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November 10, 2016 - Visitors
I am sorry that this update turned out to be such a long one. I should have written a few shorter ones, but you will see that I have been busy.
A missionary from another part of Russia came here at the end of October to explore the possibility of continuing this ministry in Oryol. (For legal and other reasons, it is probably best not to identify him yet.) He brought along a Russian preacher from his church. (There is no connection with the Russian Baptist Union.)
It took me a few busy days and nights of plastering and painting to get the extra bedroom in our apartment ready for my visitors. That room has been used mostly for storage since the kids grew up and moved away 8 years ago. I needed to fix up that room anyway, since the apartment is for sale. It was helpful to have the pressure of a deadline to get it done before the guests arrived.
I took the overnight train to Moscow and met them in the morning at the airport. We took the afternoon express train back to Oryol, and arrived in time for me to give them a quick tour of the city. They were pleasantly surprised that our "small" town of 320,000 people is a nice place to visit, and a good place to live. We looked at the parks, the river, the public transportation, the shopping centers, and we had supper at a nice restaurant.
The next day, we met at the church house with the key people from our ministry. I wanted to avoid a big meeting, just in case the police should decide to drop in, so we arranged for everybody to come at different times, in groups of two or three. The visitors wanted to determine whether or not our people had enough interest to make it worthwhile continuing the ministry here. Personally, I felt a little bit vulnerable, because the fruits of 14 years of ministry were going to be examined. I wondered if the people would say, "It's nice to come here on Sunday and hear Donald speak, but without him, we just won't be interested." I would be very sad to find out that our ministry was built on a man. I hoped that they would have enough love for the Lord to want to continue to seek Him even after I was gone.
On the other hand, the people wanted to examine our visitors. Are they people that we can trust? Do we like them? Do they teach the same things that our missionary has taught us?
As the people came in small groups at their appointed times, I asked them to give their testimonies. It was so sweet to hear them tell how they had learned about Jesus and the plan of Salvation. They each gave a clear witness of Salvation, and they told how God changed their lives and gave them joy. The visitors asked if they would be interested in keeping the doors open after their missionary left. They all said they would like for the ministry to keep going, but they were hesitant to make any promises that they would not be able to keep. They agreed that, if another preacher would come to Oryol, they would do everything that they could do to help take care of the property and come to the services. It was understood by all that we are still at the discussion stage, and nothing concrete has been decided yet, but the visitors were satisfied that our people have a desire to go forward.
Many questions were asked and answered by both the visitors and our people. My heart was touched to see how well the people responded. I felt like they had passed their examination! It was a very emotional experience for me to see them back in our church house for the first time in over two months. I wept freely as we prayed together. I felt very deeply that our years of service here have not been a waste of time.
The visiting missionary and I talked privately for many hours about doctrine and philosophy of ministry, as well as many practical matters. I am very pleased to find that he and I are "on the same page". He invited me to come to his city for a family Thanksgiving celebration, and I am planning to go. I will have further opportunity to look at his ministry and to meet with some other men in his church who might come to serve in Oryol.
The next day, they needed to go back home. I went back to Moscow with them. We had some extra time before their return flight, so I took them to the office of our attorneys. We asked several questions. I wanted to know if I was free to leave the country while my fine remained unpaid. The answer is no. We discussed the possibility and legal questions of turning the ministry over to the other missionary. The lawyers were very helpful.
We still had some free time, so we took a while to walk around on Red Square. We had some fresh Krispy Kreme donuts. We had burgers for lunch at Shake Shack on the famous Old Arbat street. The visitors had coffee at Starbucks. Then we said goodbye, and I took the evening train back home to Oryol.
This missionary plans to return to Oryol soon to continue this process of discussion and planning. He asked me if I would remodel the back storage room at the church house into a little prophet's chamber. It is possible that some of his men may take turns traveling here for ministry until such time that someone is able to move here permanently. I started that project this week. I made a lot of dust removing old wallpaper, installing a few extra electrical outlets, and preparing to fix some broken plaster. I will need a few more days to get the wall plastered and ready for new wallpaper or paint. I am hoping that I will have time to rake the leaves in the yard before the snow falls. We had some snow already, but it has already melted away.
