We’ve known Elsa for a few years, from Vladivostok. She joined us this past fall at YFM in Minsk.

Deb and I just returned last night after 24hrs of travel, 3 flights, and a whole lot of sitting!  I was thankful they let me in Ukraine as I had forgotten my residence permit at home.  Ended up being detained for about 20 minutes in a room with several customs officers.  They were nice guys, doing their job, but finally gave in and let me in – it was that, or find me a bed because I wasn’t going anywhere 🙂

Typical Russian bus in Vladivostok. $.50 per ride 🙂

Being literally on the sea of Japan is about as far East as Russia gets.  The Asian influence is everywhere, from the faces to the restaurant selections.  We grabbed some food one night at Burger King (Ukraine doesn’t have BK so it’s a bit of treat), and it hit me… we were in an American fast food joint, run by Russians, surrounded by Chinese 🙂

The YWAM conference is held annually, in different Russian cities each year.  Usually, it’s Moscow, St. Pete and other larger Cities closer to, well, civilization.  But this year, Vladivostok was up, and about 30 missionaries made the trek from Russia as well as China and a few other places.  Russia, over the past few years, has really cracked down on all western religious activity.  This, along with some other changing dynamics inside YWAM itself with their DTS (discipleship training school) has been in noticeable decline.  Their bases around various parts of the former Soviet Union were once bustling with national and international students and staff missionaries, they are now in hunker down survival mode, if existing anymore at all.

It was cool though to see pockets of emerging community in Vladivostok, even a fellow Canadian from Edmonton, 20yr old young guy as green as they come!  I was able to meet as well some extremely well traveled missionaries from Armenia/Georgia area who know many of the same folks we know in Belarus and around the Russian world.  One guy shared some really valuable insights on the struggles inside political religious systems that I really appreciated, things make a little more sense now – particularly why the established church has become so rigid and seemingly antagonistic to the emerging generation.

Groups were given tasks to create a business plan then present to the entire group.

Many of the traditional missionaries inside the FSU have been forced to either leave, or change their mission – some, including a really neat contact I made this trip, have moved to business fully.

This one gentleman, who’s name shall remain protected, has lived for 19yrs in Russia, now in Moscow, once leader of YWAM Russia.  He’s about my age, and God is using him in some neat ways.  He’s fluent in Russian, and wrote a book on ‘how to deal with westerners in business’, along those lines.  The Russians love him, and it, his book has gained popularity in political and business circles and on social media has a growing following.

He’s considering hosting some seminars around this idea of western training, as the differences are so significant, and the opportunities for building bridges and connections for the Gospel’s influence are real.  We’re in discussion about working together, something to pray about as we also consider establishing this base in Kiev and impacting culture and business.  This fits interestingly this graduate course I’m taking, and wouldn’t surprise me if somehow our trajectory weaves into this sphere of government/business – I love working with youth, but they are typically poor and we need to find some economic engines to help pay the bills – we don’t have the luxury of weekly offerings.

One night, worship was hosted in a popular night club.. these FSU youth are loving to gather outside church buildings and finding the most worldly places they can find 🙂

Before I went, I was thinking and stressing a little about how we will ultimately sustain our project in Kiev.  It’s one thing to start, it’s another to sustain especially in this terrible economy & among unemployed youth. The Lord took me to a verse, I’m pretty sure He was encouraging me to chill and trust:

Thus says the LORD, your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel: “I am the LORD your God, who teaches you to profit, who leads you in the way you should go.” Isa 48:17

Profit isn’t just about money, but it’s not ‘not’ about money either. He provides, He directs, He can teach us how to be fishers of men, but also how to do business.  We’re not rushing into getting more property or space, but praying to see the hand of God provide – teach us Lord, lead us Jesus!

So the YWAM conference was a great time as well to spend with Deb.  We didn’t expect this, but we were able to have two, that’s right, two dates!  What was interesting was after the dinner together, we weren’t in a rush to get back to the kids – they were a million miles away, it felt like we were on vacation for a few brief hours, and it was amazing.

To make the date even better, I lost my phone by leaving it in the taxi. We took taxi’s everywhere, they have this Russian version of Uber that is super affordable and convenient over the old slow buses.  Just hours before we were to return to Ukraine, the person who took the phone (and spent the day pondering what to do with it), called the emergency phone/message I had placed on it through iPhone ‘findmyiphone’ service (isn’t technology incredible?).. the message we put on it said in Russian, “call for big reward!”.. They did, and we got it back, for $30 – what our friends suggested as big reward – everyone was happy – except Deb, who I know secretly wishes it would be stolen again.

I taught about ‘living an invest-able life’ and how our ideas are only as invest-able as we are (to people willing to take risks or give us money to start stuff).  We made it really interactive at the end they built their own business plans in teams, and competed by presenting them in less than 3 minutes to the group.  It was very direct, challenging the youth especially to go to bed, live in the real world and position themselves to be invested into. I

I’m learning, in my own course as well, that I need to do a better job listening (before setting objectives or teaching), and for adults, learning is a lot different than for children.  I always wondered why I didn’t like sitting in church listening to lecture format after +10yrs in church – now it’s makes sense, most adults don’t learn this way, it’s not an opinion, it’s proven theory in the area of adult education.  We need buy in, we need stuff that helps and is applicable immediately, we need our experience to be taken into consideration and assessed before just given information, no matter how good the information is.  The entire academic western model of ‘sage on the stage’ limits us in learning, does more to affirm the teacher than truly educate or disciple adults.  We need, as leaders to be ‘guides on the side’.  More later.

Maybe I should start putting my papers on my blog as links, not sure how many pastor friends I’d have left. 🙂  I’ve already been writing quite a bit, and thinking more than a little.

Thankful for Adrienne and the YFM girls for watching the kids, everyone that was here when we left, was here when we returned!  The Minsk girls are leaving tomorrow, they’ve been all over Ukraine on mission, from Kiev serving at events, to Rz building relationships with our youth and working as baristas, to Western Ukraine working on missional farm, Northern Ukraine orphanage camp -I pray they look back and see the work of grace in their hearts as well.  We’re happy for a break, it’s been 6 months of responsibility beyond just our family and normal ministry world.

Bruce & Deb