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2007 Russian Mission Trip

The following are some stories from our 2007 mission trip to Dimitrovgrad, Russia with East-West Ministries International.

Our trips involve both evangelism and humanitarian work. We bring both Bibles and health supplies. Here are some of the stories from our 2007 trip to Dimitrovgrad, Russia. I am praying that some day, some of the Russians we have met will come to America as missionaries.

Please feel free to comment on our blog about any of the stories you read here.

Peter's Mom | Natasha and Benjamin | Sharing With Teens | Oregon Quarters

Peter’s Mom

I've been traveling to Russia on mission trips for three years. This past May I went to the city of Dimitrovgrad for the second time. Dimitrovgrad is located about 1,000 kilometers SE of Moscow. We travel by train. It's about an 18 hour overnight train ride from Moscow to Dimitrovgrad.

We have two main objectives for mission trips; to spread the good news about Jesus Christ and to serve the people of Russia. The story of Peter's mom shows how evangelism and service go hand-in-hand.

The best way to meet people in Dimitrovgrad is to go out on the sidewalks and talk to people. Few people have cars. Most people walk to get where they need to go. It's easier to meet people this way than you might think. An American is a rare sight in Dimitrovgrad. Starting a conversation is as easy as walking up to someone and saying, "Hi, I'm an American." (In general Russians are very friendly and hospitable.)

To swing the conversation to spiritual topics I ask people what they think happens when they die. This leads right into a discussion of our being sinners in need of a Savior.

I met Peter's mom late on Wednesday afternoon. I wanted to talk to one more person before finishing for the day. I introduced myself to a lady carrying two shopping bags and asked her what she thought happens after we die. Her answer was, "I know exactly what happens, because my father died two days ago."

She was not a Christian. Neither she nor her father knew about Jesus Christ. The thought flashed through my mind that I was about to tell her that her father was in hell. I was going to tell her we are all sinners and without Jesus Christ we are heading for hell. I expected this would make her angry at me. I was scared. This was not a conversation I wanted to have, but I had no choice. All I could do was to trust in the Holy Spirit.

We talked about sin. We talked about how we all have lied, stolen, used God's name inappropriately and broken all of God's Ten Commandments. We talked about how when we break the law we must pay the penalty, and in this case that penalty is hell… then suddenly she got excited and started talking fast in Russia. The only words I could make out were "cowboy Steve".

What was going on? Why was she so excited?

Cowboy Steve Looses His Hat To Peter
Peter and "Cowboy" Steve.
Peter is wearing Steve's hat, and is
holding the pictures I made for him this year.
My translator explained that this woman had just recognized me. In Dimitrovgrad I am known as "Cowboy Steve" because I wear a cowboy hat and big silver belt buckle. It turns out this lady was Peter's mom. Peter is a boy in the orphanage we visit every year. We bring the children clothes, hygiene supplies, vitamins, toys and we spend parts of three days playing with the kids and visiting their classes. One of the things I do is to take photos of each child, print them on a portable printer I bring to the orphanage, and give each child a picture. Peter's mom had recognized me from the photo I had given Peter the previous year.

In Russian most children are not in orphanages because they have no parents. They are in an orphanage because their parents are financially unable to take care of their children. Peter's mom was so poor that she could not buy food and clothing for Peter. She was so grateful for what we had done for the orphanage, and for Peter, that she welcomed us with open arms. We talked some more on the sidewalk and she came to our evening meetings. The Holy Spirit had brought us together so that Peter's mom heard the good news about Jesus Christ several times that week. Our service at the orphanage opened the door for Peter's mom to hear, for the first time, about God's grace and how Jesus Christ paid the penalty we owe for breaking God’s laws!

"For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast." – Ephesians 2:8,9

Natasha and Grandfather Benjamin

My mission trips to Dimitrovgrad, Russia are supported by individuals who want to be a part of missions through prayer and financial support. This is not a trip supported by a church or that represents a specific church or denomination. My trips are supported by all of God's people who want to see His good news spread to all nations and people.

The Lord has given us all different spiritual gifts. Some are called to go. Others are called to provide for the needs of those who are going. This year I had received enough donations to pay for the trip by the end of April. But then something strange happened. Over $750 was donated in the last week before I left. Why had the Lord provided this extra money? What was I supposed to do with it? Russia is a cash economy, so I took the money with me in cash (new $20 bills) and waited for the Lord to show me how it should be used.

This is the story about one of the children who was helped.

Natasha was twelve years old this year. Natasha's father left her mother before Natasha was born. Her mother abandoned her and disappeared right after she was born. Natasha lives with her Grandfather Benjamin who is very old and lives on a pension of $100 a month. The average income in Russia is $400 per month, so Benjamin is very poor. Poor beyond what we can imagine. He pays his rent and they eat a very basic diet. Natasha had one set of old clothes and no toys.

