Feature

The Gospel in Action

Flood relief brings believers to a Russian city

By Anonymous

On the night of July 6, 2012, a flash flood swept through Krymsk, Russia, a city with a population of 60,000 located 40 miles from the Black Sea port of Novorossiysk. After several days of heavy rains, a local reservoir released water on the unsuspecting inhabitants of Krymsk. Local estimates put the death toll at more than 5,000. Most of those who perished were asleep when the flood waters, reaching a height of 10 feet, surrounded their homes, trapping them inside. Ultimately, more than 7,000 homes and apartments were either damaged or destroyed.

One resident attributes her family’s survival to a miracle. “We were chest-deep in water. Our electricity had not been turned off. We should have had electrical shocks, but God saved us. I remember crying out to God, asking for mercy for my family.”

No one was prepared for the disaster. Suddenly, people found themselves without food, drinking water, clothes and housing. Compassion and Mercy Associates (CAMA), along with churches from the Evangelical Christian Missionary Union (ECMU), our national partner in Russia, provided funds and resources to meet this daunting challenge.

The local ECMU church was able to effectively organize people to offer aid. In the immediate aftermath, the church purchased supplies and set up well-organized distribution centers. At one center, food, clean water and medical supplies were distributed to those in need. At another, clothing, cots and tools for clean up were provided. At the local ECMU church, a counseling center was set up, washing machines were made available for people to use and Bibles, along with Christian literature, were given away. The prompt response of the church was noticed by local government officials, who commented: “In the future, we will adopt your method of assistance to the victims.” But more importantly, the people of Krymsk saw the gospel in action. As a result, more than 150 people prayed to receive Christ.

Building Friendships

Several months after the flood, the long-term process of repairing/rebuilding homes and apartments has begun. CAMA generously provided $40,000 to help with this expensive stage. National ECMU churches also donated more than $5,000, and the Russia Alliance field added funds to help with this project. The local church identified 31 families as their responsibility. Of these, 15 are nonbelievers whom the church reached out to through initial relief work.

Work on the damaged houses/apartments included repairing water damage, adding support to foundations, putting in windows and doors, plastering walls and ceilings and replacing all damaged electrical wiring and plumbing.

One of the stipulations for using the CAMA funds was that those who received help were required either to pay for some of the materials for rebuilding or to work alongside those doing the reconstruction. This was a new concept in Russia, but the response was surprisingly positive. Since the flood, many businesses have closed, leaving thousands without work. Schools were closed until November 2012. With nothing to do, most people were willing to join the builders.

“We are thankful to the Lord and to all who sent aid to help us,” says Leonid, whose home was damaged by the flood. “During this difficult time our children never went hungry and always had something to wear. And then the people came to help us repair our house. We ourselves do not know how to do construction. We were happy to help those who worked long hours to give us a place to live.”

This unique opportunity brought nonbelievers into daily contact with believers. Some of these builders, from churches in other regions of Russia, took time from their jobs and ministry to help the flood victims. “When the tragedy occurred, I was in a state of shock,” recalls Lena. “I didn’t know where to go, whom to call, where to begin. Then the pastor’s wife called and asked me this question: ‘Do you need people to help?’ I was taken aback. ‘What people? Why do I need people?’ I couldn’t imagine that strangers would come to help me.

“And then they did come. So many strangers. People would come up and greet me and then start to work. I didn’t know their names or what cities they were from. Even the pastor came, took off his suit and tie, put on army pants and a shirt and shoveled the mud from my home.”

Working side by side with the people whose homes they were rebuilding, the believers were able to share why they came to Krymsk, as well as the story of why Jesus came to earth.

New Ways to Work

Another strategy of the rebuilding phase was to encourage people to find new ways to make a living. Several businesses were started by believers in the church as a result of the contacts made through the relief efforts.

The pastor of the Krymsk ECMU church allowed people to come to his home, which was out of the flood zone, to use his washing machine. One of the church members acquired funds to purchase another machine and set up a laundry business in a room in the church, charging a nominal fee for use of the machine. The woman and others from the church talked to the customers as they waited for their clothes to go through the cycle and handed out Christian literature. A second machine was recently added to this evangelical “laundromat.”

Another church member, a hairdresser by profession, offered free haircuts for a month after the flood. She began developing relationships with the people, often sharing the gospel as she cut their hair. At the end of that month, she was given a small loan to open her own business. She now runs her hair salon in another room in the church building. Many of the people who came to her during that initial month continue to get their haircuts from her.

Provisions for Living

After the rebuilding phase, the church focused on procuring basic appliances and furnishings. To date, with CAMA’s help, the church has provided 12 families with a stove, refrigerator, boiler, windows, doors and a kitchen table with chairs. The believers were also able to replace the damaged electrical wiring and plumbing in 20 homes/apartments.

“Despite the fact that my family has lost not only property but also our jobs as a result of the flood, we have not had a single day of need,” says Ekaterina, one of the people who received aid. “People from the church brought food, clothes, utensils and bedding—all that was necessary so we didn’t have to sleep on the floor. I want to thank the churches in other cities that participated in helping us with the needs of my family. Surviving the flood has not been easy.”

The church members also realized that almost all of the families who survived the flood lost everything, including their clothes. With funds remaining from the $10,000 CAMA provided for initial relief work, members provided clothes and school supplies to 23 children from the families the church cared for.

Spreading the Gospel

Out of this tragedy, God’s work in the lives of individuals in Krymsk is unmistakable. A visiting pastor commented, “I have never seen people so prepared to hear the gospel. I don’t have to spend hours getting to the place where I can share Christ. People are asking me directly about God.”

The relief work was done in a way that brought credibility to the local church and an openness for allowing it to minister in other ways. In the last six months the church has been able to hold two city-wide evangelistic meetings, and the local church has doubled in size. New people are coming to faith. Many are being baptized and discipled.

There are still many in Krymsk without housing, but the church continues to reach out with what little resources its members have on hand. We are thankful for CAMA’s involvement in this project, which will have a lasting impact in this Russian community.

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