Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Confessions, Prayers, Contact Info, and Our Schedule


First, let me confess. I know that I have been bad about keeping up with my blog over the past year. Social networking like Facebook and Twitter have allowed me to post snippets of information throughout the day and consequently I have been reluctant to take the time to write detailed blog entries about my experiences. With that being said, I am trying to renew my commitment to blogging on a regular basis. However, in the meantime, if you are not friends with me on Facebook or if you do not follow me on Twitter, let me encourage you to do that because I communicate more using those tools than any others.

Our time in the States has been fantastic so far. We have been able to visit with family and friends, and are slowly starting to readjust to life in America. Sarah Beth is in her freshman year at John Brown University in Arkansas. The kids are in school and loving it. Kellye is teaching at Fleming Island High School for the year we are home and I am working on getting some seminary hours and continuing to work on some of my projects from Russia.

We are also using this time in the States to speak with as many churches as we can. We have a pretty rigorous schedule in December and January and many of you have asked when and where we will be. So, I will post our schedule at the end of this entry.

How can you pray for us?

One of the great things about being called as a missionary is that God changes your heart so that you come to love the people and places you are called to serve. This has certainly happened to us and there are many days we are homesick -- not for our old lives here, but for the crowded, snowy streets of Moscow; our small Russian-speaking church which met in a rented room; our group of Russian English students that came to our home every week; or the corner fruit stand that we would visit on our nightly walks. So please pray that our time in the States will be what we need it to be. Pray that it will be restful, filled with chances to spend time with family and old friends. Pray for Kellye as she works and for myself as I complete classwork. And pray for the children as they continue to experience the many things that make their lives in America different from their lives in Europe.

Please pray for strength and stamina as we travel and speak with churches. Also pray that we effectively share the Good news about what God is doing in Central and Eastern Europe.

And pray for God to return us to the places and to the people we have been called to serve. In the midst of all these other things we are doing, we must complete the mountain of paperwork that will allow us to return to the field as career missionaries. This is no small task. Pray also for our IMB consultant, Bonnie, as she shepherds us through the process of returning to the field. If we are able to complete all of the things we need to this year, we plan to return to Europe in the fall of 2011.

As always, thank you for your continued prayers, support, and gifts. It is because of your faithfulness that we have been able to fulfill our calling.



Our Speaking Schedule (December & January)

Wednesday, December 1

FBC Bushnell (Marc Only)

Bushnell, Florida


Friday, December 3

Cresthill Baptist Church

Savannah, Gorgia

5 pm

Sunday, December 5

Amelia Baptist Church (Marc Only)

Fernindina Beach, Florida

9 am

Salt Springs Baptist Church (Kellye Only)

Salt Springs, Florida

10:15 am

FBC Maxville

Jacksonville, Florida

6 pm

Sunday, December 12

FBC Middleburg (Kellye Only)

Middleburg, FL

9 & 10:30 am

FBC Interlochen (Marc Only)

Interlochen, Florida

10:45 am

Monday, December 13

Kellye & Hannah Mini-Concert for Seniors

FBC Middleburg

6 pm

Sunday, December 19

Forest Heights Baptist Church (Marc Only)

Tallahassee, Florida

9 am

Sunday, December 26

FBC Palatka

Palatka, FL

9 am

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Long Branch Baptist Church

Jacksonville, Florida

11 am

Tuesday, February 8

FBC Glenn St. Mary’s

McClenny, Florida

11 am

Contact Information

Stateside Address:

Marc Ira Hooks

2234 Parsonage Street

Middleburg, FL

Email: Marc@EngageRussia.org

Office Phone: 904-371-4269

Mobile Phone: 904-495-3737

Twitter: hoomar

Facebook: www.facebook.com/mhooks

Blog: www.marcirahooks.blogspot.com/

Monday, April 5, 2010

Russian Easter in Plzen

Yesterday we went to the Russian Baptist church here in Plzen. It was the first time we had been. We were greeted warmly by every member (only about 20) at the door who gave the traditional "Kristos Voskress!" (He is risen!) to which we replied "Va-eestinu Voskress!" (He is risen, indeed!)

While we were waiting for the service to start, the pastor spent a lot of time talking with us. I had met him at a meeting about a year and a half ago and he remembered me from that time. Also, in Russian Baptist culture it is very important as to who you know, so we spent a lot of time with us asking each other "do you know this person...do you know that person...i have worked with him..." And, I guess when I demonstrated my pedigree he asked me if I would speak that morning.

Of course, I thought I would just get up and introduce myself and explain a little about my work. However, I guess I had a lapse of sensibility and had forgotten where I was. When the pastor introduced me, he explained my work and the fact that I had worked with many of the senior pastors that he knew in Russia (basically everything I had prepared in my mid to say) and then invited me to the pulpit. So there I was...

