Dr. Clarence “Pete” Hughes has spearheaded an outreach ministry to Russia for the past 20 years. He still can’t believe the impact on his life.
“I never in my life dreamed I would be involved in something like this,” said Hughes, 84. “It’s been a wonderful thing. I’ve met so many good people.”
Hughes is familiar to area residents as the former superintendent of Morris Community High School District 101, a position he held from 1982-91. He now lives in Roanoke, east of Peoria.
There, he serves as chairman of the Novrogod, Russia, Mission Outreach Program, established in 2001 under the auspices of the United Methodist Church in Roanoke. The program grew from a series of trips for the Fellowship of Christian Farmers International of Lexington north of Bloomington.
Since 2015, the program has been operated as an independent, nonprofit 501(c)(3) entity under Hughes’ guidance. He has made 28 trips to Russia since 1993.
Established in 859 A.D., Novrogod is considered the oldest city in Russia and was an early rival to Moscow. Today, the city is home to some 250,000 residents, including Anatoli Korabel, the pastor of the Novrogod Christian Church, the focus of the mission outreach.
“Anatoli is a remarkable man,” Hughes said. “He’s Ukranian by birth and was drafted into the Russian army. We met on my first trip to Russia in 1993, and we talk on the phone often. He’s such a wonderful servant of the church, and so dedicated to his ministry.”
A primary emphasis of the mission is alcohol rehabilitation, as addiction to liquor is a severe problem in Russia.
“There are over 44 million alcoholics in Russia,” Hughes said. “Vodka is the addictive drink they have, and it does ruin lives.”
In 2003, Hughes was asked if the mission could financially support a rehabilitation program in nearby Vibitie, in a building that Hughes and his wife, Carol, had purchased for a church. There are 10 to 20 men in the facility at any one time, with a typical stay of seven months.
“We wanted it to be established as a Christian-based program, something to change lives,” Hughes said. “The men in the program have to understand that they can’t let alcohol control their life; they have to let Jesus Christ control their lives. They regularly study the Bible, and no alcohol or drugs are allowed.
“Once they’re out, they must to go to church and keep in contact with fellow believers,” Hughes said. “The alcohol rehab is really the heart of our program.”
To date, the program has successfully rehabilitated about 500 men. “They have jobs, get married and live a good life,” Hughes said. “How do you place a dollar value on that?”
In addition, the Russia Mission Outreach Program also benefits an orphanage with financial support to buy shoes, clothing and school supplies.
“When we’d go over there, I would take along a lot of items that were in demand there,” said Hughes, who paid for all expenses. “I’d take seeds for gardens, eyeglasses, over-the-counter medicines and things like that. There is such need for those items there.
“The Russian people are so much like us,” Hughes said. “They just want to raise their kids, get along with others and live a good life. We have many dear friends there.
“We’ve been there so many times that people know us when we come in,” he laughed. “Word spreads, and they say, ‘hey, the Americans are back.’ ”
Hughes’ inspiration for his mission stems in part from his childhood. One of four children, he was raised in tiny La Fayette, which has a population of about 300 residents.
“I was raised in the faith,” he said. “My dad died when I was 9, and my mother raised her four children. I have a strong feeling to do something like this, to change people’s lives for the good.”
Hughes, who has donated heavily to his program, hopes to find someone to take over the mission.
“I don’t want this to end,” he said. “This has helped so many people, and I feel like we are doing God’s work. I want that to continue.”
Donations to the Novgorod, Russia, Mission Outreach Program are tax-deductible. Checks or money orders may be made payable to “Russia Mission Program” and mailed to Hughes at P.O. Box 1055, Roanoke, IL 61561.
• Tom Emery is a freelance writer and historical researcher from Carlinville. He can be reached at 217-710-8392 or email@example.com.