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“There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens…” Ecclesiastes 3:1
It recently occurred to me that in the past few days I have been avoiding sitting down to write this month’s newsletter. We have very exciting news to share about changes that are happening in our lives. However, as is often the case when change comes, along with our excitement we have been experiencing some times of anxiety, fear, and grief, and so this month we’d like to share with you about these things.
First, and most important to us, early this summer we learned that we are expecting our 3rd child next January! We are barely able to describe the sense of joy we feel with this news. In Russian culture, a 3rd child is considered a great sign of blessing from God upon a family, as so few families ever expect that they will be able to have 3 children. We have felt that great blessing in our home as we have begun to make preparations for our new addition.
With this news, however, has come other unexpected changes upon our family. First is the realization that Miki will not be able to maintain her work schedule for some time upon the baby’s arrival. Her not working will mean that she will not be able to maintain her work visa here in Russia. For this reason, after several weeks of prayer and contemplation about other available options, we have come to accept that we will no longer be able to live full-time in Russia after this year.
As we have been watching this door to living in St. Petersburg close, however – without even realizing it – it seems God has already been working on the next open door for us here in ministry.
You may recall that in April of this year, due to Russian visa requirements, we spent almost 4 weeks in Estonia, a post- Soviet country located just west of Russia, about a 2 hour drive from St. Petersburg. We were surprised during that month at how quickly we developed relationships with others in ministry there – many of whom we’d only just met. In fact, we felt such familiarity and comfort with the people we came to know there that we made plans before returning to Russia to go back to Estonia in the summer for a visit.
It was during our summer visit there in July (after we’d learned about the pregnancy and were considering our options), that the Lord began to reveal not only new relationships, but also open doors to ministry for us in Estonia. In that week, and in weeks since then, we have had the privilege of meeting brothers and sisters in ministry in Estonia with various groups, including the Methodist Church, Campus Crusade for Christ, and the Salvation Army. We have spent time with friends who are ministering in prisons in Estonia, others who are developing relationships with orphanages there – both of these ministries geared almost entirely toward Russians living in Estonia. Further, Charlie has had the opportunity to sit with Estonian christian musicians who are struggling to develop their art, which we learned is due mostly to the general opinion of Christianity in Estonia.
One of the many facts we came to know in meeting these people who’ve given their lives to serving in Christ Jesus in Estonia is that less than 5% of the population of Estonia considers themselves christian or has any affiliation with a church at all. We heard several different explanations for this fact, but it seems that the history of Estonia – more recently and specifically their time spent under the authority of the Soviet Union – has made it difficult for the people of Estonia to trust organizations that may seem to them to be coming into Estonia, seeking to impose rules or regulations. This suspicion and mistrust often extends to the church.
Finally, as we’ve spent these months seeking the Lord regarding whether, when, and to where we should be moving out of St. Petersburg, one additional factor has become apparent. In recent weeks and months, several close to us in ministry have begun to receive a lot of questions from local and national government authorities about their activities, relationships, and finances. Some are Russians whose ministries the authorities are threatening to close. Others are foreigners whose residency in Russia the authorities are threatening to end. Given some of the difficulties we’ve experienced with our own visas in recent years, we have to consider that this type of scrutiny may only continue to increase.
To be clear, we do not feel a personal threat to our own security here. However, the last thing we want is for our presence to impede on the efforts of others working here in ministry – particularly Russians who were born and raised in this area. For that reason, we have made a few changes regarding our internet/telephone communications, and have determined that this may be a factor in the timing of our being called out of Russia on a full-time basis.
So, as a result of these things – and several months of talking and praying – we have made the decision to move to Tallinn, Estonia at the end of September.