Of course, I have preached in Russian before and I have found that you just have to follow Mark Twain's advice: Write what you know about." So I started telling simple stories about congregations that I have met during my travels and reminding them that "We are not alone." That no matter how large or small your congregation is, that no matter how many people you feel that you are NOT reaching for Christ, that we, as believers, are not alone. Now, I must admit that I did turn to the pastor's son, who also speaks English, for some assistance in translating. But, considering that I was totally unprepared to speak, I was pleased that I was able to bring a 10-15 minute message.

After the service, I was explaining to the pastor that I travel quite a bit. However, when I am in town, this will be our church home. He asked me if I was going to be in town on the 18th because that is the anniversary of the day that Stalin had has grandfather and many others executed. He explained that he and his family would be attending a memorial service that day and asked me (I think) if I would stand-in as the pastor that Sunday. So, I am waiting for his email to confirm this. But, it appears that at the least I will be preaching again (in Russian) at the church on the 18th. I must say, that when I came to the field nearly three years ago it never really entered my mind that this would be the role I would fill.

Yet another reminder that life on the mission field is NEVER, NEVER dull.


Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Vancouver-Day One: Olympic Fever

Wednesday, February 10, 2010 – Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada

Team Engage Russia is on the move again! Never content to stay in one place too long, we have been working on an Olympic edition of Engage Russia. Three weeks ago we were on the banks of the Black Sea in Sochi, Russia – host city for the 2014 Winter Olympic Games. And this week we are on the other side of the globe in Vancouver, Canada for the 2010 Winter Olympics!

It is not hard to get Olympic fever around here. It starts as you get off the plane and just continues to build. We even saw the Ukrainian Ski Team unloading their gear at the airport, as well as a number of athletes from Sweden. Already we are seeing similarities between the two Olympic cities. Both have a large portion of the city situated along major bodies of water (the Black Sea in Sochi and the Pacific Ocean in Vancouver) and both have spectacular snow-capped mountain ranges within eyesight of the shore. In addition, the temperatures in both cities have hovered around the mid-to-upper 40s – mild as compared to a lot of other cities which have hosted the Winter Games.

Day One was spent, as usual, getting acquainted with a new city. We spent the day walking the streets, figuring out the public transportation, and taking in the sights of the city. The day started off with a few clouds, but by the end of the day it was quite chilly and rainy. Of course, Olympic venues are under very tight security, so there are many places (like the Olympic Village) where you are only allowed to be if you have the proper credentials. However, our purpose for being here is not to actually cover the games, but to find out how Southern Baptists are using this event as a stage for outreach and evangelism.

This week more than 500 Southern Baptist volunteers will make their way north to Vancouver. Most are partnering with a multi-denominational organization called More Than Gold, a relational network organized in response to the Winter Games. More Than Gold’s mission is to extend radical Christian hospitality to the estimated 300,000 visitors expected for the Olympics. More information about the group can be found at www.morethangold.ca.

After having just come from Sochi, it was exciting to find the “Russky Dom” (Russia House) where workers were busily preparing to cheer on the Russian athletes and to promote the 2014 games in Sochi. The Russia House is located in Vancouver’s bulbous science museum just outside of the Olympic Village.

Tomorrow we will join up with the volunteers and More Than Gold officials. It will be exciting to see how God will use the 2010 Winter Olympic Games to grow his kingdom. Stay tuned!

More photos from day one can be seen at: http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=2047089&id=1072353850&l=4a9aacd5d3

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Wrapping up in Karelia

Sunday, January 10, 2010 – Petrozavodsk, Russia – Republic of Karelia

We are wrapping up our work in Karelia today. As with most places in Russia, I really hate to leave.

This morning was disappointing. When we arrived in Karelia we had the address and phone number for a congregation of believers in Petrozavodsk. While we were able to find the church building, the phone number we had did not have enough digits, so we were not able to make telephone contact with the pastor. However, the church had the times of the services posted on the two and twice we tried to connect with the believers here, but to no avail. This morning we watched as 10:30 came and went and there was no sign of life at the little church building.

We don’t know what happened or where the believers were. But they were certainly not there. Their absence could have been due to the fact that Christmas was celebrated this past week and they chose to cancel services for the rest of the week. It could be that due to the expense of having electricity and heat, the congregation could be meeting in a home to save money. (I did notice one car parked on the street that had a “Jesus Fish” on the back of it. Common in America, very out of the ordinary here.) Wherever they are, will you keep them in your prayers? Will you also pray about how you might become involved in this area?

Photographs from our morning can be seen here.

This evening we will get back on a train headed for Moscow. We are due to arrive around 9am. We will then start making our way to the airport for the second leg of this journey – Sochi, which is located on the Black Sea and will be the home of the 2014 Winter Olympics. And, this may come as quite shock to our bodies which have adapted to the near 0F temperatures. Sochi is forecast to be 50-degrees WARMER than it is here!

