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VAUMC Conversations is a conference podcast hosted by the Rev. Seungsoo “RJ” Jun, Associate Director of Serving Ministries. The monthly podcast focuses on ministry work and strengthening the United Methodist connection.   For the March episode, Jun invited clergy and laity from around the conference with experiences of mission in both Ukraine and Russia to share in conversation concerning the current invasion of Ukraine including past history in the region and ways that United Methodists can be of aid to the Ukrainian people.   To listen to this episode, visit the conference website, Spotify, or Apple. Below is a brief overview of the podcast conversation.    
  • The Rev. Laura Stratton, Scottsville and Mount Zion UMC, Charlottesville District. Stratton went on two short-term mission trips in Russia and the Northern Caucasus region as well as a study abroad in St. Petersburg and lived in the city of Pyatigorsk for 10 months. She was also heavily involved in the Russian Initiative in the Virginia Conference.
  • The Rev. David Hindman, retired elder. Hindman was the campus minister at William & Mary and was involved in an exchange program with a small United Methodist congregation Pyatigorsk. While the pastor at Duncan Memorial in Ashland, Va., several church members were involved with mission work in Lviv, Ukraine under the guidance and coordination of Allan and Hannah Nixon at Grace UMC. He was also involved with the Russian Initiative in the Virginia Conference.
  • The Rev. Keon Huh, Woodstock UMC, Harrisonburg District. Huh lived in Moscow from 1994-2002 as his father was a missionary from South Korea.
  • The Rev. Daniel Cho, Next Generation pastor at KUMC of Greater Washington, McLean, Va. Cho’s parents were General Board of Global Ministries missionaries to Russia from 1990-1996. His family planted multiple churches in Moscow and across the whole country. In 2012, he took a group of youth on a mission trip to Ukraine and met many pastors at that time in the area that he is still in contact with.
  • Allan and Hannah Nixon, lay members of Grace UMC in Manassas, Va. Their ministry work included leading teams to Russia for 8-9 years as well as working with college students in Ukraine.
  • Allan Anderson, member of Grace UMC in Manassas, Va., Anderson served in the Army in Germany in the mid-80s.
  • Julianne Paunescu, lay member of Beverly Hills Community UMC in Alexandria, Va. Paunescu is recently retired from the Foreign Service as an intelligence analyst and spent many years in and around Ukraine and Russia and has familial connections in the region.
  The background of the current conflict:   Julianne Paunescu:    “Ukraine was part of the first Soviet Socialist Republics when the Soviet Union was formed. But prior to that, what is now what we recognize as Ukraine was either under control of the Russian Empire, or it was under control of Poland, the Polish Empire. So, when you hear Putin stand up and say, “Well, Ukraine never really was a country. It was either part of Poland or was part of us,” he is, how should we say? Selecting the parts of history he wants to emphasize. But I also know from other work that I’ve done that the Soviets were very good about explaining why certain of their republics weren’t really their own countries and that’s not only for Ukraine.   I will say that President Putin believes that he thought that we promised we’d never take any of these countries. And for him the breakup, not only the Soviet Union, but also losing the other countries around it has been very hard. And I think part of his, at least based on his rhetoric, he would like to see that come back again.”   Laura Stratton:   “Most of my study, Russia has been under Putin as president because he came in 1999, 2000 time frame. And then I started studying Russian and Russian culture history in all more in 2003. And I was actually just looking back over some of my notes and I found something I wrote, I think with the help of another young woman who was living with me in Russia. We wrote some Russian cultural phenomena list after we’d been there for about 10 months. And one of the things we wrote was that they love Putin, that there’s this mindset that Russia is a great nation because of Putin, that things are better under Putin. They have money for repairs, for remodeling and that oil and gas equal power.    So, this was written back in 2008 and I’ve been telling people recently, I also remember in college, in my classes, we learned a pop song that was called Takogo kak Putin. It’s this really catchy disco tech song about how great Putin is and how women want a man like Putin.”   How Putin is viewed and other background history:   Keon Huh:    “As Boris Yeltsin became president, Russia began to wrestle and struggle with the corruptions. And there was people who had money making more money, but there are people who are in the like teachers, like retail workers, who have been living with the basic or minimum salary or wage being given by government during the Soviet time, but now they have to compete against each other, but they could make the money.    So what happened was there are increase of these tensions and dislike of the President Yeltsin and the corruption just went further and further.   And those corruptions got serious, and people began to see that this is not working and what they also observe is that their status Russia in the world leaders, they usually one of the top two or top one, according to them during the times, but in the nineties, their reputation was so low and they’re in the debts and in relationship with South Korea, Russia was in debt, but they didn’t have money to pay back. So what they did was they pay with the military technology and the equipment. So, when they saw that, it was not the Russia or Soviet Union, they used to see it. So, many of those adults, they began to dislike the Boris Yeltsin and when he stepped down during his presidency in 1999, they really compliment Putin who was former KGB and who had the leadership and experience and had in a way patriotism of the Russia and his model was really make this Russia again great country and the leader of the country.”   Daniel Cho:    “I’m not a historian, so I’m not going to try to teach history, but one of the things that happened was when Soviet Union was breaking down, we got a lot of phone calls from people in the US and Korea, “Are you okay? Are you okay?” But we turn on the TV and all we saw was ballet being played on most of the channels. That’s just another perspective of how the people living in Russia was not aware of many things that was going on in their own, I guess, media channels.”    