September 30, 2003

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Dear Friends and Families,
First, let me begin by apologizing for the lack of emails while we were gone.  I don’t know where the time went; it just flew by without the opportunity to email home.  Our days were filled with ministry and our nights were filled with meetings and after hour hospital visits.  God has given us a support group of young Russian Christians we could never have put together on our own. We spent our evenings helping them grow in the Lord and planning for the next day.  Like we always say, “No news is good news!”

Obstacle #1
The first obstacle is always the luggage being overweight for the flight.  Once again, everything got on with a few minor changes.  We had a ventilator for Voronezh Children’s Hospital, a huge electronic keyboard for the music department at the boys’ prison, “tons” of medical supplies, diapers for the babies like you could not believe, and it goes on and on.  Did you know gifts from God must weigh less than would be expected?  Again, all our supporters opened the supply rooms of Heaven and filled us to the max.  The last few days before we left, we had to turn gifts away because of the lack of space.

Arriving in London on September 13, the team had rest and sightseeing on their minds.  It was “free time” to enjoy before the mission.  Dr. Joe and I went to Scotland to investigate a side trip on an upcoming trip, while Donna and Stephanie made final purchases for the mission.  They found the English trains less reliable than Russian trains, as they traveled to a nearby village to find 50 cycle equipment for the trip.  On the return train ride, the engineer stopped the train and announced, “This trip is cancelled!”  Because they could not climb stairs, the tube (subway, for you Americans) was out of the question. Oh well, they were grateful to find a taxi that would make the long trek into Central London.  Did you know angels could drive an English cab?

Obstacle #2
With the arrival of the second team and the return of the Scotland team, we faced the second obstacle, the European leg of the trip.  Flights from the US to UK have a 70 lb limit per piece of luggage. If you make a same-day continuation of the trip from the US to Russia, the limits remain intact.  However, since the flight out was not same-day, the European weight limits fall into place.  The bag weight allowance drops dramatically.

Donna and I went first because we had the business visas into Russia.  The first piece of luggage failed the test (big surprise, NOT!) and we had 31 more to go.  Now what?  The team gathered and prayed, as again we saw the attitude of the counter person begin to soften.  Everything was taken and we were not charged for overweight.  Did you know angels could work counters at airlines?

We arrived in Moscow at the new airport, Domodedevo (much easier to pronounce than Sheremetevo).  What an improvement from the old one.  It looks like this one was built after the flight of the Wright brothers.  Sheremetevo was built in da Vinci’s dreams, I think.  There were lights on and everything.

Obstacle #3
The third obstacle is customs.  The team split into two groups as to what needed to be declared.  There have been recent reports of Christians being arrested because of the fact they did not follow Russian rules of declarations.  We try our very best to follow Russian laws. “Render unto Caesar…Czars…whomever,” and God will honor our luggage.  Ten went through “Green Light”, or nothing to declare; seven went through “Red Light” to declare what we were bringing with us. 

We had asked our Russian organization, Mercy Missions, for written requests for the things that may draw attention to our luggage.  Oleg had emailed the requests with his stamp, they love stamps, and we were as prepared as we could be.  Now it was up to God to blind seeing eyes. 

My carts had eleven pieces of luggage on them.  Before I even entered the gate, this drew customs agents from several different locations to investigate.  One agent, pointing from across the barricade, asked, “All your luggage?” as he pointed at my carts.  “Yes,” I replied. He stared for a minute and shook his head. He reached for my declaration. Seeing I had listed $11,000 on it he again asked, “Cash?”  “Yes.”   Handing back the paper, he shook his head again as he walked away.

Two others were looking at Billy and the Ponds.  They would not allow Vitaly, our Russian representative, to enter customs to translate for us…this is a good thing sometimes.  I figured out something a few trips back… It is not easy to fool the agents, but it IS easy to confuse them. When they are sufficiently confused, they give up in a disgusted manner and wave us through, as if we are an interruption of their work.  Works for me.

