TALLAHASSEE -- Trinity UMC began a formal search for a new organist in January 2014. We publicized widely, with the American Guild of Organists at the national level, and by contacting numerous universities and colleges with strong organ programs. In February 2014, Viktor Billa sent me an email from Chernivtsi, Ukraine. He had found us on the Internet.
He said, “Since July 2011 I moved to live to my hometown where there is no opportunity to apply all my gained experience. I want not only to accumulate knowledge, but also to share them with people. To develop not only itself, but also to develop people around, to glorify the Lord together.” And later in the paragraph, “I trust that the Lord wants that I glorified and served Him more, than now.”
We noticed a slight language barrier, but the message was clear. He was a highly trained organist who wanted to make a living serving in the local church. In the Ukraine, organists are expected to work for free at churches. We delayed acting on Viktor’s inquiry for a while, considering it such a long-shot. Two organists we brought to the church for auditions and interviews were not suitable, at which point we ran out of viable candidates. We turned to Viktor. After much prayer and discussion of pros and cons by the organist search committee, we agreed to a Skype audition/interview for Viktor, which was held April 6, 2014.
What a charming couple, Viktor (then just 26 years old) and his wife, Yuliia (a professionally trained singer). And what talent! It was clear they were strong in their faith and had been members of a United Methodist Church in Chernivtsi for over two years. The committee agreed shortly thereafter that Viktor had passed the audition and interview with flying colors. Now, how to get him to the U.S.?
Our church hired an attorney who guided us patiently through the religious (R1) visa process. Yuliia would come as a non-working spouse. Then we faced a trial of patience as the process took over nine months and prodding by two members of Congress. Finally they arrived in Tallahassee on April 10, 2015, and the whole church celebrated! Some greeted them at the airport. Many donated household and food items. These donations completely furnished their apartment and stocked the pantry and refrigerator. A member of the church donated use of the apartment free for one year.
As Trinity’s director of music for 19 years, how proud I am of my church for stepping forward in faith to accomplish something that looked at times impossible. This whole process became an important rallying point for the church membership. In my mind, we had been God’s instrument in helping answer the fervent prayer of one Viktor Billa, who wanted to spend his life serving the local church as an organist. Thanks be to God!
Mark S. Repasky is the music director at Trinity UMC. Yuliia is a volunteer participant in the church chancel choir.