They came from Novosibirsk, Tomsk, Kemerovo, and Barnaul in Russia. They came from Lubbock and Dallas, TX, as well as Atlanta, GA, in the US. They are people passionate about impacting the lives of orphans around the world but starting in their own back yards. I’m honored to know them, to work with them, to teach them occasionally and learn from them constantly. They are world changers and they have chosen to stand with YouthReach International. For that, I am very, very grateful.
Traci and I are back from Novosibirsk after a powerful week of teaching, ministry, and impact on those we went to serve and on us too. Our 2013 Russian Mentor Boot Camp launch event was well attended and definitely fruitful in the lives of leaders who will pass along insight, wisdom and blessing to the orphans they work with in their home cities.
Chick-fil-A’s WinShape International Foundation connected us with “old” friends Brandon Mulkey and Tiffany Hassler to be part of this Boot Camp experience. Each of these dear friends have served in Novosibirsk before via the SERVE Seminars we’ve done since 2009. Wanting to invest more deeply in the core leaders within our ministry they returned for this special event joined by Brandon’s wife Christie, Tiffany’s dear friend and CFA Corporate Representative Jessica Magana and one of our new favorite people in the world also from CFA Corporate, Nate Wilson.
Traci and I were again privileged to stand alongside Ruslan Asadov in putting this event together and he, as you can see below, was definitely blessed to stand beside/between Jessica Magana and Tiffany Hassler.
Also a very important part of our team was a group of ladies who came to be known as “The Glory Girls.” Shelli Presley and Angel Poorman came to us from the Beltway Park Baptist Church in Abilene, TX, and their dear friend Roksoliana Melnyk traveled from Cyprus joined them for 3 days of teaching and ministry along the theme of Spiritual Freedom. This equipping track is a major focus for us this year as we are working to equip our Mentors with tangible truths about Spiritual Freedom in their lives they can pass on to the orphans they work with. This equipping process in partnership with Shelli and her church in Abilene is a 2 year engagement. The fruit of this week together was vast in the lives of our Mentors. We are sure the same will be true as they begin reaching out to orphans out of the overflow of what they have received themselves. These are the Glory Girls below.
Roksoliana Melnyk, Angel Poorman, and Shelli Presley
Below, Shelli Presley ministers to Vera Besedina from Barnaul who is one of the strongest leaders regardless of gender or age or title I have ever known in Russia. I’ve known Vera since she was 15 years old and 21 years later I’m in awe of the wife, mother, and minister of God she is.
As good as Brandon has been here in the past, he was that much better with Christie at his side. 6 kids in Lubbock, TX, deserve extra praise for releasing mom and dad for a week and mom and dad deserve a lot of credit for being as focused and fruitful as they were while they were in Novosibirsk.
After finishing on Friday morning in Novosibirsk and seeing off the CFA Team and the Glory Girls to return to Moscow, Cyprus, and the US, Traci and I stepped back 20 years in history to return to city in Russia that first captured both of our hearts and was the place of our initial service. That city was and still is Barnaul.
Attending the Mentor Boot Camp in Novosibirsk were Joseph and Sonia Rhodes. Having known Sonia for more than 20 years and Joseph just about that long, it has been a thrill to watch their marriage, family, and ministry grow the last 14 years they have been married. The reconnection with them and the church they come from in Barnaul has warmed our hearts to no end. Their ministry to youth in this city through their church is far reaching and deep in impact. They hosted us on Friday night in their home calling together many of the people who we first came to know and love back in the early to mid 90’s. There’s not enough room for all the pictures so just a few below will have to do along with a point about how we are connected to these good people.
Ivan Zhyltakov was a nutty 14 year old kid I knew and loved back in the 90’s. He’s now mid 30’s, nutty, young at heart, minister to youth, husband to Tonya, and father to Zahar who I dearly love and see God’s hand strongly upon. He can also grow 10x times the fu manchu I could ever hope to. Who’s mentoring who, eh?
The Besedin family holds a place in our hearts like no other. Sergei was actually in our wedding on July 1, 1995, in Atlanta. Vera, as said earlier, has been a blessing to us for 20 years now. Their children, Ilya and Masha, reflect their parents love for each other and the Lord. God, please bless and keep and unleash all you will for the Besedin family on the Besedin family.
Andre and Galina literally adopted me as their own when I moved to Barnaul in 1993. I baptized Andre a few months after meeting him and have marveled at this pastoral and teaching gifts ever since. Galina, like Traci, is a cancer survivor and their reunion was a long, emotional, hug I will never forget witnessing.
It hit me that the only pictures I have of Joseph (far right) and Sonia (to Traci’s right) were at the airport as we were leaving. They were that servant minded the whole time we were in their home that they never showed up in any of my pictures. These two are living out unconditional love and sacrifice on a daily basis and more and more I believe that their greatest ministry is their marriage and their parenting their son Mason. By the way, Traci and I are seeing that’s our greatest platform for impact these days too. Joseph and Sonia are examples we would do well to follow in the future. This airport, by the way, is the Barnaul airport. I can’t even begin to count the hours that bled into days that I spent in this place back in the 90’s welcoming in and sending off mission teams from the US. It shines now with glitz and glass in a way that the dank, drab, post Soviet 90’s version of it had me doubting would ever be possible. To those of you who went there in the 90’s you might not believe it is the same place but I assure you…that’s the same place.
And finally…this is my Russian grandmother Adell Strizhenko. I met her on November 18, 1992. On January 17, 1993, I moved into her apartment to live with her and her husband and begin what has turned into 20 plus years of ministry in Russia. Adell is so much to me. Language teacher, cultural guide, safe tower, surrogate grandmother, travel mate, door opener, protector, shoulder to cry on, ministry partner, sister in Christ, and special friend. I’d not seen Adell in 13 years and upon hearing she’d suffered a stroke a few months back Traci and I planned our trip to Russia to include a few hours with her in Barnaul. It was some of the most precious time we’ve ever known in that great land. Adell is doing very well post stroke (I saw no difference at all actually) and will be 78 years old this September. She has finished 3 (Three) PhDs in her life with 2 of them coming since 1993. As you might guess they don’t hand out PhDs in Russia for just anyone who wants them. She is a voracious learner, gentle servant, and occupier of my heart forever. The opportunties she gave a young 23 year old wet behind the ear missionary so long ago have served constantly as a reminder to me to not only invest in others but entrust to others as well. Traci and I both believe this was not the last time we’ll see Adell. I’m definitely hoping it is not.
So, those are some of the world changers and that is some of the world changing that took place last week in Novosibirsk. Your support to get us there and prayers to keep us there were so needed and so appreciated. Thank you for both.
Rob and Traci as well as 4 Browne kids who were really happy to see us come home
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