Josh, having several inexpensive crosses seen by the x-ray machines, bothered them.  They worry about people bring in merchandise to sell on the black market.  Donna was able to convince them they were gifts for our friends.  Next, all the packaged new diapers were a problem.  Donna was whipping out our paperwork asking for the diapers for the orphanages.  Having passed through the x-ray, and stacking up on the end of the conveyor, I started reloading on the carts. I was getting ready to make like a tree and leave! The x-ray operator was keeping more of an eye on what the others were looking at with Josh, than watching the screen.  I had “stuff”, lots of “stuff”.  After all, it was a shell game and they were watching the wrong shell.  Father, blind seeing eyes.

Everyone got through except Donna and me, thank the Lord. The only thing they saw was the Rubbermaid container with the ventilator.  By now, Vitaly had “wandered” past the guards into our area.  He explained what it was, as Donna showed the request and explained it was to help the hospital save lives of those who could not breath on their own.  After several long moments, never actually opening the container, the guard stamped our visas and said, “Good luck”.  All the medications were not even seen!  Did you know angels wear Russian Customs uniforms?

Now, let the mission begin!  We loaded the bus and got the team out of Dodge…or we headed for McDonalds, then to Vladimir.

Let the Mission Begin!
Day One
The team shopped for goodies at the market, while Jessica headed for Barskoe Gorodische to set up for VBS.  We had so much fruit and food, Andre the driver went and got a trailer to hook behind our van!   

Everyone did their part with puppet shows, teaching, crafts, and Bible games.  The interaction with the kids is the most appreciated part of the day.  Just a hug speaks volumes to these kids who are never touched. We had tried to hire two Russian hairstylists to come and cut the girls’ hair, but when they heard our plan, they volunteered.  This has been one of the most rewarding parts of our mission, showing Russians the needs of these kids.  Then they get involved and continue the relationship.  While the boys played games, the girls had their hair cut and nails painted.  Our team was full of daddies of little girls, these men knew about painting nails!  How special these girls felt.

Each boy was given a new Yo-Yo and the guys taught them how to "Yo".  To the casual observer it would look like a lesson in Yo-Yoing.  But as in one of my favorite Howardisms, "What you are looking at is probably not what is happening."   If only for the moment, this was paw paws, daddies, and sons having a large time, under the Son.

The day was spent just showing Jesus to our BG kids.  We left as dark was settling in.  After supper, all our big kids, Vitaly, Alyonia, Max and his new wife, Tanya, Losha, Katya, Ilya, and Oksana came to share with the team.  These are precious young people on fire for God.  They vie for the chance to minister to whomever God brings in their path.  Our greatest joy is enabling them to reach fellow Russians for Jesus. 

Day Two
The plan always looks good on paper, but… the potatoes had to be picked before the rain, so VBS was delayed for the morning.  Ten of the team went to the potato patch and seven went shopping!  One of the team member’s children had purchased garden gloves for all the BG kids.  The kids had been using old socks for their hands when digging up the potatoes.

VBS continued after the morning “dig”.  The boys were helped to make toolboxes for woodworking.  We are saving our pennies to purchase a teaching workshop for BG.

We are blessed to deliver the fruits of your labor to the kids.  Astonished with the 40 liter pot of honey already being produced by Treasures’ new beehives, we purchased storage jars for the honey. Already delivered was the following:

  • Two commercial ovens
  • A huge commercial freezer

  • Stainless steel kitchen tables

  • We brought with us 4 huge commercial rolling pins, tea towels, and dish scrubbers.

1.       Who said men are not shoppers?  They never met our fundraising, power-shopping “men”.  Despite Russian paperwork, our “men” purchased:

  • Laptop for Vitaly, our hands and feet in Russia. 
    What a joy, now he does not have to keep his family up while we email at all hours of the night.
  • A commercial food processor for the BG kitchen.
  • Two televisions
  • Two VCRs, which can play Russian, and USA tapes.
  • Over 50 tapes for the BG kids to watch.
  • Two more stainless steel tables.
  • A skill saw for the BG workshop.
The shoppers delivered the bounty to BG and joined the afternoon games.  We said our goodbyes and departed. Taking the team to the beautiful village of Suzdahl is always a highlight.  There are onion domes (cathedrals) in every direction you look. 

