On Sunday afternoon, April 19, we all met at the train station to take the hour and forty minute trip to the town of Sosnovo, just north of St. Petersburg. The train trip is interesting and it makes several stops along the way. Vendors are going through each car as it travels selling everything from crab-flavored potato chips to ice cream. I opted for the ice cream bars!
At dinner on Sunday night, Lenoid (the deacon) told us that all our meals would be provided for us this week. We were stunned! We had planned to feed everyone at the local café, but they offered this as a ministry of their church! So, each day during the week, Lenoid would pick us all up and take us to his “Dacha”. A Dacha is an individual home usually outside the city.
On Monday our time together with the kids from the Day Center started at about 3pm. They would come from school to the center and Nadezhda would have sandwiches made of a piece of French bread, a slice of cheese, and maybe a slice of pork. They would also have tea or juice if it was available. A few months ago the Day Center lost their funding to feed the kids. Pastor Slava had set up an arrangement for the kids to eat a meal at local café that would feed them yesterday’s leftovers. Now, Nadezhda the director goes and buys about 300p of food (about $9) and feed about 18 kids when they came. I’ve been told for some of these at-risk kids, it is their only meal of the day.
At the beginning of the week, we told the kids that they would have an opportunity to memorize the Bible verse that we would be discussing that day to be eligible for a prize. Surprisingly, most ALL the kids joined in this competition. All of them had a great memory and they all would do this each day with eagerness! Of course, the treasure box full of candy like M&M’s, Twix, and other Russian candy was certainly an enticement!
At the end of the week, we had a competition for those that memorized all five verses and would be the first to recite them. We also had prizes for those who helped the most, showed the best servant attitude, and several other prizes. I was pleasantly surprised that the kids would participate in this so well and show so much enthusiasm!
Crafts are great relationship builders. It’s an opportunity to work together, to create something new, learn a new skill, help each other, and have fun together. That feeling of fun will stick with them as they learn more about the Christian faith. The craft doesn’t have to be perfect they just have to try. It’s like the Christian faith… you don’t have to be perfect or successful… just obedient.
After a couple worship songs in Russian led by Pastor Slava, we would start with a short Bible lesson that involved a game or some devise to make them think. Sentence by sentence I would read the story and Pastor Slava would translate. The first day we talked about the Resurrection of Christ. Then the rest of the week we studied the book of Samuel with topics of “Fear and Courage”, “Trusting God”, “Vengeance and Mercy”, and then the Gospel presentation using the Friendship / Bead bracelets.
Time goes quickly and the last day was upon us too soon! On Friday, I shared the Gospel and explained the meaning of salvation. The kids listened intently. I went through each of the beads as a devise for explaining that God wanted a relationship with us. I did my best to keep it simple and short so I wouldn’t lose their attention. As I was explaining all the beads, I was praying that the Lord would give me the right words to say that would be translated in a way they could understand so that they could know Jesus. In the end, I asked them if I could pray a prayer and then if they wanted to, they could pray a prayer too to ask Christ into their lives. After the prayer, I asked if this was the first time any of them had prayed a prayer like that. Six kids raised their hands! I was so pleased.
I’m careful not to just pray a prayer and take names and numbers for some ministry statistics. Sometimes Russian kids will pray the prayer just to please the American. I felt the moment was right and the attention was there. They might not understand all things, but I thought that the hands that were raised were honest confessions. I welcomed them to the family of God and told them that one day we will all spend eternity together, along with Pastor Slava and members of my team in heaven together and they will remember this day!
A few days later after we had left, Pastor Slava had stayed in Sosnovo to attend Sunday services. He told me that 4 of those 6 had come to church that morning! They were seeking! The young preacher who had come to Sosnovo to preach was surprised by the number of youth that had come to the service. Pastor Slava told me that he adjusted his message to address these youth that had come! They are now talking about starting a youth ministry at the church!