Monthly Archives: January 2011

Sermon Leftovers 1/31/11

Acts 2:42-47  “Our Mission (part 1): People who Pursue God”

Acts 2  SHOWS US THE CHURCH AT ITS BIRTH

1.  A powerful change has taken place in these people

  • They were ordinary people who faced many weakness and problems
  • Yet the change in them is so real, it was touching other people

2.  The description given to us is that of a healthy church

  • How should we respond?  How deeply do we want this to describe us?

3.  Ephesians 4:1-12 describes the role of a pastor in this matter

As church members we have a three part responsibility in response

  1. To be “equipped”
  2. To be involved in “ministry”
  3. To “build up one another

4.  The mission statement of our church is an expression of these responsibilities:

“Pursuing God, Together, with Outstretched Arms”

On Sunday we examined how the first part of our mission statement is exampled before us in Acts 2

HOW DID THIS COMMUNITY OF BELIEVERS “PURSUE GOD”?

1.  They were committed to being equipped by their leaders  vs 42

  • When biblical teaching is put into practice, powerful results take place
  • Do you believe this?  If the answer is yes, how are you acting on that belief?

2.  They were wowed by God  vs 43

  • “Signs”of God’s grace, and “wonders” of His power surround us if we look for them
  • Amazement over God and His works, will lead us to follow Him more closely

3.  They lived in thankfulneess  vs 46-47

  • Thankfulness is a sign of spiritual health (consider the alternative)
  • Thankfulness to God increases our love for Him
  • Thankfulness makes us content, so we want to stay in His ways
  • If we are thankful, we will trust our Lord and serve Him

WHERE ARE THESE PRINCIPLES AT WORK IN OUR LIVES?

1.  What do you do with the teaching you hear?

2.  What happens when you hear something that you do not like?

3.  Is there any area of your life you are working on now?

4.  If God is not a huge “WOW” to you, why not?

5.  How often do you thank God for saving you and keeping you?

WHAT STEPS CAN WE TAKE TO BE MORE CONSISTENT IN PURSUING GOD?

1.  Spend time getting to know God

2.  Get on a pathway that helps you to learn and grow

3.  Be persistent; everyone who matures spiritually has to be persistent

4.  When you fall . . don’t stay down

There is wonderful vibrancy to a life that eagerly pursues God.  Let that vibrancy be the characteristic of your life!

Belarus Journal: The Lost Photos

I lost the ability to include photos in my blog during the last few days in Belarus. That issue has been resolved so I can now show you some of the final highlight photos of our trip.

BELARUS JOURNAL 1/24/11

This is my last Belarus Journal blog post (for now).  I will probably take a couple days off from blogging when I get home.  I do hope to post some Belarus photos after I am home that I have been unable to download in recent days.  For now our suitcases are packed, Jeff is taking his last walk to the Hippo market, and I am sitting in my room filled with anticipation. 

As I sift through my experiences from the last two weeks, I am reminded again of the importance and power of encouragement.  Our prayers and actions of love to others do make a difference in people’s lives, whether they are in another country or in our home.  We rarely consider what impact WE can make by being encouragers.  And when our encouragements point toward Christ and the working out of His gospel in people’s lives, now we are making a powerful and ETERNAL difference.  Who does not want that to be the testament of their lives?!

If your heart was touched by something I communicated in these Belarus Journal posts, please hold on to that and act upon it.  Keep praying, make a contact, give support, or possibly even go. 

I leave Belarus excited as ever for what God is doing here.  I have even more godly friends with whom I will be partnering with in the years ahead.  I see strong signs in Belarus of a growing desire for deeper theology; and service to God driven by His word rather than tradition.

As Jeff has noted in his assessment of this trip, we have seen many young people truly excited about Christ.  This has caused our hearts to soar.  God is wonderfully at work in this land, I am praying for a mighty work of God in Belarus that pours into the entire former Soviet world.  I believe God is preparing a work that has never been seen in this country.  Lord may I live to see some of it take place!

We again thank you for caring for us.  We arrived here tired and resting in your prayers.  Each day we have walked in the embrace of your prayers and encouragements.  Now we anxiously return to share with you some fruits of your faithfulness.  Jeff and I thank our wives, Marilyn and Debbie.  They have encouraged us to go, when they really wanted us to stay.  A wonderful wife is a, well, a wonderful thing.  We both have that blessing.

