Using a new set of directions, United Methodists from the United States and Eurasia recently mapped an innovative route for partnering in God's mission.
"We have turned an important corner in our relationship together," an enthusiastic Charles Harrell told those gathered on the final day for the 15th Russia Initiative Consultation, held April 7-9, 2011, at St. Luke's United Methodist Church in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.
The meeting's purpose was to educate and encourage US churches to expand their commitment to mission with the younger, growing UM presence in Eurasia. The theme was "Come Walk With Us on the Road."
Collaborative ministries began in 1991 in the former Soviet Union. The Russia Initiative is related to the denomination's General Board of Global Ministries.
"This consultation is different from previous ones," said Harrell, a pastor in Maryland. "The discussion and agenda have been driven by the objectives and priorities set in Eurasia. There is accountability. There is clarity in how the Eurasians identify and carry out the work they do that is refreshing and inspiring for us [as United Methodists in the US]."
He explained that many Eurasian United Methodists are first-generation Christians, free from established church-cultural constraints he perceives in the US.
And Eurasians are "steadfast" in looking for best practices and using resources creatively in their own context, Harrell said. "We join you in pursuing the work along the lines you have identified. It's exciting!"
Specifics are charted in "The Eurasian Road Map," a key resource for the consultation, which lists criteria and goals for the Eurasian churches, in five areas:
- Quality of ministry
- Mission, evangelism, and growth
- Social ministry.
The scope of the Road Map's vision is extensive for United Methodism in five countries: Russia, Belarus, Ukraine, Moldova, and Georgia. At this time, 125 congregations comprise the Eurasia Episcopal Area, led by Bishop Hans Vaxby.
"Be under no illusion," Bishop Robert Hayes Jr. of the Oklahoma Area 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 Global Ministries Russia Initiative coordinator.
Yet, partnerships between US and Eurasian United Methodists enable challenges to be overcome, declared Eduard Khegay of Moscow, assistant to Bishop Vaxby and superintendent of the Central Asian District.
Khegay said he gained confidence in his faith from the connectional work visible at the consultation. He defined that discipling with four terms:
- Christian character--"Building up one another to give hope to the world."
- Competence--"Helping us to become competent in everything we do, in the quality of our ministry, mission work, and education."
- Culture--"Meeting brothers and sisters around the world enriches my life. We learn each other's cultures."
- Chemistry--"When we meet together, the work of the Holy Spirit makes us brothers and sisters in Christ...and that goes with us a long way when we go home."
Then he added courage to his list. "In this partnership, you are courageous to be with us in the times of trials, of joy, of mission work, of facing difficulties of economy," Khegay said.
Through Advance Special Projects, Partner Church Covenants, and Volunteers In Mission, churches and individuals in the US can become active in the Russia Initiative.
Bishop Hayes of Oklahoma 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.
"God is ever present in the work, and waiting on you to arrive!" Hayes proclaimed. "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."
Holly McKray is the editor of Contact, the magazine of the Oklahoma Conference of The United Methodist Church.