In November of 2000, I (Mike) moved to Russia to help establish a Russian Charity named MIR. A little over a year later I married Olga. In 2011, we welcomed a three year old Russian girl named Valerie into our home. Over the years, God has led us and blessed us in many ways.
We have a home in St. Petersburg, Russia and spend time in the USA, Finland, Montenegro and Estonia. I have businesses in the USA and am the Executive Director of Stoneworks International, a mission organization with projects in Europe from the Barents Sea to the Balkans, so I travel a lot.
We hope you’ll wander around here, learn more about us, have some fun and see evidence of the goodness of God.
My connections with Africa continue to grow. A few days ago, here in Russia, I met with Mike Anticoli, the director of the ministry I worked with in Congo. Once again, Mike invited me to go with him to Uganda and Congo, this time at the end of May. While specifics are still being worked out, the general plan is for us to speak at conferences in both countries. In Congo, I will speak on the topic “A Biblical Understanding of Money”.
While I was in the States, I spoke about my trip to Africa and the people I met, and our Sunday School class in Athens, GA was really touched in their hearts. They and others offered funds to help the ministry, particularly the work of Sam Bahiirwa, a pastor in the mountains of Uganda, near Fort Portal. A few weeks ago, we sent money to sponsor a leadership conference at Sam’s church. We also sent funds to buy wood-working tools and Bibles as well as send several orphans to school.
I just received an update from Damiri Paluku, the bishop of several churches in Congo. Damiri is a friend who traveled with me when I was there in September. Damiri traveled to Uganda from Congo and wrote the following report about the conference we sponsored (above center, Damiri is holding a microphone):
The conference has ended. We had a Great time in the Word and the Presence of God.
People came more than we planned, we had about 40 the first day, the number increased the second day and the third day more than 70 adults were present, the church was full of people . Read the rest of this entry »
It’s been almost four years since we started the process of Olga becoming a US Citizen and we’ve just taken the final step: Olga received her US passport on Thursday.
Olga and Valerie go to Russia on Tuesday. I will go a little later, on the 30th. So, we’re packing, wrapping things up here in the States and preparing for life in Russia once again.
Olga continues to homeschool and do all manner of things around the house. Val is doing great, such a joy.
I’ve been teaching a series entitled A Biblical Attitude Toward Money. This is in preparation for my next trip to Congo. The church there has asked me to prepare a few teachings; in addition to teaching on Money, I’m also preparing sessions on Authority, Life After Death, and Knowing God’s Will.
I continue my work helping ministries in Europe, and focus on Uganda and Congo continues: just today I sent funds to Uganda in preparation for a conference we’re sponsoring; we’re also purchasing wood-working tools and Bibles as well helping orphans go to school.
This summer looks to be busy: we’ll send mission teams to Russia, Estonia, Ukraine, Romania, Moldova and Montenegro. We will also have interns in Romania, Montenegro, Belarus and Estonia. I will travel to several countries as usual; I’m still discerning where the Lord wants me this summer, but it seems that I’ll attend a men’s conference in Norway and be with mission teams in Estonia, Montenegro, Romania and Ukraine.
Our lives are full, abundant. And this is what Jesus promises: if we’ll just die to ourselves and let Him be our guide, then we’ll be fulfilled beyond imagining.
Olga was granted US citizenship today! We started this process almost 4 years ago when we applied for her US green card. Now she is fully a citizen. Hurrah!
The past 8 days have been a bit of a rollercoaster (as usual). Last week we weren’t even sure if Olga would have an interview before mid-January. The officers as USCIS were very helpful and made it possible for us to finish everything up today. Olga passed the tests with flying colors and took the Oath of Allegiance soon after.
It’s nice to have this behind us, though the last piece of the puzzle is getting Olga her US passport, which we hope to do early next year.
We have good news — on Thursday December 22 Olga will interview for naturalization. It’s been a long slog as we’ve waited. Apparently our paperwork was set aside for some reason and was not being reviewed as we thought.
This week we were able to talk with an actual person, a supervisor at USCIS, who discovered that we’d been waiting far too long and immediately made space for Olga to interview.
If all goes as we hope, she will also take her oath of citizenship that day. We’re in the process of finalizing the packet of documents they request for the interview, and Olga is studying for the tests she’ll take: writing, speaking, civics.
We have tickets to fly to Russia on January 17, so it looks like we will be able to make that deadline. It will be a busy month between now and when we depart.
Prayers are appreciated — not prayers that Olga will get citizenship but that God’s will be done. We feel that He wants us to learn even more the necessity of not grasping to our own will but releasing our lives into His hands, walking like little kinds holding their father’s hand. If He wants Olga to be a citizen of the USA, then she will be a citizen. But, I believe He is far more interested in our willingness to abide in Him than in any particular outcome. All things work for good for those who love the Lord and are called according to His purpose.
I have just returned from a great trip to Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo (which I’ll call Congo from here on).
A Bulgarian pastor, Ilia Iliev, and I went at the invitation of Mike Anticoli, an old friend who is the director of Victory Christian Global Fellowship.
I met Mike when he lived in Russia many years ago (he performed my wedding). He later lived in Congo for several years where he founded The Church on the Rock in Butembo, Congo. Sadly, for health reasons Mike was unable to travel with us, so Ilia and I shared teaching responsibilities.
I flew into Entebbe, Uganda (near Kampala) and traveled to Kasese the next day where I spoke at a conference. We took one day to go on Safari, which was very interesting. (There are pictures in the slideshow below.)
