After getting some much needed rest and avoiding eating some flounder for breakfast (thanks Bud & Henry for covering for me) we all went over to the office of Ufa Baptist Church which sits on the top floor of the home of Sergai Interasov. There we had some tea, cookies, bread and sausage and fellowshipped about our churches. Our interpreter for the day was Pasha (which is short for Paul…it takes longer to spell it…so I’m not sure why it is short…kind of how Velodia is short for Vladimir…anyway, you try and figure it out). Pasha is a brother from the City of Samara which is outside of Bashkortostan and where there is a seminary sponsored by the Master’s Seminary in California. It was a real blessing to have him with us for today and he is a God fearing brother in Christ who works in youth ministry. He traveled many hours just so he could translate for our meetings together with the brothers that are no longer part of the Baptist Union.
So, after our tea time Sergei Interasov took a couple of hours sharing with us the history of the church and how two years ago he and the three other leaders of the church took a closer look at what their church looked like and compared it to the Scriptures. They saw that they were heavily programmed and that changes needed to take place, so together they cleared out the programs and established a church that would have as its goal the building and equipping of people in the Gospel and for God’s glory. It was great to hear how they emphasized the need to train the men of the church, to develop flock that meet in homes and to have specific times of training in Theology. It was a great time to hear what God was doing in his church.
Oleg & Svetlana
After meeting with Surgei, one of the brothers of the church, Oleg, took us to his home in the country where his wife had prepared a delicious lunch for us all. My wife would be especially proud as I made sure I had a bit of everything, but especially the extremely healthy salad. It was great to talk with Oleg and his wife, Svetlana, and answer their questions about life, marriage, parenting and ministry. I
don’t have a picture, but Oleg raises rabbits. Not the small cute fluffy kind that you can hold in your lap, but the ones that that, if they had antlers would be Jackalopes. Really, they were huge. Sitting normally the tops of their head would come up above my knee and the ears probably as high as my hip. I was even wondering if his children could ride them they were so big.
Albert & Goulia
So, what does one do when they are stuffed with tea, a huge lunch spread and a healthy dessert? Well, I found out that the answer to that question is this: drink more tea! So, we sat in their living room until about six o’clock when we traveled to our next destination, the home of Albert and Goulia which was about ½ an hour away. And what do you think we did when we arrived? Yes, we ate a huge and delicious meal followed by some tea. We sat and fellowshipped with the brothers until about 9 o’clock and then Albert and Sergei scampered off and got the Banya ready. But first we all had to have a fresh cup of tea.
(Now, when I say tea I don’t mean that we are drinking Trader Joe’s brand, or Twinings. Every place we have gone we have a form of black tea, but they all taste different. Some have a fruity flavor, some have a ginger, but tonight it had a hint of mint. It has been a tea lover’s delight!)
Next, we ran over to the Banya which is basically a Russian form of Sauna, but in the Russian Banya there are usually three rooms. One to change in and that has the fire place, the washing room where you pour water over yourself when you are done, and the inner sanctum where hot coals are steamed with a eucalyptus smell and beatings with birch branches take place. We were very relieved that our Russian Brothers exercised Christian Liberty and decided to keep their underwear on so as not to cause us any difficulty. It was a nice welcoming gesture.
So we all sat for a little over an hour and sweated, beat each other, drank water and fellowshipped about the things of God.
When we were all done we went back to the house and all sat around the table and did what? Yup, you guessed it…we all drank Tea!
Now, what does that have to do with the parable of the Prodigal Son? Well, the answer is this. I feel like the fattened calf!
As I sit here and reflect on the events of the day I have to boil it down to one word, “Hospitality”.
Hospitality – An attitude of the heart
Today was our last day meeting with the brothers of the Baptist Union here in Bashkortostan, and it all began with me preaching to them on the subject of hospitality. I had considered this subject for a number of days and something in my conversation with Bud and Henry solidified it for me. So, we began by looking at this word in the Greek and discovered that it means “Love for the stranger”. We also discovered that hospitality is a much broader word that it has come to mean in our English and Russian cultures that have reduced it to simply enjoying a meal with brothers and sisters in Christ in someones home. I shared the following definition, Hospitality is the divine enablement to share with others our home, our lives, our personal space and resources without communicating a need for performance or an expectation of return. I finished by emphasizing that in Scripture hospitality is a command given to believers and specifically to Elders. Also, if we truly want to understand hospitality we can look to God who is the best example of welcoming aliens, strangers and enemies into His home and giving them citizenship, a new family and full rights as sons through the welcoming expression of love of Jesus paying for our sins on the cross. We talked a little about what that kind of hospitality would look like if we viewed our homes and our churches as platforms for exercising hospitality. Ultimately it is an attitude of the heart that is applied to our love for both our brothers and sisters in Christ as well as the stranger.
