Each year we must give a report of our accomplishments to our sending agency, Novo, who then compiles them into a general report to give donors an idea of what God has been doing around the world through our nearly 600 staff who serve in 163 different countries. That report is available here. It’s always a tough process for me, as I find myself always wishing that we had done more for the King that we had. But when I step back and look at what God has done, instead of what has not been done, there is a lot to be thankful for. By the way, it’s worth noting that the “help” here has dwindled considerably over the years. Novo (formerly CRM) once had 17 staff in several cities across Russia. Now it is just me and our small team of just Russians in St. Petersburg. In the decade after the Soviet Union fell there were at one point 102 missionaries in St. Petersburg alone. Now I’m hard-pressed to count beyond my fingers, at least as concerns Westerners. The number of ex-pats in Russia has generally dropped dramatically in the last several years. I seem to recall somewhere in the order of 80-90%, though I can’t find any articles now.
Moving on to our team’s accomplishments for 2020, they tend to fall into several categories:
- Trainings. Our core mission is about creating and fostering Kingdom culture among the churches and in society. To this end, our primary trainings are about building biblical relationships. Other trainings are for counseling and healing, and for creating prayer movements.
- Our Real Talk training touched the lives of about 80 people. About half were impacted sufficiently to go on to deeper courses. At present we have about 14 people going through the most intensive phase of the training, which if completed takes a year or more. By the end they have not only become a functioning team, but they have started a new group of people who do not know the Lord who are studying the Bible together.
- Team development. Our core team has grown this year to five in full-time ministry, plus two more whose involvement approaches full-time status. Additionally, we have about six more very active volunteers who do everything from helping edit material to lead trainings. I am personally investing in about 8 emerging leaders as “apprentices” to learn our methods of mentoring, group facilitation, counseling, and relational healing. At the center of everything is relationship – horizontal among all of us, and with God, as we seek to keep His interests first. Our decision-making can be slow at times because of a priority for agreement (including with the Lord), and we take time out when needed to tend to personal needs, pain, and conflicts that arise. I see more and more my own strengths in leadership as well as glaring weaknesses that cause me to thirst for more team members to carry forward what I am not good at doing.
- Leadership development. In addition to those most closely associated with our team, we invest in churches and others as the Lord bring them to us, or when we are invited to travel and invest in others across Russia. Notable achievements in 2020 include:
- Four trips to churches around Russia, where I or others (Sveta) led trainings.
- One such trip included an intensive intervention I was invited to lead, where a pastor and one of his elders were in a conflict that was tearing apart the church. While the conflict was not resolved because the elder was unwilling to accept any responsibility for any problems, the pastor was able to see more clearly a path forward and even have more compassion on this elder. Their overseer, whom I also mentor, was also impacted by this intervention, seeing the incredible need for good leadership training that includes a common language for building relationships according to biblical principles in all the churches he has influence with.
- We led two “intensives” for two couples who came to our ministry center for two weeks each. In one case the couple was in ministry and suffering from feeling under-appreciated by their church leadership. We helped them gain fresh perspective, learn how to hear God’s voice in a powerfully new way, and gain new direction for the next season.
- In the second case, the couple was on the verge of divorce. We scheduled 12 hours each day for the first week, and 10 hours a day the second week for intensive individual and marriage counseling, prayer ministry, mentoring, encouragement, and learning how to listen to God and each other. They postponed the divorce, which had been scheduled to go through a week after they left, and they are continuing to work with us at a distance. Pray for them to find solid ground relationally and spiritually. They have made much progress, but there is much more to go. I have never been so proud of my team’s ability to serve and love others in a crisis, despite their lack of worldly credentials. Their experience, training, and spiritual and emotional maturity has made them uniquely qualified to serve in a way that I am confident very few here would even attempt to try, much less do with such excellence.
- Creative development.
- My course material is constantly being updated and added to. Our core series, tentatively called The King’s Table, is now close to 500 pages of written material, not counting video training.
- As a complement to the training, particularly to the Real Talk workshop, I have been developing a board game with substantial input from the team and several other experts, volunteers, and testers. the point of the game is to train people in the conversational and relational skills necessary to succeed in almost any kind of situation as well as to deepen the relationships of those playing the game and open up their willingness to talk about important matters of the heart, including faith. In this way we hope to have the game be a tool for outreach to people without any faith, so that spiritual conversations can be fostered in a safe environment.
- Additionally, I have been working on two different books that will complement the leadership and group training. The first is a book giving a biblical and psychological foundation for identity, asserting that our primary identity is a children of God, as opposed to our natural fallen state, which is to believe and act as though we are orphans. The second book will be a 100-day devotional, the point of which is to help people learn to train the eyes and ears of their hearts on watching and cooperating with God’s Providential leading in their lives.
- Material development. During 2020 we finished the following:
- Completed the translation and editing for two of these courses – material covering 5-6 months of training.
- Real Talk, though just a one-day seminar, has demanded literally thousands of hours of work by close to a dozen staff and volunteers (including several in the U.S.) to perfect the concepts and develop a user-friendly workbook. Just when we think we are nearly done, we see more work. The project is now in final stages and set to be published in January in time for the next cohort of students.
- A separate team, under the wonderful leadership of team member Sveta Alekseeva, has been translating and editing material for Transformational Prayer Ministry while simultaneously leading first one group of leaders, and then a second group of students this year. The volume of work they have done is phenomenal, and the miracles and changes lives they have witnessed is substantial.
- Partner development. Paying for the expansion we have been seeing in this past year would not be possible, nor even desirable, solely at the expense of Western donors. Russian Christians are not culturally used to paying for trainings, materials, or personal ministry. Being at the vanguard of challenging this culture has been extremely difficult, subjecting us to terrible criticism, attacks, and shunning. We have chosen a hybrid model, where we charge minimal fees, ask for donations, and raise personal support. Sveta, Ilya, and now Oyuna are core team members who have been stepping out to increase their personal support. Sveta has, for example, been working on a goal to be 100% funded by personal donors for nearly two years, and God has given her one new partner in 2020, though 3 others ceased their support. I am amazed at her tenacity. As to my own personal support needs, I need to find new supports as well, having lost a few supporters and a church during 2020. More details about our needs can be found here and donations can be made here.
- Reaching those far from God. All of the above activity is fundamentally about Kingdom expansion, both in equipping existing communities of faith to be more effective as well as reaching out to those who do not know God so that they can know His unconditional grace through Christ. In addition to spontaneous conversations with those outside the faith, which even I do sometimes, though I don’t consider myself an evangelist, we are working to structure our trainings to more directly teach and challenge students how to start effective transformational conversations with nonbelievers. Sveta also started a group of unchurched women this year who have been studying the Bible together to find God’s Truth. But Sveta sometimes has too many projects to juggle, and we are praying about new opportunities to grow our team’s reach outside the Church walls in 2021.