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A new meaning of ‘partnering’

Mission co-worker shares stories of mutual relationship between Russian, U.S. churches

October 12, 2009

Gary Payton

Gary Payton

OAK HARBOR, Wash.

Editor’s note: This is the second in series of stories about the more than 50 Presbyterian mission workers and international peacemakers who are speaking in more than 150 presbyteries in the coming month as part of Mission Challenge ’09. — Jerry L. Van Marter

One program hosted by a Russian Baptist church reaches hundreds of children and is just part of that congregation’s outreach to 16 orphanages across the region.

“It’s like Vacation Bible School in the woods,” said Gary Payton, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A)’s regional liaison for Russia, Belarus, Ukraine and Poland.

This same Russian congregation, Smolensk Baptist Church, also engages in evangelistic outreach through sports programs. Members even built a boat on which to take the gospel of Jesus Christ to many small unchurched villages along a nearby river.

Viktor Ignatenkov, the pastor of the church, is the grandson of one pastor who lost his life — along with tens of thousands of Soviet citizens, pastors and church leaders — during the Marxist-Leninist oppression in the U.S.S.R. in the 1930s.

Payton spoke about Ignatenkov and his church’s outreach Oct. 3 at Whidbey Presbyterian Church in North Puget Sound Presbytery as part of the Mission Challenge.

The challenge is intended to connect mission co-workers with Presbyterians across the country. From Sept. 25-Oct. 18, 45 co-workers will visit 152 presbyteries, sharing their stories and educating listeners on how to become engaged.

Payton spoke about the people he’s met and the stories he’s heard during his travels.

“Even more amazing in those dark days is that when the pastor of a church would be ‘disappeared,’ some other person in the church would emerge, called by God to pastor the congregation,” Payton said.

So it went, each in turn. As Ignatenkov said, “They knew they were just standing in line. They gave their lives to the church.”

Built on that foundation of faith and ministry, Smolensk Baptist Church is now partnering, or “twinning,” with White Memorial Presbyterian Church in Raleigh, N.C.

The Smolensk church is part of the Union of Evangelical Christians-Baptists of the Russian Federation, one of the denominations with whom the PC(USA) has close relationships and partners to extend Christ’s ministry across the globe. These two congregations are engaged in a mutual spiritual journey, caring for and ministering to one another and deepening their faith together.

“Over the years, dozens of folks (from White Memorial) have served in mission with Smolensk Baptist Church … teens, young adults, parents, retirees,” Payton said. “Extraordinary stories of transformation have emerged from their time and their commitment.”

God is at work in such communities as Christian faith is lived out in different cultures across the earth. Mission co-workers like Payton are developing ministry connections of common support, prayer and shared work to gain new ministry insights and provide mutual encouragement in proclaiming Christ’s gospel worldwide. Today in Russia alone, a country spanning 11 time zones, the PC(USA) is partnering with Baptist, Lutheran and Russian Orthodox churches and ministries.

Payton spoke about how the work of Presbyterian World Mission in the region seeks not only to engage individual churches in mutual support and ministry, but also to support theological and Christian education through a Lutheran seminary and Christian schools. The PC(USA) is reaching out to the marginalized Roma people (sometimes called gypsies) by supporting a network for spiritual growth. And the church is engaged in ministries of compassion through partnerships in orphanage outreach, drug and alcohol rehabilitation and HIV/AIDS education and prevention as well as disaster assistance.

The Rev. Dave Templin is pastor of Whidbey Presbyterian Church in Oak Harbor, Wash.

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