure is less developed, and it’s one of the poorest regions of the country. Most people do not speak Russian well, but rather Tuvan. InterAct continues to work among Christians to develop small business ventures that help support the work of Christian ministry so that the church can be self-supporting.

Some of the highlights of the trip include connecting with Vitaly Ondar, the director of our partner organization Vzaimodestvie (pronounced vza-ee-mo-DAYST-vee-yeh, which translation “interaction” or “cooperation” in Russian).  Last year in partnership with Vzaimodestvie we saw the first ever printing of the entire Bible in Tuvan.  About 7000 copies were delivered to Tuva and over half of them have been given out to the churches for Christians to use, and in other areas evangelistically.  It was a blessing to sit in a worship service and see Tuvans holding their Tuvan Bibles and reading them! A number of people wanted us to thank all of those who contributed to and prayed for this project.

During our time in Tuva several times we heard the phrase “God brought you here just at the right time.” In several visits with different believers around the region we had the opportunity to minister to their marriages. Much like in the day of Paul, there are many mixed marriages where either a believer is married to an unbeliever or one or both spouses is a very young and immature Christian.  Many of these people were married during the days of the Soviet Union and then one spouse was saved later.  I will respect privacy by not using names, but the Lord opened up many opportunities to talk with these brothers and sisters and help see them strengthened in their relationships with their spouses and learn to bear with them in a loving way.

RETURNING HOME

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.” – 2 Corinthians 1:3,4

Fall means lots of rain in Oregon!

I was greatly encouraged by our time in Russia.  God is continuing to work and open doors there and further his kingdom.  We were able to put some plans into place and hope to see those carried out soon.

The night before our flight left Moscow to return to America I came down sick with a bad head cold and bronchitis, leaving me feeling pretty miserable.  I spent my first few days home in bed and going to the doctor, unable to kiss on my family!

About a week after I got back, just as I was starting to get well, I went with Cristy for her second ultrasound.  As most of you know already, we were deeply saddened to learn that we were miscarrying.  This is now the fourth time, and it has been hard, but God has sustained us.

THE MISSION FIELD IN PORTLAND

“and there they continued to preach the gospel.” – Acts 14:7

We are excited about two doors that are beginning to open for us here in Portland.

Russian Youth Crisis

As you may remember from past updates, there are over 200,000 Russian-speakers in the Portland area, many of which are professing Christians who came here shortly after the Soviet Union collapsed.  While there are many Russian churches around , there is a major crisis that has unfolded among the youth that have grown up here.  Many of them are children of two cultures and two languages, not fully belonging to either one.  Many of them have left the church, abandoned any interest in the faith, and sadly have gotten involved in crime and drugs.  Our heart goes out to these Russian youth and we have grown in our desire to reach out to them.  Providentially we’ve met several other faithful Russian young people who have this same desire.  They believe, like we do, that English-speaking “American” churches can best reach these youth, since all of them basically speak English fluently and prefer this as their primary language now.  Our family hopes to serve as a “bridge” to these youth as it were.  I will be meeting with another young Russian Christian in Tacoma, Washington in December to talk about how we might go about moving forward with this type of ministry.

The Elisha Foundation (TEF)

Greg Lucas’ book “Wrestling with an Angel” is a great Biblical resource for parents of special needs kids. Already in Russian, we hope to see this translated into other languages such as Tuvan and Sakha.

I’ve mentioned The Elisha Foundation in a previous update, and my excitement about what they’re doing only continues to grow.  We are currently building a relationship with them and our Russia field in hopes to see ministry developed in Russia to work with local churches and minister to the disabled community.  I’ve met several times with the director of  TEF to discuss this partnership and put several ideas on the table.  Some of the ideas include placing a full-time missionary couples in Russia, and having several Biblical books on disability translated into some of the other languages of Russia, such as Tuvan and Sakha.  God’s providence in bringing us here has been amazing to see.

SUPPORT

“for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.” – Matthew 6:8b

Unfortunately I must report that our monthly support level has dropped significantly.  As it stands right now we are at about 80% of our support level. We are going to need to increase our regular monthly support if we are to continue this work.  Would you consider partnering with us in this ministry in 2013?  Here’s how:

Donate Online:

Donate by Mail:

if you prefer to give via mail, contributions can be sent to…

InterAct Ministries
31000 SE Kelso Rd.
Boring, OR 97009

Please make the check out to “InterAct Ministries” and indicate on a separate sheet of paper that the contribution is for “Thomas & Cristy Slawson”

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December – Bullet Point Update

Bullets for the Busy: If you only have a few minutes, here are the major points.

