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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.

Dear Friends,

We send you greetings of Christmastide and Epiphany with our deep appreciation for all that you are doing in support of and in ministry with The United Methodist Church in Eurasia.

Please note on your calendars and plan to attend the next Russia Initiative Consultation XIII, November 15-17, 2007 at The United Methodist Church of the Resurrection in Leawood, Kansas. More details about this consultation will be available later.

Preliminary plans are underway for Mini-Consultation meetings in the Florida Conference on April 25 and 26, the North Texas Conference, Dallas area on April 27, and the SW Texas Conference, San Antonio area on April 28. Bishop Hans Vaxby will be present at these Mini-Consultation gatherings and is looking forward to meeting with participants and persons who have interest in The Russia Initiative. He will preach in morning worship services at St. Paul's UMC, Houston, TX on April 29, and at Metropolitan UMC, Washington DC on May 6.

We are pleased to share with you Bishop Vaxby's New Year's letter to The United Methodist Church in Eurasia and the pastors. The letter summarizes some of the highlights of the year 2006 and his hopes for 2007.

Grace and peace,

Jim Athearn

New Year 2007

Dear Sisters and Brothers,

Members and Friends of The United Methodist Church in Eurasia,

"I thank my God every time I remember you, constantly praying with joy in every one of my prayers for all of you." This is how Paul opens his letter to the Philippians (1:3-4), and this is how I feel when I look back on year 2006. It has not been an easy year - not for any of us, I believe. But it has been a very rich year, full of life and God's grace! We have many problems, of which we wish we had solved a few more during the year. I will not list them, but I do want to remind you of some of the steps in the right direction that have been taken,
  1. On the financial level: the new salary policy, which also meant a little raise (even if the sinking dollar value threatens to eat it up); the booklet On Tithing; and the fact that we from April 1 pay our apportionment to the Northern Europe Central Conference and the Episcopal Fund just like all other countries.
  2. On the organizational level: the Area Administrative Council could present concrete result of its work in its report to the annual conferences, and have initiated some important processes; the fact that most documents were sent out beforehand made the work of the annual conferences more meaningful; four of five annual conference councils have made progress in there responsibilities and planning during the year; and our Theological Seminary got a new Board of Trustees.
  3. On the spiritual level: Student Forum in St. Petersburg in February and Calling 2006 in April showed that the young generation is serious about serving God; the reception of On Tithing showed that we are willing to take greater financial responsibility; and there is a growing awareness of God's call to the people called United Methodists to spread Scriptural Holiness throughout Eurasia.
  4. Also: our new web site in Russian and English (www.umc-eurasia.ru); the dedication of a Mission Center in Almaty, Kazakhstan; the purchase of a church building and parsonage in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan; the Event Calendar continuously updated via e-mail; the publishing of Sol (Salt) Magazine and a United Methodist Calendar in St. Petersburg

Most of all I am moved by the honest and wholehearted service I see, and the courage and faithfulness in the midst of lacking resources within the churches and resistance outside. Thank you, churches, Bible groups, members, pastors, committees for all your efforts!

Now - "let us hold fast to what we have attained" (Philippians 3:16), and continue in the same direction. We must not stay where we are. I don't want us to slow down neither in church organization nor in sanctification! Instead I want to challenge you to bring our ministry to yet another level of quality and commitment during 2007.

For that purpose I want to remind you of the words of our Lord and Savior, "The kingdom of God is near!" (Mark 1:15) and follow me in a reflection over what that means for us.

The Kingdom of God is at hand whenever and wherever God's "will [is] done on earth as is in heaven". It is an enormous potential for the individual person. It is the hope for mankind. It answers to our deepest needs.

But the problem is that there seems to be so little of this in the 21st century. In our own Eurasian countries it is hard to find behind social inequities, corruption, questioned freedom and fragile democracy. Elsewhere in the world it is also hard to see because of war, terrorism, nuclear threat, famine, pandemics, and the growing gap between the rich and the poor. Sometimes we ask, Will we ever see God's kingdom come? Or is it just another utopia, a set of ideals and dreams that never come true? Like communism in the 20s and capitalism in the 90s?

E. Stanley Jones, a Methodist missionary to India and world known author, wrote seventy years ago, in a time with problems and questions similar to ours: "I refuse to turn my eyes away from this possibility [God's kingdom on earth] and listen to the cynics inside and outside the church, who tell me it is a dream, and that the only reality is violence and constraint… No, I listen to the voice of the Spirit in the midst of the loud voices. It reminds us that our Master proclaimed God's kingdoms as his message, and it doesn't change. The Kingdom is still at hand. It is our only open way, our only hope. 'He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says."

His message doesn't change! Also today we hear Jesus say, "The kingdom of God is near!" As Christians we know that, but it is not only for us - everyone in our neighborhood and throughout the whole of Eurasia has the right to hear it. "How are they to hear without someone to proclaim him?" (Rom 10:14b)

It is our task as a church to proclaim the Word of God, and proclaiming is not only about words. "The Word became flesh" (John 1:14), and so our words need to become visible and tangible reality!

In order to get a picture of what that would mean for us as a church, let us imagine a desert or wilderness. I think it is easy to think about the society around us a wilderness. In this wilderness the church - the local United Methodist church in each place - is like an oasis! In this tough world, the church is meant to be a refuge and a haven! When people come in contact with the church's ministry or with us as its representatives, they should sense a foretaste of God's kingdom! The Prophet Isaiah speaks about a time when "a spirit from on high is poured out on us, and the wilderness becomes a fruitful field, and the fruitful field is deemed a forest. Then justice will dwell in the wilderness, and righteousness abide in the fruitful field. The effect of righteousness will be peace, and the result of righteousness, quietness and trust forever. My people will abide in a peaceful habitation, in secure dwellings, and in quiet resting places." (Isaiah 32:15-18). I pray that this prophecy will come true to some extent through our local churches!

I ask all our churches to spend some time together during the spring reflecting three Bible texts and three questions, preferably at three different occasions:

I. Romans 10:13-21. How can our congregation reach out to people around us offering them Christ?
II. Ephesians 4:17-32. In what way are we in our congregation different from people around us?
III. Isaiah 32:1-8, 15-18. How can our congregation contribute to righteousness, peace, trust and secure dwelling in our own village or city?

Some people say that it is getting worse all the time - that the wilderness is taking over more and more. I also hear people say that we in the church need to accept and adjust to the order around us. I think it is the other way around! As the "light of the world" (Matthew 5:14) we are expected to have an influence on the society around us - making the oasis to grow out of the wilderness. Actually we could describe it all with the word "Sharing", which will be the theme for all our annual conferences in 2007. Jesus is sending out his disciples again, saying, "Freely you have received, freely give." (Matthew 10:8)

Your co-worker and shepherd,

Hans Växby

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