Thursday, January 27, 2011

The Odyssey of Pastor Mike: Part V

Pastor Michael prayed and asked God what the next stage was, what more God might demand of him. “Go to Belarus,” was God’s reply. After five years of preaching in the prisons, hospitals, and streets of Russia, God was calling Pastor Mike to a new ministry.

The transition was difficult for Pastor Mike and for his wife Lena and his son Sasha. But God sustained them through the trials of the move. He started a church. God gave him power to heal the sick and to preach with authority, restoring families who had been broken by drug addiction and the rampant alcoholism in the country. Through it all, Michael remained a steadfast servant of God. His efforts, and the results they were bringing forth, attracted the attention of a local woman, Galina Samusenko, who would join the church and exhibit the same passionate fervor Pastor Mike had for serving others. She would go on to serve as an assistant Pastor.

Galina helped the church grow, and soon the worship services were overflowing. They opened a new church, then a third. They continued the Biblical commandments of feeding the poor and the needy, caring for orphans and widows. All of this activity began to attract the attention of the local authorities, who intimidated some of the parishioners. In Belarus, the only accepted religion is Orthodox Christianity, and to worship in the style of Pastor Mike and his parishioners is a jailable offense. Further, the collapse of the Soviet Union brought not liberation, but a tightening of the stranglehold the government of Belarus inflicted on its citizens. Times grew tougher for Pastor Mike's church.

Yet Pastor Mike and his congregation continued to worship. Further, their farms were prospering, and they began to feed the people of the local village, then the surrounding villages. Pastor Michael petitioned the local government to approve his church as an official church, and finally, after many years, it was accomplished. The church continued to face discrimination and injustices, but it also continued to grow.

Pastor Mike's church formed an alliance with my church, Aldersgate and things continued to prosper. The churches supported one another, and the financial support we were able to provide helped build a new church in Krichev. It was placed at the top of the only hill in the town, a shining beacon on the hill, and a sign of just how much things had changed. Further financial support from Aldersgate enabled Pastor Mike’s congregation to purchase a tractor, allowing them to grow more crops, and feed more people. And still the church grew.

The church garnered more land and set up pens for pigs, geese and ducks. Pastor Michael created a Church Camp, a safe haven for kids who no longer had to be at the mercy of predators in the streets. The Church created a children's Sunday school, a Bible school for adults, a daily prayer service, a women’s and men’s group, youth services, and Praise and Worship services. Today, the three churches have more than 200 people attending.

God continued his work of redemption with Pastor Michael right until the end. Shortly before his death earlier this summer, Pastor Michael received a message from God that He was going to call him home. True to his nature, Pastor Michael called his team, including Galina, the young woman who had so enthusiastically joined the church and served as his right hand, and told them they needed to begin preparations for a time when Pastor Michael would no longer be with them. They worked together to institute a transition plan, and the Krichev Church was accepted as a member of the International United Methodist Churches. Shortly thereafter, Pastor Michael was called to his rest.

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