Hospitality – Love for the Stranger
After lunch we went with our translator Marina and Victor Slobyodan to visit with the Street Kids ministry at the Good News Church. Now, what is important to know is that in cities like Ufa there are children that are either neglected by parents who are on drugs or alcohol and don’t really care where their children are or children that are homeless and survive by hanging out in various places during the day and in the basements and attics of the high-rise buildings that are all over the place during the night. This ministry is structured to reach out to these children. Well, when we arrived there were about 15 or so and by the time we left three hours later there were about 27. They ranged from ages 12 to 19 and some of them have been in the ministry for over 7 years while others were there for only their first or second time. These children are hungry to go to a place where they are going to be treated with love and welcomed. So, for four days out of the week these children come to the Good News Church for three hours in the afternoon. They have snacks, a Bible Study, sing worship songs and have times of fun and fellowship. It is funny, but their favorite game is Monopoly, and when we arrive we found a number of them playing and we were invited to join in by teaming up with one of the street kids playing. Now think about it. What a great game to be playing to kids who have dropped out of school and are trying to survive. A game that teaches them how to add money, buy property, mortgage property, pay rent, buy houses and hotels, invest in a utility company, pay taxes and to press on and pass Go. It was amazing how well they played. After a time of snacks, candy and brief introductions we moved into the main church room where they peppered us with questions about California, our likes in food, family make up, and how we became Christians. So each of us shared how God drew us to Him. It was great to share the Gospel. All of the children wanted us to return and honestly, I want to return. At the end we met in the brothers office at the church and we heard the testimony of Karina who is now 21 (I believe) and is a product of the Street Kids ministry. She told about her life of drugs and alcohol, moving from location to location, and how God delivered her through the Street Kids Ministry. She finally went to a rehab center and returned to Ufa and now is a leader in the ministry. This is a ministry that is actively practicing hospitality as they love the stranger in the form discarded and neglected children.
Hospitality – Love for the Brethren
Finally, after visiting with the Street Kids we went off to visit in the home of Arkaday and Goulia and their three children, Nadia (I think), Roman and Tamara. Arkaday is the secretary for Piotr Zhuk, the head pastor for the area. They just moved into a new home from a tiny one room apartment to a two bedroom house in the country. We sat and ate a delicious meal in their living room and talked about life in the States and in Russia. They are a delightful family and their children are adorable.
It has been a great day of hospitality, and we can all attribute it to the hospitality extended to us from our sovereign and loving God who “in Jesus Christ [we] who formerly were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.” Aliens, strangers now citizens and sons. It is amazing really!
On Monday at 11:00 a.m. we began our meeting with the Baptist Union Brothers in Ufa, Bashkortostan. The sessions started with a devotional from Nikolai, one of the brothers, followed by our personal greetings and a cataloging of all the great things that God has done with our Antioch Initiative partnership. Here are just a few of the ways we have worked together:
We have taught 16 times over the last seven years, brought a music team, three summer camp teams, two other ministry teams came while I (Rod) was teaching, a Youth conference, a women’s conference and hundreds of hours ministering in the churches as we could. Churches have been started, some buildings have been built, the camp facility has been purchased and upgraded, two rehab centers have ministered to the addicted and many evangelistic efforts have taken place.
It was a good time to reflect on God’s goodness and all the changes that had taken place in the lives of the brothers. Some were wifeless when we first came and now are married. Most have had children (and continue to have them) during our partnership and lives continue to grow and be affected by our joint efforts.
Sadly, however, there has been a split in the Baptist Union during the last two years which was brewing for a couple of years before that. It has been hard for us to hear from a distance the kind of struggles these brothers have been facing, but we felt that it was necessary to talk frankly about it while the brothers were together.
So, Henry began our discussion by taking us to Acts 6:1-7 where a division had developed between the Hebrew and Hellenistic widows. Henry emphasized that the church had been growing and in that culture there were many widows both young and old. Therefore, to minister effectively to them some men needed to be chosen who exhibited certain godly characteristics:
A Good Reputation – They needed to be trustworthy in their personal life, with their finances and in their families. All three of these areas would have a bearing on how they would do ministry with the widows.
Full of the Holy Spirit – They had to be controlled by the Holy Spirit and not by ideas and agendas that were outside the purposes of the Word of God.
