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 are based 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.
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.
Merry Christmas to you. We’ve had a great year. The Lord has led us through heartache and rejoicing. We thank Him for the abundant life He has given us.
We have good news. Mike received his Russian visa, and it’s perfect: it is good for three years and allows for unlimited stays in Russia. It is so good to have this done. It’s particularly gratifying to know that the Lord continues to keep the doors open for us to live and serve in Russia.
We applied for Olga’s US citizenship. Because she has a green card, we are obligated to be in the USA for an extended visit. We submitted the application in October and are waiting to hear from the US government if they accept the application or if they need more supporting documents. We hope to have this all done in the first quarter of next year, but the Lord knows His plans for us and we’re content to be where we are. Though, we miss Russia greatly and hope to go there as soon as possible.
Olga continues to homeschool Valerie. It’s going well, and God has blessed our family through the homeschooling experience. Valerie was baptized in July and is doing great. She has a servant’s heart and loves to give gifts. She loves school (she wants to fight bad microbes when she grows up) and she’s also quite talented in drawing, music and dance.
Mike has been meeting with mission teams and individuals, planning the work for next year; he hopes to help several interns serve in Montenegro, Estonia and Russia, and he will help mission teams as well. In addition to ongoing projects in Russia, Estonia, Belarus and Montenegro, Mike’s work is expanding into Norway, Moldova and Ukraine. Olga led a team to Moldova last summer and hopes to lead another team next year.
I posted this last year but thought some people might like to see it again —
I recently told some Russian friends about something I did before I moved to Russia, and they asked if I’d post it on the web:
Years ago, when I was an old bachelor, I had the idea that it would be funny to have a different family each Christmas on my Christmas card. One year at a church cookout I decided to go ahead and do it.
A friend from church was my ‘wife’, and we had three children. I can say that it was quite a surprise to people when they got my card that year. Several people thought I’d gotten married and hadn’t told them. (If you look closely, you’ll see that I have half a mustache; that was my way of saying ‘this is a joke’.)
The second year, I had a different wife and different children, a LOT of different children:
When my cousin got married, her mother (my Aunt Rose) asked if she could be on my next card. We took this picture immediately after the wedding; the bride and groom are our best man and maid of honor.
As you can see by the groom’s expression, he was a bit befuddled as to why we were taking this picture on his wedding day, using the official photographer.
My church was located in an old movie theater in a strip shopping center. One day after church, as I was walking to my car in the parking lot with many people going to and from the nearby shops, one of the ladies at church yells across the parking lot to me —
‘I want to be your wife this year!’ I yell back, ‘you’ll have to ask your husband!’ Later I thought about how very strange that must have sounded.
The next year, I was on hard times –
But by the last year, I had a trophy wife and a nice house!
And that was really my dog, Hank.
The story behind the last picture is fun. I had scouted out this house to use for the card; it was on a large piece of property and quite imposing. The day of the picture, we showed up and knocked on the door. It took a little while for the owner of the house to understand exactly what we were asking, but once he got it he was pretty entertained and gave his permission.
I was soon to be married, and so the tradition ended. Now I’m very happy to have the same wife each Christmas.
Valerie Cantrell was baptized yesterday at Camp Elama, north of St. Petersburg, Russia. Sergei Tovstopyat and I performed the baptism, and we had a ‘cloud of witnesses’.
Valerie has been asking to be baptized for a while. After talking with her about what it means, we all felt the time was right. She has committed herself to following Jesus, living by the Spirit and is VERY happy to join the family of God.