From my first year in Russia I've been blessed by the presence of mission workers from the Presbyterian Church (USA) here. THE PCUSA has a very interesting vision of mission here; instead of trying to establish congregations of their own denomination, they put their efforts into helping those churches that have historical roots in the country.
Most of their contacts have been with the Baptist and Orthodox churches, but they've supported the Lutheran church in significant ways, too. Two of those that have been most significant in my ministry - Joseph Kang's teaching of Biblical subjects at the Theological Seminary in Novosaratovka, and Ellen Smith's work partnering congregations.
Ellen has been a good friend and colleague throughout the years, and together with her husband Al they have been really good people with whom to reflect on life and ministry here. We've had ideas about how to actually work together in the past, but only this year did it gain concrete form....and in two different ways within one week. More about the second of those in another post, but the first is related to my latest trip to the Northern Caucasus deanery near the end of March.
... Overall we can see that God has provided for the people of this region and, after a long period of stagnation, how something new is happening there. It is a blessing to be a part of it. ...
Dean Sergey Maramzin and I had spoken about the continued need of folks in his deanery to gain a sense of what the Lutheran branch of the Christian family is and what it might mean for us to build up the church in this region. With that general idea in mind, we developed a couple of goals for a seminar through the "Equipping for Service" project: 1. To help congregational leaders become “local experts” on Luther and the events of the Reformation in this important anniversary year. 2. To make a first attempt to use the new deanery retreat center in Makhovsevskaya (Krasnodary Krai, not far from Maikop, Adygeya) as a place for educational events Sergey has been working very hard to construct (much with his own hands) a building that could be used for deanery-wide events or simply for individuals looking for a place of spiritual restoration. Having the seminar planned pushed Sergey to make the place livable by the date we had set, and he accomplished that, even if there is still work to be done.
...instead of trying to establish congregations of their own denomination, they put their efforts into helping those churches that have historical roots in the country...
While we were planning, we learned that Bishop Dietrich Brauer had suggested to Ellen that it would be helpful if she try to establish partnerships for our churches, too, starting with the Northern Caucasus region. Ellen, Sergey and I decided that we could combine these things; she and I flew down, then, to visit two congregations (Krasnodar, Novorossisk) and to meet regional leaders at a day-long seminar.
12 people (including the 3 pastors) from 4 different locations were in attendance; Dean Maramzin kept the number deliberately relatively low insofar as this first use of the retreat center was an experiment; more will get invitations in the future. As it is, though, we were together for most of a good day. While it wasn't too much time (particularly because some of us had to travel great distances - 5+ hours – to get home and the road conditions were poor), it was of high quality - we had fellowship, a meal, conversation, a short sermon on the occasion of the Annunciation (it was March 25, after all), and a basic course on Luther's life and the Reformation. Besides getting to know one another better, the participants also had a good chance to meet Ellen and to hear from her how PC(USA) envisions partnership.
... they appreciated the way Reformation-area materials were presented in a way that was understandable and accessible, that it helped them bring order to their scattered thoughts on the subject...
Sergey, Ellen and I, as we reflected on the weekend, were filled with hope for the potential of what God might do with us and the congregations with which we are in contact. The deanery retreat center has now been "tested" and Sergey mentioned afterwards that now he feels more comfortable using the space for other (education and not-strictly-educational) activities. This was a very important achievement, in my mind, and Dean Maramzin is to be praised for his hard work to make a place for retreat for the church. It is still certainly a work in progress and there is much potential to do more, but even now it is quite usable, with sleeping places (up to 7), seating (for more than twice more than that), a place to prepare food, wash, and a place for outdoor activities.Ellen was also able to get an impression of congregational members in the region and has already started praying for and sharing potential partnerships... and is already recruiting staff for the region's plans to do a day-camp this summer... For my part I heard from seminar participants that they appreciated the way Reformation-area materials were presented in a way that was understandable and accessible, that it helped them bring order to their scattered thoughts on the subject.
Overall we can see that God has provided for the people of this region and, after a long period of stagnation, how something new is happening there. It is a blessing to be a part of it.