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Sunday, May 1, 2016

Making the Russians feel at home

Saturday, June 14, 2003

Top: Russian choir host family Opal and Fred Whitkanack, of Brazil, enjoy a reception at Memorial United Methodist Church, Terre Haute.

Bottom: Coordinator of the Russian choir visit, a retired Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology professor, Peter Priest (right) and choir member Oleg Pozharsky share a few words at the Meet the Russians Breakfast in Terre Haute Friday.

TERRE HAUTE-- Pastor Cyndi Alte asked Irina Razinova, wearing an Indiana souvenir T-shirt, to say a prayer at the "Meet the Russians Breakfast" Friday before the food was served. Razinova is from a country that for 70 years lacked faith. Her words at the meeting were proof that Russia has accepted Christianity again.

"We are all one family and you are our Father," she said to God as she neared the end of the prayer.

Members of the Memorial United Methodist Church in Terre Haute were hosting the Russian United Methodist Seminary Choir, who will be performing at 6 p.m. Sunday in Brazil at the First United Methodist Church, 201 N. Meridian St., and also at 8 p.m. Sunday at the Forest Park Band Pavilion (or shell, if rain) on SR 59. Razinova is an interpreter, soprano singer and seminary student.

Former Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology Professor Peter Priest explained that the Russian United Methodist Church was reborn in 1991 after being driven out in the 1920s. There are currently 110 congregations and 127 pastors in the country. Razinova and the other ten visiting members are from the seminary which started in 1995. It's choir is composed of students and graduates.

"Russia is essentially a pagan country," Priest said. He has traveled frequently to the country and coordinated the group's visit. "This is a rare opportunity to talk with them and share our beliefs. They are a quality choir."

When Alte first traveled on a missionary trip to Russia in 1994, there were only 12 Methodist churches. She plans to travel there again for a teaching and pastoral care seminar soon and expects to see many positive changes as that number has increased significantly.

"We're having a very good time, doing much traveling and eating too much," Natalina Shulgina, an interpreter, an alto singer and graduate student at Emory University, said, smiling.

Russian United Methodist Church Theological Seminary Dean Andrei Kim said the main goal of the group while here is to train for practical ministry.

"The United Methodist Church in Russia is very young and still in need of structure," Kim said, adding there are some challenges. He is impressed with the size of churches in the U.S. and how involved the pastors are in the church here, because at his home they are "only workers in the church" in comparison.

Priest thinks the timing was right for the Russian group to visit because this weekend marks the 300th anniversary of John Wesley's birth. He was the denomination's founder.

Fred and Opal Whitkanack, 10573 N. CR 300W., are hosting two members of the missionary group at their home for the six-night visit.

"They are fantastic, they are both beautiful people," Fred said about Roman Bagsdasarov, bass singer and new pastor of the choir and Mila Mineyeva, the choir's director.

Opal said they look forward to stopping by Boot City to take their guests shopping. The two visitors want to purchase cowboy hats, which they described as "cool."

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