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August - October 2003
Last year, Russia adopted new laws regulating foreign "visitors". Under the old laws, we could get visas that allowed us to live and work in the country for a year at a time. The new laws make it much more difficult to get long-term visas. We would have had to leave the country every three months to renew our visas, at considerable cost and inconvenience. Our one-year visas were due to expire in mid-August.
I learned that the new laws provided a way for us to become "residents", which would allow us to live here for three to five years at a time. Obtaining residency is a very complicated process. I have spent hundreds of hours in the past few months putting together our applications for residency. Many times I had to stand in line for hours at a government office to get a document that I needed or to get a simple question answered. Some officials only answer questions once a week for an hour or two. (If you don't get in line early enough in the morning, you won't make it that day and you'll have to come back next week!)
To apply for residency, our entire family had blood tests, drug tests, x-rays, and several other medical examinations. We were even tested for leprosy! We had to submit copies of every kind of document you can imagine - birth certificates, marriage license, bank statements, passports, criminal background checks, and many others. All documents had to be translated into Russian by a certified translator and notarized. Often I stood in line for hours just to get to a notary. Several times, when I had all the papers in order, I stood in line to submit the applications. Then they would look everything over and tell me I needed "just one more document". When they finally accepted our applications, I counted 164 separate documents in the application packets.
During this process, our visas expired. The new law allows for an automatic extension of six months while the applications are being considered, so we did not have to leave the country. That was a great blessing! The authorities give themselves six months to decide whether or not to grant residency to us. Please pray that they will decide in our favor.
- We helped conduct a summer camp with about 50 young people from a church here. It was primitive - we set up tents on a wooded hillside and built a campfire. The weather was ideal for most of the two weeks, and we had a good time.
- A local Baptist businessman is trying to build a Christian youth center here. The boys and I spent a few days helping him dig a ditch to connect his building to the city water system. The boys also helped him to build a tent-like shelter for another ministry.
- We canned some vegetables! Russians depend on preserving their garden crops to feed themselves. (That's how they survive on an average income of less than $100 a month.) Some friends taught us how to do it, and we put up many quarts of very tasty vegetables for the winter. I even made some very good zesty pickles, which we can't buy here.
- We have been visiting several villages around the region within 100 miles of where we live. We give out Gospel tracts and talk to people on the streets and door-to-door. We are often able to give tracts to everyone on the train or bus as we travel out to the village. A few people have responded by writing back. I send them a Bible and study materials. We pray these contacts will lead to further ministry in the villages.
- I found a storefront place for rent, out in a village, which would have been ideal for starting a church. The landlady agreed to rent to me, then a city official over-ruled her decision and said that none of the space in that building could be rented out, as it was all needed for the city government's needs. The landlady was furious, because she was looking forward to making some decent money with this building. Although the city official denied it, I suspect that my being a Baptist had something to do with it. This is the same administrator who told me last year that I could not rent space in the village youth center because, "There are already a few Baptists in this town and we don't need any more!"
- Pavel, who built the stairs in our apartment, came for another visit. We talked about salvation. Pray for him to understand. His two daughters visited later and Ruth told them how to be saved. They think they have to pray in the Orthodox church. Please pray that God will open their hearts to the simple way of salvation.
In the service of the King,