But there is more to Natasha's story.

Heavy drinking is common in Russia and Natasha’s mother was a very heavy drinker while she was pregnant with Natasha. As a result Natasha was born with some birth defects. Natasha has no right arm. The fingers on her left hand are fused together into two clumps. She has no shin bones or knees—her feet are attached to her legs where her knees normally would be. She is about three feet tall.

Because of her birth defects the other children made fun of her and she wasn't able to go to school. So a teacher comes from the orphanage twice a week to give her lessons. She is an intelligent young lady, with a bright smile, who learns quickly.

The Dimitrovgrad church is a small church. There are about 25 Christians in this city of 100,000 people. Pastor Pavel had visited Natasha last Christmas, but there was little he could do to help. Neither he nor his church has any money and there is little food to share. This past May two members of our mission team visited Natasha and Grandfather Benjamin. When a team member asked Natasha what one thing she would like to have, Natasha pointed to a picture of a doll in an old magazine. Using the money the Lord had provided we purchased clothing for Natasha, and found the exact doll Natasha had pointed out. Now Natasha has some good clothes to wear... and she has a toy... and she knows there are people who love her... and she has heard that God loves her.

In addition to the gifts provided in May, we left Pastor Pavel with money he can use throughout the year. This will not only allow him to help Natasha and Grandfather Benjamin, but will provide opportunities for Pastor Pavel to visit them and share the good news about Jesus Christ and his love for Natasha and Benjamin.

No one knows how many other children like Natasha there are in Dimitrovgrad. Pastor Pavel says there are many more than he is able to even visit. Because of the last minute money the Lord provided, Pastor Pavel now has a small budget he will use to help as many as he can. And maybe next year (2008) we can do a little more.

Please be praying for Natasha and her grandfather Benjamin.

November 2007 - The Latest News About Natasha: As the result of a suggestion from an employee at Shriner's Hospital in Springfield, Massachusetts, we are trying to arrange for Natasha to be treated at the Shriner's Hospital. Treatment would be free. However, before they can consider her application we need to find a family she can live with in the Springfield area. Please be praying that a family will be found. We hope that many, many people will be praying for Natasha.

Thank you!

An Old Guy Sharing the Good News With Russian Teenagers

I'm 56 years old. The question running through my mind was: How do I share the gospel with 300 to 400 teenagers, in an unfamiliar city in Russia at 10:00 at night, who are hanging out in small groups drinking beer and vodka in a city plaza, some are drunk and some are in gangs, and I don’t speak their language?

The answer: the LORD said share the gospel, so we share the gospel and trust in His protection.

A typical day on a mission trip to Russia involves different activities for different people. Some do street witnessing, others may visit an orphanage, play soccer with teenageers, visit Christian churches, share a meal with Russians, hug babies, help at a hospital, talk to students, visit families in their homes or hand out tickets to a Christian film. The mission team leaders try to use the gifts the Lord has given each person in the best possible ways. The day usually starts at 10:00 AM following daily devotions, and typically ends around 9:30 PM following an evening concert and meeting for non-believers.

Russian Gospel of John and Gospel TractAs the vans were returning us to our hotel at the end of our first day (Monday), we passed a plaza that was filled with hundreds of teenagers. I wondered what was going on. The plaza was about a block from the hotel. So instead of going to bed I grabbed a sack of 90 copies of the Gospel of John and some Russian gospel tracts and headed for the plaza.

I speak just enough Russian to say, “Hello. My name is Steve. I am an American. I don’t speak Russian.” It turned out that was good enough.

I’d guess some of the kids were as young as 14. They were hanging out in groups of six to ten kids… one-third girls and two-thirds guys… and usually passing around a two-liter bottle of beer. I wasn’t sure what to do, so I’d walk up to a group of kids, say the few Russian words I knew and hand each person a gospel tract and a copy of the Gospel of John.

They always accepted the tract and the Gospel, and typically were excited to meet an American. A few knew a little English and typically would ask me, “What are you doing here?” With a lot of hand signs, my limited Russian and their limited English, we managed to talk a little, with my explaining the gospel as best I could.

The next night a team member, who is also named Steve, joined me and we shared the Gospel with another 50 or 60 kids, until we were too tired to continue talking. As we left the plaza two older Russian men, who spoke some English, offered to walk us back to our hotel. They explained that during the day they worked as security guards and we should be concerned about what they called the “Little Mafia”. We talked in front of the hotel for a while and we finally understood they were telling us there were a lot of teen gangs in the area.

Steve and I talked it over and decided we were not going to worry about the Little Mafia. God would protect us. We returned to the plaza the next night (Wednesday) and I went alone on the fourth evening (Thursday) because Steve was busy visiting a Russian family. We handed out tracts and spoke with 50 to 60 kids each night. They all were interested in talking. Some asked for our autographs. Some wanted to take pictures with us. And I only saw one person throw away the literature we gave them.

