After this lesson, each girl should be able to
* Tell five facts about Russia.
* Briefly describe Michael and Heather Chowning's work in Siberian Russia and why it is important.
* Suggest a way she can assist in the Chownings' ministry.
BEFORE THE MEETING
* Bring materials to make the soap sculpting craft.
* Prepare traditional Russian tea and Russian tea cakes to serve at the tea party as part of the meeting.
Provide supplies for the girls to make soap sculptures. Talk about the Russian proverbs and what they might mean before playing a round of Boaire or Caraway. Afterward host a tea party and let the girls sample Russian tea and tea cakes. Instructions for these activities can be found in the Things To Do download.
Michael and Heather Chowning
When Heather Lathrop set out on a short-term missions trip to Lithuania in 1997, she knew she had an exciting adventure ahead of her. However, she had no idea that exciting adventure was just the beginning of a journey that would take her to cold Siberian Russia.
While in Lithuania, Heather met missionary Michael Chowning. Having been on several short-term missions trips himself, Michael had felt particularly drawn to Russia. In 1996 he had moved to Moscow as an appointed missionary, but the following year he followed the Holy Spirit's leading to Tuva, an unreached area of Siberia.
Over the next few months Heather and Michael kept in touch, and they married in October 1998. Heather, a former youth pastor from Missouri, now found herself in Tuva - a place of brutal winters and a unique culture - yet she couldn't imagine being anywhere else.
"For centuries, Tuva was hidden in spiritual darkness," Heather says. "The location is remote, its people secluded from the outside world. In the early 1990s, only a handful of people had heard the name of Jesus. Michael and I were there to make a difference." Today, with their 3-year-old son James, they are seeing a miracle unfold as God builds His Church in Siberia.
From their home in Kyzyl, Tuva's capital, the Chownings traveled across the area. Their goal was to plant churches that would reach people with the gospel and prepare them to plant other churches. They knew this would involve a lot of prayer and hard work, but along the way they witnessed God's power at work.
"One woman came from 40 miles away to attend a service," they recall. "Born with a disability, she walked only with great effort. After every couple of steps she had to stop and rest, but she was determined to make the journey. She was on her way to be baptized and make a statement to her world that Jesus was her Savior. She didn't ask for a miracle or help from anyone. Her only desire was to make a public commitment to Christ.
"As she went into the water, she could barely walk, but she went running out of the water completely healed. The people there were astonished by this mighty act of God. The woman left that day walking upright and pain free for the first time in her life. Everyone knew of her disability, giving her the opportunity to tell of God's healing power. Hundreds of people heard the name of Jesus for the first time."
The Chownings found that people across Tuva were hungry to hear the hope of the gospel. Depression, alcohol, and unemployment have caused many to struggle and ruined many homes. People are eager to hear a message of Jesus' love and the peace He brings.
As more people accepted Christ, the Chownings knew they needed to be taught God's Word. But a serious problem existed: a Bible in the Tuvan language did not exist. Most of the people also spoke Russian, but they thought of Russian materials as foreign and not written especially for them. The answer to the problem came one January morning when a truck filled with 12,000 Tuvan-language Bibles pulled up in front of a church in Kyzyl.
"Seven of us ran out to begin unloading the truck," Michael recalls. "Soon 15 more men came to help. In only a few minutes our feet began to freeze in the minus 45-degree temperature, but no one complained and no one left. A neighbor from across the road asked if he could help unload the container in exchange for a Bible. We gladly gave him one. By the time we finished unloading the cargo, our toes were blue and frostbitten, but we were happy. The New Testaments finally had arrived!
In 2004 the Chownings expanded their church planting efforts to encompass all of Siberia. They call their ministry Breaking the Ice-Siberia. Though they still live in Tuva, they travel regularly across the vast Siberian region to preach, teach, and train youth workers. They also began a major building project: Siberian Ministry Center in the city of Omsk. Opened in 2007, this building is home to a Bible school, training center, and media studio.
"The center has the capacity to train 700 men and women each year in all areas of ministry," the Chownings say. "Each session students gather from all areas of Siberia to be equipped to reach the thousands of cities in Russia that are without a gospel witness. These ministers choose to live a life of sacrifice, at times braving minus 50-degree temperatures, to advance the kingdom of God."
As of last year the Chownings had helped plant 500 churches in unreached areas of Russia. But their work is far from finished. More people need to hear of Jesus' love - people like Luda.
"I met Luda while preaching in a village recently," says Heather. "My topic was ‘What to do when the darkness seems to prevail.' People were moved and I could see pain in their faces. The darkness is so great in our area of the world. But at the end of the message the entire room stood in a united prayer to end the darkness in their lives by allowing the light of Christ to shine through them. Luda sat in the front row, tears streaming down her face. That moment she realized she could no longer stand the darkness, and she gave her life to Christ."
Across the nation a church planting emphasis, called Hosanna Plan, is sending teams of believers to the 129,000 cities and villages in Russia that still have no Pentecostal church. The Chownings are eager to be a part of it.
"Our new dream is to launch 1,000 new churches in the next 10 years," they say. "We dream of seeing a million Russians become part of the body of Christ. We believe we will see this dream fulfilled as we break the ice in hearts once cold to the gospel. Thank you for dreaming with us!"
End this lesson by praying for Siberian Russia and the Siberian Ministry Center. Discuss ways your club can assist the Chownings and their Breaking the Ice outreach.