To Russia With Love

Story by Jeannie Stone

Paul and Barbara Hubbard are not your ordinary missionaries. They are not sponsored by any one church. They are not members of any one group. They did not go through training or learn a new language, and they are a bit older than the norm. Paul is 86 and Barbara is 68.

Barbara admits she always had a love affair with Russia ever since she read a book as a child about the famous Russian ballerina Anna Pavlova.

“That just intrigued me,” she said, “and I started reading everything about Russia I could get my hands on.”

Paul, who retired from Bibler Brother, Inc. lumber company, has always had the heart of a servant, Barbara said.

“He has served several years at Main Street Mission, taught Vacation Bible School, and worked with children during an annual women’s retreat I host,” she said. “And all of his adult life he has maintained an acre garden, giving the produce to the elderly and to the poor. It just killed him to have to give that up last year because of his health.”

Nobody was surprised when the Hubbards ended up hosting a Russian evangelist with former ties to the Billy Graham crusade whenever he was in the area.

We went to listen to him preach,” Barbara said, “and he told Paul and I that we must go to Russia because the people need us. Well, if ever there was a man with a purpose- driven heart, it’s Paul,” she said, “and his servant heart latched on to those words.”

After much prayer the Hubbards began to arrange their ordered lives into an active mission of support and love for the Russian Christians trying to survive hundreds of miles away from the wealthier cities of Moscow and St. Petersburg.

“Russia is a beautiful country with lovely scenery,” Barbara said, “but it also very ugly because of the poverty, crime, poor economy and spiritual darkness.”

According to Barbara, what we are experiencing now is nothing compared to the hardships the Russian people have endured.

“It costs more each year with their economy out of control – not only for us but for the people too,” she said. “The first year our hotel room was $39. Less than a year later it was $129, and last year it was $165. Everything has escalated in price at the market; our airline tickets have increased, too.”

The expense of the ministry is precisely what drives the Hubbards to the various churches and groups to tell of their burden for Russia and offer opportunities to support their work.

“We cannot return without the love and help of our friends and churches,” Barbara said.

The work they do is relief ministering. They encourage and spread love to fledging Christian communities and to cramped orphanages. After the initial visit five years ago, the Hubbards were asked by two pastors to adopt their congregations.

Through Pastor Sergie Milnikov, once brainwashed by the communists to embrace atheism, the Hubbards’ ministry has expanded to include his tiny church in the Tula region and his work at a drug and alcohol rehabilitation center. Both are located in the former state-run Young Pioneer propaganda camp where he was housed as a child.

“The camp was purchased by a wealthy patron,” Barbara said, “and it is now being used to glorify God.”

Milnikov’s church is located in Schekino in the Tula region and before visiting for the first time the Hubbards were told it was a rich church. However, Barbara said the concept of wealth is altogether different in Russia.

“They were rich because three families in the church owned cars,” she said, “all of which were at least 40 years old, and one car didn’t even have a floorboard in the back seat.”

Poverty is rampant, partly due to the consequences of widespread alcoholism, Barbara said. The one paid employee, a little secretary for the camp and employed by the generous patron, used her first year’s earnings to purchase clothes for every member of the church.

“She also sent one of the girls to barber school, and that girl now cuts everyone’s hair outside in a little chair,” Barbara said.

“The ministry is a very big undertaking and very expensive, but the people are precious,” Barbara said. “They share everything they have. After five years visiting over there, though, only twice were we served meat, and it was boiled fish. Every meal over there is cheese, bread and hot tea. I’ve never even seen a skillet there.”

The poor in the United States have the ability to take advantage of social welfare programs or at least get a hot meal or a food basket, Barbara said.

“But the government won’t address the problem of poverty there, and churches simply can’t afford food baskets.”

To add to their concerns Christians are routinely persecuted in some states Barbara said. In predominantly Muslim Nizhney, Novgorod, 1,000 miles away from Schekino where the Hubbards support a different church pastured by Vlad and Olga (last names withheld for security reasons) evangelical churches have been ordered closed. Christians there have been labeled “heretics.” In fact, Olga’s grandparents, and later her parents, were all imprisoned for their faith.

“They’re going underground rather than leave the area,’ Barbara said. “They tell Paul and me that they have to stay because there is no one else to minster to their people.”

The Hubbards send monthly food packages to Vlad and Olga but can’t use their names and must mail to a neutral address. They send powdered milk, Jello (for the nutritional content), powdered potatoes, oatmeal, dried fruits, nuts, Tang and peanut butter.

Barbara said, “Missionary organizations in the United States estimate that the number of martyrs in Russia and China in the last 10 years has exceeded the number of those who were put to death in biblical times.”

Most upsetting to the Hubbards is the condition the children are forced to live in. Their mission work includes several orphanages.

“There seems to be an orphanage almost on every street corner,” Barbara said, “and many of those children are social orphans, unwanted by their parents, and that’s mostly because of the rampant alcohol and drug abuse. Children must fend for themselves, rummaging for food in trashcans.”

There is a large amount of mental retardation because of the lack of proper nutrition and the squalor.

Barbara said, “In orphanages, there are five or six babies in the same crib, pooping on each other, and not one of them cries because no one will come.”

Barbara and Paul take toys and clothes to the children and teach Bible school. The children are always shocked to see the toys Barbara said recalling the complete surprise a little girl showed when she was given a stuffed rabbit.

“She didn’t know there was such a thing as a stuffed animal.”

One of the pleasures of presenting the toys is watching the parents react.

“Mothers who have never had a doll cradle the dolls we give to their daughters,” Barbara said, “and they get on the floor and learn to play jacks that we’d picked up at the Dollar Store.”

One time, the Hubbards were distributing shoeboxes delivered by the Franklin Graham organization, and they ran out of boxes when the last orphans, four teenage boys, stepped up in line.

“Paul remembered the four harmonicas River Valley Piano always gives us,” Barbara said, “and so they received those harmonicas. It was pure joy.”

“One of the first questions children ask is if we have orphanages in the United States,” Barbara said, “and if the children here get adopted.”

“Oh, we cry rivers when we go over there,” Barbara said.

Three years ago Pastor Milnikov asked Barbara for help in establishing some type of craft ministry with the ladies of the church, so that they could have something constructive to do.

“Several churches in the area helped me by supplying scissors, thread and hundreds of quilt blocks, so I could teach them how to quilt,” Barbara said. “They are naturally skilled at working with their hands, but they had only one pair of scissors and no money for supplies.”

The women of the church a world away proudly sew on their quilts, and Barbara brings them home to sell.

“None of this would be possible without our many supporters,” she said. “A tiny freewill church in Centerville sends $100 to Pastor Sergei (Milnikov) every month just so they can keep their ministry going.

Paul’s age has had a positive impact on the ministry, Barbara said.

“Most young people have never seen an old person because of the wars and famines in the region. The life expectancy is only 45 for men and 48 for women.”

The government recognized Paul with a medal of valor, the traditional honor given to Russia’s World War II veterans.

“They told him that any man his age and his condition would leave the comfort of his own country to come to the service of people in another was a true veteran, a true hero,” Barbara said.

“No denomination would commission us at our age, but as Paul says, ‘God has not released us yet from our work in Russia,’” Barbara said.

 

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