Friday was a particularly hard day. It was our final big push before we left Dimitrovgrad. Everyone was tired. When I got back to the hotel room at 10:00 PM I did not feel like going to the plaza again. I was too tired and worn out. I said a prayer*, “Lord, if you want me to go out tonight, send someone to go with me. Otherwise I’m going to bed.” I didn’t expect an answer to that prayer. I figured it would be a good excuse for not going. I could say God didn’t answer my prayer and that was a sign He did not want me to go. I started getting ready for bed. Ten seconds later, “knock, knock, knock” at my door. It was Steve. “Are you ready to go?” he asked.

We had run out of the Gospel of John and had only a few tracts left. But the Lord led each of us to get involved in a long conversation with a group of 10-15 kids. Steve was talking about creation with his group and I was talking with my group about America, what I thought about Dimitrovgrad and how I had come to Dimitrovgrad to share the good news about Jesus Christ. I was offered beer many times, a prostitute at least once and one of the kids tried calling my wife in Oregon on his cell phone, but got our answering machine.

It wasn’t part of our planned agenda, but through God’s strength and grace, for five nights Russian teenagers who had never heard about Jesus, had a chance to read about or hear the Gospel… the good news about how God loves them so much that He sent His only son Jesus to die on the cross, paying the penalty they owe for their having disobeyed God (sin), so they might join Him in heaven.

“And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved.” – Acts 4:12

Please be praying for these teenagers in Dimitrovgrad, Russia.

* This type of prayer is not Biblical. Saying a prayer with the expectation of not getting an answer... and thus getting the "answer" I wanted is not a good thing to do. I should not have done this. That God did answer my prayer is a blessing. That He overlooked my sin in praying this way, and answered my prayer anyway, demonstrates His love and forgiveness.

How Much Is A Quarter Worth?

Sometimes we have plans, but God has something better in mind.

I first met the kids at the orphanage during my trip to Dimitrovgrad in May 2006. Each year we bring them as many supplies as we can. Things such as soap, underwear, toothpaste, vitamins, socks, first aid supplies and small toys. But I wanted to bring something special in 2007… a special souvenir from America. It would have to be small, lightweight and easy to carry on the plane. And I’d need to be able to afford to get about 120 of them.

I came up with the idea of bringing Oregon quarters. This is the U.S. quarter from 2005 with a picture of Oregon’s Crater Lake National Park on the back.

Collecting 120 Oregon quarters was more difficult than I anticipated. I asked all my family, friends and supporters to collect them for me. But I was falling far short of the number needed until my son devised a method of getting vending machines to give him all the Oregon quarters they had. In about two hours he purchased one soda and collected more than 60 Oregon quarters from vending machines. I left for Russia with about 130 Oregon quarters in my saddlebags.

The girl in the center is holding
up her Oregon quarter.
Plan “A” was to include the Oregon quarters in the gift bags we made up for each child. But the ladies putting the bags together forgot to put the quarters in the bags.

Each year we take pictures of the kids and give them copies of the pictures. Plan “B” was to hand out the quarters when we gave the kids their photos. But the photo printer wasn’t working and not all of the pictures were not ready to give to the kids.

When visiting the orphanage we were told that we could play with the kids; talk about their school or our homes in America; sing songs; and bring them gifts. But we were not supposed to pray with them or share about Jesus on an individual basis, unless they asked a question that led to such a discussion. No sharing of the gospel.

Plan “A” and plan “B” for handing out the quarters had not worked out. But God had His own plan.

I had no choice, we just had to go ahead and hand out the quarters. We called the kids together and my translator and I stood on a picnic table. I described the gift that I was about to give them, including the words included on every U.S. quarter… “In God We Trust”. What do these words mean? What are we trusting God to do? As believers we are trusting that God has paid the penalty we owe for breaking God’s laws. We have disobeyed God and as a result we owe the penalty for disobeying God. That penalty is death, what we call hell. The only way we can avoid the penalty is if we can find someone to substitute for us… to pay our penalty on our behalf. Jesus Christ did that when he died on the cross. If we repent and trust that Jesus Christ has paid our penalty, accepting God’s free gift, we are free from the penalty of sin and will join God in heaven.

God had provided a way to share the Gospel with the teachers and kids in the orphanage. What is the value of a quarter? A quarter may have resulted in someone’s eternal salvation, and there is nothing more valuable than that.

“The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the Gospel.” – Mark 1:15

Back Of An Oregon QuarterP.S. The Oregon quarters were also very popular with the teenagers who gather in a Dimitrovgrad plaza every evening. So I am once again collecting Oregon quarters for my 2008 trip. Your help would be greatly appreciated. If you find some Oregon quarters send them to us at: Move To Assurance, P.O. Box 974, Tualatin, OR 97062. It will be a blessing to us. Thank you.


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