Convoy of Hope
Not only have over 500 toothaches been cured, using dental equipment you helped to provide, but also over 2000 people have heard the Gospel as a result of the Convoy of Hope. The Convoy, comprising just two vehicles so far, has made three major trips from its base in St Petersburg to the Ural Mountains, where Europe meets Asia. Each trip took three days and an average of 1400 miles each way. Altogether 655 people have been treated, between them having around 350 fillings and over 500 bad teeth removed. They included homeless and old people at a shelter (along with the staff of the shelter!), and pastors on retreat. An ex drug-addict, now working at a rehabilitation centre, had the roots of 15 teeth pulled out, the teeth themselves having fallen out long ago! The dental equipment was purchased from a grant provided by Natalya’s Fund. The Convoy team has shown the “Jesus” video (a literal portrayal of the life of Christ according to Luke’s Gospel) 41 times, and estimate that through the Convoy 2160 people have heard the Gospel message in one way or another. Forty have committed their lives to Christ.
For its first trip in September 2002 eleven people, including Convoy leaders Fernao* & Alice*, Arisha* the dentist, her husband Yov*, a pastor, and their two children, Ninoska*, 8, and Leonid*, 6, visited the small city of Tyernushka in the republic of Tatarstan. At this point eight members of local churches (including one church which Yov had planted) joined the Convoy team. Hundreds in outlying villages also heard the Gospel and had free medical and dental treatment.
A correspondent from a local TV station came to interview them. “The reporter just couldn’t understand why we had travelled more than 2000 kilometres to help people who we didn’t even know,” stated Fernao.
“At the end of the week,” he added, “we rented a large hall and invited many people along to hear the Gospel on Friday and Saturday evening. During these two meetings we had some lovely times of worship led by Arisha, our dentist, playing the electric organ.”
Tatarstan has a population of 3,760,000, most of whom are Muslim, although there are reckoned to be about 300 Christian believers (figures taken from Operation World, 6th Edition (2001), by Johnstone and Mandryck).
Kungur—a town on the confluence of three rivers, 45 miles south of the city of Perm—was the destination of another trip. It is one of the oldest towns in the Urals Region, founded as a fortress in 1648 and now with a population of 75,500. In the 19th century, merchants established trade relations with Asia and it became the largest tea-dealing town in the country. It has been said that its name can be translated as “dark”. For the inhabitants light came with the Convoy of Hope.
Between trips, the Convoy of Hope has continued to help Tajik refugees in St Petersburg. Many of you will be aware that the city celebrated its 300th anniversary last year. But not all the inhabitants were celebrating. In an effort to “clean up” the city for the international celebrations, the police went to the refugee camps one morning before dawn and forced out the Tajiks, burning their tents and anything they did not have time to pack. The refugees were put onto trains for a 16-hour journey to another city.
What hope did they have? They had endured an extremely hard winter in their home-made tents, with temperatures staying below -20°C for many weeks, and even reaching -33°C. But the Convoy had given them hope. It has helped over 2000 Tajiks—with food (more than 30 tons in two and a half years), clothing, blankets, and plastic sheeting for their tents. They have also shared the Gospel with them, so let’s pray that the seeds sown in their hearts would bear fruit in their lives.
The refugee families also received dental treatment, thanks to the equipment you helped the Convoy of Hope to buy. Alice & Fernao wrote, “It was great to see the happy faces of the refugees, many with tears in their eyes, after they had their teeth treated. They couldn’t stop commenting how Arisha was ‘the best dentist in the world’ because when she treated them they felt no pain! We praise God that she is a great professional, but actually the secret was the anaesthetic. Practically none of the Tajiks have had dental treatment where anaesthetic has been used as in the local Russian clinics you have to pay extra for the privilege—even when your tooth is being pulled out!”
* Names changed, just to be on the safe side