When Navigators Doug Shake and Vern Peterson received an invitation to return to Russia last summer, they didn’t hesitate. The two Navy veterans love to use their talents and skills to advance the Gospel of Christ. After months of recruiting, training, and raising funds for a team of seven, they departed for two memorable weeks in a tiny village near St. Petersburg.
Their mission was to complete renovations on a dacha, or weekend vacation home, that Navigator staff can use for fellowship and spiritual retreats with their Russian friends. “Life in the city is too distracting,” explains Vern, who leads the Facilities Maintenance team at The Navigators’ U.S. Headquarters in Colorado. “People do not ever let down their guard. But if you invite them out to your dacha in the country, it’s a safe place where people can relax and be themselves. They tend to be more open to conversations about God.”
If a weekend home in the country sounds luxurious, guess again. An estimated 25 percent of Russia’s urban families own dachas, many with poor utilities and no indoor plumbing. The Navigators’ dacha fits that description. “When we arrived last summer,” Vern recalls, “the first structure we built was an outhouse!”
While the primary mission was to repair the dacha, the real ministry occurred through friendships the team made during their two weeks on site. “The biggest blessings come through the unexpected encounters,” says Doug, who has served with The Navigators as a facilities, electronics, and telecommunications specialist for more than 25 years.
The previous year, a widowed grandmother living in the small village came down the street and warily demanded to know what was going on in her neighborhood. The team responded by repairing the door on her house—and made a friend for life. This year, she welcomed them back with smiles and gifts.
In 2007, the team took along softball equipment and spent breaks teaching neighborhood children about good sportsmanship. Last year, they carried in ten pounds of beads for making bracelets. “We look for creative ways to help the kids realize they are valued by God,” says Vern. “The girls liked to make bracelets for us that spelled our names. So one night, one of the guys stayed up late making bracelets for all the girls that spelled out words like ‘beloved of God’ and ‘highly favored.’”
The team also made friends with two young women on vacation from Holland who stopped by to visit their aunt, one of the local Navigators. camping out“Their plan was to spend most of the time touring the city and visiting museums,” says Doug. “Instead, they were so intrigued by the sense of community and fellowship among our team that they stayed and helped us the entire week.”
Thanks to the hard work of skilled volunteers like Doug and Vern’s team, the dacha’s structural integrity is much improved. However, there remains no indoor plumbing. Drinking water comes from a “primitively built” well in the yard, according to Vern, and the Navigator team washes dishes in a large pot on the kitchen table. It’s a little like camping out. But washing dishes together also helps to build a community of trust and grace. The love of Christ fills the house, and eternity is impacted—one weekend at a time.
You can make a world of difference by investing in summer mission trips like this one. Donate online to the Mission Trip Scholarship Fund.