Open Letter to the Pastors and Leaders of the Churches of God in Ukraine and Russia

Dear Fellow Pastors and Leaders of the Church of God in Ukraine and Russia,

During the past weeks, the world – including your extended family in the International Church of God – has been watching with great attention the events unfold in the Ukraine, first the protests on the Maidan followed by the more recent events in Crimea. In the course of these events, I have spoken with several of our ministers on both sides of the geopolitical divide and know that the various opinions about these events are held with the greatest of passion.

We have witnessed how tensions are being pumped up between fraternal nations. Inevitably secular politics and geopolitical tensions impact our lives. When this occurs, there is a very real danger that these tensions will spill over into our churches, often pitting one Christian leader against another. Even more critical, the message of the gospel may get lost or even ignored by those who need to hear the Good News the most.

It is of utmost importance that we avoid the most horrible of diabolical provocations – that we begin to hate one another. Dearly beloved, let us not give into to the voices of this world. And may we always keep in mind that we are all brothers in the Lord for whom Christ also died. We have no other option than to strive for spiritual unity and demonstrate mutual respect for each other even when we have differing opinions.

It is not easy, especially in times like these, to love our neighbor who would appear to be on the other side. But that is the quintessence of the Christian Gospel. (Mark 12:30-31). Furthermore, let us continue to pray for peace and that there will be no more bloodshed. Let us pray for our secular leaders, for we also know that “The king’s heart is like a stream of water directed by the LORD; he guides it wherever he pleases.” (Proverbs 21:1)

For although the geopolitical issues may be “urgent”, we have a more important and higher calling as representatives of the Gospel.

And God has given us this task of reconciling people to him. 19 For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them. And he gave us this wonderful message of reconciliation. 20 So we are Christ’s ambassadors; God is making his appeal through us. We speak for Christ when we plead, “Come back to God!”
(2 Corinthians 5:18-20)

I am persuaded that the Ukrainian, Russian and Belorussian Churches of God have much to learn from each other. And if the Lord continues to bless our church as He has in the past 20 years, we will begin to develop into new areas of ministry. Our need for interdependence as equal partners will not decrease, but increase. Together we can develop our outreach in foreign missions, youth and children ministries, church planting initiatives and training, coordination of social ministries, etc.

Finally, I encourage you to keep the faith and maintain the spiritual unity amongst ourselves. We do not know what the future holds and what the results will be from the actions taken by different sides. The entire landscape in which we do ministry can be totally different five years from now. We need to nurture and protect the fraternal relationships that will carry us forward in the future.

In His service

Thomas Rosson, Ph.D., Regional Superintendent
Church of God, Eastern Europe and the CIS

Phil 4: 5-7
5 Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. 6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

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Reaching Latvia With the Gospel

The Church of God in Latvia as leading partners in the Latvian Evangelical Alliance (LEA) is sponsoring the nationwide evangelistic spiritual awakening crusade ”From minus to plus”. The event will take place from May 1st till June 15th. Modris Ozolinkevics, Church of God pastor and LEA President writes:

We are preparing special evangelistic booklet “From minus to plus”. Our goal is to mail this booklet to every home in Latvia.   ”From minus to plus” booklet brings the clear message of the Gospel and how at the cross of Calvary Jesus Christ turned all our minuses into His Divine pluses.

We invite Christians from all Latvia to join together to spread the Gospel in villages, towns and cities of our country. In Hebrews 1:1 we read, that God spoke “at many times and in various ways”. That’s why during these six weeks we want to reach people many times and in various ways, by giving them the opportunity to respond to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

The opening of crusade ”From minus to plus” will take place on May 4th, 2014. This dedication service will be held in different cities and towns, where the body of Christ, being geographically in different places in Spirit will come together in one accord, as on the day of Pentecost, to be released with the fire of God to all Latvia!

The main event of crusade ”From minus to plus” will take place in Riga, Latvia from June 10-15, 2014. It will gather people from all Latvia and surrounding countries to see their lives changed forever, and to celebrate what God has done during this crusade all over Latvia.

We would like to ask you to be involved by praying and fasting, as we believe for a great harvest of souls. Also would you prayerfully consider to sow a generous seed in to the Gospel crusade ”From minus to plus”.

The booklets and crusade events will be available in the Latvian and Russian languages.Anyone who would like to invest in the Latvian evangelistic crusade can give through Church of God World Missions with via project number 132-3080 “Latvian Church Appeal”.

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Educational Ministries in Ukraine

National Education Director Eberhard Dudszus has given an encouraging report on the educational ministries of the Church of God in Ukraine. The Eurasian Theological Seminary in Moscow has two extensions in Ukraine. Additionally there are a number of district bible institutes.

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Recently the ETSM extension in Slavyansk hosted Nick Park, Overseer of the Church of God in Ireland, who taught a four-day intensive course in Church Planting and Church Growth. Nick has plenty of experience in the area and has become one of our favorite guest instructors throughout the region. This extension has one-week intensives every month. Other instructors this spring include Ebi Dudszus, Oleg Skitskij, and Yuri Markov.

A new development in Ukraine is the “District Bible Institutes”. This past September, four district institutes were started with the goal of providing more basic training for local members and those who would like to enter the ministry. At last week’s eastern regional conference, 70 students were given a certificate for the efforts over the past school year. Congratulations to all involved!

