Kira Volkova believes her opportunity to speak to the United Methodist General Conference, as part of the first-ever Young People's Address, is a result not of her own work but "what God wanted me to do."
In her part of the April 24 address, the young Russian pastor spoke of the struggles faced by The United Methodist Church and Protestant churches in general in a country dominated by the Russian Orthodox Church.
Volkova told about young people who hide their faith from their families. "It takes courage to admit you are a Protestant Christian in the Orthodox society where rituals and traditions can seem more important than personal relationships with God," she said.
The Young People's Address fell on the same day that The New York Times carried a front-page story on the difficulties Protestants face in Russia, and one example used was of a United Methodist congregation.
Carried by faith
The strong faith of Volkova, a church planter, has carried her through her first two years working in the distant city of Kirov. Her ministry there is marked by compassion for the people in this northeastern Russian city that borders Siberia.
She works at the hospital, particularly offering hospice care to families with children dying of cancer, and visits and prays with women who have young children and find it hard to come out for worship. She also holds weekly worship and Bible studies in a rented hotel room.
But Volkova said the barriers she faces in Russia are daunting. "Sometimes I wonder why I should go on," she acknowledged.
The Russian image of a minister is that of an Orthodox priest-an older married man, she pointed out. As a 23-year-old single woman, she must overcome that prevailing image. "I know God is with me and wants me to succeed," she said, adding that she draws strength from the prayers of people in both Russia and the United States during times of discouragement.
Equipping young leaders
Young people for ministry must be equipped for ministry, Volkova told General Conference. "For those young people who do ministry in Russia, they talk about the need to raise pastors' educational levels and professional skills," she explained.
Volkova has known she wanted to be a pastor since she was 14 years old. When the time came for her to receive formal training, she went to the Russia United Methodist Theological Seminary in Moscow.
The seminary, started in 1995 using rooms in the conference office, is now in its own building and provides for residential and distance-learning students. It was established through the joint effort of the United Methodist boards of Global Ministries, Discipleship and Higher Education and Ministry.
Significant funding for the seminary was raised through the efforts of Bishop Marion Edwards and the Rev. Don Messer, co-chairs of the fund-raising committee that received more than $3 million in donations from annual conferences and local churches. The work of the seminary has equipped pastors who are now serving across 11 time zones throughout Russia.
Financial gifts to Advance #12174A, Russia United Methodist Theological Seminary, will equip more committed pastors like Volkova. Checks can be mailed to GCFA, P.O. Box 9068, New York, NY 10087. Write the Advance number and name on the memo line of the check. Online gifts can be made at www.givetomission.org.
*Scott is communications director for the United Methodist Committee on Relief.
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