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Russia Consultation Celebrates Leaders

by Mary Beth Coudal

Consultation of the United Methodist Russia Initiative
Consultation of the United Methodist Russia Initiative
Image by: Felipe Castillo
Source: GBGM Mission News
David McLaurin
David McLaurin
Image by: Felipe Castillo
Source: GBGM Mission News

When the Russia Initiative mini-consultation meets on October 15, 2011, advocates will share stories of friendship and church growth. The group will celebrate Rev. Jim Athearn's leadership as he steps down from coordinating the initiative and meet the new coordinator, David McLaurin, from Lovers Lane United Methodist Church in Dallas, Texas.

Appointed to the initiative seven years ago by Rev. Sam Dixon, Jim announced his retirement on October 1, 2011, via email to thousands of supporters across The United Methodist Church in Eurasia and the US. In a letter thanking the Russia and Eurasia advocates around the world, Jim wrote:

It has been a joy and an honor to serve the church in this role over the last seven years. I am so grateful for the many US churches that have participated in partnership with the United Methodist churches in Eurasia. Some of you have maintained these partnerships since the early 1990s and have demonstrated the value of long-term mission relationships. Remember our experiences with all the mission teams, exchange visits, consultations, the modeling of faith and Wesleyan holistic ministries, Bible classes, theological education and leadership development. Consider how all of this has empowered our brothers and sisters in Eurasia to take their emerging church to the next level with their own practical vision and their own roadmap to the future. It has been a unique opportunity to help encourage and facilitate these partnerships and to share in this remarkable journey with all of you.

The Russia Initiative, "one of the largest and most exciting mission initiatives, is growing and changing leadership and forging ahead," said Rev. Patrick Friday, the director of In Mission Together, a network of new places for new people in The United Methodist Church.

Patrick will be with Jim and David and other leaders in Maryland, October 15, 2011, to celebrate the church connection, along with Bishop Hans Växby, the episcopal leader of the Eurasia Area, who is in the US attending Global Ministries' board of directors meeting in New York.

Developing Churches

One of the developing Russian churches to be celebrated next week is Revival United Methodist Church in Latnoye, a rural village ministry in Southern Russia, started by Pastor Galina Kolesnikova. After purchasing an old house across from the bus station, volunteers in Russia and the US built a new structure. Real change is happening when the pastor and the church members go out into the community.

"Many people ask me 'Why? Why do you go to the prison? Why go to the poor people? Why go to the orphanage?' We have to go outside the church. Now they know about us. We can do so much--lead a Bible study, open a rehab center, build a relationship," Pastor Kolesnikova a said.

Rural Pastor Jerry Chapman from the seashore district along the Mississippi coast, which was hit by Hurricane Katrina, is a supporter of Revival United Methodist Church. Despite the natural disaster in his backyard, his district continued the mission support. At the same time United Methodist church members were rebuilding rural Mississippi churches and homes, they were also building up the rural Russian church. "If you wait to get all your own problems solved, you'll never do anything," Pastor Chapman said with a laugh.

New Directions

Incoming Russia Initiative Partnership coordinator, David McLaurin, will continue the leadership and connection between United Methodist churches in the US and Russia. David is lay leader and staff member of Lovers Lane United Methodist Church in Dallas. Lovers Lane began its connection with the Russian community in Volgograd in 1993, assisting in humanitarian projects that have led to new churches. Since then, David has taken three youth teams and nine adult teams to Volgograd, Russia, including a team made up of a jazz band. "Russians love jazz music," explained David.

The international exchange between United Methodist churches is reciprocal. Lovers Lane church has hosted three Russian teams to volunteer in and visit Dallas. In 2002 Lovers Lane hosted 11 Russian pastors from Voronezh district for a class at Perkins Seminary.

The special claim between brothers and sisters through the United Methodist connection in the US and Russia began in the 1990s with people-to-people, faith-based diplomacy replacing the stalemate of indifference and even animosity left by the Cold War. "It was an amazing kind of connectivity in those early years. And now some of our partners are celebrating 15 to 20 years of love and compassion," Jim said.

While Russian pastors and congregations have announced the goal of self-sufficiency by the year 2015, David imagines the US-Russian partnership to continue as long as prayer, resources, and volunteers are needed. David calls himself "blessed" to be a part of the continuing legacy of the Russian Initiative.

Staying Connected

The October 15, 2011, mini-consultation in Maryland is an opportunity for local people to share their Russian and US United Methodist connections. The next large gathering of the ussia Initiative will be held in 2013 in Memphis. David hopes that hundreds will attend all of the gatherings celebrating the Russia Initiative into its 20th year.

As for his seven years of commitment to the Russia Initiative, Jim said: "I have a love for the program that will not stop. One Russian pastor recently wrote to me. She said, 'God does not recognize pensioners, God has only children.' I told her, 'I will always claim you as a sister in Christ.' You cannot give up a relationship like that."

Mission initiatives are people-to-people networks of United Methodist volunteers and mission partnerships.

Mission Initiatives: How to Give

Link to these Advance project pages to find out how you can give:

You can meet Jim and David in Memphis in 2013 or attend the meeting in Maryland next on Saturday, October 15, 2011. Become an advocate for US-Russian United Methodist church people. Learn more.


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Date posted: Oct 10, 2011