To our dear friends in Belarus; saying I will be back in a year seems so hard and long.  But in truth we will never be far from each other.  This love God has nurtured, keeps us near at all times.  Please know that we pray for you faithfully.  You have taught us a great deal about service, commitment and sacrifice.  May we follow YOUR example, which flows out of the example of our Lord Jesus. 

May God be praised for His glory and faithfulness in and through us.  His worthiness shines and continues to rise in our hearts.  We praise Him for all that has happened, for without Him we would foolishly desire nothing but our selfishness.  What goodness is found as we follow our great God and King!

BELARUS JOURNAL 1/23/11

Today was our first day with some blue in the sky.  It was a harbinger of the bright times ahead of us today and as we come home.  Over the past two days we have spent 21 hours in Gatovo, and we enjoyed every moment of it.

 

In recent years I have been keeping some of my things at the Bukanovs, so I have more room in my suitcase.  Each year it is hard to fit all I need to bring, or more exactly, all I am asked to bring with me.  The amount I leave has grown so I bought a large travel bag in Minsk.  Good thing I got the big size, because I nearly filled it.  Jeff said I must have a close relationship with the Bukanovs to hand over a bag of dirty clothes to Luda!

 

At church this morning Raisa was waiting with her annual offering of heavy socks she knitted for me.  She has done this now for years, each time a different color.  She had a big smile when I told her that I wear them.  Giving a pair of socks is a small thing, yet it is also a big thing, because of what it expresses from her heart.

 

I preached the sermon I have the last two Sundays at home and Borisov.  Jeff affirmed it was worth giving; and he is the one who has had to listen to it each time.  In every church we have visited, Jeff has been invited to greet the congregation, which he did again today.  His love and earnestness always comes through. 

After my sermon, Anatoly read a couple letters I brought from people at Greentree.  The congregation loved hearing them; although Oleg had something to say about Doug Pearson questioning his volleyball skills.  Pastor Vladimir then read Scripture he said captured their appreciation for our church.  He asked me to thank Greentree for our love, support and example.  After the service virtually everyone in the congregation asked me to greet and thank you.

 

Lunch was something to behold.  Luda laid down before us a meal that was impressive to see and eat.  I told her that I realize this meal represented a sacrifice for them; that she does it to honor us and that it is absolutely delicious.  She was beaming!  Sasha joined us for lunch and served as our translator.  He has a soft heart and shows a lot of growth for a young believer.  His translation skills are much better than he thinks.  Confidence is all he lacks.

 

The meal stretched into the evening.  We talked about church life, theology and wherever else our thoughts wandered.  Passing many hours with them is an easy thing to do. I was able to Skype Debbie and have everyone greet her.  By then Kyril, Oleg and Yulia had joined us.  It is great to SEE her, I am anxious to give her a big hug. 

 

Well the evening has grown late and I have some packing to do.  In the morning our trip home begins; although it takes 36 hours until we arrive in Philadelphia.  Pray for our flights and connections.  We offer praise for our health and energy these two weeks.  Jeff pointed out it is amazing we have not gotten sick, considering the number of people who were coughing and sneezing around us the whole time.

BELARUS JOURNAL 1/22/11

Today was spent in Gatovo.  I am teaching a Bible conference on Worship, using the sermon series I gave over a year ago.  People from several churches were in attendance including 5-6 pastors.  This is a series I love to preach, because it continues to have an immense impact on me.  The people were great listeners.  Their faces were engaged the entire time.  It is easier to teach when you can see interest in the faces of your audience.

 

Lunch was an abundant meal.  I am always amazed at the food they produce out of the churches tiny kitchen.  It fills up with more women than can comfortably fit, who are industriously working at their tasks.  Mushrooms are a favorite food in Belarus.  Village children are taught early on what is safe to pick.  Forays into the forest to pick mushrooms, is a beloved pastime.  We were served a variety of mushrooms in many forms.  Since I enjoy mushrooms it was a treat.

