Twelve days, ten flights, thirteen time zones, and over 18,000 miles: so went my recent whirlwind trip to Russia May 2-14. With our family being based stateside nine months out of the year, for the near future it is likely that I’ll have to do a trip like this during the intermittent months to connect with our team and our ministry partners in Russia. While brief and thoroughly exhausting, it was an extremely productive and exciting trip. I enjoy seeing what the Lord is doing, and how he’s letting us be a part of it.
Landing in St. Petersburg felt like returning home. We lived there for almost 4 years, and it’s still a huge part of our lives. While I looked forward to reconnecting with friends, I had one main objective and that was to meet with the pastor of the Central Asian church and discuss ongoing plans for a potential partnership with InterAct.
I met with “Pastor B” (name intentionally withheld) for several hours and we discussed at length his church’s burden to reach out to the Central Asian/Muslim community in St. Petersburg. Most of the immigrants are from Uzbekistan, a country that is very much closed to the gospel at this time. There are an estimated 1.5 – 2 million Uzbeks who are living in the St. Petersburg region working to earn money. Conditions are poor and most have never heard the gospel.
Pastor B’s burden is to reach out to Central Asian Muslims and for those that come to Christ, disciple and equip them to either reach others in Russia or go back home and become missionaries there in their daily lives. Already he’s seen a number of men and women saved. If things continue we hope to see a partnership established where InterAct would work along side Pastor B to evangelize and disciple men and women, and also help promote avenues to share the gospel through Bible distribution, newsletters and video recordings of gospel messages. We are excited about the direction in which this is moving and ask for your continued prayers.
The Sunday I was there I had the opportunity to preach at Pastor B’s church. God opened the door for me to prepare from Ephesians 2:1-10 on “The Miracle of Salvation.” The sermon was in Russian, and Pastor B translated into Uzbek while I preached. God blessed.
There were also a number of other objectives while in St. Petersburg. I had the chance to connect with a young friend of mine named Denis. As you may remember, we got to know each other last year and I believe he gave his life to Christ. We’re hoping that he will be able to travel to the United States later this year around Christmas time for a visit. We also discussed the possibility of starting a student group in the fall among his peers at the university who are not believers. This would be promoted as a “philosophical/worldview” discussion group with the hopes of provoking some of these Russian youth to think more seriously about what the Bible has to say.
After several days in St. Petersburg I left on an overnight flight to travel 4 time zones East to the city of Krasnoyarsk. An InterAct couple currently ministers in that city. Over the next two years we are looking to build a base of ministry in Krasnoyarsk, partnering with local churches in reaching out to youth through English teaching. We will also be exploring ministry to surrounding smaller communities with the hopes of establishing Krasnoyarsk as a ministry center in the next 3-5 years.
I was in Krasnoyarsk for just about 48 hours before taking an overnight train and a 6 hour taxi ride south to the Tuvan capital of Kyzyl. Though my time was very brief, my main objectives were to meet with our InterAct team member and the director of our partner organization. Vitaly Ondar directs “Vzaimodestvie” (the name translates “Cooperation”). We have been working with them a number of years now to help support gospel ministry in Tuva. Projects have included the purchase and distribution of the Bible in the Tuvan language, support for various church youth camps, and most notably the development of small businesses among Christians to help generate resources to support the church. I had the opportunity to meet with two Christians who have started small businesses. One brother, Vitaly, has started running a small soft-serve ice cream stand (yes, it gets hot in Siberia). He is a former drug addict who sat in prison for a number of years, but was saved several years ago. I couldn’t help but laugh when he said, “My behavior used to make people cry, but now I sell ice cream and I make people smile.”
I returned to St. Petersburg for about 36 hours before flying back to the States and tried to fit in meetings with as many people as possible. One more important connection was made with a young Yakut friend named Vova. I’ve known him now for 10 years and he’s passionate about serving the Lord among his own people. Discussions are taking place as to how and if we may partner with him when he and his wife Tanya hopefully return to Yakutia next year.
The trip was grueling, but as always there’s nothing like returning home to the open arms of my family. God blessed the trip in so many ways. He kept me safe and my family safe while I was away. He allowed me to meet with so many people and have very effective and productive conversations. It is an honor to be part of the Lord’s work in Russia, and it is an honor to have you, our partners in ministry with us.