Down but Not Out
Hopes for Kobrin’s “Baptist House of Mercy” are far from dead
M o s c o w / K o b r i n – Sixteen months after its official opening, Eastern Europe’s largest Protestant-run home for the aged is still waiting on its first resident. On 26 June 2010, the “Baptist House of Mercy” had been officially dedicated in the village of Imenin near Kobrin/Belarus. Supporters of a network of Baptist retirement homes in Missouri had spent over $400.000 for the construction of a magnificent retirement centre with room for 54 residents. Present at the dedication were 52 of those US-supporters.
Local government officials are anxious to see the home opened. In a meeting with a delegation from Missouri on 3 October 2011, Valentin Trubchik, responsible for religious affairs in Kobrin region, insisted: “Please let us know how we could be of help. If your waiting list is too short, then we can supply you with a list of our own.“ He assured that local authorities have given clearance for the House of Mercy to use as much as 90% of its residents’ pensions towards the costs of care.
A bakery funded by Germans and opened next-door in early 2011 is no longer wafting warm smells into the early morning air. Its temporary closure is attributed to the cost of flour. The socialist government of Belarus controls the price of bread and private bakers cannot compete. The “mastermind” behind both the home for the aged and the bakery, the Baptist builder Stepan Trubchik (not related to Valentin), assured: “We can restart baking as soon as we find free or nearly-free flour in a reasonable location.” In general, the 1995-founded “Zhemchuzhinka” (Little Pearl) children’s camp, on whose territory both the home and bakery are located, is not faring well. Both its agricultural production and the number of camp sessions are down.
During the early-October meetings in Kobrin, Steven Jones (Ironton), the President of “Missouri Baptist Home”, stated: “I believe that management issues have been the primary cause for this delay.” He and Roger Hatfield, President of the Jefferson City/Missouri-based “Future Leadership Foundation”, expressed the conviction that the establishment of a strong board of directors would lighten the load of “Zhemchuzhinka’s” camp director, Rev. Vladimir Vandich. “It is not fair if all the responsibility for sensitive programme decisions rests on the shoulders of Brother Vandich,” Jones added. “The Board must carry the primary responsibility.”
During meetings in Minsk on 4 October, Board Chair Yosef Rakhkovsky, a Vice-President of the Belarus Baptist Union, and Nikolay Sinkovets, this Union’s General-Secretary, confirmed their support for the House of Mercy project. Jones reported later: “Both agreed that not fulfilling the House’s mission would have serious consequences for the Belarusian Baptist Union in its desire to gain support for future projects both within and outside of the country. In addition, Christians have a Biblical mandate to take care of the neediest of older adults, especially those who have neither family nor resources.”
The political will of Baptist circles to get involved in social-diaconic projects has been weak at times. A major concern is that social projects may occur at the expense of evangelistic efforts. On 28 June for ex., the website of Moscow’s “Russian Union of Evangelical Christians-Baptists” published an interview critical of church social work entitled “The Road to Nowhere?”. RUECB-historian Alexander Sinichkin expressed the fear that successful Baptist social work among mostly lower-class drug addicts has cut into Baptist efforts to reach Russia’s emerging middle class.
Over the past two decades, East Europeans have tended to agree quickly to Western-proposed projects without tallying the total costs. An example for this was the explosion of seminary openings in the 1990s. A Belarusian example of this could be the House of Mercy. But since its dedication over a year ago, cost projections have become more realistic. One had then assumed that costs could be covered by the residents’ pensions. Home leadership now assumes costs of $9 US per day per resident – only a third of which would be covered by an average pension. This would mean an annual shortfall of $80.000 for 35 residents. But Jones is convinced that financial and material donation capacities among the Baptists of Western Belarus are far from exhausted: 40% of Belarus Baptist Union’s 13.900 members reside in Brest region, to which Kobrin also belongs.
Missouri leadership believes Stepan Trubchik, who also serves as the House of Mercy’s director, has proven to be a genius at cutting costs. A Roman-Catholic home for the aged with room for 40 residents in Logishin near Pinsk in southwestern Belarus is reported to have cost well over $2 million. Opened in June of this year, this institution claims to be Belarus’ first non-government home for the aged.
Jones, who visited Logishin at the outset of October, believes the delayed opening of the Baptist centre is no cause for undue concern. Leadership of the Logishin centre reported that it had required more than four years to take the necessary bureaucratic hurdles. Stepan Trubchik now believes that Kobrin will be up-and-running no later than May 2012 – other leaders are reckoning with no more than three or four more months.
The Future Leadership Foundation’s efforts in the realm of Christian care for the aged are not limited to Belarus. It is now also helping to develop a Masters programme specialising in senior adult ministries at „Ukrainian Baptist Theological Seminary“ in Borislav (Western Ukraine). This is to occur in cooperation with this seminary’s Academic Dean, Slavic Ryzh. Ryzh is presently involved in doctoral studies at „Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary“ in Dallas/Texas.
William Yoder, Ph.D.
Berlin, 10 October 2011
Press service of the Russian Evangelical Alliance
A release of the Russian Evangelical Alliance. It is informational in character and does not express a sole, official position of Alliance leadership. Release #11-20, 907 words, 5.714 keystrokes and spaces.