Please continue to pray as we travel, not just for us, but for our families who are at home without us. Due to travel, I will probably not update blogs until Tuesday night. However, I will try to keep my Facebook and Twitter status’ current for those of you who like the “blow-by-blow” accounts of our adventures. Thanks for praying and for following along!



Saturday, January 9, 2010

Northern Stars and Well Water

Saturday, January 9, 2010 – Petrozavodsk, Russia – Republic of Karelia

It is a clear, albeit cold, night in Petrozavodsk. As we were walking back to the hotel I stopped by the lakeshore in the hopes to see the Aurora Borealis. However, we are not quite far enough north to see that amazing sight. Oh well, I guess I have to have a few things left on my “Bucket List.” Maybe during my next trip to Murmansk it will be clear enough; it was not last year during my first trip.

I am not sure that I have ever seen the stars in the way I did tonight. I must confess, I actually forgot about looking for the Northern Lights until I was walking back and something caught my eye. It was Mars. It is no surprise that I am pretty geeky anyway, but it was so cool to see this planet tonight. It just seemed to be popping out of the sky. And, there was no mistaking what it was. I have never seen it look so red. Really quite amazing. My favorite constellation is Orion, and he was easily identifiable as he crossed the northern sky. There is just something comforting about being in an unfamilar place, but seeing the stars from home.

I have been thinking a lot about water today. We met three women today as we were shooting stand-ups near the artesian well where the people from this part of town to get their water (yes, many places in Russia still do not have running water in their homes…fortunately, our hotel does.) One of them was sharing the history of the 45-year old well and she explained that the lake (which was about 500 yards away) has very dirty water. And, that the water which comes out of this well is very clean.

For the rest of the day, my mind has been consumed with the thought of how important clean water is. These women certainly recognize the importance of getting clean water and what it means for their own health and for the health of their families.

Quite some time ago in a place far from here, there was another woman who came to a well for water. Like these women, she met a stranger - a foreigner - at the well who told her that what she needed was “Living Water.” Of course, that man was Jesus. The Message version of the Bible says Jesus told her, “When you drink this water (from the well) you will get thirsty again and again. Anyone who drinks the water I give will never thirst—not ever. The water I give will be an artesian spring within, gushing fountains of endless life."

One of the things that occurred to me today as I pondered the events of the day and the story from the Bible was this: our world is so polluted with religious messages. Many think they are getting what they need. They think that what they are getting is good for them. After all, who would think that water could be bad for you? Water is water, after all. However, these three women at the well today reminded me of an important fact. Getting water is not enough. To be healthy we must have clean water.

Let’s make sure that as we come into contact with people -- no matter what country, culture, or society you live in – that you are pointing people to a clean source of water, not just any puddle or lake. There are a lot of bodies of water that, on the surface, look clean. A walk through the streets of Prague will reveal many posters leading you to some of those different bodies of water as they offer better living through meditation, exercise, and a host of other religious options.

As Christians, we can put up signs and posters that lead people to Living Water. We can build fancy buildings that cover the well and hope that people will recognize that as a place to come to get the Living Water. We can build a water park and have events where we hope that people will be attracted to the fun and adventure of the Living Water. And, we can even spend our spare time updating our Facebook and Twitter status’ to talk about the blood of Jesus and hope that people will feel guilty for not having the Living Water. But, wouldn’t Jesus be happier if we just sat down by the well and invited our friends to join us as we share a drink with him? A drink of Living Water? Maybe then there would be more people coming to the well and less people pulling water from the lake.



Friday, January 8, 2010

This was a light day?

Friday, January 8, 2010 – Petrozavodsk, Russia – Republic of Karelia

Today was not as busy as others, but physically it seems to have taken its toll. As with most places in Russia, we walk almost everywhere we go, and the main section of Petrozavodsk is not very large. An average day consists of 3-4 miles of walking. Today, however, I think we put about double that amount under our feet. That is a lot of mileage under good circumstances, but add to that snowy and icy sidewalks and a couple of inches of new snow to that and the going is even rougher. Needless to say, tonight we are pretty worn out.

Temperatures here have also played a factor. This morning’s high of 14F quickly dropped and shortly after noon it was around 5F with wind chills below zero. Tomorrow’s highs are expected to be 3F.

We have spent the past couple of days collecting research on Petrozavodsk, the Republic of Karelia and the Karelian people. The task of the day was to shoot video of me in different places around town sharing that information. So, we did not cover a lot of new ground, but revisited a lot of familiar territory. That task will continue tomorrow as we ran out of sunlight faster than we wanted, and felt the temperatures dropping.

