Kitchen towels, Christmas cards and Skype are signs of transformation — in multiple ways.
The Rev. Tatyana Molodyk has become an artist. She’s using her talent to help Saratov UMC in southern Russia raise money, and members of her congregation are using their sewing skills to help out.
Saratov has two North Texas Annual Conference partners, Highland Park UMC and First UMC Denton, through a program called In Mission Together Eurasia, formerly the Russia Initiative. Saratov members make Christmas and greeting cards, cosmetic bags, tote bags and kitchen towels. The Denton church began selling the items in the U.S., and Marfa Ministry — Marfa means “Martha” in Russian — has grown into a nonprofit organization.
Janet Fisher, the First UMC Denton member who started Marfa Ministry, says her church has sent $6,000 in profit back to Saratov in the last three years. Like the customers in multiple states, Fisher is enamored with the art Molodyk creates using magazines, glue and cardboard. The collages are turned into greeting cards.
“These are really incredibly beautiful pieces,” Fisher says. “She has a vision. She researches and studies before she starts. Then she decides on colors and goes through magazines, chopping. In my home, I have a picture of an angel that was made into a Christmas card. The stars in the sky were sequins on a purse.”
Molodyk’s works are varied: One depicts Mary and Jesus looking at each other, another a cute cat, others a funny turtle or a nativity.
David McLaurin, coordinator of In Mission Together Eurasia since January, hopes to help other partner churches develop similar money-raising tools. Through IMT Eurasia, NTC churches have helped plant churches and support pastors and a seminary in Russia, Ukraine, Belarus and Moldova.
During the last 20 years, the partnerships have consisted mostly of the North Texas churches providing funding for the Eurasian churches, plus trips of 10 to 12 days for church members to get to know each other. Now that the Eurasian churches are well-established, McLaurin is guiding a shift toward a relational, rather than monetary, support.
“I think of this as a maturing of the relationship,” McLaurin says. “These churches can’t send money forever, but let’s keep interacting. Let’s mentor, and let’s do Bible studies together with a translator.”
Bishop Hans Vaxby of Eurasia wants his churches to become as independent as possible by 2015. He has asked the IMT Eurasia churches to sign the 50/50 Partnership Covenant, which encourages each congregation to outline expectations. McLaurin says he will work with NTC churches to establish goals.
A goal might be for a North Texas congregation to pay the pastor’s salary for the Eurasian church, while the Eurasian church covers its operating expenses. McLaurin says other goals don’t have to be financial. The partner churches could pledge to have a monthly Bible study together via Skype, a free computer program that enables people to see and talk to each other over the Internet.
“Part of my job is to encourage people to take advantage of technology,” McLaurin says.
In March, Highland Park UMC hosted a partnership roundtable. Regional IMT Eurasia churches were invited to hear an update from Vaxby and participate in Skype exchanges with Molodyk and the Rev. Eduard Khegay in Moscow. The participants were taught how to use Skype to communicate with their Eurasian partners. In addition to NTC churches, guests came from churches in West Texas, South Texas, Colorado and Louisiana.
Khegay is also active on the In Mission Together Eurasia Facebook page, which has 79 members posting photos, links to blogs and concerns, such as the health of the pastor of Grace UMC in St. Petersburg.
McLaurin has a vision for churches on both sides of the ocean. Pastors could meet on Skype to share experiences, concerns and advice. They could mentor seminary students in Moscow.
He says the perfect situation would be for each IMT Eurasia church to nurture its relationship with its partner church by setting up regular Skype meetings, maybe a quarterly devotional with a board meeting to check on how each church is doing on its agreement. Churches could also do interactive worship services, singing together and using big screens to share the view of each congregation.
“I envision every American church having a committee of people passionate about this program, and they would interact with a similar group at the partner church in Eurasia,” McLaurin says.