Faithful Methodist Pastor in Ukraine during Communist Rule
In 2014 the United Methodist Church in Eurasia has celebrated its 125th anniversary since the first Methodist congregation started in Eurasia. It was in the year 1889, when a small Methodist congregation began to meet in Saint-Petersburg, Russia. For over 125 years the Spirit has moved and inspired Methodist people to live holy lives and transform their societies, to practice spiritual disciplines and receive grace, to be brave and humble, faithful and sacrificial. By preserving traditions, we are transforming the future. Today the United Methodist people continue to serve actively in Saint Petersburg, Russia and many other cities of Ukraine, Belarus, Moldova, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan. The Holy Spirit leads us to new horizons and opens up new possibilities for us.
It is very important to understand what tradition and values were in the center of ministry for early Methodist people as they developed their mission work in Eurasia. It is similar to our viewing of a family photo album when three or four generation sit on the sofa and open picture after picture. Each photo carries an amazing family story. They will make us laugh and cry at the same time. But one thing is obvious – after viewing the photo album and listening to family stories, we will become different. The Holy Spirit will renew our faith, inspire us through example of our ancestors, and lead us to continue the traditions which will transform the future.
Going for the journey
I invite you to go with me on a journey through space and time. We will begin our journey in Moscow, Russia where we have a Methodist House, which includes a Seminary, several churches, The Eurasia UM Conference office and the Bishop’s office. We will visit different cities and countries, view photos and get inspiration from those who have fought the good fight, finished the race, and kept the faith. So, sit comfortably, buckle up and be ready to become different. We are going on an amazing journey…
Moscow, Russia – Uzhgorod, Western Ukraine
After one day of flying 1800 kilometers (about 1100 miles) southwest of Moscow through Kiev to Uzhgorod you arrive in an amazing green world. When you are surrounded by lush green fields, hills and mountains, your heart is filled with thanksgiving to God for His wonderful creation on earth. Add to all this the radical hospitality and extravagant generosity of Transcarpathian people and you can feel the taste of the Heavenly Kingdom here on earth. Every day your heart becomes filled with a desire to stay and live here forever.
You are even more inspired by the ministry of United Methodist churches in Uzhgorod city and Kamianitsa village which is 12 kilometers (about 7.5 miles) from the city. Pastors Vasil and Alla Vuksta serve God, sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ with the people of this region. Both adults and children love to come to this church to worship, study Bible, attend Sunday school, prayer meetings and fellowship because they experience the grace of God which flows abundantly on the people in of this church.
Today sisters and brothers of these churches freely worship God with thankful hearts. Many of them remember that it was not always like this. They continue to serve with faithfulness and courage as did their pastor Ivan in the past.
Ivan Vasilievich Vuksta was born in 1929. At that time Uzhgorod was part of Czechoslovakia. His father was a lay leader of the Methodist church in Kamianitsa in the 1930s and actively shared the good news of Jesus Christ and spread spiritual literature in Uzhgorod district traveling around by bicycle. We learn this from the stories of Vasil Vuksta, son of Ivan Vasilievich, and his wife Alla.
The Spirit of God was moving and directing the activity of Methodist people in Uzhgorod even in the early years of the 1920’s. On March 26, 1923 the Board of Missions of the Methodist Episcopal Church South (USA) purchased a building in Uzhgorod, which was a great gift for the congregation.
While he was a teenager, Ivan witnessed the change of state when Uzhgorod ceased to be Czechoslovakian and became a territory of Hungary in late 1930s. And after World War II Uzhgorod became a part of the Soviet Union. Today you can hear a joke from the people of Uzhgorod about how they visited four countries by staying in the same place the whole time.
Ivan’s teenage years were full of changes, but one man, Yan Gasich, the pastor of the Methodist church in Uzhgorod, played a special role in his life. Pastor Yan encouraged Ivan to study and pray about God’s call to pastoral ministry. This tradition of discerning the gifts of God for pastoral ministry and paying attention to God’s call in other people is still a central for ministry of our churches today. We encourage these people on their journey. Helping people to discern their calling is a great task and privilege of Christian leaders and ministers.
In the late 1950s Ivan Vasilievich became a lay leader of the Methodist church in Kamianitsa. It was a difficult time. After the establishment of the Soviet regime in Western Ukraine, the Methodist people were prohibited from doing any activities for the church. Their church building in Uzhgorod was taken away and given to Baptist church. When in 1948 pastor Gasich requested the local government to let him live in the apartment on our church property he was refused. So we lost our church building and the apartment for a pastor. But the faith of the Methodist people grew even stronger.
