„A Gulp of Air Takes God 10 Years”
15-year partnership between Ulyanovsk and Krefeld
M o s c o w -- „Our room to manoeuvre is decreasing.“ That was the conclusion of retired high-school teacher Klaus
Schilbach (Krefeld) following his 12th visit to a partner congregation in Ulyanovsk/Volga region. Though the Baptist congregation in Ulyanovsk is engaged in a highly-successful drug
rehabilitation programme in a prison with 1.500 inmates, the German guests were refused entry this year for the first time. Only a year ago prison leadership had offered the Germans a festive
reception; a decade ago Schilbach had given Ulyanovsk’s chief prosecutor a guided tour of model prisons in the Lower Rhein region of Germany.
The partnership between the Baptist congregations came into being in 1993 thanks to the official city partnership between Ulyanovsk and Krefeld. Yet officials responsible for police registration were hardly fraternal this time around, even slapping a fine on one member of the visiting group.
But positive occurrences once again outweighed the bad. Klaus Schilbach was asked to hold the sermon for the service celebrating the congregation’s 90th birthday on 29 June. A day later, the congregation transferred to a riverbank to celebrate the partnership’s 15th anniversary and its founding father’s 72nd birthday. Despite a run-around at customs, the Germans were able to present the congregation with a used Mercedes bus equipped with a lifting device to transport people in wheelchairs. It’s not only drug therapy – a soup kitchen and summer camps for children are a few of the other projects which the German guests have helped to initiate.
Schilbach noted that Alexander Levkovsky, the pastor of the 300-member congregation, has developed impressive organisational skills. Excursions this year to Kazan and a Baptist congregation in Samara (pastored by Viktor Ryaguzov) were organised “to the T”. “Food and kindness” were heaped on the guests at every location.
Yuri Sipko, President of the Russian Union of Evangelical Christians-Baptists, showered the guests with praise on the occasion of their first-ever visit to Union headquarters in Moscow on 9 June. “Thanks to God for your existence!” he exclaimed. “It is becoming increasingly difficult for our congregations to purchase a meeting place. Without your help, the congregation in Ulyanovsk would today be without its own building.” He described Ulyanovsk, the birthplace of Lenin, as a citadel of atheism which these friends from Germany had helped to overtake.
Sipko’s assurance that his Union owed a great debt to Krefeld Baptists was kindly rejected by Klaus Schilbach. “All of us are returning home greatly enriched,” he countered – without referring to the honey and chocolates with which they had been bestowed. Elsewhere in Moscow, the group leader added: “We also have been on the receiving end. The certainty and loyalty of their faith, their believing attitude towards life irregardless of the costs - that is what thrills us.” His spouse, Inge Schilbach, described the gift as joy: “I experience through my visits that I make people happy. That then also makes me happy in return.”
Klaus Schilbach toured through two branches of Moscow’s German embassy with seven Germans in tow on 10 July. At stake was his attempt against all odds to obtain visas for a very tardy group hoping to visit Germany. The pensioner from Krefeld remains a nearly unstoppable, can-do optimist. He is one indication for the simple truth that church projects rarely succeed without a no-holds-barred mover-and-shaker at the helm.
„But a gulp of air takes God 10 years,“ the pensioner concluded. Only after surviving an initial decade-long period of testing can any given project reckon with general acceptance from a congregation or denomination. Too great are the initial fears that a project might further burden a congregation’s limited time and financial resources. Schilbach assured: “Now people are showing up on their own and persons 30 years our junior are beginning to show initiative”. In the beginning, only two to four persons made the annual journey to Ulyanovsk. This year, a record number of 16 participated.
The partnership between Krefeld and Ulyanovsk is the sole functioning partnership between a congregation of the heavily-Baptist, German “Federation of Evangelical-Free Churches” and the RUECB.
William Yoder, Ph.D.
Department for External Church Relations, RUECB
Moscow, 14 July 2008
A release of the Department for External Church Relations of the Russian Union of Evangelical Christians-Baptists. It is informational in character and does not express a sole, official position of RUECB-leadership. May be published freely. Release #08-30, 668 words.
Release 08-03 from 26.01.2008 reports on the same topic.