  • The trip to Russia was successful.
    • In St. Pete we continue to work with the Uzbek church. I preached the Sunday we were there.
    • In Krasnoyarsk, Siberia our team met and we’re building a partnership with a local church on a number of levels including outreach ministry to the disabled.
    • In Tuva we worked closely with our partner organization. The Tuvan Bible is being used and is greatly blessing people. We ministered to some marriages and connected with our major ministries down there.
  • Our family has been through some difficulties, but God has sustained us.
    • I was pretty sick after my Russia trip.
    • We suffered another miscarriage.
    • God is good.
  • God is opening up doors here in Portland
    • We’re exploring work with local Russian Christians to reach out to Russian youth who have left the church.
    • We’re continuing to build a partnership with The Elisha Foundation, an organization here in Oregon to the disabled community. Our hope is to work together to reach the disabled community in Russia.
  • Our support is down.
    • We are at 80% of our recommended support.
    • Would you consider partnering with us for 2013?
  • Pray for us.
    • For continued growth and strengthening of the Russia ministry.
    • For wisdom as we pursue new ministries.
    • That people would hear the gospel and come to Christ.
    • For open doors here in Portland to minister to the Russian community.

September Update

Personal Update:

It’s hard to believe that it was 3 months ago that we moved to Oregon. In some ways it seems that we just got here, and in other ways it feels like we’ve been here a long time. We moved here right at the beginning of the “sunny season” of the year and have enjoyed amazing weather. But Fall is coming, and we know what that means – rain! We continue to covet your prayers as we make the adjustment to life up here and for the ministry in which we’re involved.

Update on Isaiah’s Surgery

As most of you already know, Isaiah had surgery on Wednesday, September 19th to extend the metal rods in his back. This was our first surgery ever that didn’t take place at Blair E. Batson hospital in Jackson, Mississippi. I’m happy to report that all went smoothly, and that the Shriners Hospital here in Portland provides first-class care in every way. Since this was an extension surgery it was much less invasive and less stressful on Isaiah than other surgeries he’s had in the past. The whole procedure from the time they took him back until recovery took about two hours. He stayed one night in the hospital to receive a round of antibiotics and was discharged the next day. He was a little uncomfortable for about two days, but after that bounced back to his old happy self. We’ll need to have this done about every six months, so ongoing prayers for Isaiah’s health and development are appreciated.

Great Expectations

The lastest exciting news is that we are expecting number three! Cristy and I recently discovered that new baby Slawson is on the way and should arrive sometime around next April-May. Given some of the difficulties we’ve experienced in the past, we decided to make this public a little earlier. Please pray for the safe and healthy development of our unborn child.

 

Russia Ministry Update:

Though we live in Portland, I continue to be the Russia Field Director for InterAct. Technology has greatly assisted in me being able to continue to do my job “off the field.”

On-Air

In our last update I wrote and asked for prayer regarding a radio interview on a Russian Christian station here in Portland. I’m thankful to report that it went extremely well. I was interviewed for about 2 hours and had the opportunity to share about our life and ministry. Several people called in to the program and asked questions. The producer of the show even mentioned having us out to his Russian church to talk about the ministry. The program went out to an estimated 50,000 people! I also have an open invitation from the station to come on any time I have something that I feel needs to be publicized in the Russian-speaking community in Portland. Please pray for more contacts in the Russian-speaking community.

Russia Travels September 26th – October 16th

Two days from now (upon the writing of this update), I’ll be traveling to Russia for a little over two weeks. This is a very important trip on a number of levels. I’ll be guiding InterAct’s Executive Director Dale Smith and his wife Carol on their first trip to Russia to see the ministry first-hand. We’ll be starting out in St. Petersburg for about five days where we plan to meet with ministry partners there including leaders of the Central Asian immigrant ministry. I have been asked to preach at the Central Asian church the Sunday that we’re there.  Please pray as I prepare to preach God’s word, and pray also that God would raise up a couple or individual who’d be willing to move to the city and live full-time as missionaries and serve in this work.

From St. Petersburg we’ll travel almost 3,000 miles East to the Siberian city of Krasnoyarsk. There we’ll hold our InterAct field conference with our Russia team. We’re also excited about a new ministry opportunity that’s opening up in the city. A number of Russian churches in Krasnoyarsk have started using English-teaching to reach out to young unbelievers. Our missionaries in Krasnoyarsk have built some good relationships with these churches, and the opportunity has presented itself for InterAct missionaries to partner with these churches as a means of outreach. I plan to meet with some of the local leaders and discuss plans for moving forward.  Please pray for a good conference and wisdom and we discuss the ministry there.

