By Rev. Garth Duke-Barton, Conference Secretary for Global Ministries
Did you know there were Methodists behind the Iron Curtain? In what was once the Russian Empire under Czar Nicholas II, the church was quietly formed by Swedish immigrants. It was allowed to become a church in 1905 when the czar signed the Edict of Toleration that made it okay for churches other than the Russian Orthodox Church to operate in Russia.
From 1905 to 1917, the Methodists built churches, clinics, schools and orphanages. In 1917, the Bolshevik Revolution brought the Communist party to power. While most of the Methodist missionaries left what became the Soviet Union, some stayed. They preached the Gospel. They fed the hungry. They cared for the sick and dying.
In 1921, famine gripped the Russian people. Methodists from around the world responded by sending provisions to missionaries still living in the city of Petrograd (St. Petersburg). Sister Anna Eklund became a familiar figure as she stood in the middle of a sleigh loaded with provisions donated by overseas Methodists. At her side was Pastor Oskar Pöeld. The story is that, though they had little to eat themselves, they gave away provisions so others could eat. Sister Anna Eklund also buried 18 people among the millions who died during the famine. The famine was so widespread that people were often stacked in graves rather than in individual graves.
After the fall of communism in the 1990s the world was surprised to discover there were still Christians in the former Soviet Republics. They were even more surprised to learn these were not all Russian Orthodox Christians. Today there are more than 110 churches in the former Soviet republics.
God is at work behind the scenes doing great things and preparing the way long before we are aware of what is happening. God is at work now behind the scenes in places we do not yet know with people we have not yet met, doing work to which we have not been called. We may never be called. It may be a calling for our children or grandchildren. God is truly at work using The United Methodist Church on a global scale.
Rev. Garth Duke-Barton, pastor of Epworth United Methodist Church in Jesup, also serves as Conference Secretary for Global Ministries.