Dateline: Vladimir, Russia
January 1, 2004

We always start each team preparations with the statement, "It may look good on paper, but God carries an eraser."  As long as God can trust us to be obedient and joyful, we are able to function in His will.
Donna arrived from our England Christmas with a sore throat.  By Monday night, she awoke with chills, fever, headache, muscles aching, cough, runny nose, and the all time favorite...diarrhea!  So, now it is Thursday night and 3 days of bed rest, some things are better and some still persist...but our old favorite is here to stay.  For want of a diagnosis we are calling it the good old flu.  Vladimir, as is each winter, is socked in with the flu.  BUT, Praise God, the remaining team members are healthy!!!!  Like the Boy Scouts, we are always prepared and have every medication needed for Donna.
The dilemma, how do you ride in a van for 3 hours then take a 12 hour overnight train (where the bathrooms are not good when healthy)?  You just cannot.
We do not know what God is protecting us from or what opportunity He has waiting for us, but we know His plan is in action. 
The kids at Barskoe had a Christmas only dreamed of, but never believed in.  We presented an animated PowerPoint presentation of the Christmas story.  Our friend, Max, our hard-core, no holds barred, serious as a heart attack soul winner, gave the presentation in a manner which kept the children enthralled. 
Every child had a stocking filled with apple, orange, banana, a toy, candy, tape player, Christian tape, their first bottle of Coke, cap, scarf, and gloves!!  Then because of your overwhelming generosity their wish list was realized.  One of the older girls stood at the end of the celebration and said, "Thank you for remembering us and coming back to see us.  The best surprise of all was that we were able to ask for a present and we all got what we asked for."  Ain't God good!
Something that the casual observer would not have seen... When we first arrived, the children were eating lunch.  Though some gave part of their food to other kids, we noticed all the kids returned their plates to the kitchen with some food remaining on them.  Some would look at that and think the kids left food on their plate, but we saw something different.  On our first visit to BG, the kids attacked the food with a vengeance.  They jostled each other for food that fell on the floor.  That was then, this is now.  The children no long fight for food, they are well fed on a daily basis.
We showed the staff and director pictures from the PowerPoint presentation we use a speaking engagements.  They stood in silence as they looked at the "before" pictures.  The director said, "I had forgotten how bad it was because of how good it is now."  Don't ever think your prayers and contributions, though half a world away, are ineffective or lightly taken.  One plants, another waters, God gives the increase.  To God be the Glory, great things He has done.
BUT, the biggest praise report is BG director on sick leave (because we know he will return), Alex, is doing well and giving the Glory to God.  He is recovering from last year's heart attack and more recent stroke.  We were not allowed to visit in September for fear it would be too much excitement.  But, he and Tatyana set a banquet before the team.  From severe paralysis, and loss of speech, he now walks without difficulty, has full use of his left arm and hand, speech about 80%, and regaining strength in his right hand.  He and we are praying for and expecting a full recovery. 
Train station kids got a fully decorated Christmas tree, stocking with goodies, cassette player, Christian tape, and money to purchase their hearts' desire ( with house moms' approval ). 
So, with all of that, we can only say, "Mission accomplished!"
Remember to keep us in your prayers as we continue on to Moscow and Harold stays in Vladimir doing home visits.
Happy New Year!!!
Howard, Stephanie, Donna, and Harold