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Noel



TO SAKHALIN WITH LOVE


Part l

It was dark when our convoy of two vans, a jeep and four cars pulled out of the city of Kobe and drove for two hours across to the Japan Sea coast to Maizuru Port. All the vehicles were loaded up with cartons of used clothing, shoes, medicine, Gospel tracts, and New Testaments in Russian. Our adventure had begun.

What a varied group of people the Lord had called together for this outreach to the island of Sakhalin in Eastern Russia. Reijo, the leader of the team is a Finnish missionary to Japan. Chuck is an American businessman working in Kobe. Noel Morris is from New Zealand. Rev Park is a Korean pastoring in a Presbyterian church in Osaka. Kirsten is a University student from Australia and Ryutaro Kawasaki is a Japanese.

Each one of us has a special interest in going to Russia, but together our talents are pooled to make this a unique outworking of the Great Commission.

Along with the team there is also a camera crew from the American Cable News Network (CNN). They have come to cover our "up-front" main purpose of taking humanitarian aid to Russia. Because of this aid we have open doors through official channels into Russia.

In due course both the CNN crew and the Russian officials will discover that the aid we give comes out of our greater desire to see the Russian people come to know the Lord Jesus.

Just before midnight we drove the cars on to a 20,000 ton car ferry which is taking us to Otaru Port in Japan's northern island of Hoddaido. There all the vehicles will be loaded on to a Russian freighter and we leave Japan for Kholmsk in Sakhalin.

Over the next week we will deliver the cardboard boxes in our cars to the appropriate places and hold Evangelistic Crusades in the capital city, Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk, in Makarov, in Kholmsk, and in several other cities. We are excited to see what the Lord will do to touch the Russian people with His love.



Part 2

Because of an approaching typhoon, a steady drizzle had set in as we rolled off the ferry at Otaru Port at 4 o'clock in the morning. Nothing was open, so we drove to the restaurant car park and slept in the cars for a few more hours.

After a good breakfast, we were joined by Pastor Sato from the Otaru Brethren Church, who had come to help us. He had been praying about how his church could help the Russian people, and now God was showing him a way to get involved.

Our convoy drove down to the docks and we saw our ship, the "Sakhalin 8". She was once a cargo ship and had been rebuilt to transport railway cars, but now they had filled the rail deck with second-hand Japanese cars.

There were dozens of Russians walking around looking at cars which the dealers had brought down for them to buy. Some of them were buying several cars for the black market, although they were supposed to take back only one vehicle each. Others were buying second-hand fridges and washing machines from the back of the Japanese dealers' trucks. Many of them stood around reading the Russian language Gospel tracts we had given out.

At first we couldn't find the Captain, then the shipping agent. Then it seemed that all the promises we had from the shipping company would not be honored by the people here. There seemed to be no way that we could get on board. Or at least if we could, then our cars could not. We were cold, wet and somewhat dejected.

About midday Pastor Sato returned with a 25 seat mini-bus his church had just bought a few weeks earlier. We loaded all our personal gear in with us and he took us to the church where the ladies had prepared a delicious meal for us.

At the same timer Rev Gyurko, the principle of the Bible College in Sapporo, arrived bringing six flags representing the six nations of our team members. We had asked him to find these at short notice, and they actually had to make them for us.

Reijo, our team leader, went with the interpreter to see what could be done about our passage. After the meal the remaining team gathered for prayer, asking God to give us favor with the Captain and get us on the ship to Sakhalin. Even before we had finished praying, the phone call came to hurry back to the dock to complete Customs and Immigration procedures.

The CNN crew could not believe how fast our God answers prayer! But then came the next problem. The rail deck was full with 150 cars, and they were deciding about putting another 60 cars on the deck. The Captain was cautious because of the approaching but weakening typhoon.

A large crane truck arrived and began to lift the cars one by one in a sling up to the deck. We all began jockeying for position to be next on. No orderly line here.

Two of our cars were loaded, then the crane moved up to the fore deck area. Again we tried to be next in line. The Russian black-market men seemed to be controlling the order, and we wondered if there would be space left for us. Finally our cars were loaded one by one. My van, filled with cartons of used clothing, was almost last. It was dark, after 7:00 pm by then, and as I walked up the ship's gangway, my video-camera battery finally ran out.

But praise the Lord, we were on board. We have two cabins, and the other men sleep in a lounge on the sofas. We were fed soup and bread, mashed potato and hamburger, and at 11:00 pm the "Sakhalin 8" left port and headed out to the open sea.

That's where I write this from now, being pitched and tossed around, wondering if our vehicles (not roped down!) will still be on the deck in the morning.

This was the day that the Lord had made. We rejoiced and were glad because He had done great things for us. We were going to Russia!



Part 3

Sunday

You can't imagine how slow things move in Russia. We finally docked in Kholmsk at 11:00 am and began immigration procedures. A crane came and began unloading cars from the rear deck. One was Reijo's van. Then the crane driver stopped until he was promised more money. A few more cars, and then the dockers slinging the cars wanted more money too. At last the unloading proceeded.