Full of Wisdom – They needed to know what to say and when to say it.
He also emphasized that the men chosen to help the widows were all men with Hellenistic names, men with whom the Hellenistic widows would understand would take care of them.
The question to the brothers in the room was this, “If you were a part of the early church on this occasion, would you be asked to serve these widows? Do you have the qualifications to serve the church and be used to bring healing to a division within the Body of Christ?”
Let me say, that Henry hit the ball out of the park. His humility and gentle nature complemented the penetrating power of his message. Praise God for Him.
So, that was on Monday.
Today (Tuesday) we knew that we needed to begin our discussion of the division by asking questions about what happened and why. But, while Bud and I taught Scripture and led those very important discussions Henry was gone. You see, when you arrive at the Customs desk in Moscow they print out a little piece of paper that you have to sign that you are supposed to keep with your passport and that is the evidence that you have gone through customs and are allowed in the country.
Well, Henry, on Monday, when we were gathering our passports to give to Arkaday so that we could be registered, found his passport, but couldn’t find this very important document. So, late afternoon on Monday Henry went to the airport in Ufa to try and get a new one. When they arrived they were closed. So, this morning at 9:00 a.m. they went again to the airport where Henry was able to fill out some new forms and was granted another document. They took that document to the classroom where we were teaching only to realize that they had left Henry’s passport back at the airport. So, Henry, now for the third time, went to the airport to retrieve his passport. Everyone was laughing at this point, but it could have been serious.
Praise God that all of this worked out and that the people from the government were willing to correct the problem without any bribery and in a timely manner.
On the classroom front, without going into details, we were able to hear from our brothers and we all believe that it was a most successful day. Bud did a great job preaching from Ephesians 4 emphasizing the need to put off – renew the mind – and put on, and, in particular put on kindness and forgiveness.
So, for all of you who have been praying for us we thank you! God is definitely at work and we believe that our meager efforts are being blessed.
Tomorrow I preach to the brothers. I am torn as to what to preach. So, I would appreciate your prayerful support for God to give me wisdom.
So, as I finish this post I want to give you a couple of things to think about…
First, this is a kebab of ground beef and lamb meat mixed together cooked over an open flame and then covered with a pastry and served with rice and a slight sour creme and horseradish. It was delicious!
Next, this is the typical “first course” for our daily lunch – boursh, which is a beet-root soup with cabbage and potato. Again, it was hearty and delicious…
Well, today was especially blessed as we all (Rod, Bud & Henry) had the opportunity to visit in a number of the churches here in Ufa. I (Rod) went by myself and had the opportunity to preach first in the morning at the International House of Prayer where Leonid Markovich serves as pastor; then, at 3 p.m. I wen to the First Baptist Church of Ufa where Surgei Interasov is the pastor. In both cases I renewed friendships, celebrated marriages and the arrival of children since my last visit and fellowshipped with the Brethren. The evening time around the table talking with my dear friend Surgei Interasov was especially sweet. We talked about his ministry, the Gospel and all the things that we have in common. I am looking forward to more time with these brothers.
Bud & Henry went together first to Grace Church where Pastor Xena (or Zgena) is the pastor. This is the church that hosts the street kids ministry. Bud spoke and both he and Henry enjoyed great fellowship together with the believers. In the evening they attended Trinity Church where Piotr and his son Benjamin share the pastoral ministry. Bud spoke again and even Henry had the opportunity to share a few words of greeting.
Last night all three of us spent a couple of hours trying to stay awake and talk about how we want to minister to the brothers. The reality is that everywhere we turn food is being placed in front of us and we feel a little obligated to have a little, but honestly it is tiring us out. Thankfully the constant presence of tea is a blessing.
Do pray for us as we begin our time of ministry with the brothers today. We want to encourage them, celebrate our seven year partnership, evaluate the strength of what we have done and its application in their lives as well as talk frankly about the division that has taken place. Please pray that there would be a sense of brotherhood right from the beginning and when it comes time for some hard discussion that the men would be honest, humble, transparent and willing to pursue reconciliation. Also pray for us as we seek to be gracious, especially for Bud who is our leader, our grand Pupa as I am calling him, who will M/C our times together. He is feeling the pressure of it all and is eager to see God’s hand at work.
God bless and thank you for your ongoing prayers and concern.
Sorry we have no pictures here. We are trying to preserve our limited internet connection and every upload costs money. I will try to upload pictures as I can when I have a better communication option.
We are finally in Ufa and can now communicate via e-mail, although not as well as we have been able to in the past. I am limited to time and how many bytes I can upload/download, so please bear with me as I don’t think I can share pictures at this moment.
