Hello dear brothers and sisters!
Please forgive us for the long gap in newsletters. We know that many of you follow our efforts online via Facebook, but for those who don’t please accept our apologies for not being more in touch. This last year has been quite eventful, and every time we would begin to give an update the situation would once again change – making the newsletter we were about to send out no longer accurate!
With every unexpected turn, we have at times had difficulty knowing exactly where we were heading. Finally, we feel like we have some sense of God’s direction for our family, and so we wanted to give you a long-overdue update.
What’s Happened (A Brief Recap)
It’s been more than a year since we left Estonia for Torino, Italy in the hope of expanding our work with refugees coming into Southern Europe, and finally, it seems that we are settling down again. However, instead of settling in Northern Italy as we’d anticipated, we are officially back in the U.S., just north of Atlanta, GA.
We have been technically “unsettled” for more than a year. During that period, we have navigated Italian visa laws and their public school system for our kids – all the while continuing to travel throughout Europe for refugee work as well as back and forth to the US for ordination, seminary and visa documents. The various steps through this past year have been many and we have learned a great deal.
For several months, Miki was able to serve in a pastoral role with a local, Waldensian Methodist church in Torino. The local congregation and leaders (many of whom are migrants and refugees) of that church expressed a desire to formally invite Miki to work with them, with the hope that this would also assist us in gaining residency visas in Italy.
The decision to come back to the U.S., however, became clear some months later, after a meeting in November with a board member for the Waldensian Church of Italy. He told us that due to the very strong feelings that had developed among nationals against the support of refugees and migrants, that visa laws in Italy had recently become very strict. Particularly given our family’s intensive work with refugees in the past few years, he said the Waldensian Church of Italy could not offer us visas at that time.
So, in December our family packed as many of our belongings as we could carry on the plane and we headed to Georgia. At that point, we were all a bit stunned and completely exhausted.
Through the work of these past few years, including the extensive travel, our attempted move to Italy, our work supporting intensely traumatized people groups, and the consistent and often unexpected battles with folks who either don’t support or don’t understand the work that we have been doing, every member of our family had taken some emotional hits. We’d hoped to find a bit of stability in Italy. So this turn of events really left us spinning.
Since coming to Georgia in December, Charlie has returned to Europe twice. First, he led a team from the US to visit and support a refugee ministry partner working in Greece and to record a new album in Italy with a close Brazilian brother in Christ. Then, after a month back in the US, he returned to Italy to finally pack up our home into a container to ship to the US and to transfer our van to partners in Germany for our future use during European visits.
Since arriving, we have been so blessed with gracious family members and friends who have taken us in and who have patiently allowed us time and space to heal a bit and to find our new footing.
Where We are Now
First, while our “home base” has now shifted to North Atlanta, we will be continuing our work in support of refugees with TMS Global. Our role will actually expand from maintaining a central focus in Europe to taking on a more international perspective. Charlie will continue connecting with, building, and supporting the network of refugee aid workers who are serving in various parts of the globe. Some of the locations he hopes to visit by the end of this year include Northern Brazil, where groups are supporting refugees from Venezuela, and Jordan, where he has been invited to visit a local school for unaccompanied refugee minors. There are currently migrant caravans occurring on every continent but Antarctica – and we hope to learn about each one.
As we have said before, we strongly believe that this global movement of displaced people is only going to grow. Of the currently 65 million displaced peoples walking the earth today, one-half of them are children.
Further, we believe that the Church is uniquely qualified to engage this crisis and to serve and support these families, many of whom are fleeing violence, poverty, and natural disaster. So another important aspect of our role will be to help engage and assist those in the U.S. Church who feel a call to serve in the growing refugee crisis, but who may not be sure how to get involved. To this end, we will be reaching out to connect with you all so that we can set a date to come to visit and discuss possibilities for your congregation to continue supporting this expanding work and to connect with refugee families and aid workers on the ground in these hot spots worldwide.
As a part of Miki’s work with the Waldensian Church of Torino, she was encouraged to begin the ordination process with the United Methodist Church of our home conference in North Georgia.
Consequently, through this past year, Miki has had a wonderful opportunity to reconnect with the local United Methodist Church in Georgia and has fulfilled several steps towards ordination. Some of these steps have included a 6-month mentoring process, meeting with the Atlanta-Marietta District Committee on Ministry, and a full psychological profile. Through this process of transition into the U.S., she expressed to our District Superintendent a desire to take on a part-time position, if and where one became available in the Conference.
We are very blessed to report that Miki has been appointed associate pastor in the Atlanta-Marietta District at Acworth UMC in Acworth, GA. She will officially enter into this new role on July 1.
Throughout this period, Miki has also continued to work full-time on the Masters of Divinity degree at Asbury Seminary. This week she began her two remaining courses for fulfillment of the degree. She intends to receive her diploma this August.
You may remember that Miki has been able to participate in the Ministry Partner’s Scholarship Program at Asbury, through which about 70% (or almost $50,000) of her tuition has been covered by the scholarship, with Miki required to raise from Ministry Partners the remaining 30%. Unfortunately, one result of this intensive period of transition we have experienced these past several months is that she has been unable to raise the full amount of this final year’s required contribution. If you feel that you would like to contribute to Miki’s required funding for her final year of seminary, please let us know and we will provide the contact directly at Asbury Seminary where all donations can be sent.
