Recently, Tanya Feygin’s article, “Russian Culture and The Christian Church” went viral in the Slavic Christian community. As I read it, bitter-sweet thoughts filled my mind. And when I was done, only bitterness remained. I am always deeply saddened by any blatant misrepresentation of any Christian community including the Slavic community.
I have not met Tanya Feygin, but if I may, would like to answer her blog with a response.
To understand where I come from and my perspective, here is a short background of myself. I too immigrated to the US when I was 9 years old & grew up in the Slavic Christian community in the USA. My 3rd grade teacher couldn’t pronounce my real name (Rostislav), therefore today I go by Russell.
At the age of 18, I became a Youth Pastor at one of the largest Slavic churches in WA, and served there for 5 years. After conflicts about worship, language & methods, my wife and I moved out of the state, and completely removed ourselves from the Slavic community, and started attending and served in an “American” church for 4 years.
The Slavic church I was a part of was very conservative & traditional, and just like Tanya, I did struggle with some aspects of the semi-closed-in community. And, true, there were some people that did paint the “American Church” as heathen and backslidden. Quiet honestly though, with time, I probably heard more rhetoric similar to Tanya’s blog, saying, “the American church” is perfect, and the Russians are all hypocrites, Pharisees and cheaters.
After several years in the American community, I was drawn back to Seattle, and with several close friends, we planted a church called City On A Hill. Today, City On A Hill is home to over 1,500 people. Though the largest percentage of members of our church have a Slavic background, we have people from over 15 nationalities attending our services, including from Mexico, Peru, Brazil, Vietnam, Fiji, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Russia, Ukraine, Moldova, Belarus, and other nationalities.
From my small experience, I have ceased to see the churches in America as “Russian” and “American,” and as “The Right One” and “The Wrong One.”
Based on the merits of “The Russian Culture and The Christian Church”, I could just as well write a blog on the “American Culture and The Christian Church,” detailing how “American” pastors are buying male prostitutes and $65 million dollar jets, teaching their members to stop believing homosexuality as sin, or how visitors who come to the “American” church with any different version of the Bible other than the KJV are persecuted and mocked. Such a depiction of the American church would be blatantly ignorant and false, though the above instances are true and have occurred in an “American” church.
In all reality, by generalizing and painting the “Slavic Church” with one brush, we only display our hypocritical, judgmental attitude that we ourselves denounce and have supposedly left. Sadly, many people leave the judgmental “Slavic” culture, but the Slavic culture does not leave them. Let me say it more correctly: though there are some in the Slavic church that are judgmental, you will find judgmental people in every other community of faith that you will attend. It has nothing to do with being Slavic or American, but rather having a sinful nature that seeks to domineer and put others down to feel better about oneself.
The truth is, there are no “Slavic” churches, and “American” churches, there is but ONE church of Jesus Christ. Also, there is no “perfect” church. The real church is made of people, and people are imperfect. If you think you have found the perfect church, brace yourself for disappointment, because sooner or later it will come. We only have a perfect Savior, and proclaim a perfect Jesus. People, including pastors in EVERY churches, will make mistakes, will misjudge, will not always display patience and perfect love and will disappoint. Again, we only have a perfect Savior.
Therefore, after a while of leaving a “Slavic” church, anyone will quickly discover that each community of faith will have their strengths and weaknesses. And, within each community of faith, there will be true disciples of Christ, the hypocrites, and the Pharisees.
In general, there are some things in the Slavic Christian community that are great strengths, worthy of imitation and admiration. For example, the divorce rate of members in Slavic speaking churches is probably less than 5%. One must agree that is commendable. Also, the rate of children & youth who remain in the church after college is much higher in the Slavic churches in general, than churches in America. According to some data, 56% of all high school graduates in the US leave the church right after graduation. And, only 11% of kids & youth who were raised in the church are still in church after college graduation. Such statistics are downright scary. Yes, there are many Slavic youth dealing with drug and alcohol addiction and who’ve left the church, but the percentage leaving church is not nearly as high as in the American culture. I believe the church in the US can benefit greatly learning from ethnic churches, and kids & youth ministry is one of those areas where the church in American needs a shift.
