Privet Cedars! That’s “Hello Cedars!” in Russian, and it’s all the Russian you are going to get out of me.
Once again we thank the Elders of Cedars for making this trip happen. It was good to be with our missionaries Zhenya and Heather Shulgin in St. Petersburg, Russia and have the chance to love and encourage them and their family. It has been a hard season for them in ministry and life, and while phone calls and video chats have their place, we also need people to sit with us, listen and understand.
Zhenya and I spent many hours talking through the various struggles they faced, their church, and those they love.
Jodi and I were able to live the lives of this family for 7 days. It is a blistering schedule, but it is filled with amazing people who really want to see God move within their city and inner circles.
We had the opportunity to visit the International Academy of St. Petersburg (http://myiasp.com/) which is a K-12 school committed to providing quality international Christian education in English to both business entrepreneur and missionary families currently living in St. Petersburg. Heather teaches kindergarten, Zhenya is the Athletic director, and both of their children Ryan (7th grade) and Maya (kindergarten) attend there. This mission field allows them to bring the gospel to families from all over the world. As an educator, Jodi was especially excited to see this school and its impact.
Both Heather and Zhenya are also on the leadership team at Petra Church in St. Petersburg. They are a mobile church who meets Saturday nights in an old Swedish Church building which they transform into an amazing place for worship. From backdrops, to kids classes, to sound and coffee and food, they go all out to create a warm atmosphere for fellowship. We enjoyed helping with the set up and tear down of the kids classrooms and the main sanctuary area. Many of our “mad mobile church skills” quickly came back to us.
It was so great to see Zhenya in his “natural habitat” as he encouraged and led the leadership team in prayer before the service began. Heather interpreted for us, but we did not need to know Russian to see and hear Zhenya’s passion for his church and his city. Much of their service is similar to the current trends now seen in the American church as far as aesthetics, worship style and service order. The worship team lead many songs written by Hillsong translated into Russian, and the guest preacher was from Hillsong Church in Moscow. However, this relevant style of church is unique in Russia.
Because of a law that changed a year and half ago, their Swedish Lead Pastor Andreas has not been allowed to preach. As a result, a lot has then fallen to Zhenya, being the only Russian who is legally allowed to preach. In addition to Zhenya, guest preachers are brought in as well.
We spent Sunday morning enjoying food and fellowship with the leadership team of 14 cozied up in Heather and Zhenya’s living room where Zhenya translated for me (Jeff) as I shared the story of Cedars Church and how God has been working in the United States. I also encouraged them as leadership to continue in faithfulness to God and His church. Zhenya did a great job translating so we were all on the same page. I think he took some shots at me, people laughed, I had not idea why. Payback is coming. Truly, it was a blessing just being in the presence of fellow Christians who just want to see God lifted up in their city. And to see the unity of the body of Christ across borders.
That evening, we headed out to Zhenya’s parents’ house for an incredible meal. The warmth and hospitality we experienced will not soon be forgotten. Jodi met Buster the French bulldog who became her new best friend. That dog was out of control, but Jodi met a soul mate. How fun to play soccer in the snow with Buster while kids and adults went sledding down the giant slide in their yard. Just a really sweet time with a beautiful family.
The purpose of this trip was to live the life of our friends. To come and see. To build relationships with the people in their lives. So many foreigners want to come and DO, but first, relationships must be established. And trust as well. We used our time to see as much as we could:
We rode the Metro, we walked, we ate, we went to coffee shops, we saw monuments, historical buildings, bridges, churches. We shopped, we drove around the city, Zhenya and Jeff went to a hockey game (they lost), we went to malls, Jodi & Heather went to the grocery store & Ikea, we saw friends, we went to tea, we walked and ate some more. Yeah, we packed it in. There was no time to be bored or cold!
On the last night of our trip, I was able to meet with the guys that Andreas and Zhenya are pouring into as the preachers of Petra church. I was able to lead the group through some thoughts and concepts on preaching. It was a great time for me. I just was honored that they would give me the opportunity. Zhenya has told me it had a great impact. I am pleased that God would use me in that way. May He be glorified.
As I sit here and write this, I am amazed at how our eyes and hearts were opened to a beautiful city and and even more beautiful people. We felt safe there, we felt encouraged there. God wants Saint Petersburg. God wants those people with Him for eternity. Heather and Zhenya are on the front lines. Jodi and I pray we were a light, or a nudge or any kind of encouragement we could be. Please pray for the Shulgins and their ministries. Pray for their school, church, and the work they do with YWAM Mission Adventures. Pray for the opportunities that continue to come their way as they live for God. Pray for the city they love and the country they want to see redeemed. Thank you for letting us be a part of their story,
Because He lives,