From Ukraine to Canada via Germany to visit a partner church

August 29, 2010

by Rev. Dr. Robert Bugbee

After five memorable days in Ukraine attending the dedication of the new “Concordia” Seminary at Usatovo near Odessa, I paused for a few days in Germany to connect with some of our partners there from the Selbständige Evangelisch-Lutherische Kirche (SELK, Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church), with whom LCC is in full pulpit-and-altar fellowship.

The centrepiece of this visit was two days in the northern German city of Hannover, where the SELK has its synodical headquarters. Bishop Hans-Jörg Voigt and his wife, Christiane, graciously hosted me at their house, which is actually their synod’s “parsonage” for its bishops and their families. Bishop Voigt has led this church since 2006. A native of the former East Germany, he also served a congregation there for 13 years before his election to the synod’s top leadership post.

The SELK, like Germany in general, has worked hard to bring the two parts of the country closer together since reunification 20 years ago. In addition, Germany struggles with a growing secularism, indifference toward the Gospel, and the tensions that arise as the number of Muslim immigrants in the country continues to increase.

On September 1, Bishop Voigt becomes the new chairman of the International Lutheran Council (ILC), succeeding LCMS President Gerald B. Kieschnick, who was not re-elected this past summer to another term as his church’s president. Voigt and I serve together on the ILC’s Executive Council, in which Lutheran Church–Canada is the representative for the ILC’s North America world area. We conferred about how best to prepare for a number of changes coming to the ILC, not only in the area of leadership, but also as Lutheran churches in Africa, Asia and eastern Europe are attracted to the ILC’s strong commitment to Holy Scripture and its rejection of the same-gender blessings now causing so much turmoil within Lutheran churches in North America and Europe.

During a stop in Hermannsburg. (l-r) Rev. Hans-Heinrich Heine; Rev. Axel Wittenberg; President Robert Bugbee; SELK Bishop Hans-Jörg Voigt; Rev. Markus Nietzke.

On one of my days in Germany, Bishop Voigt drove me out to the country north of Hannover to visit the SELK’s mission headquarters in the village of Bleckmar. There I met the executive secretary of the Bleckmar Mission Society, Pastor Martin Benhöfer, and toured of their mission centre. The Bleckmar Mission Society historically works in South Africa and Botswana, but is now also active in Europe and southeast Asia, where it has come into contact with LCC’s missionary ties in Thailand.

Just a few miles away from Bleckmar lies the historic town of Hermannsburg, where a spiritual revival movement in the mid-1800s caused many people to leave the liberal Lutheran state churches and to found very robust biblical Lutheran congregations which flourish to this day. Pastor Hans-Heinrich Heine (of the so-called “Big” Holy Cross Church in Hermannsburg) provided a walking tour of the town and told stories of the congregation’s intense commitment to missionary work both past and present. During our walking tour we also stopped off at the “Little” Holy Cross Church nearby, where we were welcomed by Pastor Markus Nietzke.

Though radically different from life in Ukraine, this brief stop in Germany was a great encouragement. Faithful German Christians, like their brothers and sisters in Canada, don’t have it easy confessing and serving Jesus in a society that seems to have lost its way. But their dedication to the Lord’s work is a reminder to us that it can be done! God give us the grace and the heart to keep busy, since He knows what He’s doing placing us in the time and place where we are!

Rev. Dr. Robert Bugbee is president of Lutheran Church–Canada

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Looking back and looking forward: God’s blessings in Ukraine

August 26, 2010

by Norman Threinen

What a difference twelve years has made in the work of theological education in Ukraine! 

In July 1998 when I arrived in Odessa to begin seminary education it was directed largely at lay pastors who were already serving congregations; Bishop Viktor Graefenstein was the only ordained pastor in an emerging church which would become the Synod of Evangelical Lutheran Churches in Ukraine (SELCU). At that time, there were only two city congregations and two village congregations involved. 

Dr. Threinen (centre) and members of the first seminary class in Kamenka

Although I was received warmly, the customs and immigration process was quite scary.  On forms which had no English, I had to make a precise accounting of money I was carrying; I could only guess what my answers should be! Officials searched all my luggage. And after I arrived, the first order of business was taking my passport to the police station to register my presence.

In 2010 all of this is changed.  Ukraine does not require a for Westerners staying less than six months. No accounting of funds under $1,000. No luggage checked. No registration with the police.