Last week, the real estate agent brought a couple to look at our apartment. They REALLY liked it. They couldn't stop smiling the whole time. The agent told them, "Of all the ones you have looked at, this is the one you really should buy". They loved all the decorations and pictures of the family. They said it's just like being in America! I told them about the Cubs when they saw all the baseball decorations. They were laughing and enjoying. They knew who I was. They saw me on TV. They said they have Baptist friends and they hope I win my case. Do they have the money? That is the question. If the wife really wants it, the hubby will find a way to get the money.
Nikolai and Natasha invited me over for supper again. I hadn't seen them for about a month, because they have been on vacation in Sochi. She told me a very sad story. On the last day of their three weeks in Sochi, Nikolai could not get out of bed. He asked Natasha to pick him up. He is rather heavy, and Natasha is so frail that it is difficult for her to even walk across the room. She asked hotel staff for help, and it became obvious that Nikolai was very ill. An ambulance took him to the hospital, where it was determined that he had suffered a stroke. He stayed in the hospital for five days. When he was released, he was not ready to travel by train. They decided to hire a taxi to take them all the way home to Oryol. The 900 mile trip took 24 hours and cost them about $570.
Nikolai does not have any visible paralysis or slurred speech, but he has changed a lot. He recognized me, and we were able to talk, but he was not really able to concentrate or carry on a conversation. He was watching television when I arrived, and he could not seem to turn his attention away from the screen. He became very disoriented and upset when Natasha tried to turn it off, and insisted that it stay on. She selected a musical program with old Russian songs, and he smiled and sang along with an empty smile on his face. His wife sat alongside and sang with him. I knew one of the songs, so I sang with them. Then we had a good bowl of borsch, baked fish, and tea. After the meal, we tried to talk, but Nikolai's mind wandered. He moved away from the table as we were talking and sat down in front of the TV. Natasha told me that she is barely able to take care of herself, and now her husband can do very little to help. She said that God gives her peace of mind every day. She told me that their trip to Sochi is the last vacation they will ever have. She brought her husband back to the table, and tried to get him into the conversation again. She started to cry a little. He lost his temper and said, "Why are you crying? My mind doesn't work, and you turn off my TV, and now you cry. What am I to do?" I knew she was broken hearted, but she just took his hand and said, "These are tears of joy." He calmed down, but I realized that it was time for me to go. I hugged him and he cried a little when I told him I loved him. He said he loved me, too. I don't know how much time he has left. He is about 74 years old.
I was contacted by the CBN Christian broadcasting network with a request to do a TV interview about our legal situation. Last Saturday, I went to Moscow to meet the reporter and record the interview. The story is being prepared for broadcast. It will be a report about the overall situation of religious freedom in this part of the world, so I will only be a part of the story. Here is a very interesting example of this reporter's previous work.
Events in America kept me up late at night a few times. The Chicago Cubs and the world series were especially interesting. Of course, I did not have time to watch all the games, but I did watch two of them, including the epic game seven. I have never seen a game filled with so much drama. I shared the game with my family in America by way of a chat app. We kept up a constant online chatter as the game stressed our nerves for five hours. In the end, the Cubbies won the championship for the first time in 108 years. It was a fun family time that we will remember together for years to come.
I also spent several hours online together with the whole family watching the election returns. That was even more dramatic than the baseball game, and far more important. It was difficult to root for either of the candidates, but I think that the Supreme Court will be better as a result of this election, so for that, I am grateful to God. I am glad that modern technology made it possible to share the evening with my family.
Last night, I received this message from my lawyer:
I want to notify you that the law requires that fines must be paid within two months of the time a sentence is passed. In your case, that was upon the rejection of your first appeal on September 30. You will need to pay the 40,000 ruble fine before November 30. If not, your fine may be doubled.
If our second appeal is decided in your favor before November 30, that is very good, and you will not have to pay. Otherwise, you will need to pay. Afterwards, we will take the case to the high courts in Moscow, and when we win, we will file documents to have that money returned to you.
That is the way the system works.
I did not intend to pay the fine, because I would have considered it to be an admission of guilt, but of course I will follow my lawyer's instructions. The money will not be a problem; it has already been set aside. I should have an answer on the second appeal before the end of November. Once the fine is paid, I will be free to leave the country when necessary. I expect to stay until the apartment is sold, and I would like to be here for the legal proceedings if possible. Last week, I asked the attorneys if they could proceed with the appeal process if I was not still present in the country. They assured me that they could. I have already signed a power of attorney that gives them full authority to represent me in all legal matters.