Of course, no day here seems to be without adventure and today was no different. Petrozavodsk is located on the shore of Europe’s second largest lake, Lake Onega. Right now the lake is covered with two feet of ice and another two feet of snow. What better conditions than to join the other ice fishermen on the lake? We trekked about 200 yards from the shoreline over the frozen surface and quickly struck up a friendship with Vladimir who allowed us to join him for a little bit. As we were talking we were able to pull a few small fish out of the ice and had a couple of others that got away. It was a strange experience to know that you were sitting in the middle of a lake and visions of the opening scene of “It’s A Wonderful Life” kept running through my head. However, it is an experience that I shall cherish and never forget.

More photos of Vladimir can bee seen here.

According to the sign on the door of the church that Tim found yesterday they were supposed to hold services tonight – a prayer meeting we think. We were hoping to make contact with the pastor and other church members so we could start working on a story about what God is doing in this part of Russia. However, when we arrived at 6:00pm tonight, the lights were off and the doors were locked. We are praying that was just because this week has been a holiday week that the doors were locked. I can’t imagine anything sadder than to find a church has had to close and lock their doors. To our knowledge, this is the only evangelical church in the area, and possibly the entire Republic.

Continue to pray for us as we work. We have more stand-ups and video of the city to shoot tomorrow. And since we are not used to the bitter cold it seems to be zapping our energy levels more than expected. Also pray for the church here. We hope the closed doors are not a permanent condition.



Thursday, January 7, 2010

An "Air-Bus", Wooden Churches and More...

Thursday, January 7, 2010 – Petrozavodsk, Russia – Republic of Karelia

С Рождеством Христовым (Merry Christmas) from the Russian north! Today is the day that Russians celebrate Christmas. We could talk about that, but will save that discussion for another day.

If anyone ever tries to tell you that missions work is boring, they are lying! Today was another day filled with fun and adventure. And, every time I think that this country can no longer amaze me, I am wrong. Mother Russia has plenty of surprises up her sleeves.

The day started before sunrise (9am) as I motored toward the airport in the taxi. Due to limited space for the excursion, Tim and I had to split up today, which meant I would be going to the ethnographic museum on the island of Кижи (Kizhi).

Since some have asked the question already, Ethnography aims to describe the nature of those who are studied (i.e. to describe a people, an ethnos.) In the biological sciences, this type of study might be called a "field study" or a "case report," both of whi

ch are used as common synonyms for "ethnography." (Thank you, Wikipedia) So, an ethnographic museum is a place that tries to capture and/or describe the nature of a particular people group. Often times these museums are outdoor exhibition centers. Many of you have visited Colonial Williamsburg in Virginia. This is a good example of an ethnographic museum. And, when we are traveling to new parts of Russia, we often seek these museums out so that we may better understand the culture of the native ethnic people of the area. It can sound a little boring when you describe it, but getting to see it first-hand is far from boring.

When I booked this trip, with the help of the wonderful workers at our hotel, I was told that I would be taking an “air-bus” to the island. But after walking onto the airfield from what had to be the smallest airport I have ever been in, I soon realized that our “air-bus” was a helicopter! And, after a 30-minute ride at 300 meters above the frozen lake below, we landed opposite one of the most beaut

iful Russian Orthodox churches I have ever seen.

This link will take you to more information about the island and the buildings found there.

Most of the wooden buildings on the island were constructed in the early 1700s. The churches are native to Kizhi, while the other wooden structures were brought to the island to preserve them and so they could be part of the exhibition. I had a wonderful, English-speaking guide who gave me a tour of the complex. We talked some about native Karelian life and she echoed what we have come to learn…the Karelian way of life is dying. The Karelian language never did have a written form, and fewer and fewer people speak Karelian in this modern age. She added that most young people were leaving the Karelian villages and going to live and work in the big cities, such as Petrozavodsk, St. Petersburg and Moscow. Consequently, only older people remain in the Karelian villages of the Russian north and as they die, their culture is dying with them.

A link to some photo highlights of the day can be found here.

While I was off exploring the island, Tim was up to his own bit of exploring. His task for the day: find the Baptist church. That task may sound like an easy one if you are living in the rural south of the United States, but here in Russia, that can almost always be like finding a needle in a haystack. We knew that several years ago Russian Baptist church planters had been able to start a Baptist congregation here. However, we did not really know where and how to find them. But, Tim succeeded! According to the sign on the door they will be having a service (of some sort) tomorrow night and we are hoping to attend and make contact with the pastor and other church leaders.

So, continue to pray for us as we brave the frigid temperatures in this area close to the Arctic Circle. But, even more, pray that we will be able to make contact with our Baptist brothers and sisters tomorrow night so that we can tell stories about how God is at work in this area. And lastly, begin praying now about how God can use you to minister to the people of Karelia.