There is of course a significant change in the facilities for seminary training. In 1998 the church arranged a somewhat comfortable apartment for me in Odessa, but the seminary classes were held in the village of Kamenka, an hour away. The “classroom” space was an apartment used by the small congregation in the village. It was a three-room apartment plus a kitchen but one room was stacked to the ceiling with humanitarian aid from Germany, another with sacks of flour used by the bakery the church had acquired to provide funds for the mission. The remaining room was not only where we taught, but the congregation used it for worship so there was constant assembling and re-assembling. Students sat on backless stools with make-shift desks on their laps. 

Ukrainian summers can be very hot and with up to ten men seated side-by-side along the whole length of the room, the atmosphere was stifling. There was no air conditioning, of course, and no fan to move the air. In contrast, now we have a substantial building which includes a faculty suite and a large classroom.  

Twelve years ago, students who provided transportation for me slept in the church office in Odessa. Others slept crowded in a room in the apartment block where we held the seminary classes. The new seminary building has a dormitory on the second floor which will more than accommodate the current student body of eight. 

Whereas twelve years ago we ate our meals in the small kitchen where everyone was wedged in, the new seminary building has a kitchen and a separate dining room.

The first seminary graduates in 2001 included Oleg Schewtschenko, now pastor in Odessa (third from left); and Alexey Navrotskiy, now LCC's missionary in Ukraine (fifth from left). Also in the photograph are Dr. Leonard Harms and Dr. Norman Threinen (far left); Rev. Roland Syens (front row second from right) standing beside Bishop Victor Graefensten (front row, third from right).

As far as the students are concerned, most of them in 1998 were seasoned lay leaders, some more teachable than others. In 2010, none of the students is in that category. As to being teachable, that is still to be determined. 

      
The Kamenka facilities did not have sufficient heat to accommodate classes in winter. However, the new seminary building makes it possible to run the theological program throughout the school year rather just over the summer. During summer students were tempted to pressure the professors to adjust classes to enable them to go to the sea on occasion. 

We also hope students will not feel the need to go home every weekend and thereby focus more on their studies. 

I look forward to this phase in theological education in Ukraine. The Lord has blessed us under adverse conditions; from one pastor in 1998, the church now has fifteen.  I fully trust He will continue to be with us as He has promised, “Lo, I am with you always.”

Rev. Dr. Norman Threinen is rektor of Concordia Seminary, Odessa and professor emeritus of Concordia Lutheran Seminary, Edmonton.


A weekend full of blessing in Ukraine

August 24, 2010

Bishop Viktor Graefenstein, SELCU; Rev. Oleg Schewtschenko, pastor of SELCU's Odessa congregation and LCC president, Rev. Dr. Robert Bugbee

by Robert Bugbee

Treasured friends,

It is Tuesday morning as I write these lines from “my” dormitory room in the new Concordia Seminary at Usatovo, Ukraine, a suburb of the great city of Odessa on the Black Sea. International guests are gradually drifting away to Norway, Sweden, Kazakhstan, Germany and Canada after the dedication festivities this past weekend.

Saturday was the big day. There is no room in the new seminary building large enough to accomodate the number of worshipers expected, so the congregation of almost 175 met on the plaza facing the main portal of the building. The front steps served as chancel and preaching platform. A lengthy morning service (over 2 hours) began at 10 a.m., at which the building and its contents were dedicated to the service of the Triune God.

I had the honour of serving as the first preacher on the text from Genesis 28, “This is none other than the House of God, and this is the gate of heaven.” Later LCC missionary to Ukraine, Rev. Alexey Navrotskiy, preached a second sermon. A ceremonial key was delivered to Bishop Viktor Graefenstein, who conducted the Rite of Dedication. Greetings were brought by international guests in attendance.

In the early afternoon the many guests sat down at picnic tables on the grounds and ate dinner consisting of meat balls, potatoes, cold salads, Ukrainian bread, and sweets.

A second service commenced at 5 p.m., at which seminary president Dr. Norman Threinen was formally installed into office and also served as the primary preacher. Bishop Graefenstein followed this up again with an additional sermon. This service was the formal opening of the seminary session, where classes will start September 1. The young men who will constitute the incoming class presented themselves at the stage and were accepted into the school by Word and prayer. Among the congratulatory messages read in the evening service were letters from longtime LCC missionary to Ukraine, Rev. Roland Syens of Kitchener, Ontario, from Terry Goerz, president of the Concordia Lutheran Mission Society, and from LCC President Emeritus Edwin Lehman. Bishop Graefenstein concluded by telling the very strange and wondrous way in which President Lehman had established the first contacts between the Canadian and Ukrainian churches back in the mid- 1990s.

