At MBI, we serve in our roles because we love missions. For staffer Craig Blair, this means going the extra mile and connecting the local church with a nation close to his heart: Russia. Here is just one of Craig’s stories about how volunteers help change lives:
“In July I led a team of American volunteers (including 7 youth and the youth pastor from my local church in Montana) to serve at a church English camp for teens in Volgograd, Russia. God does amazing things each year in the hearts of the campers—many from non-Christian homes.
One young man named Matvey came to camp for the ﬁrst time last summer. The atmosphere of love and honesty impressed him. When he returned in February to interpret for the winter English camp, Matvey became a believer in Jesus as his savior. When we asked Matvey to translate again in July, his mother opposed it. As a Russian Orthodox, she didn’t understand her son’s new faith and wouldn’t pay his way. Still, he found a way to come.
Our Montana youth did a fine job connecting with the Russian teens and being solid witnesses for Christ. Matvey interpreted for our youth pastor’s son, Payton, and the two became best friends. After camp, Payton admitted that he thought his Russian camp experience could never be as good as anything in Montana until he saw that God’s Spirit is at work in peoples’ lives everywhere. He was so happy to be used by God at the camp he said, ‘This was the best trip ever!’
I asked Matvey to share one thing God taught him this summer. He said, ‘God told me I should put him ﬁrst in my life. He broke everything in my mind which used to be more important to me than God.’
After camp, Matvey’s mother struggled with her health and wouldn’t let him spend time with his church friends or go to the meetings. He decided to be a witness to his mother by staying home and helping her, even going to her job on days when she couldn’t go herself. When some of Matvey’s church friends came to help, she was very pleased and said, ‘They really are good people!’ Now he’s able to meet again with his friends.
Matvey told me, ‘Every day I say thank you to God because of you, my lovely family in Christ.’”
Each summer, I look forward to serving the youth ministry of the Christ the Savior Church in Volgograd, Russia, by helping with their summer English Camp. Our team is very international, including English-speaking volunteers from Africa and the United States, who serve with the Russian team from local churches. For the third time, I was the coordinator for the U.S. team and helped to create the English lesson books for the camp, applying what I’ve learned through YWAM’s TESOL program.
The goal of the camp is not only to give Russian teenagers an opportunity to practice their English with native English speakers but also to introduce them to God’s love and grace, found through faith in Jesus Christ. The majority of kids coming to the camp are non-believers, while many of the teenagers serving as helpers are believers and came to faith in Christ at previous summer camps. It’s always exciting to observe them growing and maturing in Christ year after year.
This year some kids who were in the process of seeking God or showing some interest were invited to serve as translators. One young translator, named Tikhon, still believed he was a scientific atheist. The teacher he was helping, Stan, wondered how this arrangement was going to work and started to pray for him. Little did Tikhon realize God had a plan to work on his heart this summer.
It started with two of the Christian girls, Anya and Yulia, who were also helpers at the camp. They knew Tikhon was an atheist, but they were determined to challenge his thinking about God. One afternoon they sat and talked with him about Creation in the Bible, shared their testimonies and did their best to explain the gospel to him. They were so focused on their conversation with Tikhon they didn’t realize several other kids around them were also listening with rapt attention.
The next day, Tikhon found an opportunity to ask Nuper, one of the American men, if they could talk for a while. Nuper was more than happy to take some time. As they sat by the river, Tikhon shared about all the things he’d just learned about the Bible from the girls. After thinking about it all, he began to realize he was wrong about God and Creation.
“What should I do?” Tikhon asked. Nuper challenged him to put his faith in Christ through prayer, and they stopped and prayed together. “Now what should I do?” he asked. Nuper said, “Go tell someone what you have just done.” Later, Tikhon met again with Stan and told him about the decision he’d made. “He was so happy,” Stan said, “you could just see the difference in Tikhon’s face.”
This is just one example of what God did this summer through our team of volunteers. Through Stan’s prayers, Anya and Yulia’s testimonies and Nuper’s sensitivity to the Holy Spirit, Tikhon is now a child of God. Even the kids who listened intently as Anya and Yulia shared with Tikhon were changed by what they heard.
There was such an atmosphere of God’s love and grace at the camp! I praise God for the many other hearts that were touched by the gospel. ~ Craig Blair
Craig works with Volunteer Development at Mission Builders International. He returns yearly to Russia (where he lived and served for eight years with Campus Crusade) as a coordinator and volunteer for the English Camp.