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travel

Sochi is not the picture shown on TV

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Taking the train to the Mountain Cluster events at Sochi.

Taking the train to the Mountain Cluster events at Sochi.

Sochi, Russia (MNN) — Day one is under my belt and the Winter Olympics are so different than what you are seeing on television. While the beautiful picture you’re seeing on television is beautiful. The snow, which is beautiful where there IS snow, but there IS not snow in much of Sochi.

Thursday, February 13 I started off on the train. Richard, Anya, John, and I traveled to what’s called the mountain cluster, where the ski events and bobsled competition are taking place.The rest of the team went to the City Center ‘Fun Zone’ to actually work with the kids and adult visiting the center.

The mountains around the Mountain Cluster at the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.

The mountains around the Mountain Cluster at the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.

Yesterday in the mountains, it was 60 degrees. It was amazingly warm. As long as the sun was out, we were warm. But, as soon as the sun fell behind the clouds or the mountains, it got chilly — but not cold.

In the morning, we spent most of the time just taking in the atmosphere. Since the ‘Fun Zone’ didn’t open until 3, we were able to take video, conduct interviews with church members and spent some time being the subject of interviews from CBS News and Russian TV.

We were eating lunch at McDonalds, we were approached by a Russian translator from CBS News. She said they were looking for Americans, but they were hard to find. It was probably because the U.S. media did such a good job scaring away the American public. At any rate, they asked if we would be willing to answer some questions. We agreed. It was fun. We were asked about everything from why we were there, what sports we enjoy (my response was hockey), and why we were there. John told them he love curling. He was so animated. He’s probably going to be on TV.

Teen girls enjoy the fun zone in the mountain cluster.

Teen girls enjoy the fun zone in the mountain cluster.

After our time there, we went to the fun zone. It was a small place connected to the local church. But local kids were very involved in it. They had a trampoline, a blow-up room, and lots of games and interaction with adults. It was a great opportunity to have fun with the kids.

Since this is a battle against flesh and blood, but against spiritual wickedness, I found out that our producer (who was filling in for me while I’m in Russia) got the flu. So, I had to head back to City Center to anchor our news broadcast. But, before that I was able to do an interview with Richard Page, John Rysdyck, and other members of the team about what they were going at the ‘Fun Zones.’ That became the story for Mission Network News.

Friday, the whole team is heading to the City Center ‘Fun Zone’ to spend time with visitors both children and adults. Saturday, I’ll be heading to an actual event. CURLING. Unfortunately, I was able to attend my event Thursday because of the emergency at work, but I’m looking forward to that, and watching the U.S.A. vs Russia hockey game in the City Center main screen. It’ll be fun interacting with the Russian during the game.

Pray for us! I’m battling sleep deprivation because of a snorer in our room. 🙂 Pray that I’ll avoid getting sick and that I would be able to get my work done. But, more importantly, pray that the stories I write will be the stories God will use to call His people to his service.

Mission Network News in Sochi

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While the 2014 Winter Olympics are already underway, I am waiting patiently for my flight to leave. Yes, I am leaving for the Winter Olympics on February 11 to catch up with Russian and American Christians who are working together to love those who are in Sochi. This is a grass roots ministry effort spearheaded by the Russia Inland Mission, support by SOAR International based in Alaska.

Sochi Hospitality Center.

Sochi Hospitality Center.

What’s the ministry? They have open three hospitality centers in three areas. Each center will have viewing centers, but will also provide entertainment and interaction with those who venture in. The goal is to begin relationships that open doors to eventually share Christ.

Beginning February 13, I’ll begin covering the outreach events at the centers. I’ll be interviewing local Christians,national ministry leaders, participants and maybe even athletes about their involvement. I’ll also look behind the scenes to get unique stories about God’s work at the Olympics.

I’ll be featuring stories for radio, video and here on this blog every day between February 13-19. Unfortunately I will not be there for the entire Winter Games, but I’m looking forward to rubbing shoulders with my brothers and sisters who are sharing their faith in Sochi.