So, we arrived safely. Our flights were all smooth and we were able to spread out i.e. each have an isle or window seat with an empty middle seat. That makes such a difference. We were met at the airport by Arkady and his lovely wife Goulia. Arkady is Piotr Zhuck’s secretary and takes care of lots of details. Goulia, his wife, is doting on us, making sure we are fed and have all that we need. We are not staying at the office, but at Piotr Zhuk’s brother’s house. Pavel’s house is part of the office building and we have two rooms to ourselves and we are very comfortable.
We have had plenty of time to rest and get acclimated but we did meet with Piotr today at 1 p.m. to discuss the details of the week. We praise the Lord that Piotr is allowing me to visit and preach in Surgei Interasov’s church (First Baptist Church of Ufa) on Sunday afternoon, but I will be speaking in the main church on Sunday Morning while Bud Haskell will be speaking at Grace Baptist Church in the a.m. and Trinity Church in the p.m.
On Monday at 11 a.m. we will begin to meet with the Baptist Union Men and we have full freedom to share whatever God has for us. We will end our meetings with them on Wednesday at 1 p.m. On Thursday we will be meeting with the other group all day and we anticipate a good opportunity for ministry.
So, we are very encouraged that Piotr is trusting us and is willing to give us some freedoms.
I miss you all very much and knowing that you are praying is so helpful. Please pray for my sermon and ministry preparations that we need to finalize.
For most who know me it should come as no surprise that I have a great passion for the land of Russia, in particular, the believers who are striving to grow in the Lord, share the radical life-changing power of the Gospel and raise Christ honoring churches where God gives them the ability.
Since 2000 I have had the privilege to go to Russia five times, serving and teaching in the cities of Kirovo-Chepetsk, Krasnodar and more recently Ufa which is in the Bashkortostan Oblast. Each time I teach pastors or preach in the churches I am totally amazed at the fact that God’s church is unique and one huge family. Oh, there may be some minor cultural differences, some contextualized vantage points about areas of doctrine and the odd traditional practice here and there, but behind all that is a body of believers who have been drawn by the grace of God into His family through the Gospel that came as a result of Christ’s sacrificial death on the cross.
Well, this week I will be traveling once again to Ufa with two other pastors, Bud Haskell from Hanford, CA and Henry Winkelman from Burney, CA. Now, in the past we have spent the lions share of our time teaching and training pastors, but this time we truly have our work cut out for us. Sadly the small group of approximately 1000 believers in Bashkortostan has suffered a significant schism. This division has taken place among the brothers with whom we spent hours ministering and teaching the Word. Our hearts are broken as we have a great love for all of them and for the church in that region.
This trip, therefore, is going to be different as we will be seeking to assess the conflict (division) and where necessary honor God by exercising Biblical Confrontation for the purpose of restoration. This will not be easy, but it is necessary. Much of this will not take place in a classroom, but around tables of tea and cookies, in homes, in banya’s and in the churches.
We covet your prayers and ask you to be praying specifically along these lines:
Safety for our travel both to and from Russia and while we visit the many churches.
Wisdom to assess the root causes of the division.
Discernment to assess attitudes of the heart that are wandering from God’s Truth and embracing lies.
Boldness to speak the Truth in love.
Compassion for those who have been hurt by the conflict.
Humility to not present ourselves as without conflict or idols of the heart.
Endurance to labor for the Lord in a very difficult way.
Joy as we go about His business.
Conviction of sin on all who are involved.
Encouragement as we strive to come along side those who are convicted from the Word.
At present I am sitting in the Domodedovo Airport in Moscow, Russia. Now, when I say “sitting” I mean ‘on the floor’ as I had to find power for my computer. But hey, it is great that I can get on-line. A little reminder, Domodedovo is where a Bomb went off a few months ago. The place is busy with people in heavy jackets and frowns on their faces bustling all over the place. God has given us a smooth ride so far, so I am thankful.
One of God’s special blessings is when your children step out by faith to do something for the Kingdom of God. To that end, my oldest daughter, Vanessa, who is a student at Simpson University, is taking on a challenge and is leading for the first time a team of students to the Dominican Republic in just a few weeks. She has been blessed with some great experiences in Mexico under the guidance of Pastor Jere Lester and is now stepping out on her own trusting God all the way.
Below is the letter she sent me. I share it with you asking that you would pray for her and rejoice with her about what God is doing in her life and the ministry he will do through her and the rest of the team.