On Sunday at Noon, the local Odessa congregation began a communion service which included the installation of Rev. Oleg Schewtschenko, known to many LCC people from his three-year stay at Concordia Seminary in St. Catharines. Pastor Navrotskiy, Bishop Graefenstein and I all served as preachers for the occasion. After the installation rite, a very poised Pastor Schewtschenko presided over the communion service for the 90 worshippers. We did not leave the chapel until almost 3 p.m.

At long last, the building is done (well, except for a few “touches” here and there). It has been a long wait. Now the real building will begin. As the farm fields around Odessa are yielding mountains of tomatoes, cucumbers and watermelons right now, we trust the Lord to bring forth a rich harvest of faith and love from the Word seed which will be planted in the classrooms of this wonderful new facility. What a joy to be here!

Rev. Dr. Robert Bugbee, is president of Lutheran Church—Canada


Pastor Oleg Schewtschenko reflects on celebrations in Ukraine

August 21, 2010

Grace of our Lord and the Love of God be with you all!

It was long way, it took us long time, we had some difficulties and we had so much support!!! But the day of dedications has come! What a JOY! I hope you are part of this joy with us.

Rev. Oleg Schewtschenko

We are so thankful for everything what God is doing in our lives, we are thankful for you your prayers, concern and support! Yes there are still so much that has to be finished on the building, the big kitchen, some lights and some other small but important things… but very soon this all will be done and we will be able t use our new Mission Centre to the glory of God!

Even though it is very early in the morning… but when I am looking out of my window I can see more and more people coming to share my joy with me. People are staying outside and talking to each other, there is a smell of fresh coffee and bread, and some other wonderful things that we will enjoy for the breakfast. I see some people reading their Bibles and some other talking to the guests. David writes: “Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!” I think today we can truly be all in unity and rejoice in our Lord and Saviour!

It would be so good if you would be able to be here and to share this Joy with me and my Ukrainians friends. But even thought you are not here you continuing to be in my prayers and my heart even today!

Only in bit more that 24 hours will come the day for me to be installed as the pastor in Odessa congregation. I thank the Lord every time I remember you about the time I could be with you and be part of your family. Tears comes to my eyes when I am thinking about all that time, I see your faces and smiles… So you will be with me even that moment!

I continue to treasure your friendship, love, encouragements and prayers…

In Him, who is Our Lord, Saviour and Brother

Pastor and friend Oleg


Last minute preparations for celebrations in Ukraine

August 17, 2010

by Norman Threinen

Having suffered through many hot Ukrainian summers in cramped quarters, I was looking forward to teaching in the spacious new seminary and mission centre as I left home August 2. The new facility is in Usatowa, a suburb of Odessa. 

Concordia Seminary, Odessa, Ukraine will be dedicated August 21, 2010

On my arrival, I noted that a great deal of work was still needed in preparation for the dedication. The three paid workers from Western Ukraine were busy painting walls and doing cement work.  About a dozen volunteers from various congregations of the church were installing door frames and generally readying the grounds. We expect about 200 guests and visitors from Canada, Germany and Ukraine will attend the building’s dedication and the opening of the seminary August 21.

Although classes will not begin until September 1, my early arrival give me the opportunity to become acclimated and to interview and orient prospective students, develop budgets and buy a few books for the library. A week after my arrival, I moved into the two-room suite for instructors which, thankfully, is air-conditioned.  I was happy to have my wife Muriel join me August 13 to give a woman’s touch to make the suite more hospitable for future instructors. 

It was helpful that Rev. Oleg Schewtschenko preceded me by a few days and occupied an unused student room in the building. He will be installed as a co-pastor with Bishop Graefenstein of the Odessa congregation on August 22.  He has also consented to serve as my interpreter for the first round of courses when classes begin. 

There is a strong indication that the long-expected gas hook-up for the building will become a reality in September. The neighbour from whom the gas connection needs to come is now anxious to proceed and the political barriers have also been overcome.  We still don’t know the cost since much of the work to bring the gas line to the building must be done manually. Since finances have been stretched to the limit to finish the interior of the building and to equip it to a basic level for use, completion of this aspect of the project will be a great relief. 

Rev. Dr. Norman Threinen, is rektor of Concordia Seminary, Odessa and professor emeritus of Concordia Lutheran Seminary, Edmonton.


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