 

Greg and Team to Russia

By | missions, MNN, news, orphans, special reports, travel | 5 Comments

Russia (MNN) — You’ll never know what it means for you to love a child. That statement is reverberating around in my head. I have been on many short-term mission trips. Most of them have centered around helping orphaned children. I’ve always wondered what difference it made — until now.

On June 30, 2013 I will be traveling with Orphan Outreach to document a story that’s come full-circle. It’s the story of a woman who discovered a little boy with incredible needs and simply loved him.

Greg with Svyeta

Greg with Svyeta

I don’t want to spoil the surprise because the video that we’ll be producing will give you the details of the story. But, the conclusion is that because of this woman’s love and affection for this boy, now, as a young man he understands that God is the one who orchestrated it.

The bottom line is this young man had a disability that most of his caregivers said he wouldn’t survive. It caused incredible deformity. Yet, this woman’s relentless care for him made it possible for him to get the medical attention he needed to lead a normal life (his words). Even though it took years.

Understanding that she did something special for him, he made it his purpose in his young adult life to find her and thank her for what she did for him. One year ago, he found her. This week we’ll be reuniting these two. We’ll catch it all on video so you can see it first hand.

While I’d love to give you all of the specifics, I would like them to play out naturally. As they do, I’ll pass the information along to you through this blog.

It’s all happening in the city of St. Petersburg, Russia. A city full of history. It’s also home to orphaned children who can no longer be adopted by American families. Their futures are bleak.

The second part of our coverage will focus on what happens to orphaned children when they age out of the orphanages. Who do they look to for guidance. Who helps them understand how to budget, buy groceries, pay bills, take care of their apartment, and help them make important personal decisions? Also, what role does the local church play in all this?

We’re hoping to answer all those questions and develop a tool to encourage Christians in the United States to come along side churches in Russia so they can work together to help orphaned and foster care children in both nations.

Come by my blog all week along and I try to share my heart.

India

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Elisa Talmage

Elisa Talmage is heading to India.

Six days from now, I leave for my first ever trip to India. The South Asian nation has been on my heart for some time. When a massive earthquake struck India in 2001, the school I attended responded with a fundraiser called “India Fest”. It included Indian food, dancing, purses, bangles, henna and beautiful music. This was my first encounter, really, with Indian culture, and it had me captivated. The event was such a success that the school held annual “Culture Fest” celebrations thereafter, celebrating Indian culture, but also Greek, Hungarian, Irish, Senegalese and so on. Still, I was always drawn to the India table, vibrant with color, mirrors, silver, and intricate designs.

A number of years later, I began working for Mission Network News, where I learned really for the first time how impoverished and oppressed many were in the country that had caught my eye so long ago. I was not ignorant of India’s poverty before then, but I had never allowed myself to think on how much persecution her church faced. Upon this realization, I also came to terms with how many street children there were in India, unable to get an education or, many times, even a meal. My heart broke for India’s children, and I decided to sponsor a 10 year old girl through Gospel For Asia. As I dove even further into the findings of Indian society, I learned that the nation was also plagued by a terrifying trafficking issue. I unveiled the ugly truth that mothers had no option but to prostitute themselves, and their children followed; that some children were forced into begging on the street for money they couldn’t keep; that female infants were sometimes “dedicated” to gods in the form of temple prostitutes. It was devastated information, and yet if anything, it made me fall in love with the people of India more. The way I had seen the church respond to these issues–of trafficking, of poverty, of persecution–blew me away. Such courage and conviction of belief did not seem to be quite matched elsewhere.

This leads me to today, six days away from finally encountering a culture I’ve been secretly in love with for the last 11 years. I’ll be able to see the church up close. I’ll be able to watch beautiful children learn and grow. I’ll be able to stand in the middle of bustling cities. I’ll be able to feel the Indian heat.

And frankly, I can’t wait.

A chance meeting?

