Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Summer update

Here's the prayer letter that Will wrote recently to send out:

The Hunsucker Family in Russia

"Our soul waits upon the Lord: He is our help and our shield. Our heart shall rejoice in Him, because we have trusted in His holy name. . . Let Thy mercy, O Lord, be upon us, according as we hope in Thee." Ps. 32

The Lord is indeed merciful to us, and gives us all that we need to live and minister here in Russia. We trust in Him as the One who brought us here and gives us joy as we live and serve here in Kovrov. You know, I've never believed that God has a once and forever, one-chance-to-get-it-right plan for each of our lives. However, I DO know that He is the One who gave both Phyllis and me a love for this country, and a desire to live and minister here! That knowledge gives us stability in trying circumstances, reassures us when we momentarily lose sight of our purpose in being here. We have trusted, and we do trust, and we know that we can continue trusting in His holy name!

Community Outreach
Something that always amazes people when they find out that we are American is the very fact that we are living here at all. Depending upon the circumstances, I have differing answers. The simplest is just that we like it here. Sure, there are a lot of negative factors to life here, but we like living in Russia all the same.

The next step, if they're completely incredulous (or drunk), is simply to keep repeating that we like it. Regardless of the fact that many Russians and others from former Soviet states are doing all they can to get to America. . . WE like it HERE! After all, even Americans are allowed to be eccentric once in a while, right?

Finally, and more and more often, I find myself replying thus: we are believers. . . and God gave us a desire to live here. If God Himself gave us a love for this country, a desire to live here, and the desire do some good in any way we can - well, who are we to say no to God? That answer more so than the others usually meets with no strong objections. =o)

With both Jaan and Raia running around full speed, our apartment feels more and more like a go-cart track these days. There are times that the thought of a house seems very tempting. (And very much beyond our reach.) However, what we have been seeing again and again is how blessed we are to live in this apartment building. There are 90 apartments here, and probably five times as many people. Most of these neighbors know us by sight, even if we don't know specifically who they are or where they live.

Phyllis has almost unlimited opportunities to get to know young mothers, children and grandmothers not only from our own building, but also the 3-4 surrounding apartment buildings. That's a lot of people, needless to say. People here tend to be more reserved and suspicious of strangers than in the States (maybe), but compared to what we experienced in Moscow, Kovrov exhibits something pretty close to true small-town 'Southern Hospitality'!

My sphere of influence and contacts tends to be a bit wider, including younger men, building administrators, and older men as well as everyone else (not to mention a strange tendency to attract the neighborhood drunks).

Something we found time to do again this year was to clean up around 'our' entrance to the building. There's a bit of green space on either side of the stairwell entrance, and we've been trying to turn that into a miniature yard. We planted grass again, trimmed back trees and bushes, planted more flowers, tended to those which had come back, and put in a new flower bed. Again, we get LOTS of comments, and I have had to try to convince people that we're really enjoying ourselves. We enjoy it so much that we had thought about trying to further the range of our beautification projects this year.

We usually keep the courtyard area relatively free of trash, starting with a major picking-up when the snow first melts. This year, as the spring rains came and the weather became warmer and warmer, the 'grass' seemed to shoot up more quickly than usual. With Raia coming closer to walking, and Jaan enjoying every moment of outdoors time he could get, I decided to to tackle the jungle-ish courtyard area before it got any taller than its lush 4 feet of growth. Usually it would have gone on growing until late summer when some wandering cowherd had reaped it as hay to feed his charges. The problem with just letting the weeds grow is the same that occurs when there's 3 feet of snow. You toss a bottle or ten into 4-foot high weeds. . . and it's gone! Same with a bag of trash, the magic always works. =)

I decided that since my little wild things would most likely be next to impossible to keep out of the 'jungle,' that it was time to extend our scope of ministry. I borrowed Pavel's scythe, and city boy that I am, nonetheless, after a full day of swinging and hacking away, the jungle was conquered! The neighbors just shake their heads, but the ones that know us better explain to the other, more incredulous types; "It's because they're believers, you know, sincere believers. If we call ourselves (Russian Orthodox) believers, we should be right there with them, helping do some good for those around us!" Hey, I'm definitely not out with the goal of preaching at anyone, but it sure is amusing to hear others do so for me!

Summer Camps
Due to the arrival of a certain princess last summer, Phyllis and I weren't too directly involved in the bi-regional camp ministry then. All of last summer we were very aware of this and helped as we could: coordinating translators, helping with communication between here and the States, etc. We still wanted very much to be more of a part, and decided to be as involved as we could be this year.