Laura Stratton:   “With Putin too, we need to remember that to some extent, this is history repeating itself. He came to power when Chechnya was starting to, it’s a republic inside Russia was starting to have movement towards independence and he bombed the heck out of them and did it twice. And when I was living over there, I met someone who grew up in Grozny during that time and just the devastation that those wars, and we’re seeing that again, Ukraine was moving away from the Russian sphere of influence. And so he’s initiating this war. And then the flip side too, one of the lines we’re hearing Putin say a lot is that they’re there to “de-Nazify” Ukraine. And that has really strong resonance in Russia because of that history. We tend to forget the Soviet Union role in World War II and how Nazis just invaded and took this whole swap, all the way up to St. Petersburg, Leningrad at the time, and laid siege for several years on the city.   And I think hundreds of thousands of people were killed in that siege. And so every May 9th is Victory Day now, and it’s this huge parade in celebration of the Russian military. And there is extreme pride, in their minds, they’re the ones who defeated the Nazis. Like they were the key for the allies defeating Nazi, Germany and fascism. So, to bring that in is tapping into that deep historic patriotic roots of Russia and this like just great pride that they have over what they endured and how they were able to resist and ultimately defeat the Nazis”.   David Hindman:    “Americans think that the turning point for World War II is the Normandy invasion, and we lost tens of thousands of people, but we are not fully aware of the extraordinary sacrifice, the 25 million people who died in Russia and I think one of the things that’s important and as a part of the context for this is Russians have not very often had positive experiences with outside groups, whether it’s Swedes or Germans or Tatars or whoever. And so, there’s this almost historic genetic suspicion of outside forces. And just as we in the United States were having conniption fits in the 1960s, because Cuba had missiles that were within range of the mainland for the United States, whether we agree with it or not, there is certainly in addition to this sense that Ukraine is a part of historic Russia. This sense of these outsiders are right up against our border.   And the third thing that comes to mind for me as an outsider, it struck me when I was visiting Russia in the past that we love democracy and we love freedom as kind of core values for us. I don’t think that’s true for Russians. I think stability and order are what are priorities for them. This country has 12 time zones. It’s massive. And so the messiness of democracy does not necessarily sit well with people who feel like it’s almost impossible to keep this huge jigsaw puzzle together in one piece.”   Daniel Cho:       “I think another important piece of the Ukraine and Russia piece is that maybe we feel the war has just begun maybe some of us, but especially for the Ukrainians, this war actually begun in 2014 and is ongoing.    And what’s sad is I think Bishop Eduard Khegay revealed that there are 68% who are Russian feels this war is just, and that really breaks a lot of hearts, especially in the United Methodist Church where we are against war. And I think that is something that is also part of play, especially as social media and again, hacking, all these different source that’s adding into already the existing things that we were just talking about.”   Perspective on War:   Allan Anderson:   “As a military guy, I know that we have the capability to go in there and just turn things around on behalf of the Ukrainians, but also as a military person, you know that it’s so painful when you lose, your fellow soldiers are killed. My dad was a World War II veteran in the Pacific, and my son served in Afghanistan. My son’s a disabled veteran and because of his duty in Afghanistan. And so, nobody wins during war. It sometimes becomes necessary, but it’s a terrible thing. So if we can get out Bibles and the Word of God, that’s the best way to bring peace and to unify people.”   How can we help?   David Hindman:     “Even though we are small, we are mighty, and there’s a lot to be said for what we can do as a Christian witness because we have presence in both Ukraine and Russia and in other places as well that are being impacted by this conflict, by this war.”   Julianne Paunescu:   “There are a lot of things that aren’t talked about when we’re focused on the horrific things that are happening in Ukraine itself, but the war is echoing there in ways that they might not here in the continental United States. But I would also say if I could, RJ, since we’ve done all our work with the Afghan refugees, we will be seeing some of these Ukrainian refugees. And those of us who have worked with the Afghan program know that our refugee response agencies are already overwhelmed. Are we ready to help pick up the pieces on this for them? And one of the biggest needs is housing and there’s a housing shortage across our country. This is one of the things that we’ve got to really think creatively as Christians and as churches. “What can we do to help solve these issues as we are now looking at possibly many more refugees coming in with this program?”   Action Steps:  
  • Join Tuesday, March 22 Prayer Vigil at Virginia United Methodist Conference Center in Glen Allen at 7 p.m. in person and online
  • Join “In Mission Together Eurasia” group on Facebook for another source of information from the Eurasia Conference.
  • United Methodists and others wishing to provide humanitarian assistance to the Ukrainian people in the wake of the Russian invasion of their country may contribute to Advance #982450, UMCOR International Disaster Response and Recovery. This fund will provide direct assistance to those in Ukraine as well as assistance to Ukrainians fleeing to neighboring countries. Give now:  International Disaster Relief.
  You can send a check directly to GBGM or to the Treasurer’s Office at the Virginia Conference. These funds by UMCOR are distributed where they are needed in Ukraine on a weekly basis.  
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