Deaconess Who Served the Poor of Saint Petersburg, Russia
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, Khamovnicheskiy val 24, stroenie 2
The unique historical document – Journal of the Finland and Saint Petersburg mission conference 1908 – is kept in the Bishop’s office of the United Methodist Church in Eurasia in Moscow, Russia. You can read the report of district superintendent George Simons there. He shares the story of how God blesses the church development in Russia. From his report you may learn that Methodist people in Saint Petersburg had worship services in different languages – Russian, Finnish and Swedish and pastor Hyalmar Salmi could preach in all three languages.
Also, you can feel the difficult atmosphere in which our mission developed. But in spite of the pressure from the local authorities, district superintendent Simons faced these challenges with faith and a sense of humor: “…ыто для всех, особенно для инспекторов, которые приносят свою бумагу и карандаш!”
The history of the Methodist church in Saint Petersburg is rich with examples of lives which deserve special attention from modern day Methodists. One of them was Anna Eklund.
Moscow – Saint Petersburg
In only an hour and a half, you can fly 700 kilometers (about 440 miles) northwest of Moscow and you get to the cultural capital of Russia – Saint Petersburg. I have received much grace living in this city for four years and serving in two Methodist congregations. The sincerity, intelligence and high cultural level of the Saint Petersburg people are always alive in my memory.
In the Russia State library on Ortrovskogo square, Saint Petersburg you can study “The Christian Advocate” magazine which has been published by the Methodist church since 1909. You can find out about everyday life, worship services, the teaching and mission of the Methodist people in Saint Petersburg at that time.
In 1914 Methodist people purchased a building on Bolshoi boulevard, no. 58, enabled by the gift of Fanny Gamble from USA who donated generously for this purpose. This is where the Methodist people of St. Petersburg developed their ministry and mission. However, this building did not survive to modern times and you can see a big apartment building in its place today. The United Methodists of our day continue their ministry in several other places in Saint Petersburg.
Much from the period of the beginning of the twentieth century is described in the two works of Dr. S T Kimbrough, Jr. “Methodism in Russia and the Baltic States” and “Anna Eklund”. The second book was published in Russian in 2014 for the 125th anniversary of the United Methodist Church in Eurasia and is titled “Sister Anna”. Here you can find the amazing story of sister Anna Eklund.
I’ve been deeply moved by the story of sister Anna, by her faithfulness, her bravery and sacrificial heart in her ministry to God and neighbor. Deaconess Anna Eklund did not spare her energy nor her health when she ministered to people who were dying by thousands from hunger and cholera in 1920s. In winter time many people did not have shoes to keep their feet warm. Sister Anna did the impossible in order to organize help for the poor and sick people of Saint Petersburg. She gave away everything that she had in order to save lives of the people and to care for their souls. Tears come to your eyes when you read her letters because you feel in them the great power of God, hope and willingness to give one’s soul for the redemption of many.
When you study life of an outstanding person, it is very important to see how their character and personality were formed. In order to find out that let us travel to Finland. I was not able to visit Finland in 2014, but thanks to my friends and modern means of communication I was able to learn many interesting things.
Moscow – Helsinki (online)
In my skype conversations with Bishop Hans Vaxby I have learned that Anna Eklund’s grave is located in Turku, Finland where she was born. Bishop Hans graciously agreed to go there and make a brief video report.
Helsinki – Turku
After driving a car 170 kilometers west of Helsinki, in three hours you get to one of the largest cities in Finland – Turku. Here on May 25, 1867 Anna Eklund was born. While still a teenager she felt a call from God for ministry and received education as a deaconess at Bethany Center in Hamburg. Already at 19 years old she was commissioned as deaconess at the Annual Mission Conference of Finland and Russia.
Upon arrival to the cemetery in Turku, Turun hautausmaa, which is located in the city just 5 kilometers from the center, you can find Anna Eklund’s grave. The words on her grave stone say: she served the sick and suffering people in Russia from 1907 to 1930. This was her mission and she was faithful to the very end. In fact, Anna was in Saint Petersburg even in 1931 when oppression on Christians turned from bad to worse. But Anna wrote from Saint Petersburg to her Bishop: “our position remains firm – to work for Russia; therefore, in spite of everything we will be beside our people”.
Unfortunately, soon after that the local authorities threw Anna out of the country accusing her of doing harm in all the good deeds that she has done for the poor and sick, and for the children. I pray that every Methodist in Eurasia could be “blamed” for such ministry to people.
Kingdom of Heaven upon earth
On the back cover of the Journal of Mission Conference of Finland and Saint Petersburg 1908 are the words of John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist movement:
“Give me one hundred preachers who fear nothing but sin and desire nothing but God, and I care not a straw whether they be clergymen or laymen, they alone will shake the gates of hell and set up the kingdom of heaven upon earth.”
I believe that Anna Eklund is one of these preachers of the gospel in Eurasia. Because of her faithfulness, brave and sacrificial heart, people of Saint Petersburg could experience Kingdom of Heaven upon earth.
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
 Journal of the Finland and Saint Petersburg mission conference 1908, p. 30
 Khristianskiy Pobornik
 “Methodism in Russia and the Baltic states: history and revival”, S T Kimbrough, Jr., ….. Издательство Уральского университета, 2003 г.
 see video film “Ivan. Anna. Yonghuk”, The United Methodist Church in Eurasia, 2014
 Сестра Анна, С Т Кимбро, Объединенная Методистская Церковь Евразии, 2014
 Сестра Анна, С Т Кимбро, Объединенная Методистская Церковь Евразии, 2014