Concerning diversity, there is true joy to worship Jesus with many races and nationalities. I believe a true preaching of the Gospel will lead to diversity in races, ethic groups and cultures. And truth be told, another strength of the Slavic community in the US is their diversity in the church. Yes, I said it. It was not a typo. Most Slavic speaking churches will have at least 5 to 10 nationalities coming together weekly for worship. And if you don’t think there is a big difference between a Russian, a Ukrainian, Belorussian, Modovian, or a Latvian, just look at the current war in Ukraine. In comparison, most churches in America are segregated and not diverse. It is very rare and uncommon for a church to be diverse in America. According to statistics, 8 in 10 congregations are made up of one predominant racial group.
One note of caution concerning diversity: just because there is diversity, does not mean it’s a taste of heaven, and a true gospel is preached. There of thousands of diverse congregations that gather for worship, yet they worship another Jesus and preach a false gospel. For example, you will find a lot of diversity in churches preaching a pro-gay lifestyle.
It must be stated, Slavic speaking churches, just like other immigrant groups, face challenges and have weaknesses. Slavic speaking churches in the US must do a better job of reaching people outside the four walls. Due to language deficiencies, many Slavic churches will not be very effective reaching the community at large, yet, it does not mean such churches should not be doing outreaches at all. For example, there are thousands of Russian atheists and non-believers throughout the US, and they need to be reached, and Slavic-speaking churches are best equipped in reaching them. In other words, we need all kinds of churches to reach all kinds of people; one church will not reach everyone.
Slavic parents and churches must understand that one of their primary roles is to raise up sons and daughters who will make a profound impact in the community at large. And when the sons and daughters actually move forward with reaching out to the community at large, the parents and Slavic speaking churches should rejoice, support and celebrate what God is doing through their children. Sadly though, as these sons and daughters grow up and move on to fulfill their calling, much energy is wasted throwing rocks back at their parents and their former churches, and vice-versa. The role of “immigrant/ethnic” churches is similar to the role of John the Baptist: they will decrease, yet their increase will be in the impact and influence of their children.
As I travel and meet Slavic immigrants in the US, I already see God raising up an army of leaders from conservative, Slavic speaking churches who are making a huge impact in their perspective communities. For example:
Pastor Alex Klimchuk planted a church in Sioux Falls SD, primarily reaching Russians & Ukrainians at first. Today, over 90% of those attending his church are not Slavic, and every weekend, 5 to 10 people are coming to the Lord through their church.
Pastor Leonid Pisarchuk planted a church in the Kelso/Longview area, and though at first they were reaching Slavic families, today they are making a huge impact in hundreds of lives through their church and ministry.
Pastor Andrey Khilchenko planted a church in Kent, WA (City of Rain Church). What was first a Slavic church, today, they have 2 campuses and are a model church in reaching the community and homeless people. If you want to see what outreach to homeless should look like, get to know Pastor Andrey.
Pastor Bogdan Kipko and the church he is part of, The Slavic Church Orange County, started a 2nd service, which was all in English, and began to make an impact in their region. Today, they are planting a new church in Irvine CA, which will have no resemblance of being a Slavic church, yet are supported and planted from a Slavic congregation.
Pastor Jim Cymbala, pastor of The Brooklyn Tabernacle, was raised by Ukrainian & Polish parents who spoke their native language at home. Today, The Brooklyn Tabernacle ministers to over 16,000 people and over 100 nationalities in New York.
In conclusion, it hurts my heart to see the Slavic Christian community misrepresented & painted with one brush. For the most part, most of the people in the Slavic churches love Jesus dearly, love the word of God, walk in the fear of the Lord, and want their children to walk in the fear of the Lord. Most of the people are not cheating the IRS, lying to SSI, and judging everyone who enters through the doors of their church. And, God is honoring their faith and dedication, and is rising up their children to make a huge impact in their communities.
When City On A Hill Church started, most of the leaders of our church were young. If you would to take 20 of our key leaders, none of our parents were members of our church, but rather continued to worship in traditional Slavic churches. Yet, each and everyone of us looked back at our parents and the churches we grew up in, and were grateful to God for their impact and influence. Certainly, our methods, language and style is different than the churches we grew up in, but their faith, dedication to purity and the Gospel is what has impacted us to go further. Thank you parents. Thank you Slavic Gospel Church. Thank you, Slavic community; the few bad apples among you will never overshadow your impact and influence on the generations to come.
As believers, we thank God for every Christ-honoring, Bible-believing church. He uses every kind of church to reach all kinds of people. And if the Slavic churches in America would all only reach or impact one person, we can rejoice in that. We know they have reached at least 2 people, including me and Mrs. Tanya Feygin.