Oklahoma hosts U.S.-Eurasian gathering
By Holly McCray
United Methodists from America and Eurasia recently met at St. Luke’s in Oklahoma City to explore the Eurasia Road Map, an innovative path for partnering in God’s mission.
The event was the 15th Russia Initiative Consultation, held April 7-9, related to the General Board of Global Ministries (GBGM). "Come Walk With Us on the Road" was the theme.
The meeting’s purpose was to educate and encourage U.S. churches to expand their commitment to mission with the younger, growing UM presence in five countries: Russia, Belarus, Ukraine, Moldava, and Georgia.
A pastoral salary support project, commended by the Oklahoma Conference Mission & Service Ministry Team (MSMT), is one way Oklahomans are connecting.
Near Moscow, Pastor Daniel Starikov has revitalized the church in Lytkarino, Russia, after a period of decline, reported MSMT Chairman Tom Hoffmann of Tulsa. MSMT is encouraging Oklahoma congregations in partnerships with the Lytkarino church and other donors, to meet the basic salary needs for Rev. Starikov.
"Local church relationships deepen the faith of both churches," said Rev. Hoffmann, associate pastor at Tulsa-First. He is a former missionary who served in Russia.
Starikov, who speaks some English, visited several Oklahoma churches while he was stateside for the Consultation. In an interview, he described young people growing in faith and number at the Lytkarino church. He was his Conference’s delegate to the 2008 General Conference.
Through a Partner Church Covenant, an Oklahoma congregation commits at least $1,500 for each of three years, beginning in 2011, Hoffmann explained.
Other mission opportunities exist through Advance Special Projects and Volunteers In Mission. The Road Map’s vision is extensive; the Eurasian churches are resolved to grow into self-sufficiency. Currently 125 congregations are reported in that episcopal area.
"Be under no illusion," Bishop Robert Hayes Jr. told Consultation participants. "As I look at the plans you have, the road map will take you to the narrow gate, the hard way" (Matthew 7:13-14).
Jim Athearn of Virginia said, "It is difficult to keep the heart steady on the mission of Christ when there is such fierce competition for resources." He is the GBGM Russia Initiative coordinator.
Partnerships enable challenges to be overcome, declared Eduard Khegay of Moscow, a district superintendent and pastor.
Bishop Hayes recalled his first journey to Russia, 44 years ago. "I went in a time when the Church was not allowed to be a church. We spent three and one-half months, spreading seeds, learning about the culture. Now it thrills my heart to see the work going on in Russia," he said.
"At every turn in the road, there will be our Savior as our guide. God has given us the greatest compass: Jesus Christ. He walks the road with us, and he shows the way."