Grahams bring western N.C. Slavic churches together for expanded ministry
|Alex Fedun, assistant pastor of Slavic Revival Fellowship Church, interprets during a July 14 meeting of WNC Slavic Ministries and Slavic pastors. Carla Wynn Davis photo|
ASHEVILLE, N.C. – Subscribing to the principle of "you can achieve more together than apart," Fran and Mike Graham are helping to unite local Slavic churches to reach a growing Slavic immigrant community in Asheville, N.C.
The Grahams serve as Cooperative Baptist Fellowship field personnel and have worked among Slavic immigrants in Asheville for five years – making recent advances to expand the ministry and help more people. Key among these advances is gathering Slavic pastors for quarterly meetings to discuss how they can work together.
"Together we can do much more than we’re doing separate," said Vladimir Gundorin, pastor of Glory of Christ Church in Asheville.
"We know each other. We can help each other easier," said Ilie Tirgoala, pastor of Moldovan Missionary Baptist Church in Asheville.
Denominational and nationality differences have been barriers to unified efforts, Gundorin said. He’d tried for several years to gather local Slavic pastors, but it took the Grahams and the non-profit ministry they launched – WNC Slavic Ministries – to make the collaboration happen.
"We thank God for this," Gundorin said.
The Grahams built relationships with pastors by helping them navigate governmental systems in order to access the resources and services their church members need. They also connect the pastors with CBF partner churches.
"They didn’t know the local resources and how to help link their community to these resources," Mike said.
Many Slavic immigrant families are using job skills from their former country to quickly gain U.S. employment. They save their money, many with goals of building a house for their typically large families. But as they assimilate to the United States, they still maintain strong ties to their homeland, often collecting clothes and money to send to ministry efforts in their former country.
"We are living here, and we have to do something here," said Gundorin, who wants to see more Slavic ministry efforts in Asheville.
Through meetings facilitated by the Grahams and WNC Slavic Ministries, the Slavic pastors cast their dreams for local ministry. Among their education goals are starting a private Christian school for Slavic children and youth and urging public schools to allow Slavic teenagers to use their native language to fulfill high school language requirements. They’d like to provide legal services, job placement, financial classes and a Slavic-language Christian radio station.
It’s these efforts and services they believe will empower local Slavic immigrants.
"Our hope is sometime in the future that the Slavic community takes over this organization," said WNC Slavic Ministries board president Charles Wykle.
The Slavic pastors and American leaders plan to continue meeting quarterly to advance the pastors’ goals and to talk about community concerns – from how to encourage Slavic teens to drive safer to how to find resources to build a handicap ramp for a Slavic man with a disability.
Because pastors are seen as leaders in the Slavic community, these meetings and unified efforts could be "the beginning of something very important for the Asheville community," Fran said.
To learn about partnership opportunities with WNC Slavic Ministries, contact the Fellowship at (800) 352-8741.
CBF is a fellowship of Baptist Christians and churches who share a passion for the Great Commission and a commitment to Baptist principles of faith and practice. The Fellowship’s mission is to serve Christians and churches as they discover and fulfill their God-given mission.