This has not been an easy decision. After committing so much of ourselves to St. Petersburg, Russia for more than 10 years, the decision to pull back at this time has left us feeling sad, and even a bit scared at times. We are having a hard time imagining what our lives are going to look like in upcoming months, and we understand that there are going to be difficulties along the way. But even in this, I offer praise to God that He has continued to bring us peace and joy in every day, as His blessing in our lives continues to overflow in ways we’d never imagined for ourselves coming into this ministry 10 years ago.
Now, all of this is certainly not to say that we will not be continuing ministry in St. Petersburg after our move. In fact, one of the major factors that initially drew us to Estonia is that it is less than half a day’s drive from St. Petersburg.
We find it very interesting now that for several months before the pregnancy came about, we had been feeling strongly that the Lord was calling us to step back a bit from our intensive, regular involvement with some of the ministries we know here in St. Petersburg. We had known that the time was coming for us to give up some of our leadership and responsibility in the ministries here to Russians we’ve come to know and with whom we’ve been working so closely these past 3 years.
But, at the same time, we have known – and our Russian brothers and sisters have confirmed – that we are not being called to simply shut the door to these relationships all together. We feel strongly that we are to continue to be involved here to a certain degree – more perhaps in the way of week-long trips to St. Petersburg, for example. We have been blessed with very rich relationships here, and all parties agree that our presence several times throughout the year for different activities is still needed and is in the will of God for our work here.
By living in Estonia, this type of transition – maintaining regular, though less-frequent contact and support by our presence here, but also backing off enough to give the Russians more room to go forward in these ministries in accordance with their own history, culture, spiritual needs, etc. – is very possible. We have been amazed in recent days upon realizing that God is using what we have only ever seen as challenges and set-backs to lead us into the very position that He desires for us and others serving here at this time.
In fact, we are already planning trips in upcoming months in order to continue our current work with Russian ministries in St. Petersburg, as well as a trip planned for October to the Russian seaport of Kaliningrad on the Baltic Sea. Our residence in Estonia will actually make work in that area of Russia easier for us as Estonia is situated more closely to Kaliningrad than is St. Petersburg.
One of several unknowns coming along with this move for us is how many of you who have been supporting us over the years with your love, your time, your finances, and your prayers will react to this change in our circumstances. In this time of transition for ourselves, we expect that it may be a time of transition for some of you in the ministry here as well. We expect that there may be some who will decide to step away a bit from the work we’re doing here, but we also expect that there will be some of you who will decide that now is the time to get involved, perhaps in the way of regular prayer support, monthly financial support, or even a trip over to see the work we’re doing (no visa is required to visit Estonia, by the way!).
Also, we realize that many of you have also invested a great deal in the work that is being done here in St. Petersburg, and that you understandably will have several questions regarding specifics in our future involvement here. In upcoming weeks, we will continue to provide more details about specific changes that will come in our work with ministries here in St. Petersburg, in Estonia, and elsewhere in this area. We also ask that you will not hesitate to contact us with any questions you have in the mean time. We love to hear from you and want the opportunity to talk with you about any questions or concerns you may have.
We know that you pray for us, and we thank God for you. We pray that where ever all of our efforts to follow our God may lead us, we will all continue to be filled with His love for one another, and we will always be as one in Him, in the name of Jesus Christ.
Love to you, Charlie, Miki, Isabel, Jasper
WE STILL NEED YOUR HELP!
Our monthly support is still 10% under our current ministry needs. We invite you (or your Sunday school class, your Church, etc.) to consider partnering with us through The Mission Society by pledging $25, $50, $100 or more a month.
To make a donation by check:
– send a check to the following address, noting “Chastain/Russia 322” in the memo:
The Mission Society 6234 Crooked Creek Road Norcross, GA 30092
To make a donation by credit card or electronic debit: – go to our website: http://www.actsofadvocacy.org and click on “Give” to go to the Mission Society “donations” page.
To make a monthly pledge: Either contact us via email or phone (678-436-3016) so that we can send you the appropriate documentation, or go to our website: http://www.actsofadvocacy.org and click on “Give” to go to the Mission Society “donations” page.