Dear Family and Friends,
As students at Simpson University, we are encouraged to join together to use our gifts to serve our brothers and sisters around the world. In response to that challenge and through much prayer, a team of five students along with Dr. Rich Brown (vice president of Student Development at Simpson) will be traveling to the Dominican Republic during our spring break from March 26-April 3.
As many of you know my wonderful experiences in Mexico have given me a huge heart for missions- especially among Hispanic communities. I chose to attend Simpson maily because of its missions focus. I have the incredible opportunity to be the Team Leader for this trip to the Dominican Republic. I am blessed with great team members, a supportive staff sponsor, and a great God who has blessed me with such a wonderful opportunity. I am excited to see what God has in store for our team and how he will use us to the betterment of His Kingdom while we are in the Dominican. In going to a new place I ask that you pray for guidance and providence as we serve and meet the people we are serving. Even though I am going through Simpson I am still representing Christ and his church (which you are a part of) and with your support I will have the encouragement that Christ’s church is behind me and encouraging me in my efforts. With your help in both prayer and finance I hope to change lives and bring people to Christ!
Our team will partner with Bruce and Becky Dyke, missionaries in Santo Domingo with the Christian and Missionary Alliance. They have been serving in the DR since 1986. The Dykes are involved in many different kinds of ministry and are connected with many Dominican churches. Our goal is to come alongside those local churches and assist them in any way we can (Vacation Bible School, construction, distribution, outreach, etc.). We are also hoping for opportunities to minister in the local communities, orphanages and schools.
In order to achieve this goal, each team member is asked to raise approximately $1,800 for housing, transportation, food, airfare, ministry materials and other such needs. About $800 of it is for airfare and is due by March 1. The rest is due March 22.
Will you prayerfully consider joining us on this trip by supporting us financially? Our commitment is to represent you and the body of Christ as a whole. Our mission is to show the love of Christ and to spread His word around the world, and in supporting the team you are allowing us to do that. In addition to financial needs, our team covets your prayers for health, safety, effective ministry, financial provision and long-term impact in the kingdom of God. We pray that God will do His will through us and we thank you for whatever gift you are able to give.
To financially support this team, please donate online at http://www.simpsonu.edu/missions. Your gift to Simpson University is tax-deductible. This gift is non-refundable, and if for any reason a team member does not go, the money will support another mission trip sponsored by the university. While online donations are preferred, if you would rather mail a check please make the check payable to Simpson University and write the following code in the memo portion of the check DOM11-VRP. Letters of encouragement and financial gifts may be sent to: Simpson University, Attn: Student Missions, 2211 College View Dr., Redding, CA 96003. Donations by mail will be listed on our online fundraising page with the donor’s name unless anonymity is requested.
Vanessa…your Mom & Dad are very proud of you and we want you to know that we will be praying for God to work through you in new and fresh ways as well as for you to grow incredibly in your walk with God, learning to trust Him, follow Him and rest in Him more than you have ever done.
There are some preachers from more recent church history that have had a great impact on my life. One of them, whom I will quote often, is D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, once a leading British physician turned preacher during the late 1920’s. He was born in Cardiff, Wales, and his family attended a Welsh Calvinistic Methodist Church (Now, if you can figure out how those words all go together without some conflict, please help me out).
His first church was in Aberavon, Wales, where he took a dying and very pragmatic church, reintroduced the systematic preaching of the Word, bringing revival to the church and then the town. After ten years he accepted the call to co-pastor with G. Campbell Morgan, an American pastor, at Westminster Chapel in London.
Ian Murray’s two volume biography of the life of Loyd-Jones is a rare treasure and excellent reading. I find that he faced many of the same issues that I face as a pastor in 2008. Certainly the garments of the issues are a little different, but in essence they are the same. Lloyd-Jones was a consistent reader and was instrumental in the beginning of printing quality books for Christian growth establishing the Banner of Truth and was instrumental in the birthing of the Inter-Varsity Fellowship.
As you can see, he was a very serious man and took his Bible study and preaching very seriously.
I am very thankful for the Martyn Lloyd-Jones Recording Trust (www.mlj.org.uk) for providing this video and for the numerous recording available today.
I praise the Lord for counselors like Lloyd-Jones who keep my nose in the Word of God rather than the latest fad that is blowing through Christian culture.
It is uncanny, but when I think about these men working together for the Gospel I can’t help but think about some of my other friends that I grew up with…
Here is a newer interview Joan Blackwell that shows how crisp, clear, bold and refreshing Dr. Lloyd-Jones was. He is an example to us all – especially me.