 

The conference finished mid-afternoon, which left 4 hours until the youth service in which Jeff would be speaking.  I spent the time reading on a bench.  During this time, Anatoly and the young people talked and conducted worship team rehearsal for the service tomorrow.  Oleg mentioned the benefit of my topic today as a follow up for things Dana Tedeschi shared with the team when she was here last summer. 

I could not understand the words they sang, but I thoroughly enjoyed listening to their voices.  Not only for the pleasant sound of it, but even more for the joy of knowing these young people who love and follow Christ.  Some of these young adults are new friends I just met this trip.  Others I have known since they were children.  They feel like nieces and nephews to me.  I am very proud of what God is doing in their lives.  This is the way I feel for the many faithful young people we have at Greentree.  Their growth is a deeply satisfying joy. 

One of the young men who hung out with us for the remainder of the afternoon was named Sergei.  He attends the church pastored by Sergei Drozd.  Sergei is a journalism student and is overflowing with questions.  Some were about America, but most were about theology, evangelism and practices in our church.  Young Sergei seems to have a zeal for the gospel and service to Christ.

 

Jeff taught from the same series we have been using on Wednesday nights in Gatovo.  As he led the service, I was able to catch up on some welcomed reading.  Even though I spoke three times, today was a more relaxing day.  I am looking forward to spending the whole of tomorrow with our sister-church and the Bukanov family. These friendships have become very dear to me.  I love these times and look forward to them year round until they come again.

We are praying for services at Greentree and for God’s work in your lives.  We ask that you would remember us and the church in Gatovo.  As you consider the people we have met over the past two weeks, ask for God’s continuing work in and through their lives.

BELARUS JOURNAL 1/21/11

I am sorry there are no photos today.  I have not been able to download them onto the blog program, even though I have tried on a couple computers.  You will need to use old fashioned imagination.

 

Today was the Minsk I know.  We had a light snow all day that beautified the park behind the seminary, and covered the slippery ice with a safer soft layer of snow.  There was a lot of snow on the ground when we arrived, but the temperature has been fairly mild. 

 

This is a big day for the men in my class.  We will finish our course, and their wives have arrived!  They were invited on the final day and a special lunch was served.  It is a way of encouraging and honoring these faithful women who sacrifice much. 

 

In class we walked through some of the materials we use for membership class at Greentree.  It was a way to both teach and illustrate healthy church membership.  I felt the material was helpful and appreciated.  At the end I shared my love for these men and my burden for the difficulties of their task.  I have an abundance of benefits they do not have, but in the end, our fruitfulness is what God will do in and through us.  I struggled with my emotions to end out time together and express my heart for them and this country. 

 

I handed out paper for them to assess the class for its strengths and how I can improve it.  Vladimir Tishkov and Vitaly Batuk presented me with an enlarged, framed photo of our class.  It was a wonderful gift.  Vladimir said this represents my labors with them.  He said they are my certificate.  They were very encouraging and gracious with their words and I cherish all that was said. 

 

I came here thinking this was my last time teaching this group.  But Sergei Lukyanov told me I will still have the same men next year, which will be the end of their program.  That will be the 8th course they have in this continuing education program.  Then we will start over with a new group.  Sergei already told me what he would like me to teach next year.  He asked me to take the message I gave at last week’s conference and expand it.  This means turning a one hour sermon into a 30 hour course.  When I told Debbie, she said that sounds like a job for my Dad! 

 

So I unexpectedly have to prepare a course on Living Out The Gospel In All of Life.  The men were excited about the topic, I think it will be as good for me to prepare, as it will be for them to hear; although I had been looking forward to repeating a course next year and not having to develop a new one from scratch.

 

Our goodbyes were a mixture of joy and sadness; we are all looking forward to gathering as a group again!  I am mindful of the honor I have to teach men who serve Christ with a high degree of commitment and amidst significant difficulty.  One of the younger men in my class, Sergei Khotyanovich, asked me to pray for his kidney disease which is giving him problems.  So please hold up Sergei.

 

One of the high points each January is taking Vladimir and Luda Bukanov from our sister-church in Gatovo, out to for dinner a different restaurant.  Each year we go to a different restaurant.  This is a big treat for them; they would never think to go out to a restaurant for a meal.  Anatoly from Gatovo was our dinner partner and translator.  I chose the Tapas restaurant Jeff and I found our first night.  We enjoyed everything we had there. Tonight the food tasted even better because of the wonderful company.

