Volume 4 Number 2
By Barbara Chaapel
In 1993, when Donald Marsden ('84B) was associate pastor of the Third Presbyterian Church in Richmond, Virginia, he made a trip to Russia to visit several Russian churches and explore their needs and how his congregation could help. Today, he, his wife, Laurie ('86b), and their three children live in a small flat on the banks of the Moscow River and call Russia home.
They are in the third year of a three-year term in Russia as PCUSA mission specialists.
Marsden's primary mission is Christian education. He heads a ministry team that includes six Russian men and women, who teach art, music, and the theory of sports and games in Christian education and who help out in the office the team shares with the Mission for Biblical Literacy. The team has led seminars on children's ministry in Moscow and St. Petersburg, and introduced two new Russian language Vacation Bible School curricula, one on Jonah and one on Ruth.
Marsden has also learned about the publishing business! "I'm very excited about developing a series of ten lessons about Jesus and David that I am calling "Two Boys from Bethlehem,'" he says. "And we have a series on the Gospel of John in the proverbial editorial pipeline." He hopes Russian writers, artists, and editors will take part in these publications.
The Detroit native and cradle Presbyterian has found that the church in Russia is very isolated, having suffered well-documented persecution under the Soviets. "That isolation continues today," Marsden says, "and provides a breeding ground for superstition, which is much more widespread than atheism.
"Although most Russians consider themselves to be Orthodox, the large majority of these have no real concept of the content of Orthodox Christianity. About forty percent of those who say they are Orthodox say they do not believe in God."
Russian Protestants are even further isolated, according to Marsden. They are generally undereducated and poor and have a strong orientation toward evangelism, often ministering among prisoners, orphans, and the poor. "To be Protestant here designates one as a suspicious person," he explains, "perhaps one even associated with American spies."
But Marsden has what he calls "a hero" to whom he looks in helping him to persevere in the face of the challenges of the Russian churches. She is Eve Pomroy (Evelyn Pomroy Lytle), a fellow Princeton graduate. Only she graduated thirty-seven years before Marsden, in the Class of 1947!
Pomroy served with Presbyterian Church missions during her career, primarily teaching in universities in Brazil and Portugal. Fluent in both Spanish and Portuguese, she also worked as a consultant with the State Department in the areas of bilingual education and foreign affairs.
According to Marsden, Pomroy was inspired to study Spanish and to serve in the mission field by former PTS president John Mackay.
"After her retirement from teaching," explains Marsden, "Eve came upon a notice from Campus Crusade seeking teachers in international schools for missionary children. She inquired, but did not send in the application, believing someone younger was needed. Campus Crusade called her a year later and encouraged her to apply."
So at the age of seventy-seven, Eve Pomroy boarded a plane for Moscow, where she spent two years teaching Spanish, British literature, and art history at Hinkson Christian Academy, a school that serves the children of missionaries. There she met the Marsdens, whose children attend Hinkson.
Pomroy left Moscow this past summer, carrying home the deep gratitude of Hinkson's pupils and parents. "We have been so glad of the presence of people like Eve," says Laurie Marsden, "who has challenged students to use their minds and really think."
The Marsdens remain - and prepare for another Moscow winter. But the new flat, Laurie says, has "an oven, a bathtub equipped with a holder for a hand-held showerhead, and a washing machine that actually fits in the bathroom instead of the kitchen, where it was in the old apartment, so we're in fine shape."
Having spent last year directing the Russian Language Program at Hinkson, she is happy to be "just an assistant" this year, giving her time to work with the Alcoholics Anonymous presence in Moscow. "I attend seminars that explain the nature of addiction and ways to bring healing to families," she says. "And, believe it or not, I can actually help translate!"
Donald, meanwhile, will continue teaching, writing, and meeting with pastors and congregations to learn of their joys and needs and to connect them with American congregations in partnerships under the PCUSA's Twinning Project.
Under the project's auspices, representatives of American churches travel to Russia to meet their Russian counterparts. The Marsdens coordinate the work of the participating congregations, presently fourteen churches in each country. A brand new initiative offers Sunday schools in America a chance to partner with those in Russia by mail and email, without the expectation of traveling.
The Marsdens are grateful for the prayers and support of both friends and strangers at home. "We are far apart physically," Laurie acknowledges, "but we sense so much love and support emotionally and spiritually."
You can reach the Marsden "tribe" - Donald, Hannah, Christiana, Jeremiah, and Laurie - at DMarsdenjr@maf.org
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