By | egypt, missions, MNN, news, persecution, travel | No Comments

You’ve probably heard someone say ‘There is no such thing as a coincidence’. Usually people nod their heads and murmur agreement, but the real question is “Do you believe it?“

Are people just wishful thinkers, or is God really so intimately involved in our daily lives that He orchestrate events on our behalf? What will a chance meeting turn into later?

The idea of seeds, planting and harvest is a theme resonant throughout Scripture. Aside from the overt nature of sharing the hope of Christ, there are times we don’t recognize an opportunity at the time, but hindsight has a way of revealing it to us.

On my last day in Cairo, I was sitting in the hotel lobby waiting for the rest of the team to come down for checkout. I opened my laptop, and began weeding through emails, and getting pictures uploaded for post, and checking through Facebook.

An older gentleman (whom I’d seen at different times all week) came over and said ‘You work too much’. I told him I was just killing time and not really working at all. He began asking me questions about my visit to Cairo.

Given the upset of the country, I was still guarding my words very carefully so as not to endanger people who live and minister in Cairo. He began asking more pointed questions like “What do you think of this revolution?”

Alarm bells were ringing in my head, so I trod very carefully as I answered. I told him that it was a very exciting time in Egypt’s history. Nothing would ever be the same for the country again. To be here during this growth period was both exhilarating and a little scary.

He then asked what my friends thought of the goings on. Now, here I had to be very careful. I asked God for wisdom and told him that depended on who I spoke with. There were some who were very optimistic about the outcome, although they knew there would be a hard period to get there. Others were very pessimistic and a little fearful about what lay ahead for them. Still others were moving forward in confidence.

He nodded a few times as I responded to his question, then said, “You should come to Lebanon.” I responded “I would LOVE to come to Lebanon!” So he handed me his business card and said, “E-mail me when you come.” He wrote his email address on the bottom of the card.

Initially, I was wary about taking some stranger’s e-mail, but I figured I would not necessarily use it and I did not have to respond by giving him my e-mail. We stood, shook hands and parted. I noted that as he left, he entered a diplomat’s vehicle. Only then did I read his business card.

It read “Mahmoud Hammoud, Lebanese Ambassador”. He’s the former Foreign Minister of Lebanon, currently serving as an ambassador. I have no idea why our paths crossed. However, God orchestrated it for some reason. There are no coincidences…just opportunities. I wonder what comes next.

What comes first: chicken or the egg?

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One thing I am noticing here is how different the context of ministry is from country to country.

Ruth on assignment

MNN's Ruth Kramer on assignment.

You can sometimes THINK you understand the concept of the vehicle, like micro-enterprise, but once you hear how things are put into practice, what works and what doesn’t, you begin to see the subtleties emerge.

For example, we met with a partner yesterday who assists community development. They are unashamedly Christian, because the Gospel is part of everything they do…however, they know that dealing with poverty is a ‘must’, as well.

So, which came first, the chicken (community development) or the egg (Gospel)? Can they be done simultaneously and be effective? Do you really just have two eggs or two chickens?

The clear answer on that was: ‘We have an egg, it becomes a chicken’. Folks, that’s the answer to the question of questions. The hope of Christ changes the outlook for the poor in this context.

The other big question was how the community development works in the Egyptian Muslim context in the rural areas. It is in these places where it’s likely opposition will rise up and equate physical attacks. The mindset is quite different.

Micro-enterprise comes up at this point. In some Asian countries, the structure of a micro-enterprise program works like this: church committee sees community member in need (often a believer under the discipleship of the pastor), they provide a loan so this person can start a small business–i.e.—buy a sewing machine to make clothes, or a couple of goats to make cheese and sell milk…from the profits, the person tithes to the church, enabling the support of the pastor…and the person is more able to support him/herself.

However, when I asked about the structure of the micro-enterprise, it can’t work that way in the Egyptian context. There are lots of things that can really be misinterpreted within the social structure (and Islam) and this is one of them.