After supper, we visited the neo-natal unit at the children’s hospital in Vladimir.  We were allowed to anoint and pray for the sick infants.  Because of all the donations by area doctors, hospitals, and medical suppliers, we were able to give “tons” of sutures, medications, suction machine, two addition pulse Oximeters and supplies to Dr. Sergey.  What an eye opener as he gathered them up to take home so they are used where needed and not left to disappear.

Day Three
Group one joined with the Vine Church to shop and visit homes of single moms and widows.  The teams go two by two with a translator to share with these families.  The homes are selected randomly for the teams.  We do not know the story in the homes and the church does not know the story of the team.  The random selection never fails to amaze us, each team always returns with the most touching stories of how they connected with the homes.

After lunch, we visited the Vladimir Baby House.  There we delivered over 60 dozen cloth diapers, plastic pants, and pins.  The babies have problems with ear infections for which we were able to supply antibiotics, Otoscopes, nebulizers, and the medications.  Plus, we got to love and hold babies.

Later that day we visited the Train Station home, where we partner with the Vine Church to provide a home for 3 children.  We gave them new bed linens, towels, winter coats, boots, hats, gloves, and socks. These children were found under the train station, keeping warm next to the hot water pipes on a bitter cold winter night. 

After eating supper, we loaded up for the drive to Moscow.  We arrived to a beautiful night at Red Square.

Days Four and Five
The team shopped, visited Red Square, and rested. 

Team two left us and returned to the USA on Sunday morning.  The rest of us boarded the train for our twelve-hour trip to Voronezh.

Day Six
We arrived tired but ready.  What a group God put together.  We went shopping one more time; there were babies to feed.  Formula and cereal for everyone!  We looked up and our men shoppers had found a toy department!  Tricycles for everyone!  We moved on to clothes, tights, and underwear.

The group divided into shopping machines, we cleaned out the baby department.  We had bags and bags of clothes for the babies.  As the team continued, a small group rushed to a computer store and purchased:

1.       Computer and printer for Oleg, our prison minister in Voronezh.  He gets all our official paperwork for the invitation from the government.  Now, he can do it from his home.

2.       Computer and printer for Dr. Elena, our neurologist in Voronezh.  She can access the Internet from home.  Her daughter, after arriving home and seeing the computer boxes on the floor, called her mom and said she was dancing around the boxes!  It will help her in her studies in school.      

We arrived at Dubovka Baby House with a vanload of food, clothes, and medications.  The new playground equipment we purchased last visit greeted us as we drove through the gate.  We delivered all the bounty, filling the director’s office.  As we unloaded a suitcase, the staff would scoop it up and disappear to a safe place.   

Dr. Joe and KoKo went through the medical supplies, explaining nebulizers, Otoscopes, and medications.  We asked the director if she had any needs, “Yes, I would like a rubber hammer.”  Can you guess?  Someone in Dr. Joe’s office had added that to a pile of stuff, he did not even know he had given it to us.  Donna said, “We have one with us!  Dr. Joe you gave it to us.”  “No, I don’t think so.”  “Yes, I packed it thinking WHO will need this?”  Sure enough, it was in the suitcase going to the hospital the next day.  NEVER, never question God’s planning. 

The babies were asleep.  We would return later to play with them babies. 

Day Seven
We boarded the bus for the two and a half hour drive to the boys’ prison in Anna.  Boys from 8 to 14 are sentenced for a maximum of three years.  They are rewarded instead of punished, taught instead of warehoused, and nurtured, many for the first time in their lives.  The director is so sweet of spirit and loves her job.  At the end of their court-mandated sentence, many ask to stay.  What a testimony to this fine arts program.  They had a grant from an American group, which paid for 5 of the 22 boys who asked to stay last year.  They selected 5 orphans to receive the grant.       

We were given a tour of the campus.  They provide wonderful bedrooms, classrooms, and playground for the boys to learn and find their way.  You come away uplifted and filled with hope that these boys have a better chance than the kids in the orphanages.  They now have a psychologist to help them. 

Oleg makes regular visits to the prison, giving them the gospel and witness of God’s provision when we surrender our lives to Him. The boys performed a few musical selections for us.  Our two boys, Vitaly and Ilya, sang praise songs.  Josh Pond, who is studying in seminary in California, told his story.  Our newest interpreter, Ilya, volunteered to give his testimony.  Several boys stood when Ilya asked if they wanted to give their lives to Jesus.  Bud and Barbara prayed for the boys.  

