Dear Stoneworks family,

We are 3 weeks into a new school year, but the Stoneworks reunion remains a bright spot in our memories of Summer 2018: fellowship, voices lifted in praise to God, and heartfelt testimonies. We left for the conference just a few days after major international travel, and it was a blessing to have this additional trip planned for us. All we had to do was show up at the airport, and we were taken care of during the conference. Thank you to all who made it possible.

Before and after being at the conference and hearing from others who serve children in need, I spent time back in St. Petersburg with Galina, a non-believing friend who is ethnically Muslim. Somehow we got on the topic of pregnancy, and she told me all about her views on disabled children. As an orphanage counselor, she had spent time in the U.S. (as a chaperone) on an orphan hosting program. One of the families who hosted her had a child with Down syndrome. In her perspective, raising this child was a huge burden.

BUT it was doable…In Russia, Galina said, it is unthinkable. She described one of her friends having a very late abortion due to an unexpected case of Down syndrome that was not “caught” earlier by the doctor. When I speak with pro-abortion friends in the U.S., they often talk about women’s rights. But here the conversation wasn’t even about rights – it was about survival. In many cases, the alternative to abortion would be a special needs orphanage, not a happy ending in an adoptive family. And I realized that I did not know how to respond, as someone who has never tried to raise a special needs child in a dire financial situation in Russia. And in fact I felt speechless hearing an orphanage counselor speak of abortion, realizing that not everyone who works with children shares my views. Of course working among orphans every day, it would be tempting to question the purpose of their suffering. But I do know that God leads some people in Russia to care for abandoned children despite the challenges, and I am gathering thoughts and testimonies from those who have experience, so that I may spread a message of hope.

As usual the fall is full of new plans and reunions with those we didn’t see all summer. As I think about the social phone calls I received in the past week, I realize that many of them were not from new acquaintances, but rather women with whom I’ve been friends all along, including women that I met when we were teenagers at camp near St. Petersburg. They would have been on my prayer lists when I first moved here 14 years ago: Dasha, Nastia, Vika (above, right), and Vika. Maybe that group Bible study or integration into my own church never materialized, but one-on-one conversations continue to happen, with some involvement in Orthodoxy and others still in a seeking phase.

We are settling into a new blended church family. It’s been a long process to even get this far, and we remain in transition. I will say that it’s a great relief to have the bigger decisions and painful separations behind us, and for Andrei to have other leaders to share the preaching and pastoring. Along with others, I seek to add music ministry where there is currently none. And we are also praying for Sunday school teachers. Baby steps!

Our friend Natasha, a young woman in our church, has an incredible ministry to children. She works full-time for a local children’s ministry, but also makes trips several times a year to a children’s center in Cherepovetz. They are especially in need of funds during certain times of year when larger purchases need to be made. Last Christmas we were able to allocate Stoneworks funds to a shoe purchase for the kids there. The end of August is also an exciting time with getting everything ready for a new school year, and with Stoneworks funds we contributed to them getting some school supplies such as containers and folders for organizing their study materials. Thank you to those who give.

Another ministry to keep in prayer is the traveling medical clinic represented by professionals from several local churches, including a few from our church body. During the clinics they are able to reach people who don’t have the money or opportunity to see a doctor locally. The most recent trip was to Kingisepp, a border town. Although on a small scale, it’s still remarkable what these volunteering professionals are able to pull off in a single day clinic. They have a whole system figured out with intake forms, diagnostics, and treatment. In addition, there is always an attempt to share the Gospel and direct visitors to the local church in that area. I don’t have any specific prayer requests to pass on, but you can probably imagine the great effort that it takes to organize these trips, as well as the urgency to serve physical and spiritual needs in the short time allowed.

These are some of the forms of ministry shaping our lives and the lives of people around us. Thank you for joining us on this journey.

In Christ,

Andrei, Liz, David (6), and Sophia (2)

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