For me, that meant being willing to leave my family for eight days, suffer heat and heat, insects, primitive sanitation facilities, insects, camp food, sunstroke, insects, etc, etc. All of which I was more than glad to bear, and even welcomed. . . except for being separated from my family! I think that's the longest Phyllis and I have been apart in the past 5 years! However, Phyllis convinced me that she really wanted at least one of us to take part in a camp somewhere, so I went, heavy heart and all.

This year, as well as last year, the bi-regional camping ministry has been more based in the local churches. The camp ministry director coordinates these efforts, finds workers, and generally tries to be everywhere at once.

I was sent to a riverside tent camp not far from Vladimir. The missionary family in the town of Sudogda brought a lot of kids they've been working with in nearby villages. There were something like 20 children, and 7 counselors. Not a bad ratio! Most of these children had heard something about the Bible, but weren't currently attending the Sunday school the missionaries hold. They were a pretty rough lot, but being out in the wilds with them, we were all together all the time, and it was a great experience.

Something that really appealed to the older boys (ages 12-17) was the idea of male/female relationships that could be pure, leading to a marriage relationship blessed by God. They heard the testimonies of those of us who were old enough to have seen God guide us through singleness, and were just amazed that any of it could be true.

Praise God that one of these kids, 15-year-old Vitaly, finally heard enough! One night after hearing how much Christ suffered out of love for us, to give us eternal life and a life of fellowship with Him on this earth, Vitaly came up to Volodya, the counselor that had spoken, as he and I were at the fire, reflecting on the kids responses. . . or lack thereof. Vitaly was amazed that any of this could really be true, but he believed it, and he wanted to pray with Volodya, to ask God to forgive him, to save him, and to help him live a life that was godly and blessed by God. The rest of that night, he stuck as close to Volodya as possible, trying to glean as much as he could of what it meant to be a Christian, how his life would change now. The next day, and the day after, Vitaly spent all his spare time sitting in his tent reading his New Testament. Until the end of the camp, Vitaly kept taking every opportunity to learn from those of us young men who were around him, who had been living with God and learning from God for a while already.

It's not often that you get to see something like this, at least not in my experience of camp ministry here. The Lord knows when to bring someone to Himself, and He also knows just when we need to see special evidence of His working through us. "Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good: blessed is the man that trusts in Him!"

Phyllis and I were both able to take part in a VBS-type day camp that our church held right here in Kovrov. For a long time we didn't know whether there would be a camp here, or whether we would be able to take part. It took a while to obtain the needed permission from the city administration; upon allowing the church to hold a VBS (on public property), one of the conditions was that there be no foreigners present. In years past, we have had a group of Christians from the States come and help with a VBS program in the orphanage here. This year, the city asked that all church members or guests participating be registered with the local FSB office, and the neighborhood police were supposed to walk by and keep an eye on things every day. Hmmm. . .

To say the least, we were a little intimidated. It is the by the grace of God that we have had no problems with the local authorities - and I'm sure that this is also due to the fact that we're not highly visible in our activities. That is, we are actively taking part in the ministry of a local Russian church, as opposed to heading up evangelical campaigns, social projects, or anything of the sort where everybody would know us as 'THE Americans' in Kovrov.

God is good, and He knew that we were needed. Phyllis and I both took part, as well as Jaan and Raia! The police only walked by once that I was aware of. . . and I WAS aware. (One very useful part of living in a country like this is the opportunity to gain the humbling experience of being an 'unnecessary' element in society, a second class citizen, as it were.) However, since I know the local police, I was pretty sure they only walked by once, and it was very much a strictly formal 'walk-by.' They kind of glanced our direction and went right on their way down the sidewalk.

Oh yes, I did recognize them, since we were in our own neighborhood! I didn't mention the best part? The VBS took place just an apartment building away from us! We had 30 children the first day, 20 or so the next day, and it leveled out to 15 who came every day. We met five and a half times over seven days (due to rain). By the time we were done, most of the children who had come agreed to leave their addresses with us and were interested in attending Sunday School in the fall.

This was a first for our church: a VBS just out in a city neighborhood, with children that we'd had no former contact with. People aren't used to this approach and as a rule, the knee-jerk reaction is 'Oh no, cultists!!' Praise God that we had no open opposition, something that I was concerned about. The courtyard that we met in is also commonly frequented by a clan of rowdy alcoholics that live in the next building; again, praise God, my concern was needless. The main reason that the number of children dropped from 30 to 15 was that we sent home a parental permission slip after the first day. The fact that so many parents didn't mind their children being in contact with 'weird religious types' like us was also a comfort!

