Twelve international peacemakers from around the world are visiting congregations, presbyteries and colleges of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Sept. 19-Oct. 12.
They are sharing their stories about church-based ministries in their countries that seek peace justice and pursue peace in the name of Jesus Christ. This year’s international peacemakers come from Colombia, Egypt, Ethiopia, Jamaica, Madagascar, Malawi, Mexico, Palestine, the Philippines, Russia, South Sudan and Syria.
The Rev. Viktor Ignatenkov is senior presbyter for the Smolensk region of Russia for the Russian Union of Evangelical Christians/Baptists and is pastor of Central Baptist Church in Smolensk. His grandfather was executed for his faith in the 1930s and Ignatenkov’s family lived through the religious persecutions of the Soviet period. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, his church has engaged in many ministries of reconciliation, including creating orphanages and rehabilitation programs for children at risk and others.
What is the most important situation in your country that you will be addressing?
After the history we have been through, I will be talking about the possibility for the church to be active and the mission opportunities that are available to us. It is important to involve the youth and the knowledge of our history by youth encourages them and gives them a sense of what’s possible today that wasn’t always possible.
How are the faith communities trying to address this situation?
Our most important ministries are with children and our relationships with orphanages. We send ministry teams to several orphanages every week to do Bible lessons, music, plays and other activities. This is very important for them and many youth are involved. We are also working with orphanage graduates so they can adapt to life outside. We cooperate closely with the city and state. Camping ministry is also important. Our completely rebuilt camp (fire destroyed the facility several years ago) hosts several camping sessions each summer and now we can do winter camps, too.
What peacemaking lessons from your situation are you trying to communicate to U.S. Presbyterians?
The children we meet in the orphanages we take to our homes and churches. We offer the gift of friendship ― they don’t just hear how to live the Christian life, they see it in practice and can internalize it. We write letters back and forth with the children. They can communicate in letters what they can’t say to anyone else. We also give them Christmas gifts by name ― personal relationships are central to Christian faith and practice.
What is the primary message you want to communicate to U.S. Presbyterians about your country?
I want to stress the value of partnership. Partnership is valuable not just in good times but in bad times, too. When the relationship between our countries is tense, as now, we can be the example. Christ said to be peacemakers ― we can, through our partnerships, be examples.
Viktor Ignatenkov, with his translator, Ellen Smith, World Mission’s area liaison for Russia and Eastern Europe, will be visiting the presbyteries of Lehigh, Missouri River Valley, Greater Atlanta and Middle Tennessee.