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Russia Initiative Newsletter

This occasional newsletter gives up-to-date information about the Russia Initiative, which includes the countries of Russia, Belarus, Ukraine and Moldova.

September 2007

Greetings to all participants and friends of the Russia Initiative, a program of the General Board of Global Ministries, The United Methodist Church

This newsletter contains the following features:
  1. Russia Initiative Consultation XIII
  2. "Teaching Evangelism in Russia"
  3. Russia Disciple Project
  4. Method-East - News from the Eurasia Annual Conferences

1. Russia Initiative Consultation XIII

We have been preparing for and eagerly anticipating an exciting Russia Initiative Consultation November 15-17 at the United Methodist Church of the Resurrection in Leawood, Kansas. With your wonderful support, it is likely that we will have the largest Eurasian delegation, including pastors and laity from Russia, Ukraine and Moldova. On behalf of the Eurasian pastors, we thank you for making this delegation possible.

Time is getting close so please register soon! Your registration within the next two weeks before October 15 will help us in our preparations. We look forward to seeing representatives from churches that have been a part of our program for a period of time. The fellowship, inspiration and information sharing are invaluable for maintaining the progress and energy we enjoy in this mission. We also welcome new people interested in learning about the Russia Initiative mission program and how your church may become involved.

You can find the Consultation Program and other information about the gathering on our website. Online registration and hotel reservations are available for your convenience together with forms that can be downloaded, printed and mailed. http://new.gbgm-umc.org/work/initiatives/russia/consultation/

Come, enjoy and celebrate!

2. "Teaching Evangelism in Russia"

Sergei Nikolaev, Professor of Evangelism at the Russia United Methodist Theological Seminary in Moscow is the author of an excellent article that appeared in the May/June issue of New World Outlook, a publication of the General Board of Global Ministries.

You may find a linkage to the article "Teaching Evangelism in Russia" on the Russia Initiative website at: http://new.gbgm-umc.org/work/initiatives/russia/

3. Russia Disciple Project

Did you know that the widely used Disciple Bible Study I has been translated into the Russian language and is already becoming a valuable resource for adult Bible studies and discipleship education in Eurasia? We are grateful to the laity of the North Georgia Annual Conference, a number of churches across the country and the United Methodist Publishing House that supported this project.

Now, we are encouraging support for the publication of Disciple Bible Study II that focuses on Genesis-Exodus and Luke-Acts. Much of the translation work has already been done. The goal is to raise $50,000 within the next year to finish the translation and development of resources for publication in Eurasia. Are there Sunday School classes, graduates and participants of Disciple Bible Study in your church that might like to contribute to this project?

Funds in support of this project can be made payable to: "General Board of Global Ministries." Please write on the check "Advance Special #14275A, for Russia Disciple Project."

Please send to: General Board of Global Ministries Advance GCFA P. O. Box 9068 GPO New York, NY 10087-9068

4. News from The Eurasia Annual Conferences

News from The United Methodist Church in Eurasia
Khamovnicheskiy val, 24, stroenie 2, Moscow 119048, Russia
Telephone & fax: +7-495-242 1774; E-mail: office@umc-eurasia.ru and bishop@umc-eurasia.ru http://www.umc-eurasia.ru/english/index.php

September 3, 2007

On Tour in Eurasia

The Eurasian "Annual Conference Tours" this year started already in May in Ekaterinburg, the third largest city in Russia, and the gateway towards the East. First United Methodist Church, our host congregation, is one of the mother churches in modern United Methodism in Eurasia. Olga Kotsuba was part of the leadership team already back in1991, and is now the senior pastor and superintendent of the Ural District.

During the East Russia and Central Asia Annual Conference, five new church groups were registered. Three of them were new church plants in the Urals, Kazakhstan and Tajikistan; one was a local church that re-opened in Vladivostok; and one was an independent congregation that applied to become part of the UMC connection.

The mood and spirit of the session gives you an idea of how it might have been during the pioneer time in America long ago. Due to the vast distances (five time zones!), many of the pastors and lay delegates have not seen each other since last year. Organizational finesses like written reports are not always available. But testimonies about Jesus and the urgency of the mission is there. The church is on the move.

Down South

When you go to the South in Russia, it gets hotter. The debate is more intense, and you notice a certain Baptist influence in some of the radical viewpoints. Although there is a strong women leadership in the conference, you sometime sense the tension around the status and role of women. The conference is well aware of its function and task.

The South Russia Provisional Annual Conference meets at Camp Voronezh (locally known as Camp Crystal), a retreat- and recreation center 20 miles outside Voronezh. The camp got a new director in Irina Efremova last winter, and you can already see the result of some good initiatives. The center is owned by Russia United Methodist Church. But since it is situated in the Black Soil District, its pastors and lay people have special interest and responsibility for it. By Russian standard it is in acceptable condition, and is already the natural center for youth and children camps, annual conference sessions, Tres Dias weekends, and United Methodist Women's conferences. But in order to attract people from outside the church and make the center financially self-sufficient the standard needs to be lifted. So for yet a number of years it will be an obvious mission program in need for financial support and Volunteers In Mission visits.

