What began as an obliged trip to a local Russian church became a movement to help deaf children receive a fuller education.
“I never wanted to go to Russia,” said the Rev. John Speight, pastor of Christ Church, a United Methodist congregation in Fairfax Station, Va. In 1999, he agreed to accompany his wife on a mission trip the following summer to Pyatigorsk, about 150 miles south of Stavropol out of obligation.
However, once there, Speight and his church members 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."
The following year, Speight returned to Pyatigorsk for missions. While there, he and his team lived at the state boarding school for the deaf. 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 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.
Now, his church members have caught the mission fever, and they already have filled the work team for the 2004 renovation project at the school.
"I'm passionate about this now," said the Reverend.