Our Partnership with Grace Baptist Church in Gnozdovo, Russia
Yes – for more information, contact Karen Morey.
Mission in Eastern Europe
In 2023, PCOC has been exploring mission opportunities in other parts of Eastern Europe, outside of Russia, meeting with potential mission partners with the assistance of Ellen Smith, PC(USA) World Mission’s Regional Coordinator for Eastern Europe. In March, four members traveled to Lithuania and met with the director of the Hope Center in Vilnius, which provides housing and food for the homeless as well as shelter and ongoing support for Ukrainian refugees. In Klaipeda, the team visited LCC University a 4-year Christian college that includes an innovative peacebuilding program for their students, most of whom are from countries in conflict.
In September, two members of PCOC traveled in a small team with Ellen Smith to Moldova and Romania to explore other possible mission partners. They met with leaders of the YMCA in both countries, who are actively working with Ukrainian refugees in addition to their other programs serving youth and others in need. They also met with Moldova Christian Aid and visited elderly citizens in villages who are receiving support from the collaboration of MCA with the local churches. MCA is also coordinating aid to Ukrainian refugees who have been relocated to villages in Moldova. The last stop in Moldova was to the Healthy City Refugee Center, a distribution center for food, supplies, clothing, and blankets to Ukrainian refugees and others in need. When the team moved on to Romania, they were hosted by the Reform Church of Transylvania in Cluj-Napoca, where they visited several church-sponsored agencies and attended worship services in four small village churches – all in one day!
Both of these exploration trips in 2023 found many causes worthy of support, and PCOC plans to decide on ways to participate in the mission of one or more of them in 2024.
Our Partnership with Gnozdovo
Since 2009, Church of the Cross has enjoyed a rich and growing partnership with Grace Baptist Church in Gnozdovo, a small community on the edge of Smolensk, Russia. Through frequent visits, shared projects and mission work, joyful celebrations, and fellowship over many meals together, members of our two churches have developed lasting friendships and a greater understanding of our worldwide community in Christ.
Our Mission Statement
We are a partnership between Grace Baptist Church of Gnozdovo in Smolensk, Russia and Presbyterian Church of the Cross in Omaha, Nebraska, united through love and faith in Christ, in response to God’s call to build God’s Kingdom, working actively, modeling the ministry of Jesus Christ to extend his love, justice, joy, hope, and message with our communities.
- Pray for each other
- Communicate frequently, sharing with each other the needs and joys of our communities
- Promote exchanges between the partnership communities
- Work together in partnership on program and projects, while being good stewards of God ’s gifts.
How it began – March 2009
In March 2009, three members of the Mission Committee (Janelle Davis, Karen Morey, Geri Clanton) traveled to Russia to explore establishing a partnership with Grace Baptist Church of Gnozdovo, Russia, a village on the edge of Smolensk. With the help of Ellen Smith, a Presbyterian mission co-worker in Russia, they worshiped in the Gnozdovo church and enjoyed the hospitality of church families in their homes. The team visited the orphanages where the church is providing crafts, Bible lessons, day camps, building repairs that are not possible with the government’s bare-bones funding. They also visited the Smolensk Baptist church camp. Destroyed by arson in October 2008, plans were underway to rebuild the camp building. The team returned to Omaha, excited and enthusiastic. The Session approved the establishment of a partnership, and we began to build a long-term relationship.
“We were in awe of the powerful outreach ministries of such a small congregation; it was a truly humbling experience.” -Karen Morey
Plans for Future Trips
November 2023 Update: Our plans for a trip to Gnozdovo in 2020 were cancelled with the onset of the COVID pandemic, but we continued to communicate with our friends, exchanging pictures of church activities and sending prayers for their health in the midst of the world-wide crisis.
When the pandemic ended, we began to make plans again, only to be stunned by the expanded conflict between Russia and Ukraine. As relations between our two nations worsened, we struggle to maintain hope that we will once again be able to spend time together face-to-face. In the meantime, we continue to pray for that day and to stay in touch with prayers, church news, and support for the Gnozdovo church’s steadfast commitment to model the ministry of Jesus Christ in their community.
Past Events & Trips
Quilts for the Smolensk Church Camp
Since 2009, the Piecemakers quilting group at Church of the Cross have made and donated 30+ quilts for the beds in the rebuilt church camp, which have been delivered to Gnozdovo by the visiting mission teams. The camp building re-opened in 2012 and functions year-round for conferences, social events, retreats, and camps for children and youth.
A request came for workers to come to Smolensk to help enclose the under-construction camp buildings before the hard winter set in and Dave Gazzetta volunteered to make the trip. He quickly developed a friendship with Pastor Leonid Ignatenkov, and worked with a team for a week, covering windows and the roof to protect the construction in progress.
“Our mission is to go help with… not to go do for…” -David Gazzetta
A team of 7 members of Church of the Cross traveled to Smolensk and helped the Gnozdovo church to conduct a Vacation Bible School for children in the village. The combined team of Russian and American volunteers led 50-60 kids, ages 5-18, with Bible stories, songs, crafts, games, and entertainment. The teamwork between Russian and Americans was inspiring and friendships blossomed.
“It was my ‘aha’ moment: the perfect craft didn’t matter; it was all about relationships!” -Tina Morgan
A conference on post-orphanage ministry in Smolensk captured the attention of Geri Clanton. She joined Ellen Smith in attending the conference, hosted by the Smolensk and Gnozdovo Baptist Churches. Participants from all over Russia shared stories of their efforts to serve the needs of young people who have “aged out” of the orphanage system but have little support or skills to make a healthy transition into adult life. The churches are leading the movement to find a solution that meets their needs and reduces the draw of crime, prostitution, and drugs.