Paul asked if any were sick and needed prayer.  Two tiny boys raised their hands to say they were “homesick” and wanted to go home.  Paul and Lila anointed and prayed for these two boys.  Then the gates opened and each boy came forward to be prayed for.  Homesickness can be worse than an illness.  Continue to pray for these children as Oleg feeds them the Word. 

We presented them with a trumpet, a super keyboard, recorders, guitar, oboe, and a CD player.  The music director ran up and played some of the instruments.  She was thrilled beyond words, but she managed to sing a prayer to us.  We were excited to give them new socks, notebooks, colors, and candy.  They normally get one pair of socks a month.

We jumped on the bus where we had a wonderful Lila Pond lunch!  Our drive back was delightful as the leaves were beginning their colorful Fall change.  The rolling countryside was beautiful in the late afternoon.

Day Eight
We got an early start so we could see the babies.  The team played outdoors with the toddlers as they enjoyed the new playground equipment.  The director asked, “Where is my hammer?”  She clapped for joy when Dr. Joe pulled it from his shirt pocket.  We are praying for this director as she is coming closer and closer to knowing our Lord.  What a “tiny” thing…a little silver, rubber-tipped hammer, but it was important to her.  Pray that each time she tests a baby’s reflexes, God will whisper in her hear, “I love you so much, I brought this little rubber hammer across the ocean to you.” 

We were allowed to go inside and dress the babies in their new clothes.  What a blessing it is to pray for sick babies.  Again, Oleg visits this baby house to keep us up to date on the needs.

We traveled onto the Voronezh Children’s Hospital where Dr. Natalia and Dr. Elena anxiously awaited our visit.  The team visited with the children and their parents, sharing testimonies and the “good news” of the Gospel.  This resulted in over 10 adults and most of the older children tearfully asking Jesus into their lives.  

While the Gospel service was in process, the medical gifts were given out. We had the same medications, vacuum machine, and supplies we had delivered to the other hospital with two additions, a ventilator and bone marrow needles.  The bone marrow needles are tools woefully missing from their supplies.  Dr. Natalia, an oncologist, uses these needles to diagnose cancer in children. After an exhausting search, Dr. Joe found ten the week we left.   

God has given us a ministry in providing ventilators to hospitals.  This is the sixth one with one more in our warehouse awaiting a home.  This vent was provided to Treasures after the death of Ronnie Hampton, KoKo’s husband.  How bitter sweet it must have been for KoKo as she gave the ER doctor instructions on the use of this tool.  Her loss will now surely save lives in this hospital, just as it had saved Ronnie’s life all the days, months, and years it helped him.   

One of the delightful things we get to see on these trips is the “small” miracle you could easily over look if we are not aware.  Of course, in Europe and Asia, they operate on 220v instead of 110v. That’s not a problem. The problem is we run 60 cycles, while they run 50 cycles…apples and oranges. It’s not an easy conversion.  The good news is, this vent is a 50/60 cycle machine. Each electrical gift, nebulizers, vacuum machines, and ventilator would need a voltage converter. We found them in Voronezh, a rare find, but only 6 were found…we needed 7.  Surprise, this vent was both 110/220, not problem.  But wait, the plug was a USA grounded plug, Russia uses two round pegs.  The plug would not fit into the wall socket. 

 About a week earlier, when I pulled a power cord from the wall at some point in our travel, the little adapter our plug fits into to make our appliances fit into a Russian outlet, had come off.  In a hurry, I pulled it from the outlet and stuck it in my pocket.  Thank God, He is always in charge…I had it when and where we needed it.  Otherwise, the lesson on the vent would not have happened!  What a God we serve!  

Our mission was complete with the final touch, a 50 cent adapter.  Then, the biggest surprise of all, the new airport had no exit customs.  We didn't have to 'splain nuthin' to leave the country. 

Howard, Stephanie, Donna, and our Super Star 2003 Team!

We have photos galore...when they are on the website, we will let you know.