|Pastor Daniel Starikov, with his family, brings new energy to the church in Lytkarina, Russia. The Russia Initiative seeks salary support for him.
Oklahoma mission leaders are happily preparing to welcome an international audience that only gathers every three years. The United Methodist Russia Initiative is set for April 7-9, at St. Luke’s UMC in Oklahoma City.
The event will inspire and encourage new and renewed commitment to mission in five countries: Russia, Belarus, Ukraine, Moldova, and Georgia. The Russia Initiative is related to the General Board of Global Ministries (GBGM), the Church’s mission agency.
For decades, the Oklahoma Conference has been active in mission in that part of the world. Tom Hoffmann, who chairs the Mission & Service Ministry Team, provided some highlights of that work. Rev. Hoffman himself served as a missionary in Russia; he now is an associate pastor at Tulsa-First UMC.
In the 1980-90s, Jarrel Tyson was the Oklahoma Conference director of Christian Education, Hoffman recalled, and Bishop Dan Solomon approved Rev. Tyson as the Church’s first congregational development person in Eurasia.
"Following Jarrel, the Conference allowed me to pastor a church for a year (in Russia)," Hoffmann said, "and then allowed me to serve as a GBGM missionary."
Since 1992, St. Luke’s has partnered with people in Ulyanovsk, Russia, to share Christ’s love, grow in faith, and serve those in need. Retired clergy leader David Severe was crucial in helping establish that congregation. St. Luke’s member Lauranne Harris now coordinates the Ulyanovsk partnership and is site coordinator for the April event.
Tulsa-Christ UMC and its pastor, Bob Feist, are among those working with Resurrection UMC in Voronezh, Russia.
Hoffman continued, "For a few years, we had a Russian-American program between OCU and Ulyanovsk University, with student exchanges and a certificate in International Business.
"At least nine Wesley Foundations were involved in Volunteers In Mission trips and student exchanges."
The Russia Initiative counts some 125 congregations with indigenous pastors, a seminary in Moscow, and a generation of young adults raised within the Church. The Initiative pairs new congregations with more established ones, usually in the United States.
A major focus of the April consultation will be the "roadmap" for The United Methodist Church in Eurasia in the next few years. The three-day program will include worship, workshops, addresses, and sharing among the mission partners who comprise the Initiative.
Theme is "Come Walk with Us on the Road." Bishop Hans Växby of Moscow, leader of The United Methodist Church in Eurasia, will be a featured speaker. For more information on the initiative and the consultation, contact Jim Athearn, Russia Initiative coordinator, firstname.lastname@example.org.