 

We talked about what is taking place in our churches.  Anatoly was uncomfortable having to translate as we discussed the exceptional job he is doing as a young (he turned 28 on Wednesday) pastor.  Vladimir was excited when we realized that he and Anatoly are reading the same book on Biblical Eldership, that the pastors of Greentree are reading.  It really made us feel that we are on the same page (pun intended).

 

Jeff and I are physically tired, but content and happy in every way.  The only thing missing is our wives.  If Marilyn and Debbie were here it would be PERFECT!  Tomorrow I will be teaching a conference on Worship at Gatovo.  Pray for my energy and Anatoly’s health.  He has been struggling with a cold and he is unsure of his ability to translate multiple sessions.  This weekend our focus will be on sharing life with our dearly loved sister-church.  Ask God to make us a blessing to them.  And know that God HAS made you a blessing to all of us here, through your prayers and encouragements.  You have been an integral part of this trip.

BELARUS JOURNAL 1/20/11

    

I do not know what happened with my blog yesterday.  I was positive I posted it, so I did not notice it was missing until I woke up this morning.  Maybe I was more tired than I thought; anyway, today you get to read two.    

    

The men were slow coming in today and they were all well dressed.  Many had on ties and sweaters or even suit jackets.  They reminded me today is both picture day and we would be filmed in one of our sessions.  The men said they spent extra time getting ready.  When the camera man was in our class, everyone was dignified in bearing and discussion.  Hopefully we looked impressive and sounded intelligent.   

    

Our topics today ranged from church evangelism to church membership and church discipline.  I got a break in my schedule.  During 11:00 session the combined classes were addressed by Pastor Jacob, who is Zoya Lukyanov’s older brother.  He is one of the pastors at Bethlehem Church, and has denominational responsibilities over the seminary.   

    

I welcomed the hour to relax and work on my blog.  This has been a worthwhile investment of time, but it has taken more time than anticipated.  I made a mistake in bringing a mini laptop.  It has made it harder to work with the blog program which is already more than a little finicky. Photos are slow to download and they have the nasty habit of replacing the photos already downloaded, even when I insert them in other places.  This means I have to start over. Very frustrating!  I spend almost 2 hours a day working on the blog.  An unexpected benefit to blogging while in Belarus has been the number of Belarusians who are reading along.  I hear comments regularly.   

   

In our last sessions today we discussed discipleship in our churches.  I used a liberal amount of thought from the book “The Trellis and the Vine”, which is outstanding.  It talks about many of the approaches we take to growing people that actually end up growing programs and events rather than people themselves.  I felt these sessions were among our most profitable.  I could see the men were intent as they listened and participated in discussion.     

Afterward Misha, a young leader from Bethlehem Church came up very interested in finding out what materials and books we use for leadership training.  We agreed to email and discuss this more when I am home.  It is very encouraging for me to have these kinds of responses, and to know I may have a small part in developing future church leaders leaders for Belarus. As I look back I think that more than anything else drew me to keep coming back after my first visit in 1999.  I cannot describe the satisfaction it gives me to see some fruit in this area as our ministry in Belarus has grown.   

    

As a follow up to the prayer requests in my last post; Alexander Shtanko’s mother is stable after her surgery, but her condition is still critical.  This afternoon Alexander developed a fever and missed our final sessions.   

    

Tonight we had dinner at the home of Sergei Drozd, who is part of the SEE Global Board in Belarus.  I have been looking forward to this, because we did not know each other well.  When I heard him preach at the Gospel Conference in Borisov, my estimation of him grew, after tonight, it leaped!   

  

Sergei pastors a church in Minsk. Two years ago his understanding of biblical thinking was greatly deepened and it has revolutionized his church.  When I asked who influenced him, he answered John MacArthur, John Piper and C.J. Mahaney.  That is a worthy group.  As I listened to this young man, I was impressed with his heart and passion for gospel-centeredness.    