The set up of the program is similar, but different because it’s tailor-made to fit the need of the people and the mission of the group. That just struck me. I had made an assumption that all micro-enterprise was the same.

I made similar assumptions about vocational training programs, literacy programs, etc (thinking I adjusting for a different context, language, etc). I think it’s kind of a colonialistic thinking that we slip into.

It’s kind of like providing someone a loaf of bread (mission field)…from the grocery store (missionary). They need the food to stay alive, but the plastic around the bread is giving them indigestion. They need to prepare the bread the way they now how and all we need to do is supply the ingredients (resources) and the recipe (training).

Yes, I know you might be thinking ‘well, duh’. It is one thing to say it and to think you might even understand it, it is another thing entirely to actually see it with my own eyes, hear what works and what doesn’t from the guys implementing helps.

By the way, because they do this work well, they have just come under scrutiny. One of this ministry’s main offices was raided by the Egyptian government this week, and the hard drive with the database was taken.

All of their records on every program were on it. Everything is exposed. Their face is an NGO and they are well-known. With the events that have occurred in Egypt over the last month, it’s no surprise they’re looking at all NGO’s.

Please pray for this team. They are careful, and they are smart. Most of all, they want to share the hope of Christ with those they encounter. That love for people permeates everything they touch…including the chickens in the coop…and eggs in the community. Works for me…

The power of prayer unleashed

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Last night, I attended a prayer meeting at a church in downtown Cairo, near Tahrir Square.

MNN in Egypt

MNN in Egypt

The church was gathering to cry out to God in their distress over the recent events in the country, and cry out, they did.

As we sang together, worshiped together, and encouraged one another, I experienced something I have never experienced before. I’m a fairly reserved person and I am even more so in prayer.

It is in times of great distress that I get out of my own way and fall before the Lord prostrate. Last night, although everyone around me was praying in Arabic, I found myself humbled before the Lord and joining in that chorus of crying out.

The pastor was beyond ‘crying out’….he was screaming and sobbing before the Lord, as was much of this nearly 1,000 person gathering. Here they were, in prayer before God, confessing, repenting, requesting and rejoicing…even as tear gas seeped into the courtyard from Tahrir Square.

All of a sudden, I found myself reminding God of His promises, and asking Him to give comfort to His bride in Egypt, to give them hope and wisdom and to be asking with a fierceness I had not ever before encountered…and moments later, the pastor or worship leader would be saying the same thing, or using the same verse, or introducing the song on the same topic…that happened over and over last night.

An immediate confirmation of God’s response left me stunned. Much of what I have heard from Egypt’s Christians that I have encountered has been this is a year of prophecy coming true. There is a GREAT confidence in many of the church leaders and congregations in forging ahead…

The other thing that we’re often hearing is that Egypt’s Church is not ‘persecuted’ so much as it is a church under pressure. The boldness of this family is so encouraging, and such a reminder of the presence of the Holy Spirit…especially as they go out with joy to tend to the wounded people coming into the field hospital set up in their courtyard.

The confirmation of God’s answers to prayer gives a great boldness to those on the frontlines of the missional movement in Egypt.

While bombings, riots and general chaos looks really bad in the headlines (and it is happening), fear is not the response of this emboldened Body. Church leaders we have met with all over the city have said the same thing ‘The wall of fear is broken’.

Change is coming. Egypt will have her Revolution…and its face is the Church.

getting ready

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I am making the final preparations for a trip to the Middle East in a few days, and am predictably worried about forgetting something I might need, or not being studied up on the current events of the region.

As I joke about nightmares of forgetting my laptop or some other key piece of equipment, I realize this is a great metaphor for the return of Christ. Unless I live as Christ, eat, drink and breathe Scripture and use every moment to live the hope that is in Him, I will probably find that the time I had here on earth was frittered away.

What it boils down to is living purposefully, so as to not be caught unprepared. My brain immediately went to the parable of the 10 Virgins, in Matthew 25. While I realize this is more about salvation issues, I wound up reflecting on it in a little different context.

