Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Orphans in Russia

“As long as little children are allowed to suffer there is not true love in this world” - Isadora Ducan  
Today I visited a little orphanage in our city.  When you walk away from a Russian orphanage thoughts and feelings you never have had begin to emerge.  "What if that was my son?  What if James was the new arrival like Alexander who just got here, scared and confused?  What if he didn't have pants that would stay up and was forced to sit on a toilet for 15 minutes every hour because he only had one set of clothes?  What if he was constantly sick because there is medicine but no way to diagnose his illness?"  

I feel like I have little to give or offer these children.  My smiles do them no good, they don't reciprocate the gesture.  They aren't happy.   There is no joy in their hearts.  I guess you might feel this way walking away from any orphanage.  But, when you walk away from an orphanage in this Russian Republic where human development is the lowest in the country, these feelings of hopelessness are at an all time high in my heart.  
As I walked into the room for 1 to 2 year olds, they were getting ready to leave to go to a music lesson downstairs.  It was their time to hear something different then mere instructions given but the nursery workers, "Stop crying...sit down...come here!"  With my arrival into the room they were prevented of leaving and the tears were falling and their protests were forthcoming.  They look at me not only as a foreigner but also as if I were an alien from another planet.  I felt their eyes examine me and I sensed that they could care less if I was there.  They just wanted to get out of the room.  Even at such a young age their body language was loud and clear as they questioned the meaning of why I was there. With their gestures of distrust they seemed to say, “What hope could you give me? What good are you to me?” 
Among the children at this baby house are those disabled and too small to walk.  Before I went to see them they made me put on a surgical mask, white jacket, and plastic over my shoes.  They whisk a boy into the room and completely undressed him as if I will give him a full examination and prognoses.  Kair-jik was his name. He has no use of his fingers or toes.  They were stuck together from birth.  His head is twice the normal size.  His penis is inverted.  His mother was a drug addict.  She abandoned him over a year ago.  
"There isn't a doctor who would operate on him", the worker says to me.  She hopes I can find someone how can help him.  She is genuinely concerned.  He is a year and a half old but Kair-jik's life is over before it has had a chance to begin.  I think, “What can I do, I'm not a surgeon?  I'm not a doctor.”  
Six to nine month old babies sit on make shift toilets that look more like buckets to me.  They are just staring at me. Regardless if they need to go to the bathroom or not there they sit. If they would soil themselves there wouldn't be a set of clothes to change them into.   With my voice and eyes I try to get a response from them but there is none.   It's breakfast time for them so my time had to be short.   
We met with the director of the orphanage who has worked at there for twenty plus years.  She looked familiar to me.  She is one of my neighbors who live in my building.  She’s a kind lady but by the look of her eyes she seems to be carrying a heavy load, much more then she can handle.  Michael asked, "What is the greatest need at the orphanage?"      
She says, "The last ten years there have been a lot of changes that have taken place here.  First of all, the birth rate has risen in our area.  Many more parents abandon their children because they do not have the money to support all the children they have.  The majority of women who are giving birth are sick themselves.  They suffer from TB, syphilis, or they are drug addicts.  The babies are born with many problems and many illnesses because of this.  In the 1990s we had only a few children that were disabled.  Now we have many children that have congenital defects (growth problems) from birth.  
The government helps us and they take an active part in our orphanage but it’s not enough.  We need help.  We need medical exams done on the children twice a year but exams cost money, which we do not have.  The State provides different medicines but we can not diagnosis issues and there is no money in the budget for analysis." 
She continues, "We have issues with clothes for the children.  Children within the first three years of their lives have great needs.  They need lots of tee shirts, underwear, pajamas and toys to play with.  We have no money to buy any of these things.” 
Michael asked, “How much does the State government give you per child?”  We have three dollars per day per child for food and only three dollars every three months for clothes.  After money spent for milk, food, clothes and shoes there is no money at all for toys."   
I live not more than a few miles from this baby orphanage but I might as well live a million miles away. I didn't know such a need existed.  
Only one out of ten orphans will become a functional member of society.  Only ten percent of the children I met today will make it.  The rest will be lost.  They will make wrong choices.  They will fall to drugs, into prison and worst yet, suicide.   I've heard it said that the test of the morality of a society is what it does for its children.  Here I am, only a few miles from this orphanage and this is only the second, maybe third visit I've made.  Really, how moral am I?  
Of course, I brought many toys, clothes and shoes with me, three suitcases in fact.  But, these children still don't have underwear, tee shirts, or even pants that cover their bottoms.  They walk around in soaks.  There aren't any toys in their playground.  Why should they bother, I guess?  The kids cannot go outside.  They have no winter shoes or sandals for the summer for that matter.  
But, what will they play with inside?  I guess they will play with each other.  Maybe they will fold a small blanket and pretend there is a baby doll inside as I have seen done by little girls many times.  I tired to give them toys today but my question I have is about their tomorrows.  What will tomorrow bring for these less fortunate?  
Over 1 million children are living in institutions in Russia and 95% still have a living parent.  Their parents can't afford them or they themselves are ill so they give the child to the State.  Approximately 1.5 - 3 million children are living on the streets in this country.  Maybe they started at an orphanage like this one.  
I met a few children today they found on a street as a baby.  No one knows who the mother is or the father.  If they aren't offered something more when they are babies I fear they will go back to living in the street desperate of food, medicine, clothes, and most of all in need of love.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Empowering Siberian Youth Leaders