    

Sergei does a lot of teaching at the Seminary.  He described his burden for helping Belarusian pastors grow in the area of biblical counseling, which he considers to be a huge need.  As we discussed the materials he uses, I was excited to find out he relies heavily on the Christian Counseling and Educational Foundation (C.C.E.F).  At Greentree we use their resources in many ways.   

    

Sergei’s parents live in Israel (his step-father is partially Jewish).  He told us that out of 6 million people in Israel, 1 million speak Russian.  Many of the Russian speaking Christians are without pastors.  I felt a pain of sorrow when I heard this.  Sergei has a heart to help train leaders for those believers who are sheep without a shepherd.    

    

I told Sergei I believe strongly in the leadership of Sergei Lukyanov and I am glad to have a gifted man with the same heart to stand with him.  I am not a gifted pastor, but I am proud to serve men like them who are being prepared by God to serve Him in powerful ways.  My heart was overflowing with joy as I left our time together.  Words do not express what is in my heart tonight.  God has been amazingly merciful to allow me the privilege of being a part of such things and to work with these men of vision and wisdom.    

    

When I look back to what led me to keep coming back to Belarus, it was the opportunity to have a small part in developing young men and women who would become leaders of the church in their country.  And I can see some of the fruit.  What could be more thrilling and satisfying than that?!   

I am so excited for Greentree to know these men.  Please pray that God will wonderfully use these men and protect them.  And pray for their upcoming trip to the U.S.  Also pray that they will help stir our hearts to be part of great things for Christ.

BELARUS JOURNAL 1/19/11

     

For most of the next two days my class will work through Mark Dever’s book “What is a Healthy Church?”My material consists of excerpts from the book along with questions and statements to guide our discussion.  We began well talking about the connections between our individual relationship to God, our responsibility to the local church community, and our submission to the Kingdom of Christ.  This understanding is sorely lacking among many Christians.      

       

In the morning, Violett had some written translation work to finish up for our class, so Misha who is one of my students guest translated for us.  Misha is a young man who is a leader in youth ministry at Bethlehem Church.  His father pastors in a town outside of Minsk.  Misha seems to always have enthusiasm in what he does.  I am sure he has much fruitfulness ahead of him.     

I realized I had not taken any photos of Jeff’s class, so I snuck in this morning so I could send some to you.     

The past two days I have been able to talk with Debbie through my computer on Skype.  Before then we could not keep an internet connection long enough for a conversation.  But I found a small lobby area in the seminary that has better reception.  So now we can talk during my lunch break.  Those few minutes of seeing and hearing each other make a huge difference for us and for our wives.  Marilyn and Debbie are the ones that sacrifice to have us gone so long.    

      

Something during the day led me to tell my class the story of visiting a Belarusian restaurant and asking for a traditional Belarusian dish. They brought me a plate of 15 rabbit kidneys.  I ate most of it, but I just could not get it all down.  In the years since, I have never met a Belarusian who has eaten this supposedly traditional dish.  The class laughed and jokingly said they got it out of the trash and then charged me extra money for it.  Suddenly it occurred to me, I told them the traditional part of the meal was ripping off the American.  They had a huge laugh over that.    

     

In the last sessions we talk about our churches having a biblical understanding of conversion and of the gospel.  Sasha Petrushko came up afterward and shared with me his burden for his unsaved parents.  They have attended his church regularly for 10 years. His father gladly helps with projects around the church, and he will even talk clearly about the sermons, yet there is no true faith in him.  I could see the burden in Sasha’s eyes for his parents.  Please pray for the salvation of Pavel and Olga.    

     

Another prayer request came from Alexander Shtanko.  His mother was having a very complicated heart surgery today.  Pray for her full recovery and peace for this family.  I could see his daughter Tanya was worried for her grandmother.    

 

I actually had 45 minutes to read before Anatoly picked us up for the service in Gatovo.  I picked an easy read on my Kindle to refresh my mind.  I have been feeling a little mind fatigue settling in the past couple days.     

In Gatovo we saw some familiar faces from other churches, including Matt who was in our church last summer.  It is always a pleasure to be around his enthusiasm.  He told me he misses Greentree and most of all being in the Youth Center.    

