Virginia Methodists connect with Russian deaf school
Feb. 2, 2004
A UMNS Feature By Linda Bloom*
A United Methodist pastor's reluctant trip to Russia has led to a continuing relationship with a school for deaf children in the city of Stavropol.
"I'm passionate about this now," said the Rev. John Speight, pastor of Christ Church, a United Methodist congregation in Fairfax Station, Va.
His church members have caught the mission fever too, and they already have filled the work team for the 2004 renovation project at the school.
Back in 1999, Speight said, he "never wanted to go to Russia" but agreed to accompany his wife on a mission trip the following summer to Pyatigorsk, about 150 miles south of Stavropol. The group had fellowship with a United Methodist congregation there and did painting and other work at an orphanage and boarding school.
"It was one of the best experiences of my life," he recalled. "I discovered on that trip what (Methodism founder) John Wesley meant when he said that the world was his parish."
Speight returned to Pyatigorsk the following year. After the United Methodist Virginia Annual (regional) Conference adopted the state of Stavropol, which includes both cities, as a mission focus, he took seven people to the city of Stavropol in 2002. Hosted by the Stavropol Peace Foundation, the team lived at the state boarding school for the deaf while working at another project site.
When the school's director asked Speight if he would consider helping at her school the following year, he readily agreed. He took a chance and reserved 15 airline seats, which were filled by 10 Christ Church members and five people from other churches at a cost of $2,500 apiece.
The group came bearing gifts - toys, games, hats and gloves. A private school in Prince Edward County, Va., donated cases of toothbrushes, toothpaste, crayons and other items. A $500 gift allowed the pastor to buy a new set of clothes and shoes for each child in the orphanage.
A doctor belonging to the church gave Speight $10,000 worth of prescription drugs for the hospital in Stavropol, and Crossroads International, based in Falls Church, Va., contributed $8,000 worth of medical supplies. His congregation also contributed several thousand dollars for the mission, he said.
Originally built in 1860 as a girls' school, the Stavropol boarding school for deaf children provides a general education for more than 200 children in grades one through 11. Last July, Speight's team refurbished a classroom still in its original state.
"The paint was peeling off the walls and the windows were rotten," he explained. His crew took down a temporary dividing wall and restored the room to its original size, replaced windows and doors, patched the wood floor and laid linoleum and painted the walls.
Although the school was on summer break, some of the children who lived nearby came and spent time with one of the team members, a college student majoring in American Sign Language.
"One of our main missions was to be a support and encouragement to the Stavropol United Methodist Church," Speight added. The team shared meals and engaged in Bible study and worship with the congregation of about 20 members.
*Bloom is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in New York. News media can contact her at (212) 870-3803 or firstname.lastname@example.org.