When I listen to the story of pastor Ivan, I am amazed by his faithfulness and courage. He experienced so many difficulties that the present generation can hardly imagine. Regular threats against his family, constantly being fired from jobs because of his faith in Jesus Christ, and even the closing of the Kamianitsa village entrances by the police so that people would not be able to participate in worship. Furthermore, imagine windows broken by stones thrown by atheists, refusal to register the church, prohibition to preach the Gospel and sing hymns. How can one stand firm in this situation and continue to serve in unison with the Spirit’s movement? I have found a few main answers in my conversations with Vasil and Alla Vuksta.
First, is a fervent love for God. Pastor Ivan was fully dedicated to God’s ministry. He was constantly thinking how to reach new people with the Gospel. In all of his conversations with people he put God as the center of attention.
Fervent love for God was also a characteristic of John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist movement. He also fully dedicated himself to God and worked hard for spreading the gospel among ordinary folk.
Second, is faithfulness to God. I often ask myself – what trials and difficulties have I experienced on my journey today? Perhaps, I can complain about the unfriendly attitude of some people towards the Methodist church, or the lack of funds, etc. But all these seem so insignificant in comparison with what pastor Ivan and the Methodist people of his time experienced.
The faithfulness of pastor Ivan was a spiritual gift which characterized leaders of the Methodist movement. Neither threats, nor a danger of imprisonment, nor humiliation could shake the faithfulness of Ivan. As the apostle Paul, he firmly continued his ministry and completed his mission with faithfulness.
Third, it is having a brave heart! One must be very brave in order to practice peaceful disobedience towards government, which prohibits you and your people to freely express your faith. It may seem unrealistic for many people today, but such was the society where Methodist people lived and grew, constantly receiving refusal to be registered as an official church. Add to this letters from persecutor’s office and from KGB and you can feel the pressure our sisters and brothers lived under in that time.
The brave heart of pastor Ivan brought confidence to his disciples and inspired them to follow Christ. They also became brave and shared the Gospel with people in their village and city in spite of all the risks.
Forth, is a vision from God. Pastor Ivan has had a big vision from God. He envisioned new Methodist churches in Ukraine, new churches full of young people who actively serve the Lord. When God gives such a vision, it is hard to stop you.
Furthermore, pastor Ivan constantly thought about possibilities to train young people to be pastors and lay leaders. Thanks to our sisters and brothers from Hungary this dream came true in the mid-1990s.
Fifth, it is being sacrificial. In spite of his small salary, constantly being fired from jobs because of his faith, and the responsibility of raising five children, pastor Ivan always gave much of his income for the ministry of the church. It was not only his tithe, which many of us give to the Lord. It was much more than that.
Pastor Ivan sacrificed his health. He did not care about his own comfort. He worked day and night because he understood how much God loves people and desires to save their souls.
Moved by the Holy Spirit, pastor Ivan continued traditions of the Methodist movement and transformed the future together with his sisters and brothers. The Lord has abundantly blessed churches in Kamianitsa and Uzhgorod.
It is with thankful hearts that we remember the important role of The Methodist church in Estonia. This church continued its activity during Soviet time and supported our congregation in Kamianitsa in so many ways. Pastor Ivan visited Tallinn in late 1960s several times. Also, brothers and sisters from Estonia visited Kamianitsa and helped the church in its ministry. It strengthened the church and helped its further growth. At a certain point our church in Kamianitsa was recognized as a branch of the Estonian church and that helped the Methodist movement to move forward.
After many refusals our church in Kamianitsa was finally able to register in 1983. Since then the official activity of the church has expanded every year. The movement of the Holy Spirit encourages us when we see the church full of diverse people from small children to grey haired adults. Their dedication to God, faithfulness and brave hearts remind us of the wonderful foundation that Pastor Ivan laid out.
Every time I leave Kamianitsa village I take with me wonderful memories about the love and faithfulness of pastors Vasil and Alla. Their story about Vasil’s father, pastor Ivan Vasilievich Vuksta, about his ministry and faithfulness, is an inspiration for them and for all of us today and will continue for many generations to come.
My prayer today is that movement of the Spirit continues doubly in United Methodist people today. May faithfulness, brave and sacrificial hearts be the DNA of our Methodist tradition in Eurasia!
Submitted by Fedor Kim
- С Т Кимбро мл., Сестра Анна, Объединенная Методистская Церковь Евразии, г.Москва, 2014 г.
- С Т Кимбро-мл. под ред., Методизм в России и странах Балтии: история и возрождение, Издательство Уральского университета, г.Екатеринбург, 2003 г.
- Journal of the Finland and Saint Petersburg mission conference, Methodist Press, Rome, 1908.
 2 Timothy 4:7, Common English Bible translation
 see video film “Ivan. Anna. Yonghuk”, The United Methodist Church in Eurasia, 2014
 see video film “Ivan. Anna. Yonghuk”, The United Methodist Church in Eurasia, 2014