Treasures Celebrates Russian Christmas January 7, 2004
We always start each team preparations with the statement, "It may look good on paper, but God carries an eraser."  As long as God can trust us to be obedient and joyful, we are able to function in His will.
The kids at Barskoe had a Christmas only dreamed of, but never believed in.  We presented an animated PowerPoint presentation of the Christmas story.  Our friend, Max, our hard-core, no holds barred, serious as a heart attack soul winner, gave the presentation in a manner that kept the children enthralled. 
Every child had a stocking filled with apple, orange, banana, a toy, candy, tape player, Christian tape, their first bottle of Coke, cap, scarf, and gloves!!  Then, because of your overwhelming generosity, their wish list was realized.  One of the older girls stood at the end of the celebration and said, "Thank you for remembering us and coming back to see us.  The best surprise of all was that we were able to ask for a present and we all got what we asked for."  Ain't God good!
Something the casual observer would not have seen... When we first arrived, the children were eating lunch.  Though some gave part of their food to other kids, we noticed all the kids returned their plates to the kitchen with some food remaining on them.  Some would look at that and think the kids left food on their plate, but we saw something different.  On our first visit to BG, the kids attacked the food with a vengeance.  They jostled each other for food that fell on the floor.  That was then, this is now.  The children no longer fight for food, they are well fed on a daily basis.
In the inserted photo on the left, from Christmas 2000, you can compare the questioning looks of uncertainty on the kids' faces with the expressions around the page.  When we first encountered them in 1999, their demeanor and countenance was that of hopelessness.  But, just look at them now.  Their excitement and happy faces tell the story.  They know they are important to us and that they are loved.
We showed the staff and acting director pictures from the PowerPoint presentation we use at speaking engagements.  They stood in silence as they looked at the "before" pictures.  The director said, "I had forgotten how bad it was because of how good it is now."  Don't ever think your prayers and contributions, though half a world away, are ineffective or lightly taken.  One plants, another waters, God gives the increase.  To God be the Glory, great things He has done.

BUT, the biggest praise report is BG director on sick leave (because we know he will return), Alex, is doing well and giving the Glory to God.  He is recovering from last year's heart attack and more recent stroke.  We were not allowed to visit in September for fear it would be too much excitement.  But, he and Tatyana set a banquet before the team.  From severe paralysis, and loss of speech, he now walks without difficulty, has full use of his left arm and hand, speech about 80%, and regaining strength in his right hand.  He and we are praying for and expecting a full recovery. 

Train station kids got a fully decorated Christmas tree, stocking with goodies, cassette player, Christian tape, and money to purchase their hearts' desire (with house moms' approval). 
More additions to the kitchen, we added more stainless steel work tables and a commercial food processor.  We are in the process of purchasing a 25 lb capacity commercial washing machine.

With all of that, we can only say, "Mission accomplished!"
Donna arrived from our England Christmas with a sore throat.  By Monday night, she awoke with chills, fever, headache, muscles aching, cough, and runny nose  After 3 days of bed rest, she was still very ill. For wont of a diagnosis, we called it the good old flu.  Vladimir, as is each winter, was socked in with the flu.  BUT, praise God, the remaining team members were healthy!!!!  Like the Boy Scouts, we are always prepared and had every medication needed for Donna.  Dr Joe cared for Donna by's a small world when your doctor is just a key stroke away!
The do you ride in a van for 3 hours then take a 12 hour overnight train?  We just felt it was too big a challenge to continue on to Voronezh.  We do not know what God protected us from or what opportunity He had waiting for us, but we knew His plan was in action. 

Harold stayed in Vladimir doing home visits, banana splits with the train kids, and visited with Pastor Victor's family.  We traveled on to Moscow and waited for our flight home.  Red Square, breathtaking as usual, was even more so under the light sprinkle of falling snow.  From our hotel window, it sparkled like a sugar-coated Christmas ornament.  We photographed it in the morning, noon, night, sun, snowing, and even when I awoke at 3 in the morning to a full moon over St Basil.  Stephanie awoke in her room to see the same shot and, with her night vision camera, took this beautiful photograph.

We were able to complete the mission with help from Russian trains.  I know this sounds strange, but Vitaly met the passenger train to Voronezh and gave the conductor all our gifts for Anna prison, the doctors, and Oleg.  We were excited, if not surprised, when Oleg called to say everything arrived in Voronezh intact.   We were able to give the babies a digital scale for Dubovka Baby House.  We are happy to report our mission was completed without us.

Happy New Year!!!
Howard, Stephanie, Donna, Harold, and Taylor