From Krasnoyarsk we’ll drive south for about 14 hours to Tuva where we’ll spend a week. We continue to be encouraged by the progress there our missionaries are making by using business skills to help resource local churches to carry out ministry. We plan to meet with and discuss further possibilities for ministry with our local ministry partners. Please pray for safe travels and productive ministry on this trip.

Missionares to the Disabled

Back on the home front I’ve been excited about another discussion that’s going on. Several years ago I became familiar with an organization called The Elisha Foundation. They are based out of Bend, Oregon about a three-hour drive from Portland. The organization was started by Justin and Tamara Reimer whose son Elisha was born with Down Syndrome. At the time of his birth they had been planning on moving to Russia as missionaries! Their work has focused on ministering to people with disabilities and their families through the church. I’ve enjoyed getting to know Justin better, and recently we’ve entered into discussions to explore the idea of missionaries moving to foreign fields with a specific focus toward the special needs community. For example, this would mean a missionary would move to a place like Tuva and would work with the church to reach out to people with disabilities and their families. The need is great in these areas of Russia. Besides congenital birth defects, substance abuse and poor medical care have resulted in a high rate of fetal alcohol syndrome and cerebral palsy. Please pray for us as we continue to explore this exciting opportunity that is near to our hearts.

Summer Internships

We are in the process right now of planning our summer internship programs in Russia for summer 2013. Right now we are planning on two trips, one to the city of Krasnoyarsk and the other to the city of Kyzyl, Tuva. We are hoping and praying for about 4-5 participants on each team. Gospel ministry is still greatly needed in Russia. Please join us in praying for more missionaries to serve. 

 

Other Ministries

As many of you know, I am responsible for a number of other things in InterAct now. Here’s a brief summary of some of the other ministries we’ve been up to.

Canada Field Conference

Living in Oregon has put us a good bit closer to InterAct’s work in Canada. On August 25th – 31st we all loaded up in the car and headed up the road for about six hours crossing the boarder into Abbotsford, British Columbia. We spent one night there and worshipped with some of InterAct’s team members the next morning. Later that afternoon we had the exciting opportunity to meet with a potential recruit for the Russia field that I hope to tell you more about in the future. Later in the evening we crossed back into the U.S. to Sumas, Washington where we spent the next week with our Canada partners (yes, they held their conference in the US this year). I had gotten to meet many of them earlier this year in Calgary, but this was the first time Cristy and the kids got to be a part of things.

Video Production

Another aspect of my job now involves me doing video production work for the mission. I recently had the opportunity to put together two new videos, and hope to do more in the future. The first is a short video that highlights the Sakha people of Russia. The second is a general video about InterAct Ministries that we plan to use as we recruit this fall. Links to both videos are below. Please pray that God would bless these videos to encourage people to prayer and service.

Pray for the Sakha
More Than A Mission

Publications and Promotions

In addition to video production I’ve also had the opportunity to help with some of the mission publications. Recently I helped redesign the brochures for the mission and put together the final layout. This was a pretty intensive project as the last update was done about 4 years ago.

 

Appeal for Support

God has continued to sustain us all along the way, but we are still about $600 short in regular monthly support. If you feel led we would invite you to consider supporting the work. This can be done in one of two ways: either follow the link below or use the mailing address below to mail in a check.  Please pray with us that God would help us to maintain our full support.

Click here to donate online

Or mail contributions to:

InterAct Ministries
31000 SE Kelso Rd.
Boring, OR 97009

Please make all checks payable to InterAct Ministries, and note on a separate sheet of paper that it is for The Slawsons.

Thank you all for your prayers and support.

Pressing on in Christ,

The Slawsons

“Portlandistan”

Yes, it’s a joke, but it’s not too far off base.  During the 90′s and 2000′s the greater Portland area became a prime point of immigration for citizens of the former Soviet Union, primarily Russians and Ukrainians.  This happened in a number of other cities around the United States including Chicago, Atlanta, Houston, New York and others.  The exact reasons why Portland was chosen are not clear, but one thing is; there are over 100,000 Russian-speaking immigrants living in the greater Portland area.  Interestingly, an estimated 60%-70% of them would call themselves “Evangelical Christians”, and many immigrated to the United States shortly after the collapse of the Soviet Union in hopes of finding religious freedom, suspicious that persecutions would eventually return.  Throughout the city and surrounding suburbs there are many Russian-speaking congregations.

One of our desires in living in the Portland area is not only to engage with the Russian community to be a witness, but to encourage Russian-speaking Christians to consider returning to the land of their roots to minister.   We feel this has the most potential among the youth.  Many of them came to America when they were young and have grown up the children of two cultures, learning to speak both English and Russian with equal fluency, and also having an understanding of both the American and Russian cultures.

Already we have begun to make some connections, and we hope to do this further.  We would ask that you would pray for us in this endeavor.