Meanwhile three men from the Yuzhno church appeared and waved to us. A man and a women whom we learned were to be our interpreters were also standing and watching. We had finally made contact with Russian Christians.

Arei, the interpreter, and Volva from Yuzhno came aboard, and told us that we should pay for a police escort back to Yuzhno, because bands of young Russian "Mafia" might stop us and want to "buy" the Japanese cars from us. The Holy Spirit gave us a verse, Ezra 8:22, and we decided to go without the escort and trust the Lord.

Our cars unloaded, we drove through the city of Kholmsk. Then followed a hair-raising high-speed drive up a windy, unsealed, and pot-holed mountain road. When we reached the beginning of the sealed road, I discovered that 19 year-old Kawasaki has only had his drivers licence for two months!

We arrived at a believer's house near the Yuzhno church. Many of the neighbors are Christians in this area. Straight away we had to leave for the special meeting that had been prepared for us that night in the Drama Theatre in Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk.

About 150 had gathered from the Pentecostal and Korean Churches. Reijo, Rev Park and Rev Kim (a Korean Missionary to Yuzhno) all preached. Our team was introduced and we waved our national flags. Many came forward for salvation, healing and other needs. The response of the Russian people surprised me after the reserve of the Japanese.


Although the meeting went till after 10:00 pm, there was still more to do. We returned to the house to get out vehicles, and then to Kolia's apartment for food. This was our first real taste of fellowship with the believers as more than twenty of us crowded into the living room and ate a meal of soup, bread, fish and hot, sweet tea. We would be having many more meals like this one.

Our "hotel" was actually a students' hostel, with no heat, no hot water, no shower, no food, and the middle of the bed mattresses almost touched the floor! But we slept!



Monday

Was it a late breakfast or an early lunch? We found the daily schedule different to what we were used to.

In the early afternoon we visited a State Orphanage, taking boxes of childrens' clothing. The children were separated by age: babies, 1 - 2 years, and 2 - 3 years. There were about 60 children in this orphanage for a variety of reasons. Other that the parents had died, perhaps the mother had some disability like dyslexia or deafness and the child might have the same problem. One little girl has club feet and very little hope for an operation. Another little girl has a hole in her heart, and I later learned that Eileen from the CNN crew has made arrangements for her to go to Moscow for an operation.


We were able to hold the babies and play with the older children. At first some were shy, but as we played with them their fears melted away. But our hearts were touched, and we found it hard to leave when it was time to go.

Our next appointment took us down a muddy road with some of the biggest pot-holes I have ever seen. We stopped outside the Yuzhno Prison, hoping to be allowed in to sing and testify to the prisoners. After talking to a guard for several hours it became apparent we were not going to be allowed in. The CNN team videotaped the guard talking to us until a senior officer came out and shouted at him, and demanded the videotape. Of course they only gave him a blank tape!

Again the night was not yet over as we went back to Kolia's apartment to talk with the pastors from other areas. From this discussion I began to realize some of the great needs of the churches in Eastern Russia.

Transportation is a major problem. Pastor Sasha from Nikolayevsk on the main-land finds it easier to drive around in winter when the Amur River freezes over and provides him with a usable road. His need is a four-wheel-drive vehicle.

His church, just over a year old, already has over 100 believers. Sasha is actually a missionary from Ukraine, and spends six months in Nikolayevsk, then a month back with his family, then back to his church again. He has come to Sakhalin with a singing group of five young people to help with our crusade meetings.

Teaching is also needed. They are anxious for us to send them cassettes, but they also need cassette players too. Such equipment is sometimes available in cities, but in outlying areas everything is scarce. We have brought New Testaments and evangelistic pamphlets, but there is a great lack of teaching material for believers.

We arrived back at our hotel and found that the lady had heated up two large pails of hot water for us. We all enjoyed a "bucket bath" and happily went to sleep.



Tuesday

I thought of how the apostle Paul met the governor of Malta in Acts 28 as we waited to see Mr Fedorov, Governor of the Sakhalin Region of Russia. He welcomed us and gave us letters of authorization for our mission, and thanked us for the humanitarian aid we had brought. Reijo presented him with a Bible, and after taking photographs with him, he was interviewed by the CNN team.

An hour away from Yuzhno is the town of Dolinsk. The local paper mill has recently been closed down, leaving much of the population without jobs. We begin our meeting in the Culture Center and about 80 people came to hear us. I gave my testimony, Reijo and Rev Park preached. There is a small Korean church in this town, but there were many others there that night. Three people came forward to accept Jesus, and we distributed many Bibles and pamphlets.

We were intrigued to find six of the older ladies of Korean origin could speak Japanese, so we could communicate with them without an interpreter.



