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Pick up a pen, nurture a Christian in former Soviet Union countries

DALLAS (BP)–When Charleene Briggs opened her mailbox in suburban Dallas, she found a package carefully wrapped with twine and brown paper, with the corners sealed by red wax. The package postmark: Dagestan, Russia. The name Lukina Ljudmila was on the return address.
Inside, Briggs discovered a black, fringed shawl with lovely red roses in each corner. “It touched my heart,” said Briggs, a Texas Baptist. “I knew just to pay the postage was a sacrifice for Lukina.”
Since August 1994, when Briggs wrote the first note and enclosed a photograph of herself, she and Ljudmila have exchanged letters several times each year. In her typically one-page, single-spaced, computer-written note, Briggs — a Christian since childhood — has shared snatches of her spiritual journey with Ljudmila, a new Christian from Russia.
Another Southern Baptist, Mitzi W. Bess of Belmont, N.C., read about Bridge of Friendship in a flyer distributed through First Baptist Church there in 1995.
“Through the grace of God, I have a gift of discipling. I knew this was something I would love to be a part of,” Bess said. “In my first letter [to Trina Ternovskaya of the Ukraine], I introduced myself and said, ‘I want to introduce you to the most important person in my life — Jesus Christ.’ That was March 1995. In April she wrote me. I cried when I got that first letter. I believe the Holy Spirit brought us together.”
Bess and Briggs are among thousands who have shared Christian love, concern and prayer with fellow Christians in the former Soviet Union through Bridge of Friendship, operated by ASSIST Ministries in Garden Grove, Calif.
“This is a simple program giving Christians in the U.S. an opportunity for a one-on-one relationship with Christians in a country that we once considered our enemy. We call it love tucked inside an envelope,” said Dan Wooding, founder and director of ASSIST Ministries.
Information about becoming a pen pal with a new Christian in Russia and neighboring countries can be obtained by calling ASSIST Ministries at (714) 530-6598; e-mail, [email protected]; Internet site, www.rwcc.com/assist.htm; or writing to P.O. Box 2126, Garden Grove, CA 92642-2126.
“In many cases it can be like adopting a spiritual child or grandchild — you pour your life into the life of a new Christian,” Wooding said.
The program began more than five years ago after ASSIST sent out letters to 610,000 people from the former Soviet Union who told CBN they had prayed the sinner’s prayer during a telecast. From that initial mailing, more than 76,000 Christians returned questionnaires with hopes of being linked.
So far only 6,000 American Christians have responded.
“We desperately need more Americans to step forward,” Wooding said.
The tools of this ministry involve but a small investment: stationery, ink, postage. The other investment: time. Briggs spends about 20 minutes composing a letter three or four times a year. She writes primarily about her family and church and offers encouragement to Ljudmila. Sometimes the two share prayer requests. Once Briggs, who was teaching about prayer at the time, sent Ljudmila the book they were studying.
Especially rewarding for Briggs is to follow the progress of her pen pal through job changes (from accountant to instructor) and a significant spiritual change. “For a while, things were very dismal in her letters. But I think that lately she has had a spiritual renewal. It has been a joyous thing to read about.”
Bess, meanwhile, has been impressed by the overwhelming sense of spiritual hunger and thankfulness in Ternovskaya’s correspondence. Bess wrote from the very beginning about the value of a daily quiet time in a Christian’s life and in her second letter enclosed a pamphlet about how to fellowship with God. Later Bess located a Ukrainian Bible which she mailed to Ternovskaya — a pediatrician and mother of two. “I read the Bible every evening,” Ternovskaya wrote in appreciation, “and it helps me to wander from the daily fuss to perceive life in a new way. … I pray for you every day.”
While the door of opportunity remains open, Wooding and his wife, Norma, would like other Southern Baptists to take this unique opportunity to share their faith. “The situation in Russia is bad at the moment,” Wooding said. “The economic crisis and a high incidence of crime do not augur well for the Russian people. If carried out, a restrictive law regarding religion could also mean the expulsion of Western missionaries from Russia.”
One word of warning: Norma said Russian mail may be less than reliable. “Have patience. You may wait 10 days for an answer or as long as a year. Sometimes mail may be lost, torn open or not delivered. Many Russian people must save to buy a stamp. But once the correspondence begins, both parties have been blessed.”
Bess sees this exchange as a real treasure. “Here we have churches on every street corner and people take matters of worship and faith for granted. Not in the Ukraine.
“To help Trina celebrate her first Christmas as a Christian, I sent her a manger scene.” Trina Ternovskaya wept when she opened the gift postmarked Belmont, N.C., USA. Ternovskaya wrote after the holidays she would not be putting away her nativity scene. Said Bess, “She wanted to leave it up all year.”

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  • Celeste Pennington