Russian church thrives with long-term support from AFUMC
By SYBIL DAVIDSON
Katya Zoubkova was raised as an atheist and a member of a youth communist organization in her hometown of Ulyanovsk, Russia.
Today she is pastor of a thriving United Methodist Church in western Siberia thanks in part to 12 years of prayerful and financial support from Alpharetta First UMC. Her story of transformation began when, at 15, Zoubkova started searching for God.
After the fall of the Soviet Union, Zoubkova was baptized in the Russian Orthodox Church where she learned about its rituals. She got her first Bible from a Catholic nun. She didn’t find what she was looking for in either place, however.
Then, at age 19, United Methodists from Oklahoma visited Ulyanovsk.
“I was invited to the Bible study. I liked the people there, the atmosphere of love and friendship,” she said. “I liked to read and understand the Bible.”
A missionary pastor recognized something special in Zoubkova and provided a way for her to attend Oklahoma City University where she received a degree in religion. Returning home, she became the first youth coordinator for the United Methodist Church in Russia.
She later returned to the U.S. to attend seminary at St. Paul School of Theology in Kansas City. It was there that she received a call to be a pastor.
Bishop Ruediger R. Minor, episcopal leader of the Eurasia Area, which includes Russia, approved Zoubkova’s request to start at church in Tyumen, Siberia. She and her husband Rouslan arrived at Tyumen at the end of 2000.
While Katya and Rouslan where charting new territory, members of Alpharetta First were considering charting new territory themselves by supporting a church start half way around the world.
At a Visioning Meeting at Alpharetta First, retired pastor Rev. Jo Ann Leifeste suggested that the church sponsor a new congregation through the UMC’s Russia Initiative. Leifeste was familiar with the initiative from her years in the Southwest Texas Conference.
“The Methodist Church in Russia was to me like the original circuit riders,” said Leifeste.
Alpharetta First members liked the idea and raised $15,000 to make this relationship between the Tyumen UMC of The Salvation and Alpharetta First UMC a reality. Soon the Zoubkovas got word that there was a church in the U.S. that wanted to support their ministry.
“To have it go from there to what it is today is amazing,” said Leifeste, who is now back in Texas. “Step out when you have an idea to help lead others to the Lord and you will stand amazed at what God will do with that idea.”
Alpharetta First has continued to provide financial support for evangelism, outreach and Zoubkova’s salary. Zoubkova and her family have visited Alpharetta First three times. When she visited in 2010, the church furnished a video-projector and a keyboard that Tyumen UMC uses every week in worship.
“When pastor Katya came and spoke, I was blown away,” said Alpharetta First associate, Rev. Brent White. “She has a powerful testimony.”
Most of the members of Tyumen UMC are new Christians. For 12 years, the church has been baptizing adults, children and babies and bringing in new members. One of Zoubkova’s chief efforts is leadership training, another area Alpharetta First has provided financial support toward.
“That support helps our first generation Christians grow in faith and become leaders,” she said. “We invested in members of our church to go to walk to Emmaus and youth conferences and leadership conferences - and now we have leaders in the church who evangelize and do ministry.”
“They are doing some amazing things on that cold and stony piece of earth,” said Alpharetta First’s senior pastor, Rev. Don Martin.
Since 2000, the Tyumen UMC congregation has met in rented spaces, including other church buildings, or even in Katya's and Rouslan's apartment. They recently began building their first church building.
“When we started the construction of the church building – the first in Western Siberia – members of Alpharetta First UMC gave significant gifts toward the construction,” Zoubkova explained.
Most of people in Zoubkova’s congregation have salary around $300 - $400 a month, but they give generously to their church—both of their finances and their time.
“We were able to get funds to finish the brick work, to cover the building with the roof, to put a fence, and to continue the work on the ground floor,” Zoubkova said.
This winter is considered to be mild in Tyumen, with averages between 10 and minu-10 degrees Fahrenheit.
“Last weekend it was -20 degrees, and the attendance in the church was regular, we had even parents with small children in worship,” said Zoubkova.
They hold weekly prayer meetings at the construction site.
Every week we bundle up and pray inside the building without windows. It is chilly there, but we see the results of prayers,” she said. “We are very excited at what God made happened in Tyumen in our church.”
Supporting international missions gives energy to local ministry, according to Martin.
“When we do things beyond the county line, I have found the people get more focused on what church is really about,” he explained. “Local and international ministry complement each other.”
In addition to Alpharetta’s continued support, Tyumen UMC invites support from other churches or individuals.
“Pray for faith of the members of Tyumen UMC, and pray for hunger for God in people in Tyumen. Pray for our evangelism efforts in the villages around,” said Zoubkova. “There are two funds that we would be grateful to have extra support for -- evangelism fund and leadership fund.
“I believe in growing leaders. Somebody, many years ago, invested in me and my education. AFUMC believed in me and invested in the start of a church in Tyumen and my salary, and today we can see fruit.”
Tyumen UMC of the Salvation is one of more than 100 United Methodist churches started in Russia over the past 20 years through the Russia Initiative. In that time, the Russia United Methodist Theological Seminary in Moscow was founded to meet the leadership needs of the growing church. Today 24 seminary graduates are serving in the Russia UMC provisional annual conference.
To give to the Russia Initiative of the United Methodist Church, use Advance Number #14053A.
A fact finding team from North Georgia will be travelling to Russia in late summer to seek ways to expand the partnership between North Georgia and Russian UMCs. If you would like to be a part of this team, contact Mike Selleck at firstname.lastname@example.org or 678-533-1442.