We flew from Moscow to Salehard on January 6. We stopped by this monument, which identifies Salehard as the only city centered on the Arctic Circle. It wasn’t as cold as it was when I was here four years ago. The temp was around 10 above — very unusual for this part of the world. But, that quickly changed. Salehard is a city of about 30,000. It’s separated by the Ob River. In the winter, the river serves as a bridge to the city of Lobitnangi, a city of about 20,000. Salehard was home to thousands of political prisoners during the days of the Soviet Union. Many Christians died in labor camps here.
Christmas Day in Russia (January 7) was a great day. We spent most of it in church and serving others. We started off at the Baptist Church in Labitnangi, just above the Arctic Circle. We heard from four speakers including Paul Tokarchuk, Moscow Regional Director of Russian Ministries. We also heard from Pastor Sergey, who was commissioned when I was here in 2004. The mood was that of worship. It was a blessing to celebrate Christ’s birth twice this year.
Part of our celebration was the annual Christmas program. I don’t think it matters where you all in the world, when you get microphones and kids together you have funny moments — moments that memories are made from. The program contained a little drama, little ones reciting poems, singing and the annual kids Christmas gift. This year the kids made out pretty well. It was a bag full of candy and treats.
Following the Christmas celebration at church, we accompanied Pastor Anatoli Merechev to two orphanages to hand out Christmas gifts. It was part of Russian Ministries’ Greatest Gift Exchange – Project Hope initiative. Russian Ministries provided the boxes and Bibles, the local churches provided the candy, toys and other goodies. The presents were handed out to orphans and poor children to allow the local church to share the Gospel. Without the gifts, the evangelical church isn’t allowed in the orphanages.
From there, we traveled to Pastor Anatoli’s church, Good News Church, which is almost completed for good Christian fellowship. Believers from both churches gathered together to celebrate the birth of Christ. They had good food and many people sang, shared a poem, or just enjoyed their time together as a family of believers centered around the one Christ. This serves as both a church and training center for Next Generation church leaders in the Yamal region of Russia, particularly the Arctic north.