One of my roles here is to serve as a sort of liaison for a US ministry that supports pastors from the St. Petersburg area. Russians Reaching Russians looks for promising leaders, particularly church planters from among the Russians, and invests in them, including financial support and advise. They also send periodic teams over to help these churches. Since seeking and investing in leaders is part of my mission here, it was an obvious fit to work together.
My current task is to merely meet with several of their promising pastors and find out what they are doing, how they are doing, and what needs they can identify. Their two point men are Igor Sokolov, pastor of the church we attend, and Vladimir Osipov, pastor of a church in Pushkin where I served earlier this year helping Ilya Alyoshin (another RRR suported pastor) teach Biblical Problem Solving in their missionary school (which I wrote about in an earlier newsletter).
I met a third pastor, Yuri Troyanov, founder of a church to the east of the city, earlier this year, and it also turned into an ongoing relationship – with me coaching him on a weekly basis.
My fourth pastor came on August 28-29 with Yuri Dimitriev, who planted a church in Luga, 2.5 hours south of the city. We were going to meet here, but he invited me to come down and see his operation first hand, which I decided was a much better idea. He took me down in his van, and we got to know each other on the way, although communications were hindered by the noise of the roads which were so bumpy and pock-marked that I pitied his van immensely.
We have a lot in common. His two kids are almost the same ages as two of ours. (I stayed overnight with his family (left), including pregnant wife Natasha. He has done a lot of work in building bridges between congregations in the city, and he understands how hard it is to get real cooperation. He has a big vision for his church, but he also values teamwork, delegation, training leaders, and empowering the calling of those in his care. Although RRR supports him, he also runs a business (left) repairing and refurbishing cars, and, true to the values just mentioned, his two right-hand men are his two associates at the church. So he mentors them in business, leadership, and Jesus all at once.
He asked me to preach at the evening service (with three days notice), and moved it from Wed. to Thursday to accommodate my arrival. I was nervous, not only for the sake of the language, but also since I don’t consider myself a public speaker, and I didn’t know what to talk about. But God was good, and a couple of hours out it finally all came together in my head (after much prayer), and I hit upon my subject: teaching how to pray for each other, using some of the material I already had in hand from the Biblical Problem Solving class and a way to categorize prayers so that people could see that they almost never address the heart issues of the person requesting prayer. Yuri graciously let me lead the talk more like a seminar than a sermon – more my style. They seemed to be blessed (right) and thanked me, asking me to come back. Moreover, I enjoyed everyone there. They seemed open, warm, and mature in their faith.
The church has just built a building that they have recently moved into, though not complete. Moreover, it is only accessible by a muddy path through a field to the rear (right). Since it is outside the town, we first had to go around and pick most everyone up and bring them. Pastors have to play a lot of roles here!
Their mission to the community includes a ministry to drug addicts. Five men have been living in the attic of the church building over the last year, helping build the structure and farm the land around it as a part of their rehabilitation (left). The program is unusually simple. Participants get up and join the church for prayer each morning at 7am (did you catch that – the whole church gathers for prayer every morning!). Afte breakfast, they work all morning and all afternoon. Evenings are free for “self study,” which means they can read any of the Christian literature in the church library. There is no formal education or teaching. Their method is work, closeness to the life of the church, and lifestyle mentoring through having mature men with them much of the time to guide and shepherd.
Their success is already visible. The guy above was their first convert. He was a wealthy Muslim from Dagestan, but Jesus has made such a difference in his life that his wife and three kids (feom whom he had been separated for two years) have moved up to Luga to join him. She is now attending church, and though she has not yet made a decision for Christ, she is open to it. He now is the apprenticing to lead the program. I was very moved to see their young children reunited with dad and now being raised to know the One who saved them all.
The meeting lasted until about 10pm, then we made two trips into town dispersing folk to their homes, interrupted by a man who needed his van pulled down the street. You don’t see tow trucks much here, but it’s not uncommon to see a car pulling another with a rope, and it’s not illegal. So we tugged this guy a few hundred yards to his house, but it was a struggle, to say the least, his van being much larger than ours. In the morning we found the cost of being a Good Samaritan: the transmission had come out and literally dropped about 18 inches. In God’s good humor, Yuri ended up being thankful; he had needed to replace a part that required removing the transmission, and that was so much trouble he hadn’t done it yet. He didn’t think there was any permanent damage, so it was a blessing. Go figure.
We stayed up late talking about church, leadership, his dreams, and his needs. So what would he like to have from a visiting team of American Christians?
- a team who would help disciple the guys in the rehab program. He feels that they would respond well to outsiders caring enough to build relationship and take the time with them.
- a team could help with their evangelization. The idea would be to pass out offers to rent the Jesus film. Give those who want to see the film a copy, and when you pick it up, start a conversation about what they saw.
- spend time, again in informal settings over time, with some of the new members of the church and those who are just visiting but not yet made a decision for Christ. They idea is to disciple them and help them experience relationship and the love of Jesus.
So what next? Coincidentally, one young lady called me while I was writing this post, asking when I’d be back. I find myself wanting to go again, but it’s so far, I need a good reason. I told her that I needed a concrete invitation as a way of measuring desire. Yuri said he could see my services coming in useful, but what I struggle with is whether there is strategic need for my teaching. How can I effectively raise up leaders from this kind of distance?