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Pastor Bob Collins Ministers in Bulgaria

ImageThe Church of God in Bulgaria was blessed recently by the ministry of Pastor Bob Collins, a retired pastor from Newport News, VA and member of the Church of God World Missions Board. He came for a 10 day visit in May and truly touched the lives of so many people with his ministry. His expertise in the area of church leadership, his passionate sermons and lectures on marriage and family, his personal warm attitude are just amazing. Pastor Collins once again proved that there are true men of God who do not spare energy, time and dedication to teach others, to care, to love, and to extend a helping hand to others.

We had 4 seminars in different parts of Bulgaria, starting with the capital of Sofia. Brother Collins taught tirelessly every evening for several hours on the family dynamics – he had prepared a rich material full of precious examples and advice for ministerial couples. His lectures were really inspired and at the end of every evening we had feet washing, prayer for people, a lot of tears of joy and new hope.

On top of that we had services every evening in a different church. Pastor Collins served the congregations with such enthusiasm and joy. He never complained of being tired. I am truly impressed by his great positive attitude, his desire to bless the local people and his dedication to God and the ministry.

This man of God is a living example to all of us in the ministry. He follows his calling with passion, he shares his wisdom in a gentle and understandable way, and he prays for people with faith and encourages basically everyone he gets in touch with. I have met a lot of admirable ministers throughout the years, but I have to admit brother Bob Collins is a man that I admire a great deal and I hope that one day when I am older I will continue to serve God with such passion and energy as him. I admire him also as a person who is humble, loving and caring. May God continue to bless him, to give him strength and to use him mightily for His Kingdom.

Reported by Dinko Zlatarov
Vice-Overseer, Bulgaria

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Ministry to Turkey

In April an international group of Church of God ministers visited an independent group of about 30 Gypsies who have lived on the side of a hill for about 10 years under tents, near the city garbage dump. Around 5:00 PM everyone returns from the fields to their “homes.” We bought enough food to feed everybody. The women spread mats on the ground and prepared the food for eating, as we sang and rejoiced with songs in Bulgarian, Turkish, and the Gypsy languages. Everyone was rejoicing in the Lord as we were eating.

We were soon interrupted by the police who had been called because of the noise. They took our passports and investigated all the foreigners. We continued to finish our food. No problems. Then the worship began in a most unusual way. We gathered around sitting on the ground attentively, under trees and under the sky as we sang and worshiped openly our King, the Lord Jesus. There was prayer and testimonies by our Bulgarian brothers in a most powerful way. What was unique was much of it was done in the Gypsy language. Then, a sermon was given in Bulgarian and uniquely translated into Turkish.

Upon conclusion, before I could turn around, four young men came to the center of the group that evening to accept Jesus into their hearts. During our time there, eleven people accepted Christ as their Lord and Savior.

Names are withheld for safety purposes

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Siberian Leadership Conference

On May 7, the leadership conference for the Church of God in Siberia was held in Minusinsk. The meeting was attended by about a hundred pastors and leaders of home groups from churches and Krasnoyarsk, Krasnoyarsk Krai and the Republic of Khakassia, Abakan of Kyzyl, the Republic of Tuva.

For many, a trip to the Conference was quite a long and exciting journey. For example, the pastors from Tuva region had to travel more than 400 kilometers (250 miles) by car. Although it isn’t big distance for Siberia, it was a major feat given that the only road connecting Tuva with the world goes through the Sayansk mountains on which snow still lies. The route was still covered with ice.

In the same time, Christians from Abazes, a small town in Khakassia, located more than the 200 kilometers (125 miles) from Minusinsk had to deal with heavy snowfall and snow drifts on the road. Despite the difficulties, all of the delegates safely reached our church in Minusinsk.

The main theme for the conference was, “the spiritual atmosphere in our churches and house groups”. As is the case anywhere in the world, some of our churches and worship services grow and successfully develop while yet other congregations have stopped growing and are in decline. Many pastors are in search of new forms and programs for spiritual development and quantitative growth. In the modern evangelical world it is enough programs and techniques. But often using Christian know-how doesn’t bring expected result. Usually this is because the atmosphere outside of the worship services is sad, is not attractive for the parishioners and for those seeking the truth.

The conference focused on the bible, theological and practical basis of a spiritual, attractive, and captivating atmosphere in the church through small groups about groups. Following the training sessions, we shared a dinner together and enjoyed the fellowship of our fellow co-laborers.

Alexander Utyakov
Regional Bishop for the Churches of God in Siberia

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Easter Evangelism in Siberia

The Church of God in Abakan, Russia celebrated Easter this year in a very special way – with an outreach to the Khakasian natives living their city. Although Easter has been a part of the Russian culture for centuries, it is an alien concept for the ancient Turkic Khakas people living in southern Siberia.

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The women who led the song service were dressed in national costumes. The main sermon during the Easter service was preached in the Khakas language by Evangelist Astapov Sazanakov. And we are most thankful for the handful of indigenous Turkic people who gave their life to Christ in response to the sermon. The service concluded with a prayer for revival in Khakassia and was followed by a time of fellowship (tea and snacks).

Less than 0.3% of the Khakassian people are born-again Christians. Turkic Khakassians who convert to Christianity and who experience new birth in Christ are very often subject to ridicule and criticism from their relatives and fellow villagers. Being a Christian among the Khakas takes lots of intestinal fortitude!

Alexander Utyakov, Administrative Bishop
Church of God in Siberia, Russia

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