Resignation prompts funding partners to review ministry to Slavic churches
By Connie Faber
A two-year joint venture initiated by USMB to hire a national Slavic Ministries director has ended. In early May, USMB Executive Director Ed Boschman announced the decision to discontinue the position. In addition to the USMB national conference, the Pacific and Central District Conferences as well as MB Foundation and MB Mission were partners in the most recent effort to better connect USMB Slavic congregations to district and national ministries.
“It was our hope to be able to partner with our Slavic churches in mission, both in the United States and globally,” says Boschman in an email interview. “We wanted to resource our Slavic churches for increased ministry impact and to learn from them in whatever ways we could.”
Boschman says encouraging the 34 USMB Slavic congregations to become involved in regional, district and national gatherings and to financially support Mennonite Brethren ministries were additional goals. “We had hoped that having a Slavic ministries director could build relational trust among us, and that after a couple of years of providing this liaison, the Slavic churches would see value in it and join us in financial support,” says Boschman.
Aleks Borisov, pictured right, a first-generation immigrant living in Spokane, Wash., who speaks both English and Russian, was hired in September 2011 to serve halftime as the director of Slavic Ministries. At the time, Borisov served part time as the pastor of education at Pilgrim Slavic Baptist Church, providing him the flexibility to join the USMB staff.
Borisov’s decision in late March 2013 to resign from his USMB position and to instead volunteer on a very part-time basis prompted the five partners to review the position. The partners concluded that while some progress had been made toward strengthening the relationships between Slavic congregations and the broader MB family, spending money on a project characterized by slow progress was not the best use of the partners’ limited funds.
“The Slavic churches do not see themselves as part of a denomination,” says Jon Wiebe, MB Foundation CEO and president, “so they resist attempts to draw them in. They love us as brothers in Christ but do not see any obligation or benefit to strengthening denominational ties.”
The five ministry partners affirm Borisov for his efforts. “Aleks did a fine job at attempting to strengthen relationship and gather the pastors and leaders into prayer clusters,” says Gary Wall, district minister for the Pacific District, home to 30 of the 34 USMB Slavic congregations. “It was not for lack of effort that many of our goals were not realized,” says Wall.
Borisov also worked with the four Central District Conference (CDC) Slavic churches, and retired CDC District Minister Roger Engbrecht says that while Borisov was well-received by these churches, building relationships takes time. “Trying to build relationships with so many churches in such a huge demographic area on a part-time basis and with limited funding was a big task,” says Engbrecht, who currently works part-time with CDC ethnic congregations.
The Slavic Ministry funding partners have worked with Slavic congregations in a variety of circumstances, and they identify a number of factors that must be addressed when building these relationships. For example, theological differences among Slavic congregations create tensions that can discourage the groups from more closely affiliating with one another and USMB. The agencies agree that cultivating cross-cultural relationships takes time and is hampered by language and cultural differences.
Borisov encourages USMB to continue efforts to dialogue with Slavic congregations and to take advantage of a new generation of Slavic leaders that speak English.
“One of the biggest difficulties immigrants have is the language barrier,” says Borisov in an email interview. “Most Slavic church leaders are middle-aged and senior people and they face this problem. But now, after about 20 years of immigration, there is a new generation of young church leaders who are very good with English. As they begin to take positions as Slavic church leaders, they will be able to communicate with the Anglo USMB group.”
Borisov says, “My goal was to build a better connection between USMB and Slavic constituency of the Mennonite Brethren family of churches. I cannot say that this goal is accomplished. It might be accomplished when the fourth generation of current Slavic immigrants grow up and become leaders of existing Slavic churches.”
Borisov is in favor of continuing a USMB Anglo/Slavic dialogue, saying that although future efforts may “have a different format; it is very important.” He also encourages USMB leaders to have Slavic congregations approve or designate the next Slavic ministries director because it would give this individual more credibility with Slavic congregations.
Borisov is not the first Russian to serve USMB and its Slavic congregations. In 2001 Vyacheslav Tsvirinko of Fresno, Calif., was hired for a short time as an associate in Slavic Ministries, serving alongside Loyal Funk, the director of Integrated Ministries (IM), as the USMB transcultural ministry was known at the time.
Slavic congregations began affiliating with U.S. Mennonite Brethren in the late 1980s as a result of USMB efforts to reach new immigrants. The goal set for of Integrated Ministries (IM) when it was founded in 1988 was to add 30 immigrant congregations to the USMB family by the year 2000. Thanks to Funk’s diligent efforts, that goal was surpassed.
In 2000, Funk reported that IM was involved with 20 Slavic, 10 Hispanic, seven Korean, five Ethiopian, two Japanese and one Chinese congregations. When Funk retired in 2004, the work with immigrant congregations was shifted to Mission USA director Don Morris.
While USMB has struggled over the past decades to effectively connect with the Slavic congregations it has adopted, leaders are encouraged by the fact that Borisov’s resignation was triggered by his desire to plant a church. Borisov is the church plant pastor of Disciples Church, Spokane, Wash., a daughter church of Pilgrim Slavic Church that is a second-generation, English-language Slavic church plant.
“While we had hoped and dreamed that we would be able to partner in the birthing of next generation English-speaking church plants, we had not expected our Slavic Ministries director would himself sense God’s direction to become a church planter,” says USMB’s Boschman. “The visionary and strong leadership support of Pastor Alex Kaprian and Pilgrim Slavic MB Church (Borisov’s home congregation) to bless a next-generation English-speaking church plant was nothing short of miraculous.”
Wall agrees. “If this is just the beginning of a new wave of English-speaking MB churches being established within the Slavic community,” says the PDC minister, “then it was well worth our investment in Aleks to become the pioneer pastor that he is.”