This is the “I”generation.  Really!  Apple isn’t the only one cashing in on this generations need for materialism and individualism.  In this consumer motivated generation we find the devil gaining momentum and the church being disconnected.  
In an effort to see this generation of young people come to know and love God in their own unique way we have begun a campaign in Russia to build a bridge between the church and the igeneration.  Unlike the United States, Russian youth ministers have never read a book about youth ministry, they have never been to a seminar on how to minister to youth, nor have they seen a youth ministry in action.  There is a great need to make contact with these youth leaders connecting them to each other in order to create a united front to reach the youth of Russia more effectively. 
The first tool we want to use to connect youth leaders is the Internet.  Mcvictory.ru is scheduled to launch in May 2011.   “MC” in Russian is the English equivalent for “YM” (youth ministry).  It isn’t designed to show off a ministry but to share information and give encouragement to all youth ministries in Russia.    We want to do the impossible.  We want to bring all 9 time zones together to reveal what is effectively reaching this generation in the Russian culture.  Mcvictory.ru is designed to open eyes to the needs of youth and give tools to leaders to meet these needs.  
Great efforts to reach youth are already happening throughout Russia.  “Next” a Russian youth ministry in Omsk, Siberia took signs to a local park.  Standing in the middle of the park in a large circle they spelled out this sentence, “I have decided not to have sex before marriage!”  They also proclaim their love to God by doing acts of kindness.  They go to the street and exchange cigarettes for pieces of candy and tell people about Christ’s sacrifice.  This youth group is making a difference in their community and their youth ministry continues to grow.  
Larger Russian churches have youth groups of 100 to 200 teenagers and college age students.  Although the youth ministry is large the youth pastors in these groups are not supported by the church rather they are are full time “tent makers” or laymen.   Regardless of this fact, they love young people and they are making an incredible impact on a generation desperately needing God.  
First Ever Siberian Leaders Conference
In March 2011 Heather was able to fund and conduct the first ever youth leaders seminar for all Eastern Siberian youth ministers.  The name of the conference was “Ignite Youth 2011”.  Fifty sold out and dedicated youth leaders were in attendance.  They were desperate for a touch from God and that is exactly what they received.  
One testimony from the conference was, “I didn’t know how ‘out of touch’ I was with youth, but now my eyes are opened.”  Another person said, “I received exactly what I needed to make my ministry more effective.”  
The last evening of the conference the youth leaders went to the streets to do what we call interview evangelism.  Each group started a conversation with a young person by asking 7 key questions leading up to salvation.   The response was overwhelming.   One youth leader had a divine appointment leading a teenager they had known years ago to the Lord.   
We are working on another endeavor to ignite these leaders who are ready to do whatever it takes to reach this generation.   In the works now is a bigger gathering for hundreds of leaders.  We want to invite all Siberian youth leaders to a conference in the centralized city of Novosibirsk.   We want to reach across denominational barriers to walk hand in hand with each other in youth ministry.
Our goal in Breaking the Ice ministries is to not only see youth connect to the youth ministries but to the become a part of the body of Christ.  We believe this generation is the church here and now.   They can make an impact for God like no other generation in history!          

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Spring in Siberia????

