Early Christmas morning in 2007 we woke up in our small apartment in St. Petersburg, Russia, made the coffee and eagerly looked outside to see if snow had fallen. It was our first Christmas apart from our extended families during our first year on the mission field. We were thousands of miles away from our parents, cousins, brothers and sisters, yet (despite the fact we didn’t have a white Christmas) we felt at home. Our tiny little artificial tree in the front room sat decorated on top of the grand piano that belonged to the landlord. We had trimmed it with a few ornaments we had brought from the States, a few we had bought in Russia, and had topped it with a cardboard star we had cut out and covered with golden shiny wrapping paper. A small paperclip was formed into a loop and imbedded into the back of the star to affix it to our little tree.
Not too long after we woke up we heard Isaiah stirring. We lifted him out of his crib and let him crawl into our front room where we had a few presents sitting out for him, and later we exchanged a few more gifts between us. It was a regular work day in Russia. New Years is by far the most celebrated holiday in the country, and Christmas follows the Eastern calendar, and is observed on January 7th.
For some, this little story may seem sad, or even a little depressing. Being 5000 miles away from extended family, somewhat “isolated” in a foreign country for Christmas is probably not everyone’s idea of fun. But for us, it will go down as one of our most memorable and beloved Christmases together. It was our little family, in our little apartment, with our simple gifts and little tree, cozy and warm. We had each other, and, most of all, we believed we were right where God wanted us to be.
When we first settled in Russia in 2007 we had hopes and plans, but we also knew that God is sovereign and he knows what is best. As we began 2011 it became clear to us that our plans might very well be in for another divine change.
We were richly blessed this year in so many ways. We continue to be tha
nkful for the amazing medical care that Isaiah is able to receive at Blair E. Batson Children’s Hospital in Jackson. In January, he was able to have something called the A.C.E. procedure done. And later this year he had another surgery to perform a spinal de-tethering. He healed from both surgeries quickly and without any complications for which we are thankful.
In March we were able to take a short vacation to Oregon. Thomas usually visits at least twice a year for InterAct business, but after racking up enough points, we were able to get three free plane tickets and all visit as a family. In case you’ve never been to Portland, the surrounding area is stunningly beautiful. For five days we enjoyed beautiful scenic drives and lots of amazing hikes.
In May we returned to Russia for the summer. Just three days after settling back into our St. Petersburg apartment, we celebrated Nadia’s first birthday. We joined up with our friends Vova and Tanya and walked around the city that day, and ended with a visit to the hospital where Nadia was born. All of the nurses and doctors remembered us and affectionately referred to Cristy as “Our American.”
The summer was packed full of events. We helped lead InterAct’s summer internship program, participated in numerous local ministries, and traveled out to the Siberian city of Krasnoyarsk to meet with our other team members for our annual conference. We saw the fulfillment of one of our most prayed-about projects, the delivery of the complete Bible in the Tuvan language. We also began forming a possible partnership with a local ministry in St. Petersburg that works with Central-Asian Muslim Immigrants. We are currently working with them to see the Bible printed in the Uzbek language and distributed.
It was during the summer that we began to wrestle with the question of where God wanted us to be. As Isaiah has grown, his needs have grown also. Most of these needs are in regards to his ongoing quality of life care. Things such as physical therapy, occupational therapy, access to good medical equipment, and even proactive thinking on the part of his doctors, are all things that have benefited him greatly. For almost four years we had searched for these services in Russia, and it was this summer that we felt we had exhausted every resource. What Isaiah needs simply does not yet exist in Russia.
But we are not done with Russia. As most of you have heard by now, we have been asked by InterAct to move to the Portland area to be near the mission’s home office. Thomas will continue to serve as Russia Field Director and lead that ministry nine months a year from the U.S. In addition he will have other added duties with the mission in the role of Public Ministries Director. The great news is that not only will we be able to get the care for Isaiah that he needs, but we will still plan to be in Russia every summer for about three months as a family!
This year we will celebrate Christmas in America. Our tree is bigger, (as is everything else), but we put that same cardboard star with gold foil on top of the tree as a reminder. We are content to be right where HE wants us to be.
We thank you all for your support and prayers in this ministry. We pray that your hearts will be filled with Christ’s love. Merry Christmas!