The Parable of the Ten Virgins
1 “At that time the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. 2 Five of them were foolish and five were wise. 3 The foolish ones took their lamps but did not take any oil with them. 4 The wise ones, however, took oil in jars along with their lamps. 5 The bridegroom was a long time in coming, and they all became drowsy and fell asleep.

6 “At midnight the cry rang out: ‘Here’s the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!’

7 “Then all the virgins woke up and trimmed their lamps. 8 The foolish ones said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil; our lamps are going out.’

9 “‘No,’ they replied, ‘there may not be enough for both us and you. Instead, go to those who sell oil and buy some for yourselves.’

10 “But while they were on their way to buy the oil, the bridegroom arrived. The virgins who were ready went in with him to the wedding banquet. And the door was shut.

11 “Later the others also came. ‘Lord, Lord,’ they said, ‘open the door for us!’

12 “But he replied, ‘Truly I tell you, I don’t know you.’

13 “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour.

This is what is meant to keep vigil. If I’m doing what I should be doing, there won’t be that ‘caught out’ feeling. So, I’ll finish my scramble to get the cords, bits and pieces and batteries together with extra clean socks and deodorant, but keep in my head Paul’s encouragement “to live is Christ, to die is gain.”

Announcing the India/Nepal Trip Winner

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All month long we’ve been seeing hundreds of people enter the Mission Network News/Global Action Touch the World trip to India/Nepal. We’ve read through testimony after testimony.

Today, we randomly picked a winner. Here is the winner — are you ready?

Are you sure?

Are you really sure?

It could be you —

But, the winner of the trip is…..

…..

….

….

Amanda Miller from Pennsylvania.

She’ll be heading to either India or Nepal to distribute blankets to the needy in either November or December (her choice).

Be watching here for more opportunities to win a trip in the weeks and months ahead.

Greg Yoder, Mission Network News

The Last Day — Great Memories

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Loriane and little girl

Team member Loraine and little girl from Orphanage 2.

What an incredibly awesome trip we’ve had. 29 people with varied backgrounds, ages and gifts. 29 people with one goal — to reach out to needy kids — kids that are considered orphans. Kids marginalized by society. Kids who are loved by God. Kids who need to be loved by Christians.

We traveled half way around the world to share that love. It’s a love that we can recognize because we’ve been loved by someone as spiritual orphans — slaves really. “But God show his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans 5:8.

As slaves He’s chosen us, bought us, instructs us perfectly, and also calls us ‘friends.’

As we tried to become ‘Jesus’ to these kids we were both loved and hated. While we wanted all the kids

Little boy

What will you do to help?

toparticipate and join us in our activities, the reality was not all did. A few rejected what we had to offer them. Some of us went to them, ‘twisted the arm’ (so to speak) and encouraged them to join us. Some, we actually carried to the VBS, games and crafts.

Isn’t this the picture of what Christ did for us? John 6:44a, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him.” Romans 9:15, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion. So then, it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy.”

Elya and Chelsea

Elya with team member Chelsea.

As Christians, that’s so humbling. While we were here to serve all of the kids we visited. Not all came. Not all of them heard. Not all of them experienced our love, even though all of them had the same opportunity.

While this trip has been full of miracles (and I mean that), it’s also been a trip full of tears. Seeing young people with no hope at such a young age (humanly speaking) seems unfair. The lack of trust of people is ominous. Their desire to control all situations seems selfish. Their understanding of love isn’t real love.

All of it points to a point that needs Jesus. Apart from Him there is no love. Apart from Him there is not hope. Apart from Him we’re just shifting sands blown by the winds with no direction.

But, I’m comforted by the words of Jesus when he says in John 14:18&19 “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. Yet a little while and the world will see me no more, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live.”

If you’ve ever considered going on a trip to reach out to orphans, please consider joining an Orphan Outreach trip. There are many to choose from each year. Click here for information.