Spring is finally arriving!  Well, at least the snow is melting a little bit and although temperatures are still below freezing in Siberia we feel a little relief from the bitter winter.  Winter in the US was a harsh one this year but here in Siberia we saw -50 degrees below zero.
The temperatures are extreme here and we have been experiencing extreme moves of God everywhere we minister.  My wife preached in a local village last Sunday.  Her topic was, "What to do when the darkness seems to prevail."  The people were weeping as she spoke.  You could see the pain in their faces because the darkness is so great in our area of the world.  But, at the end of the message the entire room stood up in a united prayer to end the darkness in their lives and allow the light to come through.  One woman gave her heart to Christ to conclude the meeting. 
Yes, spring is coming and the sun is breaking through the clouds.  We are seeing hearts once cold to the gospel break under the power of God.
I traveled throughout Russia in Feburary this year.  In Volgograd, Russia we saw 15 people give there hearts to Christ in one service.  In Omsk, Siberia, I preached at the largest church in the city and 20 people came to the front of the church to repent of their sins.  I also traveled to Perm, Russia.  There stands a church filled with thousands of believers worshipping the Lord.  They are worshipping in a building the communist leaders once preached their propoganda.  When I gave the alter call in that place 40 people said yes to Jesus Christ. 
Everywhere we go we are seeing spring time in this frozen tundra.  There is so much more on my heart to do.  In March, we will launch our 500th church plant in Siberia.  We have labored here since 1996 and God is truly blessing our "Breaking the Ice" ministry. 
But, not only have I labored but thanks to those who have partnered with us with prayer and support, 107,600 people have not only received Christ as their Savior but are active members in church today.  Most of these people had never before had a gospel witness. 
There is still so much more to be done.  Our vision over the next 10 years is to launch 1000 new churches in unreached areas that have no gospel witness in Russia.  There are over 21,109 cities, towns, and villages and 67 people groups with a adherent of 36 million people who have no gospel witness in Russia.   
Thanks for all who pray for us and partner with with us to see Muslim to Buddhist, Shaman to Atheist communities have a gospel witness.  Because of sacrifices from our partners in the States and Russian national pastors we are seeing those people who have not been reached with the gospel hear of God's goodness for the first time.   

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Coming back from far away

This is the story of Nicolay Myagkov. 
I was born in 1960 in the village of Pravda, Russia.  Raised on a farm, at the age of eleven, I took my first drink of alcohol.  It became the god of my life through my forties.  I started working at a metal plant where I my salary was only spent on alcohol.  I lost my job because of my addiction.  Later while serving in the Army, on New Years Day, someone offered me and my comrades’ antifreeze to drink because we were out of vodka. There were eight people who drank it but I refused. The following day I found out that two people out of the eight had died and the other six had serious health issues. This event scared me but didn’t stop me from drinking.  After the army I continued my life of alcoholism and stealing with my friends.  Only by God’s mercy I didn’t go to the prison.
Because of my alcoholic lifestyle I couldn’t hold a job.  My family was devastated by my drinking.  After my father’s death, my mom developed cancer.  While on her death bed, I came to her bedside drunk.  As she passed away, I wasn’t conscience enough to say my goodbyes.
The apartment that my parents left for me I sold for alcohol.  Without a home or a job my sister took me in.  But, since they had five children they couldn’t care for me.  I was a burden, so, I decided to leave. But, I didn’t have anywhere to go.  I didn’t have anything to eat.  So, I started to steal and beg for food. On night I remember sleeping in a hole dug by some animal.  I almost lost my feet due to frost bite. 
I lived in a manholes for four years.  One summer I gathered mushrooms and berries, and I fished.  I sold all for alcohol and some food.  Winters were the toughest. So, I kept stealing and found myself constantly running from the police.
God’s hand of protection was on me through all the years of alcoholism, stealing and living on the street.  I always had a feeling that somebody was providing me with strength to live even while in my sin.  In 2003, God started leading me out of this dead-end life.  Through the mercy of God I had a friend who invited me to stay in his home.  Their neighbor was a small Godly woman who loved the Lord.  She became my Spiritual mother.  Her name was Luda.  Later, she became the love of my life and my wife. 

Nicolay and Ludu

I recall, as Luda played her guitar and sang praises to the Lord, my heart was filled with the love of God.  Still habitually drinking, Luda was there to show me Christ’s love and she prayed continually for me.  After a serious conversation, Luda bluntly told me that God wouldn’t spare my life much longer if I continued in this lifestyle.  I couldn’t sleep for several nights after our discussion, being haunted by this reality.  One night I cried out to God, “Free me”.  He heard me plea and answered.  He told me that I needed to make a choice to follow him, or, as Luda said, I would certainly die.  Through the power of the Holy Spirit I did make my choice and I started living my life for Jesus Christ. 
I give God all the glory! I am very grateful that He was patient with me all those years.  He led me out of darkness.  He brought me back from far away.
Nicolay serves in a church started by “Breaking the Ice" ministries.  His goal is to be a lead pastor of a church plant and serve God the rest of his life.