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Russian bishop encourages United Methodists ‘to tell story’

Russian bishop encourages United Methodists ‘to tell story’

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

Russian bishop encourages United Methodists ‘to tell story’

July 6, 2007  News media contact: Tita Parham*
800-282-8011  Orlando {0699}

An e-Review Feature
By J.A. Buchholz**

Bishop Hans Växby. Photo courtesy of United Methodist News Service. File Photo #07-0561.
OCALA — Bishop Hans Växby said the most important thing United Methodists can do for The United Methodist Church in Eurasia is tell the story of Jesus Christ.

Växby, bishop of the Eurasia Episcopal Area, visited with local church missions representatives of the Florida Conference in late April to create greater awareness of the General Board of Global Ministries’ (GBGM) Russia Initiative. He led mini-consultations on the initiative at First United Methodist Church in Ocala and Boca Grande United Methodist Church.

The Russia Initiative began in the winter of 1991 under the leadership of GBGM. Its primary purpose was to deliver food to the Moscow region. Following that project, GBGM expanded the initiative beyond aid programs to include the re-establishment of Methodism in the former Soviet Union.

The Eurasia Annual Conference was established in 1997 and expanded to four annual conferences in 2003. A fifth annual conference was added to the area in 2005. Today, Växby oversees 104 churches with 112 pastors under appointment.

While at the Ocala church Växby said The United Methodist Church in Eurasia is relatively young, but it is making “glorious strides,” such as establishing a seminary in 1996, which recently produced its first indigenous professor of higher education.

That professor of evangelism is only the first trickle of what Växby prays will become a flood of men and women raised up to lead the church in the future.

That future includes Perovo United Methodist Church, dedicated in November 2006, a district seminar in Kiev, Ukraine, that was jointly presented by the Church of the Resurrection in Kansas, and the establishment of Youth Camp Voronezh about 350 miles from Moscow.

Växby said the future of the church is also directly linked to United Methodists in places like the Florida Conference who have a vision to be in ministry with The United Methodist Church of Eurasia. He said Hyde Park United Methodist Church in Tampa donated $35,000 to the Moscow seminary.

Prayers are also needed, he said, because even though The United Methodist Church is officially accepted and protected by the government, local politicians make it difficult for the church to operate. He said one church was able to purchase property, but had difficulty getting water and sewer permits.

And although the Russian people are extremely suspicious of all Protestant groups, Växby said there is reason to rejoice.

A member of First United Methodist Church in Ocala introduces Bishop Hans Växby (left) to a group gathered at the church. The bishop was there to share information about the General Board of Global Ministries’ Russia Initiative. Patrick Whaley (right), an American working in the Russian mission field and a member of the Memphis Annual Conference, was part of the visiting delegation. Photo by J.A. Buchholz. Photo #07-0621.

Patrick Whaley, an American working in the Russian mission field, was also part of the visiting delegation. He said young people are relishing the story of Jesus Christ — 17 recently decided to become ministers.

Whaley, a member of the Memphis Annual Conference, was appointed by Bishop Dick Wills, former senior pastor at Christ Church United Methodist in Fort Lauderdale, to the budding Russian mission field.

More than 980 miles southeast of Russia, in freezing weather, Whaley said he often finds himself sharing the story of Jesus Christ on street corners and in cafes, pool halls and hospitals. Through those casual talks he said he has learned that people in Eurasia are plagued with the same life difficulties afflicting Americans.

“It’s about the scriptures,” he said. “They need to hear the story. They are not taught, but caught. People are hungry to hear the Gospel message. They come to hear me talk one day and come back the next with their parents and grandparents.”

Whaley said the atmosphere in Russia is a breeding ground for immortality and alcoholism is rampant. Another looming issue is the country’s ratio of women to men — it’s 7-to-1 — with many women participating in non-loving, unproductive relationships.

Whaley said when he tells people they matter to Jesus Christ, that Jesus Christ loves them and has a purpose for their lives, tears begin to roll down their faces.

“These people so desperately need to know that ‘God still loves you,’ ” he said. “They have a hunger. They need to experience God’s peace and love.”

Whaley shared the testimony of a woman in Estonia who is now a local pastor. At one point she decided to commit suicide if God did not give her a sign that her life was worth saving. That sign could have been the religious tract she found the same day she wanted to take her life. A Baptist evangelist had left it.

After a period of examination and contemplation, Whaley said the woman expressed an interest in the ministry, to reach people who are as lost as she once was.

“If we reflect the images of Christ, they will come,” Whaley said. “People are the same everyplace. If we share with people who are so desperate that Jesus Christ is their Lord and Savior, then we can make a difference.”

Växby answered questions, then ended the meeting by encouraging people to not only lend their hearts and prayers to the ministry in Eurasia, but to witness that ministry for themselves. He said visiting the area is the best way to experience and support “what Jesus Christ is doing” in that part of the world.

“It’s amazing that people are so faithful to the church and curious that they would attend,” he said after the meeting. “You know, my main goal in coming here was to encourage participation in the Russia Initiative and make some personal connections.”

Currently, there are 85 to 90 partner relationships between United Methodist churches in the United States and churches in the Eurasia Area.

At the luncheon gathering in Boca Grande, more than 50 laity from seven churches in the South West District talked about the need to continue those church partnerships, as well as develop district partnerships, according to the Rev. Brian Brightly, pastor of the Boca Grande church.

The group also said supporting the seminary and providing training for laity and continuing education for pastors should be continuing priorities of the conference in its ministry with the Russia Initiative.

Brighly expressed high praise for Växby, saying, “the new episcopal leader of Russia and the Ukraine provided groundbreaking leadership in Lithuania, Estonia and Latvia during the break-up of the Soviet Union.”

Växby was bishop of the Nordic and Baltic regions of the denomination’s Northern Europe Conference for 12 years until his last term expired in 2001. He then served as pastor of a local church in Helsinki before being elected bishop of the Eurasia Area in 2005.

Brightly has been actively involved with the Russia Initiative since its inception. He produced the first Methodist Radio Program in Russia for GBGM from 1991 to 1994. In September Brightly and members of his church plan to go to Russia on a mission trip, meeting with United Methodist pastors there and visiting the seminary.

Many U.S. United Methodist churches have participated in the initiative’s Supportive Congregations Program, offering salary and local church program support for churches in the Eurasia Area. A Partnership Program, which supports mission outreach in areas where there is no Methodist presence, is also available. In addition, churches are invited to help support the Russia United Methodist Theological Seminary in Moscow, which was dedicated in 2005 and trains pastoral and lay leadership in an indigenous setting.

More information on the Russia Initiative may be obtained by contacting the Rev. Dr. Larry Rankin, director of the Florida Conference’s Global Mission and Justice Ministries office, at


This article relates to Missions

*Parham is managing editor of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**Buchholz is a staff writer for e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.