Now Phyllis and I see more familiar faces almost every time we go out of the apartment, and Jaan and Raia have new friends who are always excited to see them.

Please pray that these 15 children would all be allowed to come to Sunday School when we start up in September. Some of these children are from good families, and some are children from the alcoholic clan that I mentioned, more like children we've worked with in the orphanage. Our church has also not had a Sunday School like this ever, as far as I know. We have a growing group of 3 year olds, and there are Pavel and Tanya's two girls, but this will be a first in the church's ministry. We have worked with the children in the orphanage for 4-5 years now, but that's something more of a Special Forces approach to Sunday School!!

Prayer Requests
Phyllis and I would ask you to please be praying with us for the following needs.

-I would like for us to develop more of a specific vision for MINISTRY here. That is, I want to have specific goals planned out that we are working toward in our ministry. This has always been one of my weak points, and I personally would greatly appreciate your prayers for me in this area of planning, goals and overall vision for the ministry of our family.

-Hand in hand with that goes planning for our own FAMILY, setting direction and goals financially, spiritually, etc.

-Please pray that Phyllis would be able to take more advantage of her contacts and acquaintances in the neighborhood and church. Pray that God would use her to let our family reach out more to those around us.

-We also always need wisdom in conversations with other parents as our children interact. The concept of Christian child raising is pretty unheard of here, even in the church.

-We want to continue to be involved as much as possible with our church's childrens ministries that will be starting up again in September. Pray with us for Yulia and Ira, who will be heading this up, as well as for other church members that will be taking part for the first time.
(This includes the Orphanage-School Bible lessons, Sunday School, and Bible lessons in the village of Sannikovo.)

-I want to have a regular Bible study for the young people (including young married couples). Pavel also is concerned about this, so be praying that between the two of us, we will we able to gather the young people weekly.

-Pray for wisdom in whether or not to continue the Youth Club ministry. We ended up this spring with a group that would have come to a Bible study as gladly as to our Youth Club meeting, with very few first time visitors coming. (If we do continue the Youth Club, we also need many prayers for wisdom!)

-I would like to preach in church more regularly. Pray that I would make the time needed to prepare, that I would be disciplined and diligent; also please pray that God would use me to help teach the believers in our church more about His amazing grace. (There tends to be a leaning toward legalistic ideas and practices.)

-Please be praying for Phyllis and me as the ministry of Gospelink expands in Russia. We are delegating more of the translations, but still the coordinating and organizing work is only increasing. Pray that we would be truly inspired in how to help this ministry work more effectively in this country specifically!

We thank God for each one of you, and we thank you for your financial support, your prayers and love. .. and patience with us! (How long has it been since we've written?!?) You are a blessing to us. As I said earlier, we KNOW that God wants to use us here - otherwise He would not have given us such a love for this country and desire to live and minister here - your support is another proof of His love for us and His desire to use us here in Russia, our adopted home.

As always, please feel free to write or call, we would be glad to hear from you, and more than glad to be praying for you as you have so faithfully prayed for us!

With love and prayers in Christ our Lord,

Will and Phyllis Hunsucker

"Our soul waits upon the Lord: He is our help and our shield. Our heart shall rejoice in Him, because we have trusted in His holy name. . . Let Thy mercy, O Lord, be upon us, according as we hope in Thee." Ps. 32


Liz said...

I long for the time we too can say we are living and working somewhere because we like it because God has filled us with love and like for people and place alike! Hopefully that time is coming soon.

Anonymous said...

It was great to hear from you! And catch up on your life and ministry there. Loved the pictures.
May the Lord grant your heart desires as HE places them within you!
the murphys

Linda Myhre said...

Thanks for the update! I always post your letters on the Russia Ministry board at Galilee. Life is always a mission field no matter where we are. You just get to deal with all those wonderful cultural issus too.

Mrs said...

What wonderful insight to your experiences in Russia! I'm beginning to agree with your neighbors though; why do we grow this grass, only to cut it and throw it away? :-D

I bet your little courtyard just stands out like a beacon, as do your lives as you share the love of God with others.

Matthew Icardi said...

Hi Phyllis, Will, Jaan, and Raia,

How are you guys doing? The story of the teenager is great, to see that must have been awesome. Well, have a great week!!

your bro,


Anonymous said...

Hello, Dear Ones!
Your letter was really encouraging. Thank you for investing the time in communicating all of these details with us. We appreciate the specific prayer requests. Thank you for allowing us to "share" in taking your ministry to the Lord. I especially appreciate you landing this blog at my finger tips by sending it through the church! (Some of us are very technically challenged!) (B. Walter)