Wednesday


The next morning I went to the Aeroflot office to buy a plane ticket back to Japan. After the usual Russian waiting time my ticket was ready. But they could not work out the exchange rate for me to pay because the computer was not working. We waited some more. Still not working. We decided to pray: "Lord, please fix the computer and make it work." Then we asked again, and sure enough, the computer was functioning. Why do we always wait so long before praying?

We loaded our cars up with equipment and began the drive to the next crusade meeting. This was a little seaside village called Vsmorje about 150Km away. Flocks of geese wander around on the streets and fields. There were only a few families of Christians here, but over 70 turned up at the village community center. Half of them responded to the call for salvation, and we gave them all New Testaments. Some of our team spent more time giving impromptu Bible studies to these new believers.

After the meeting we visited Mr Okamoto, a Korean man whose parents were brought here before the war. We drank sweet tea and ate caviar on pieces of bread, and then presented the family with a new Bible. Back in our cars, we began the last leg of the day's journey by driving another three hours to the city of Makarov. There was no seal on this road, and we needed to stop several times to clean the mud off our headlights, and to eat a thick slice of bread and sausage that someone nick-named a "Russian Big Mac"!




Thursday

Makarov has a population of 15000 and even more muddy pot-holes! Up on the top of a hill are three white domes which we were told house radio and radar equipment that tracked the ill-fated KAL airliner several years ago. Then I met Yuri, who worked up there until two years ago. Now he runs a private Cable TV station which serves 1300 households. His video camera is only about the same size as mine, and I discovered that his office is in the building that used to be the Communist Party headquarters. I also found out that Yuri is a Ham Radio operator like me, so I was invited to his two room apartment to see his transmitter. His wife served us coffee, but she had not been feeling well. I offered to pray for her, and she showed me the small cross around her neck. She said she believes in God, and after I prayed, she pulled on her coat and came with us to the park where our team was singing and witnessing.

Dozens of young people had gathered to listen to the Gospel songs and to talk to visitors from so many different nations. Some were reading the pamphlets we gave them. Kirsten prayed in the street with five teen-age girls who wanted to receive Jesus, in spite of the taunts from their friends. We rejoiced as we invited them all to the Culture Center for the evening meeting.

About 200 gathered there that night. Yuri was there with his video camera, and lots of children, and even the Mayor of Makarov. Our singing group, Reijo and Rev Park began the meeting. I wanted to teach from the Bible, so I asked that Bibles be distributed to those without them. My message was about Faith, and the Power of the Word of God. Pastor Sasha gave a call for salvation and dozens responded. Others came forward for prayer for healing. Backs, legs, shoulders, and many other problems were healed as we prayed.

One woman came with arthritis in her hands and shoulders. I asked her if there was someone she hated and had not forgiven. Yes, there was a man who had taken away her children many years ago, and she hated him. I told her she had the choice to give up her hatred or keep her arthritis. I led her in a prayer of forgiveness, and then she began to move her fingers and shoulders. The more she moved them, the freer they became, and tears of joy streamed down her face. We saw Jesus do many miracles in Makarov that night.


Friday

We were invited to Mayor Sidorov's office the next morning. Reijo presented him with a Bible, and the mayor gave us each a small City coat-of arms. He spent over an hour showing us around the civic museum and several of the monuments around town. We also gave him some medicine we had brought to donate to the Makarov Hospital.

As we drove out of town, I felt in my heart that I would be back again one day. The team still had five more crusade meetings, but for me this was where I would leave the convoy and head back to Yuzhno to fly out the next day.

The day's adventures were not over yet. Through a series of problems with our vehicles we were left with a car that had a ruptured patrol tank. With a perished piece of hose to the fuel pump from a 20 liter can of petrol jammed in the passenger seat, we struggled to drive the 150Km back to Yuzhno. Our makeshift tank worked, but the petrol was not enough. The can was empty and we were 5Km short. A passing car stopped and towed us the rest of the way, typical of the courtesy of Russian road-users.



Part 4

That night at Kolia's apartment I had a hot bath and good sleep as I prepared to fly to Khabarovsk for church on Sunday and back to Japan on Monday. But my heart would stay on in Sakhalin with the new friends I had made and the great needs I had seen in the churches.

Our Russian brothers and sisters really love the Lord, but they have almost no teaching aids like books or tapes. They also lack much of the equipment that we take for granted: vehicles, sound equipment, copiers, and tools. I left my microphone with the Khabarovsk church because their old one kept crackling and cutting out during the service.

Eastern Russia is still peaceful. Food seemed plentiful although petrol was difficult to buy. We don't know how long this peaceful situation will last, but these churches which have mushroomed in the last year-and-a-half could be a vital factor.

Right now the Japanese government is holding back on extending aid because of the Kuril Island issue, but this has given Christians a wonderful opportunity to offer help with no strings attached. Our trips to Eastern Russia to take aid to churches, hospitals and orphanages are just beginning as we respond to God's leading and a present open window of opportunity.

September 1992,  Noel Morris


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