Yura Belonozhkin, serving near Murmansk, writes about a men’s retreat in last summer —

Dear friends,

After returning from Finland, I only had a week to complete the preparations for the men’s camp, and it was very busy time. I spent much time walking and hauling equipment to the campsite; we built a large tent for the meetings. There was a guy from our group in Polyarny who helped a lot.

So, in the morning Aug 19th we all met at the intersection from where we headed to the camp. There were 19 of us, and 2 more guys were going to join later that night. We successfully got to the place where we left our cars and started walking. I reduced the distance to only 5 km, and it was good, because some of our guys were in senior age and had some problems walking. But everybody got there safe and fine. We walked on fairly flat terrain along the system of lakes connected with creeks. The weather was very warm, unusually warm, even hot. We rarely have this kind of weather here, but this year it was not only warm, but the period of this warmth was strangely long.

About us: There were 21 men, very different men: 3 of us including me were with the sons. One guy was with his father-in-law. So we had two 10 year old boys and a teenager, 3 guys over 60 years old, We were from 7 towns of the Murmansk Region and 2 towns of Sweden. 3 Swedes and 18 Russians; 1 police officer, 1 bodyguard of a serious businessman, a few elders from different churches, 3 engineers, a whole bunch of former drug addicts and criminals. And despite that enormous difference we were a team. There were not closed circles or single individuals, we acted as a team all the time.

The problems started when we arrived. I discovered that all the stuff we hauled there during preceding weeks was stolen. All pots, a gas stove, 10 canisters of natural gas, all tools, the film for the big tent, a football, canned milk, something else… It was a real frustration for me.

All plans broke, I didn’t know what to do, had no idea. And all this bunch of people was walking behind me not knowing what they are supposed to do and what the plan is. There were still some cans of meat. I suppose the robbers just didn’t have enough room to take them. So we had food, but had nothing to cook it in. Just to do something I sent a team to chop trees for fuel wood. The others started setting tents. I was just out of trek. So frustrated and angry and not able to do anything.

Then, I started praying and praising the Lord. It didn’t feel that it helped first, but then I remembered that there was a fisherman’s cabin a few kilometers away from there, so there might be some pots. I took 3 guys and we went to look for it. A couple of hours later we came back with 2 rusted and dirty pots and 2 kettles in the same condition. At least we could cook dinner. I called the guy who was going to join us in the evening and told him about this situation. When he came later that night he brought 2 new big steel buckets to cook in them, a new stove and enough gas canisters. But even before he came peace came again into my heart.

So on the 1st day my plans were ruined and I had to get humble to receive God’s plans. 

On the second day God revealed why He got us together there. We had a class in the morning, and it was great. In the evening Martin (the guy from Arjeplog, Finland) preached and prayed after he preached for all of us. And that was the time. Everybody opened. The guys confessed their secret sins to each other being very open and true.

I never saw anything like that. Church leaders confessed pornography addictions, smoking, anger, fear, etc, along with other guys. We humbled ourselves to be that honest with each other, and God just healed us and set us free as we confessed and prayed for each other. We had no longer masks on. Now we know each other and can talk about all those things being accountable to each other.

Right after that meeting we split into smaller companies to do different things. I walked with a guy to another side of the lake just to check fishing places, but we were talking all the way. He confessed all the sins he couldn’t overcome in his life and I shared how I was struggling. It was something I have never experienced in my Christian life. True openness, being honest with each other not only on a prayer meeting, but in a private conversation.

You know, very often we wear masks when we attend church meetings, or small groups, or even leadership meetings… I behaved like that, I know. I tried to look good, that I had no problems at all, but inside I was struggling. And I wanted nobody to know it. The problem was that I thought I was alone like that, but there I saw that other church leaders confessed the same. All of us were wearing masks! Awful…

But praise God now we are open and accountable to each other. When we came back to the camp I discovered that everybody else were doing the same – the guys were talking and continued sharing their lives with each other. In the tents, by the fire, at the lake – they just sat and talked and prayed for each other.

The next day we had another class, and it was very different, the atmosphere changed from previous morning. We had a lot of fun, too. We played soccer, shot the water balloon sling, went swimming (it was very warm, but the water was about 12C). Some guys went alone for prayer walks. It was a perfect place for that.

After lunch we walked back to the cars and headed home.

Now I receive messages from the guys and their wives thanking me for the camp. I am happy and excited. I saw the Lord working in men around me, in myself. We didn’t have just another 3 day picnic or fishing trip, but that was truly life changing time. The best thing, now there are men who want to share this vision and be the team. We will meet with them soon. I see we need to start local men’s groups in every town. I am leading 2 groups now, I can take 2 more. So I will teach new leaders and they will start men’s groups in their towns. And we will meet with them every month.

God bless you all!


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