Charlie will also be continuing his work in music – both as a crucial part of our ministry and for the occasional financial boost it provides for our family. He will continue to support and mentor artists in finding their voice and serving their communities in authentic ways. Now he has the luxury of a deep pool of musician friends here in the U.S.A. who can help bring these artistic endeavors to another level. We’re praying for more multi-cultural collaborations!
If any of you have ever wanted to seek out collaboration with Charlie in the past, but felt the distance made that a challenge, please reach out – He’s now “in the neighborhood.”
On May 10, we purchased a home in Dallas, GA. At the closing, we realized that on this same date exactly 10 years ago, on May 10, 2009, we landed in St. Petersburg, Russia with our then 2-year old Isabel and all of our belongings. The date of the purchase of our home in Dallas marked exactly 10 years since our move to Russia as full-time missionaries.
10 years ago, the global economy was reeling from the economic crisis that had begun in 2008. That same crisis slowed our fundraising down – pushing our move date into 2009. Charlie was working freelance music and audio jobs, and Miki had a temporary accounting position up to the last week before we got on the plane for Russia. We weren’t sure at that time if our fundraising would sustain us for one year, let alone ten.
10 years ago, on the weekend before our departure, we found out that Miki was pregnant with our son, Jasper. All of a sudden, our first year in Russia would be a completely different experience.
Time and time again over those ten years we found that our expectations would need to be refined. Time and time again, through every blessing and trial, God has had us firmly in His grip.
God got us through a very challenging pregnancy with Jasper. He got us through culture shock and language school and the grief that comes when some of the orphans and street kids you serve just don’t survive.
God got us through every stressful Russian visa process to stay in the country, up until it was clear in late 2011 that we would need to leave to try and minimize the scrutiny by the Russian government on our good friends in the Russian Church, with whom we worked supporting at-risk kids.
God was with us when we tearfully crossed the Russian/Estonian border with all of our belongings in a packed station wagon to embark on a new life in Tallinn, Estonia.
He was there when Charlie was feeling adrift and lost in ministry, eventually pointing him to start producing music again as part of our work to help churches in Russia and Europe with their music ministries. God pointed Miki to more opportunities to learn about the power of prayer, about how it could offer healing and wholeness to people in our region still reeling from decades of oppression. God gave us new partners throughout Europe (and yes, even new partners in Russia).
God opened doors for Miki to teach at multiple conferences and seminaries – eventually leading to her starting her own seminary journey.
God was with us when our Celia joined our family in Tallinn. He was with us as our family began making long, whirlwind journeys across Europe to serve and gather with partners all across the continent.
He was with us in 2015, when while planning a trip to Albania, Miki said, “I think that instead of flying, we need to drive and to see this European refugee crisis for ourselves.” He was there when our eyes were opened to the unimaginable realities of the refugee families, and was with us when we knew that we had to take part in serving these souls.
God was present with us and these refugees on Greek beaches, Macedonian hillsides, Serbian train stations, Hungarian squats, French dunes, recommissioned German airports, you name it.
Throughout these ten years, God has consistently made His presence known to us in many ways. But the clearest example has been through friends, family and loved ones like you who have supported us along the way.
During these past 6 months, we have had some precious and sometimes unexpected opportunities to re-connect with several of you who have loved us and supported us since Day 1 (some even longer than that), and we can’t express how much having your authentic and gracious company has meant to all of us in these days.
We believe it will just take time for us to continue to process the past several seasons, and all of the miracles and losses and triumphs and bruises that have come. We have come to mostly accept that these are just the sorts of things that happen when we try to walk according to our conviction on following Christ as we perceive it. But the blessing of the company of dear brothers and sisters at various points along the path has become one of the most precious gifts of God’s grace in our lives.
We pray for your continued friendship, encouragement and support for this new season. This expanding opportunity to invest in refugee aid worldwide is a tremendous blessing, but our needs will grow. In fact, in many ways, we will need you all now in our lives more than ever.
Living in the US is a whole new challenge for us, and the added expense will present hurdles. Also, when migrant crises arise, there may be times when Charlie will be away and Miki will have the kids and Acworth UMC on her own. We will be reaching out when the load gets heavy.
If you find yourself in the North Atlanta area, please let us know. We would love to see you. We truly thank God for each of you and pray God’s continued peace and grace carry you in these days.
Miki, Charlie, Isabel, Jasper and Celia
Ways to donate to this ministry:
By Check: Send a check to the following address, noting “Chastain/0322” in the memo:
P.O. Box 936559
Atlanta, GA 31193-6559
By Credit/Debit Card: Go to: https://www.tms-global.org/give
In the box noting: “Give to a Missionary”, fill in the amount and 0322 for the “Four-digit Missionary ID#”
To give to the special projects account, please specify “Chastain Special Projects”
To give towards Miki’s seminary account please send a check designated “Miki Chastain – MPP” to:
Asbury Theological Seminary
204 N. Lexington Avenue
Wilmore, KY 40390