A Series Celebrating the Ongoing Connections Between Virginia Conference Congregations and Congregations in Ukraine and Russia
Editor’s Note: In August, an article was published about recent disbursements of funds to United Methodist communities in Ukraine and Russia, and reported that some congregations in our Virginia Conference continue to be in partnership with faith communities in those nations. This article tells the story of a partnership with Blacksburg UMC.
By Jennifer Cooper
The relationship between Blacksburg United Methodist Church (BUMC) and brothers and sisters in Christ half-way across the globe began in summer 1998 when BUMC hosted six Russian children and a chaperone for two-and-a-half weeks.
BUMC member Dick Arnold was serving as a consultant for “In Mission Together,” a program funding pastors’ salaries and church ministries, and establishing new churches. When he moved to Blacksburg, he promoted this cause to his new church. So, 19 years ago, BUMC formed an “In Mission Together” long-term partnership with Spring of Life UMC and the Kyiv UMC Center (a.k.a. the Spring Family Center) in Ukraine.
The partnership has involved sharing newsletters, videos, Skype or Zoom sessions, prayers, and a general spiritual life of faith. The churches also celebrate each other’s mission efforts. Spring of Life has worked with autistic children, families in need, those with cerebral palsy, victims of the war in eastern Ukraine, prisoners, and disabled war veterans.
Four BUMC mission teams (totaling a pastor and 18 laity) have gone to Kyiv, loved the beauty of Ukraine, and lauded Spring of Life hosts for their hospitality and ministry work with relatively few resources.
Four Spring of Life UMC teams (totaling the pastor, his wife, and seven other laity) have visited BUMC, plus their bishop, district superintendent, and three other missionaries. BUMC families hosted these guests and strongly bonded with them.
BUMC was planning another mission trip with six lay members (including a family of four in which the daughter had been adopted as an infant from Ukraine) in 2020 to assist the family center with a children’s camp, but the trip was unfortunately canceled due to COVID-19.
With COVID-19, everything changed. The Spring Family Center has only continued with a kindergarten and only when Kyiv was not in the red zone. Instead, Pavel Osipenko, a Spring of Life leader who visited BUMC several years back, concentrated on developing their online ministry.
Through their covenant relationship, almost 300 BUMC members contributed funds to help Spring of Life purchase a building for their ministry; the building houses Spring of Life UMC’s congregation and the family center which has a ministry to children and families at risk. BUMC has also helped fund district evangelism events, the UMC Moscow seminary, emergency needs, missionaries’ work, two vans, renovation of an apartment, children’s summer camps, pastors’ salaries, and other operation needs. The generous gifts now total over $665,000. BUMC continues to raise funds to assist their friends. As of early August, 100 donors have given more than $39,000 in new funds; half has gone to UMCOR Advance # 982450 to address immediate needs and the remaining monies are being kept in reserve to assist with future rebuilding efforts.
On their part, Spring of Life has presented BUMC with gifts of pictures, plaques, and a small statue. Their children’s artwork was used by United Methodist Women to make a quilt which hangs in the BUMC education building. BUMC has also sent banners, health kits and winter clothing to Spring of Life.
The current war on Ukraine is heartbreaking for BUMC. At the outset, Spring of Life members fled for safety to other areas of Ukraine or other countries in the European Union. The church building itself was used as a bomb shelter in the city but is now empty because members have scattered. Pavel Osipenko fled with his family to western Ukraine where he works with refugees.
The pastor of Spring of Life UMC, Vladimir Khabriko and his wife, Mila, landed in Poland. They are helping with worship at a church there. BUMC provided them with a new computer so they could maintain contact with nearly all Spring of Life congregants; they now hold weekly Zoom Bible studies, and once a month offer full services with communion.
The most recent effort to bolster Spring of Life UMC occurred as BUMC members signed a letter of support, which Pastor Vladimir shared via the internet with his congregants. BUMC continues to keep in touch with Spring of Life via emails.
Recently, Pastor Vladimir wrote to BUMC: “We cannot make any future plans right now. Many members of our church decided to stay in their countries of emigration for the coming winter, as Ukraine anticipates a very severe winter without heating. Many of our church members have been left without jobs and means of support. The church is doing our best to support them. The money we had been planning to spend on a new church premises, we are now spending on helping the people who have nothing to live on. Last week, we sent $100 to each person who has no job, especially those who are retired. This is, of course, a drop in the sea, but we are doing all we can. The most realistic and practical help needed today is financial.”
As BUMC Lead Pastor Brad Dulaney said, “Please continue to pray, and also to give to support our special collection to support Ukraine.” If you and/or your congregation would like to join Blacksburg UMC as partners in this vital ministry, contact Jennifer Cooper ([email protected]) or go to https://www.blacksburgumc.org/kiev.
The United Methodist Church continues to be engaged in ministry with partners here and in parts of Eurasia. If you or your congregation would like to learn more or explore other mission opportunities beyond this one in Kyiv, contact Mel Muchinsky, Eurasia/Central Asia Partnership Coordinator, [email protected] or 480-266-0468.