I was also happy to cross the equator; earlier this year I was above the Arctic Circle when I attended the Arctic Men’s Fellowship conference in Norway. God has moved me around quite a bit this year.
Damiri Paluku served as our host and interpreter. Damiri is bishop of the 13 daughter churches, and he’s also planting a church in Goma, Congo. Damiri and I immediately had a good connection and grew closer over time. He’s a good man doing great work.
The conference in Kasese was held at a daughter church of Church on the Rock. Members of several local churches attended the conference, which lasted two days. The subjects of my talks were: Two Kingdoms, Abiding in Christ, and Love & Unity.
Very few foreigners visit these churches in Uganda and Congo, and I was warmly welcomed. The people were very honored when I visited their homes, and they all treated me with great respect.
They are hungry for teaching and repeatedly asked me to return so they can receive more Bible instruction.
From Kasese, we drove to Butembo, Congo. That part of Congo is considered a war zone and the road we traveled is not considered to be completely safe.
There is no paved road from the border to Butembo. The road is very rough and therefore dangerous. The land is beautiful and the ride itself was quite an adventure.
Armed robbers as well as rebel militia live in the bush along the road and can at any time attack travelers. At one point we stopped because someone had reported that there might be trouble ahead. Damiri said, ‘if they start shooting at us run in any direction and be sure to have your passport on you. You’ll need it to prove you’re not a rebel’, Read the rest of this entry »
Our busy summer is finally winding down. In June I attended a men’s conference in Norway. In July I drove from Russia to Montenegro where I met Stoneworks board member Glenn Cole. He and I then made our way north with ministry stops in Serbia, Romania, Ukraine and Estonia. It looks like doors may be opening for us to serve in Romania, so I’ll write more about that in future updates.
Next week I go to Africa. I’ll be teaching at conferences in Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. I’m also making more connections there, beyond the conferences and churches I already planned to visit. One friend, not knowing of my plans to visit Africa, wrote that she’s on the board of a charity that helps health-care providers in Kasese, Uganda. She said that if I’m ever in Kasese she’d be glad to introduce me to her contacts. Well, I’ll be in Kasese and have free time. God’s timing is perfect.
I will be passing through an area in Eastern Congo where dozens of people have been martyred in the past few months. The churches need encouragement; they are under great strain, as you can imagine. Please pray that I’ll encourage (help the people have courage) and bring the message Christ has for those dear brothers and sisters.
We recently concluded our Stoneworks All-Ministries Conference. We met at Camp Gideon in Estonia. While the weather wasn’t so great the fellowship was wonderful.
All our partners attended except for Liz Sukhovskaya who was in the USA about to have a baby. Stoneworks board members Jill Tyson, Kirk Wassmann, Larry Heller and Mike Cantrell also attended, but sadly Dave Hulley, Dan Wilson, Glenn Cole and Bert Ficke were unable to join us.
The theme of our conference was Abiding in Christ, and speakers were Yasha Goncharenko, Sergei Tovstopiat, Vladimir Cizmanski and myself. Also, every ministry shared about their work; it was great for everyone to see how all the other ‘living stones’ are being used by the Lord. It was a blessed time of building relationships, receiving good teaching, and having fun times together.
In all this, we see a view of the manifold grace of God, His multi-faceted work in the world. We gather as member of the body of Christ, mutually encouraged by one another’s faith.
We’ve been busy working at dacha (news about that soon), and on short notice we came into the city for Valerie’s piano recital. She’s been studying with a really great teacher and has a talent for the piano.
We’re just about to move into the very busy time of the summer. I will make a quick trip to Estonia next week (meeting with the leaderships of Sunbeam) and then go to Finland and Norway for a men’s conference with the Arctic Men’s Fellowship. Olga will lead a team to Moldova starting June 18. In July I’ll drive to Montenegro and then work my way north, with ministry stops Serbia, Romania and Ukraine. I’ll be traveling with my friend and Stoneworks board member Glenn Cole. We’ll also welcome teams in Russia, Estonia and Montenegro.
And here is Val:
After recovering from jet lag and getting settled, a few days ago I went to Estonia to get my car. My car is registered in Estonia and ‘hibernates’ there when we’re in the States.
While in Estonia I had good meetings with the leadership of Sunbeam and Camp Gideon, and I had a great meeting in Latvia where we may have some ministry opportunities opening up.
Yesterday I returned to Russia in my car. I had no problems at the border and I was very happy to arrive home.
This morning I went to my car, which was parked on the street in front our building, and found that both license plates had been stolen and a note was on the windshield instructing me to pay 5000 rubles ($75) for the return of my license plates.
Of course, I can’t drive without license plates, and I can’t get them replaced in Russia since my car is Estonian. Thieves know that a foreigner will pay money to get the plates back since it is such a hassle or impossible to replace them otherwise.
However, I don’t pay extortion if I can help it. Plus, there is no guarantee that the thief would return the plates even if I pay him, or he may steal the plates again to get more money. Ughh.
So, the plan is that I’ll go to Estonia (by bus) for a few days early next week to get new plates and then bring them to Russia. A week from tomorrow I leave for a trip to Latvia and Ukraine, so I really need the car! I was looking forward to a nice rest in Russia this week.
Since I won’t pay, hopefully my extortionist won’t get angry and do damage to my car. And now I wonder how to keep the plates from being stolen again . . . .