 The people of Gatovo always make us feel special.  They honor us with the feast that covers the tables whenever I am there for a midweek service.  For a Sunday service the feasting takes place at Luda Bukanov’s dining room table. I spoke on the relational quality of Patience. After the service Anatoly led a couple songs including the “Gospel Song” that my sister Dana taught them during the summer.    

Our blessed days kep following after each other.  Jeff and I thank you for you part in this.  I hope you are not tiring in this good task.  Pray that Jeff and I and are students will remain fresh and focused on using our remaining days well.

BELARUS JOURNAL 1/18/11

 In all my years coming to Belarus, I do not think I have ever slept so well every night as this year.  Jeff is also sleeping much better than his last visit. Thank you for your prayers for our rest.  It is raining today. This is the second day of rain that we have had.  The Belarusians are surprised; it rarely rains this time of year.  There was a lot of snow when we arrived.  The sidewalks are still ice covered and treacherous.    

    We began the day with anticipation.  Yesterday my class studied the “shepherd” word picture in Scripture, which is prominent throughout the Bible.  It contains many vital themes for pastoral leadership. Today we are looking at various word pictures for the church.  When I arrived at the classroom, the Bible College students and the pastors in my class were meeting for prayer. Before I could start my lesson Vladimir Tishkov was asking questions about what our church did for Christmas.  These pastors are very interested in the practical aspects of how we conduct church life.   

As we moved through the day our class came to a section based on Romans 14 and how believers should handle disagreement over “debatable” issues.  Everything was going smoothly until I used women’s dress as an example.  Suddenly the class came alive with a choir of raised voices all wanting to be heard.  There actually was little disagreement, but as is the case in many arguments, each person was focusing on one aspect of the truth.  Valery Volkov spoke up and did an excellent job of summing up the primary concern which is how each of us responds in our own heart.    

     

I told the men this was a perfect example of how we apply Romans 14, which is most concerned with how we handle different opinions that do not violate either the gospel or true godliness.  I wrapped up the session by contrasting the difference between the Old Covenant law which emphasizes rules and the New Covenant which emphasizes principles.  This makes the New Covenant more work to follow, because we have to think, pray and harmonize all New Testament principles that apply.  In our laziness we would prefer a simple yes or no rule that does not require thought.    

     I finished class a little early so we could get to Bethlehem Church where I will be leading a Bible for young adults.  Sergei had asked to pick up where they left off last week, which meant teaching on church discipline.  As I sat looking at the group I leaned over and asked Sergei if I could deal with the related topic of how Christians should handle disagreements over spiritual matters. It was a last second change, but I think it worked out better.   

     

 It was a dynamic group of 50 young adults in their late teens and twenties.  I am getting to know some of the young people from this church which makes it more fun to be with them. They are full of energy, I wanted to get them interacting with me from the beginning, and it was easy to do.  One hours and 45 minutes passed quickly.  I told Sergei I would gladly teach this group any time. Even though I had been teach ALL day, I was energized after being with this group.  As I think about it, I was proud of them and what is happening in their lives for Christ.  Certainly they are a reflection of Sergei and Victor’s leadership.    

     

Outside the church, the walkways were coated with slick ice, so Jeff and I were walking very gingerly. Okay we look like a couple of frightened old ladies.  We still remember our visit to the Minsk hospital!  Jeff was a ways behind me when I heard him making a commotion.  When Jeff caught up to us he said a middle aged woman he never saw before was trying to push him along to slide on the ice.  Then she quickly went on passed him.  He did not know what to make of it, and it does not sound very Belarusian.  Sergei thinks it was a case of mistaken identity.  Jeff is having an interesting time over here.   

     

 As we drove back to the seminary Sergei pointed to the car in front of us and said, “That is a new driver.” There was an oval sticker on the rear windshield with the number 70 on it.  Sergei said all drivers must have that sticker on their car for three years.  It represents that they are not allowed to drive over 70 kilometers per hour, even on a highway.  Oh, that converts to 43.45 miles per hour.     

     

I know I am getting repetitive, but it was a really great day!  How could I not be excited with these opportunities to teach and fellowship with faithful brothers and sisters who are also becoming dear friends?  I hope you are involving your life with those who love and serve God.  It will deeply bless you!    

