Reaching by opening up
March 9 2001 by Craig Bird , BR Correspondent

Reaching by opening up | Friday, March 9, 2001

Friday, March 9, 2001

Reaching by opening up

By Craig Bird BR Correspondent ASHEVILLE - Surrogate Mother Church? Maybe that best describes the relationship Beverly Hills Baptist Church in Asheville has with Slavic Revival Fellowship. The Fellowship already was a thriving congregation when it asked to share Beverly Hills' facility so there is no "Mother Church" title to be claimed.

And when the Fellowship acquires its own building and moves out, no genealogical or denominational links will exist.

The Fellowship came completely equipped with its own pastor and staff, hymn books, history, fraternal relationships and ways of doing church. But it needed space, a safe, warm (and air-conditioned) area to worship and teach and fellowship.

"They had a basic need and we had the ability to meet that need," said Tim Lolley, Beverly Hills' pastor. "... It seemed like a no-brainer to me. Beverly Hills has a great mission heart. We've been to Prague and to Honduras and here a church of immigrants drops into our laps."

The Fellowship had outgrown its facilities at Trinity United Methodist in Asheville where they had met for three years, just as they had outgrown previous homes.

Now the congregation is straining Beverly Hills, regularly attracting more than 500 people to its two-hour worship services and filling the parking lot with cars from as far away as California and Washington state when it hosted a national Slavic youth conference.

It's been quite a ride since a letter from a Ukrainian couple who felt culturally and spiritually isolated in Asheville and the Holy Spirit convinced Leonty Ostapovich to move to Western North Carolina from upper New York.

Ostapovich, a pastor in his hometown of Zarichne, Ukraine had started a thriving church in Buffalo after immigrating to the U.S. in 1989. "But God led me to come to Asheville and in 1993 six families of us - about 40 people - moved to Asheville." That presaged a trend. Today, Asheville has a Slavic population of about 5,000 according to Vasiliy Draka, director of the Slavic Resource Center, a United Way-assisted agency that works with immigrants. "And we get families almost every week."

Draka is an active member of the Fellowship. Ostapovich was his pastor while he was growing up in Ukraine.

Tsypan Ksenofont and his wife arrived in Asheville from Ukraine Jan 23 with seven of their nine children in tow (the other two will come as soon as possible). Also, typically, they found their way to Fellowship.

On March 4, he and four of his daughters sang special music. Throughout the service were frequent references to the joyful unity members have found in Christ, even though they come from many countries in and around the former Soviet Union and often speak different languages.

"Just about everyone can speak Russian and the service is about 50-50 split between Russian and Ukrainian," Ostapovich said. "The membership is about 85 percent Ukrainian but we have other members from all over Estonia, Belarus, Russia."

Members include people who used to fight one another but are now worshiping God as one.

Lolley said when Ostapovich approached him, "We did the only Baptist thing we knew - we formed a committee." That committee looked hard at a lengthy list of issues and helped produce a covenant agreement that both congregations endorsed. The covenant affirms the distinctiveness and rich history of both congregations in terms of ministry, missions and discipleship and celebrates the areas in which they share common beliefs and practices as well as those areas where their practices may differ.

The Fellowship pays no rent but does assist in paying utility bills. Slavic services are held when the space would typically sit empty.

"We've just scratched the surface of cooperative things," Lolley said, noting that "everything they do is in Slavic" but he still sees plenty of positives. A joint Easter sunrise service had the two pastors preaching and being translated, and Fellowship members were special guests at Beverly Hills' annual church picnic last summer. Their men even participated in the Men's Dessert Cook-off.

"We got to taste some things we'd never dreamed of, and they were good," Lolley said.

Lolley hopes the two groups can undertake joint missons trips - maybe to Ukraine. That would tie in with Ostapovich's dreams of evangelizing his homeland.

He also dreams of holding on to the generation growing up in the United States, "that the devil would like to steal from our families."

On March 4 he told the congregation of a 50,000 square-foot building that is for sale, at a mere $2 million. "A congregation of immigrants can't afford that, but $2 million is like two cents to God, so we'll pray about it." And he wouldn't object if other Christians decided to help answer that prayer.

Meanwhile, he intends to keep ministering to the Slavic community, meeting both spiritual and cultural needs.

Lolley joins them in praying for their own facility - not only for their future growth but so the process can be repeated.

"I think it is a great testimony to the community driving up and down Tunnel Road (a major Asheville highway)," Lolley said. "They don't know that some times it is the Slavic Fellowship and other times it is hospice or English as a Second Language classes or Habitat for Humanity. They just see a church that is open and active and involved in the community.

"I'm ready for the Fellowship to be able to move out - just so God can give us another group that needs a place to meet and grow."

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3/9/2001 12:00:00 AM by Craig Bird , BR Correspondent | with 0 comments
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