“The participants were so energized by their shared passion for helping ‘post-orphans’ that they went out with new hope and a determination to stay connected.” –Geri Clanton
A new team was formed for a trip to Smolensk and the Gnozdovo church in August 2011. Some were returning for a second or third time; others were getting involved in the partnership for the first time. The team (Janelle Davis, Sue Thomas, Don Metzger, and Richard Johnson) received warm welcomes from their friends in the Gnozdovo church and were put to work again as helpers in Vacation Bible School for children of the village. They also participated in the opening ceremonies at the Forest School – a state orphanage supported by the Gnozdovo church. They helped put on an Olympiad with the children to launch their new school year.
“I admit I went to Russia with some anxiety. But worshiping together on Sunday morning was so moving, and in just one week, the friendships that grew out of working together with the kids made me want to go back many times!” –Don Metzger
When the plans for a visit to Omaha from our partner church fell through (their visa applications were denied by the USA), a PCOC team was quickly organized to attend the dedication of the completed camp. Those plans also fell through, as the camp was not ready to open due to delays in receiving the final grant funds. Not to be deterred, the team of four traveled to Gnozdovo in the first week of July, 2012, determined to spend a week with our partners, helping with small tasks and spending many hours together strengthening relationships between our two churches. The impromptu plan led to delightful surprises, unexpected opportunities, and meaningful exchanges between friends from two cultures.
A team of three traveled to Gnozdovo in March 2013 to participate in the second Post-Orphanage Conference hosted by the Baptist churches in the Smolensk region. Sixty representatives from 15 fifteen different churches in Russia gathered for three days at the newly complete camp and conference center in Smolensk to learn and share ideas for improving the lives of children who leave orphanages ill-equipped to live on their own. PCOC elder Kathy Moore spoke to the conference on mentoring and independent living skills.
For the first time, the team who visited Gnozdovo included two young people. Haley Allen and Anna Flairty, along with Karen and John Morey, Sue Thomas, and Bill Ritchie joined Ellen Smith and her daughter Emma for a day of sightseeing in Moscow and six days in Gnozdovo. The team provided additional support in working with the 70-80 kids in Bible School, and led the craft activities each day. The church especially appreciated Bill’s musical contributions in worship.
“In Russia, God reminded me that He is with me everywhere I go because we were among friends in Christ who put us before themselves every single day. Russia taught me that I am not alone in my journey.”– Haley Allen
In spite of rising tensions between the United States and Russia, PCOC’s commitment stood firm to be in a strong relationship with Grace Baptist Church in Gnozdovo. A team of 6 men visited our friends in Gnozdovo to help with necessary repairs to the church building and were welcomed with warm hospitality and love.
A four-person team visited Gnozdovo in July and enjoyed attending the wedding of one of the young women of the church who has been involved with our visiting teams since the beginning. Karen and John Morey, who have watched her grow up, were asked to participate in the ceremony.
“Our Russian friends pray for us often. This trip inspired me to pray for them – and others – regularly.” – Jayne Frederickson
Pastor Marshall Zieman and a group of five young adults went to Gnozdovo for a special week of fellowship, work, and play with the young adults of our partner church. Based at the camp, the group spent time talking, playing games, sightseeing, teaching each other their languages, enjoying meals together, and worshiping together.
“Mission work in Russia… is all about breaking down stereotypes and creating strong and lasting friendships. It’s not about doing; it’s about being there and experiencing.” – Laura Jones
A team of five traveled to Gnozdovo to reconnect with our friends and to assist with Grace Church’s Vacation Bible School. They each were assigned to an age group to help shepherd the 100+ children from one event to another during the three days. New friendships were forged, old ones were re-kindled. At the end of the week, there were hugs and tears as they said goodbye.
“Be ready to eat and immerse yourself in an experience where you will discover our differences are few, the culture is rich, and our love for God’s people binds us.” – Anna Sumner
A team of 9 PCOC members traveled to Russia in September 2019 with several objectives: to spend time with our friends of Grace Church, to attend the Russia Mission Network Conference, and to visit several other significant sites.
The RMN Conference was held in Russia for the first time, bringing together Presbyterian churches from the U.S. and their partner churches in Russia for fellowship, networking, sharing best practices, and worshiping together. The group of 60+ Russian and American Christians spent a powerful 2 ½ days together at the camp in Smolensk. The PCOC team also spent time with Grace Church members, sightseeing, eating in homes, and worshiping on Sunday. With the added time in their trip, they were excited to visit the tiny village of Davydovo, where a visionary priest is transforming lives of disabled children and adults with his inspiring and far-reaching programs.
“Perhaps Grace Baptist Church is witnessing to Church of the Cross a lesson in ministry of ‘how it can be done.’ It is not about money or abundance. It is about sharing His love in community.” – Rock Sumner
Virtual Updates in 2021
See what our friends in Gnozdovo have been up to! Pastor Leonid shared this awesome video with us. Watch Video.
Christmas in Gnozdovo
Pastor Leonid shared these pictures/videos of the Christmas service in the Gnozdovo church on December 27. Gifts were given to all the children at the service. Russian churches celebrate the 12 days of Christmas, ending with a major service on Epiphany. However, on January 4, we received word that Pastor Leonid and his wife Elena were in the hospital with COVID, so PCOC members have been praying for their return to health. On Wednesday, January 13, an update from their daughter Kristina reported that both are on the mend and hope to leave the hospital soon. Kristina will travel from her home in Atlanta to visit her parents once they are released. We thank God for their improving health and pray for their continuing recovery.