Gift of Hope may lead to church plant

By January 4, 2013

Russia (MNN) — January 1 was a landmark day for adoption in Russian. Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a law banning any adoptions from parents in the United States. The signing of that legislation abruptly halted the potential of American families who hoped to adopt a child from Russia, devastating many families who have already spent thousands of dollars on the process.

While this is horrible news for Americans, churches in Russia and the former Soviet Union are doing everything they can to bring hope to these hopeless children. Russian Ministries Gift of Hope program is still underway in Russia, a program designed to put a Christmas presents in the hands of orphaned children.

Executive Director of Mission Network News Greg Yoder got personally connected to the program this year as his 13-year-old daughter, Anastasia (Nastya), adopted from Irkutsk, Russia in 2002, heard that Russian Ministries was working in her former hometown. "She wanted to send gifts to her former orphanage, and I told her that was a great idea," said Yoder. "I thought she just wanted to send a few gifts. Then she dropped the bombshell: she wanted to send enough for the whole orphanage — all 133 kids!"

Anastasia sold candles, posted funding requests on Facebook, and asked people face-to-face for donations. Thanks to a generous donor, everything she raised was matched dollar-for-dollar, and she met her goal.

This was only a fraction of the money raised for the Irkutsk Bible Church, as they were able to distribute almost 700 gifts in 12 orphanages–an unusual opportunity.

What Yoder didn't expect is what Pastor Vladimir Zuev told him yesterday, through an interpreter. "We would like to start a new church in the same district where Orphanage #1 is located, which is where [Anastasia] is from," says Zuev. "We just got this vision as we were preparing for this Christmas [gift] marathon and working with this orphanage. We were praying about expanding our ministry in the city in general."

The goal is to hold summer activities in this district of the city with day camp ministry and other activities, then start a church in the fall.

Pastor Zuev's wife, Luba, is passionate about orphan ministry because she also grew up in an orphanage. She says Anastasia's homemade video which she created to greet the orphanage staff was very effective. Luba, through an interpreter, says, "Where she's saying, 'I have a desire, together with the Irkutsk Bible Church, to give gifts for Christmas' — that created a good atmosphere and somehow connected. In the beginning, [the orphanage staff was] a little bit cautious. Sometimes in our country, they consider protestant churches as a sect."

The doors are now open. The orphanage director is allowing the youth from the church to volunteer their time to play with the orphaned children, giving them opportunities to share Christ in word and deed.

Director of Russian Ministries Paul Tokarchuk (who also interpreted for the interview), says that Irkutsk is just one of more than 100 cities where the Gift of Hope program operates. "We were able to put together and distribute 75,000 gifts in four countries. More than 400 churches got together to bring the Good News about Jesus Christ."

Gift of Hope is a stepping stone for more outreach. Easter ministry is planned in the spring, and kids camp ministry will follow in the summer. Funding and volunteers are needed for all areas of ministry. Pray that God will move in the hearts of people in the U.S. to not only give financially, but to get involved actively.

If you'd like to support the work of Russian Ministries, click here.

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