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.
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 . . . .
We’ve just arrived safe and sound in Russia. Our trip over was uneventful and we had no problems at passport control when we entered the country. As you can see, though, our suitcases exploded when we got home! Now we need to bring order to what was an orderly apartment when we walked in.
We’ll take it easy over the next few days as we settle in and get over jet lag (note the look on Olga’s face and Val’s body language). I’ll go to Estonia on Monday to pick up my car and meet with folks there. Two weeks from today Valerie Bryson will arrive to stay with us; she’ll be interning with Stoneworks in Russia, Belarus and Moldova.
We are very thankful for warm send-off our Sunday school class gave us and the prayers of the church during the service on Sunday. God has set us among good people.
Quick Link: Stoneworks Newsletter
Our time in the USA is coming to a close.
It’s been wonderful to spend the last several months with family and friends on this side of the ocean. Valerie has made closer relationships, Olga and I have been encouraged in many ways. We’re very thankful for having so much time with my Dad.
I’ve mentioned it before: Olga and I often say that we don’t want to choose our life but rather receive the life that God has given us. We’re not here of our own choosing, and so we can receive with thanksgiving the time He’s given us here.
Olga has not yet received her citizenship. We applied in early October, and after some research on the internet it seems that it will be a couple more months before we hear anything. So, we continue to wait. . . .
And yet, we’ll be quite busy as we wait. The summer is filling up, as usual. Olga will lead a team to Moldova; I’ll be in Montenegro, Serbia, Romania and Ukraine; and we’ll all be in Russia, Estonia and Finland. And of course dacha will need our attention as well!
I’m constantly reminded that anyone who wants to be fit for service in the Kingdom can not put his hand to the plow and then look back. We look ahead to what the Lord has prepared for us, and we’re very thankful for all He’s provided while we’ve been in the States.
Valerie has a weekly piano lesson. Her teacher is in St. Petersburg, Russia while we sit in Athens, Georgia. It’s actually a pretty good arrangement. We use Skype for the call, so Valerie and the teacher can see and hear each other. It works well.
We do this because, interestingly, the Russian names for notes are different from the American names, which makes sense because the languages don’t share an alphabet. Americans use letters to name notes and Russians use the familiar Do-Re-Mi. For instance, C in America is Do in Russia, D is Re, etc. In the States we’d say that we’re playing a C major chord, and in Russia it is a Do major chord. The notation is the same, just the names of the notes are different.
We’ve covered some ground since our last update, visiting friends, co-workers and family in Virginia, Kentucky and Tennessee. It’s been great to be in Georgia for an extended stay. The days are full, and we are very thankful for this time in the States, though it does have its challenges.
We had a very nice visit with friends near Washington, DC. Their oldest girl and Valerie are like peas in a pod. When we arrived, they gleefully discovered that they wear the same pajamas. It was all uphill from there.
We are still waiting to hear from the US government regarding our applications for Olga’s citizenship, which they received three and half months ago. We have tickets to go to Russia on April 3; hopefully we’ll get everything wrapped up by then.
Olga is faithfully homeschooling and seeing good results. She’s also been baking bread, and she baked her first American style cake, from scratch. Val is doing great. She’s just started swimming lessons and is VERY excited about that. She’s also studying piano, dance and gymnastics. We’re having a very sweet time as a family.
Mike has been teaching Sunday school on occasion. His work with Stoneworks continues: helping prepare interns and mission teams for the summer work; coordinating trips to the USA for partners from Estonia and Russia; preparing for an upcoming board meeting. Next month he’ll speak at a church in Baltimore. Stoneworks continues to grow, recently sending a long-term missionary to serve in L’viv, Ukraine. You can read the most recent Stoneworks news here.
While this post is an update about our lives, we realized that everything we have is from God. We are thankful to receive the life God has given us. The Lord is King of all. He is the Head of His body, the church. He alone deserves our praise and devotion. Let’s keep our eyes on the prize for which Christ has called us, pressing onward and upward.