     

 As you pray for us, I have a praise report. The 4 Belarusian pastors who went to the embassy today, were approved for their visas to the U.S.  There are still some financial needs, so I know they would appreciate your prayers for that need.    

 

BELARUS JOURNAL 1/17

My class enjoying a well deserved dinner

   

     

Today we began teaching the courses which are the main reason for this trip.  Jeff and I woke up ready to get started.  I have an advantage over Jeff, because I have the same group I taught last year, with two additions both named Alexander (or Sasha which is what most Alexanders are called).  One Alexander lives near Moyzr and took part in our summer team’s Bible camp last year.  The other Sasha was my student in 2008.  He was always filled with questions, which has not changed.    

      

      

I have strong history with much of the class.  Three of the men were my students at the Bible College. Others have had me preach in their churches. Sergei Barabanov, Vitaly Batuk, Vladimir Tishkov and Anton Slizky are supported by individuals or Community Fellowships in our church.  Teams from our church have put on Bible camps for the Tishkov and Barabanov churches.  So there is a strong connection to Greentree Church in the class.    

      

      

When I saw these men, all sitting in the same places they sat last year, it felt as if I had just been here teaching them.  Starting up again was like putting on a comfortable pair of slippers.  I did not need to memorize a bunch of names and we did not have to get a feel for each other in order to engage in open discussion.  I began the class and discussion began just as quickly.    

 This year I designed my course to be discussion oriented rather than being a lecture format.  Along with my teaching outlines, I sent a theological treatise and a short book ahead to be translated.  Instead of me teaching the material, we are working through it together.  I pointed out to them, that I am here by God’s grace, not because of my wisdom or success.  I come to them from a place of weakness and struggle.  This is a time for us to grow through God’s Word together.    

I did not get the official class schedule until I arrived this morning.  Now I am doubly glad I adopted a discussion approach.  I thought I had six long hours of teaching per day; instead it is up to eight hours.  For me to lecture them that long would be inhumane.  We had excellant discussion and the day went by quickly.  I was surprised how easily the day passed.  However getting through the material I planned for today was a different matter.  We were way behind by the second session.  So it is quite helpful that we have those additional sessions, I will need every one of them!    

One of the three Sergeis in my class keeps an mp3 recorder in front of Violett as she translates.  He did this last year as well.  Sergei Lukyanov told me these recordings have been passed around from pastor to pastor.  It is encouraging to know these courses are spreading beyond this classroom.     

Every time I see Jeff during a break, he is excited about the progress in his class.  He is working well with Natasha, his translator and the class is interacting well.  Unlike me, Jeff is also keeping on schedule with his material.  During an afternoon break he shared a story that still has us chuckling.  At one point his class was discussing the contrast and comparison between Old Testament circumcision and New Testament baptism.  During the discussion, the face of this young woman who is his translator got very red.  Jeff could tell a student was persistent in some point, so he asked Natasha what it was about.  Finally she blurted out that they wanted to know if he was circumcised!  It took all Jeff’s diplomatic skills for him to move the discussion along.  I do wish I had been there to watch. 

   

Aaaaaauuuuuuuuuuugggggggggggggggghhhhhhhhhhh!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!  At this point I lost internet connection and everything I had been typing for an hour was lost.  I have had to retype and try to remember all that I wrote.  Somehow it feels satisfying to let you in on my agony; a slight overstatement of the situation, but VERY frustrating.    

     

  Today we both got a terrific start and your prayers are an important part of it!  I wish you could me these students and pastors; it would only increase your gladness to be praying for them.  So please do not tire in this important task which pleases God and means so much to us.  During our discussions I have tried to be honest with the men about my own failures, struggles and weaknesses.  This has led to some of them coming up to me between sessions to share some similar burdens.     

     

At the end of our day, as we closed in prayer, the men said they wanted to pray for a specific issue I had brought up.  It touched my heart to have them express their love and support to me.  What a joy it is to be here with them.  My heart is humbled that God would allow me to have this undeserved privilege.    

       

Tonight I still have preparations for an evening Bible study tomorrow.  We have a long couple days ahead of us.  Keep praying for us, for these students and pastors, and for the churches we will minister in over the next few days.