To the Capital

After a break in first half of June, which gave time for some twenty-five students in the Extension course to occupy the Theological Seminary and for Bishop Hans Växby to visit Minnesota Annual Conference, the tour recommenced in Moscow.

The Central Russia Annual Conference meets in the Seminary, which is the home of much more than theological training. The chapel is the sanctuary for three United Methodist congregations meeting in the weekend, Kimgansan UMC on Saturday, Moscow UMC (known as Central Church and another of the Methodist mother churches in Russia) on Sunday morning, and Raduga Ministry on Sunday afternoon. During the week it is also the office of the Area Communicator, the Administrative Director of Education, General Board of Global Ministries' Area Finance Executive and the Bishop.

Since the single Russia Annual Conference divided into four and later five conferences, the plan has been to register all annual conferences separately. It has not been easy, all things like that are time consuming in Russia. At this session, finally, the conference could celebrate its legal status. The procedure has been a pilot project for the lawyers, now the same thing will be processed for the other three annual conferences in Russia. In Ukraine, the annual conference is already registered.

The Highlight

Ukraine and Moldova Provisional Annual Conference was, no doubt, the highlight of the "tour" this year. As a result of the Leadership Training Institute in March led by pastor Adam Hamilton and members of the Church of Resurrection in Kansas City, churches were asked to reflect on why people should come to their church, create purpose statements and strategic goals for the upcoming conference year. This "homework" was then discussed in a plenary session of the annual conference as different churches shared their purpose statements, goals and results so far. Everyone was excited to learn of the progress and growth of the fellow churches in the conference as the concepts learned at the seminar were implemented at the local level. You could feel the energy in the conference - the church is really on the move.

The Ukraine and Moldova Conference was glad to fill out the Moldova part of the Conference name by accepting into the Conference The Great Commission United Methodist Church in Kishinev, Moldova. Pastor Leonard Chorny said the church intended to plant other United Methodist Churches throughout Moldova, a country which borders Ukraine to the south.

Along with the significant increase in giving, the desire to be self-supporting has been actively discussed among the churches this year. The conference voted on a 10% reduction each year in the amount of church program money received from abroad.

Going West

In early July, Northwest Russia Provisional Annual Conference met in resort center at the Finnish Gulf, in the St. Petersburg District, where Methodism made its first entry back in the 1880s. This year the conference celebrated two very special occasions. One of the pastors, Zemfira Abramova, was married to her Boris on Saturday evening. And during the closing worship on Sunday, one pastor was ordained Elder, and six (!) pastors were commissioned, of whom three have seminary training and three have several years of ministry as local pastors. In this conference, as in all the previous four, Bishop Hans Växby led training sessions on "Sharing faith", "Sharing time", and "Sharing resources". A pamphlet with worksheet for each theme was distributed, also for copying and using in the local churches. The conferences also had a theme song, translated from Swedish via English by Lena Kim.

UMC Eurasia Conference and Evangelism Festival

Yet one conference was held in July, the Eurasia Conference with delegates from all five conferences, dealing with policy and financial matters still held in common.

The conference started, however, with an Evangelism Festival. A competition had been going on during the year about the best evangelism project relevant and functioning in the Eurasian context. Invited to the festival were the six finalists, who presented their original plans and reported how it had worked out. The question had been raised; can you really compete in evangelism? The intention was to stir up the imagination and inspire to courageous and faithful service to the Lord. The participants in the festival could confirm that the purpose of the competition had been fulfilled!

The most important item on the business agenda was "church property". All conferences, guided by the Administrative Council, have worked with the matter over two years. Now an extensive policy document was adopted. It contains a teaching part, a legal part, and, attached, a number of forms and informational documents.

Special guests at the conference were the Russia Initiative Coordinator, Jim Athearn and his wife Mary Ashton. Challenged by Dr. Athearn's report, the conference divided into groups to discuss how the communication between Supporting and Supported Congregations can be improved. The ideas presented by the groups have been compiled in a memo to the Eurasian districts, and will be followed up by the district superintendents.

The conference failed to finalize a revised pension plan, and the question whether to have one common or five separate boards of ordained ministry continues to be an issue.

Educational Challenge and Hope

The new church year starts with great hopes towards the comprehensive plans for lay leaders and for pastors' continuing education. Everything is fixed in plans on paper, now the challenge is to put it into practice on the district level with the help of teaching teams and supporters from our Supporting Congregations and Educational Institutions and Organizations.

Also the Moscow Seminary starts a new academic year, with 3 new full time students, which doubles the number of students from last year.