God Finishes What He Starts
Baptist home for the aged in Belarus officially dedicated
M o s c o w / K o b r i n – No government or Orthodox dignitaries were present on 26 June – but 52 guests from Missouri/USA were – as hundreds of Kobrin Baptists celebrated the opening of Belarus’ first privately-run home for the aged. Most of the costs for the magnificent “Baptist House of Mercy” with one- and two-bed rooms for 54 residents were footed by them – supporters of a network of Baptist retirement homes in Missouri. Amazingly, the reconstructed and enlarged building on the grounds of the Baptist-owned “Zhemchuzhinka” (Little Pearl) children’s camp at Imenin just north of Kobrin cost no more than $500.000 US – excluding material gifts mostly from West European sources.
Despite the grandeur of the building, the driving force behind the project, the building contractor Stepan Trubchik (Kobrin), stressed that the start-up would be extremely modest: “We will start with one, two or three Baptist guests. We’re beginning from zero – we have no professional experience in working with the elderly.” Residents from other sources would be exceedingly risky at the outset – Belarusian Baptists will need to serve as the initial guinea pigs. There is also no immediate solution for the high costs of care for the elderly; the home will not be able to accept more residents than the extent of its funding. Ivan Hrytsiuta, Deputy Director of Zhemchuzhinka, believes the majority of daily operating costs can be covered with the residents’ modest pensions.
Others are less optimistic, but the home’s Director, the Baptist barrister Leonid Petruchik (Brest), believes the first residents will be arriving in August. “The gas has not yet been connected,” he admitted. “So we still have no heat.” Government and Baptist Union documentation is also incomplete. Thanks to the children’s health camps being held next door, a doctor and nurses are already on the property.
For now, residents will be arriving on a trial basis. Not all possible clients are convinced they will enjoy living there and initially residents may be coming only for several days or weeks. Hrytsiuta added that Belarusian law does not allow them to take on residents initially for more than a six-month period. But if the stay is successful, that period can be extended indefinitely.
Stepan Trubchik, who still suffers from the effects of a serious neck operation earlier this year, appears to enjoy the unqualified trust of his long-time friends from Missouri. The building contractor cannot feed 5.000 with five fish, but he can, according to an American friend who was along for the Kobrin festivities, “turn one dollar into three”. Thanks to low-cost and volunteer labour as well as excellent connections with suppliers, the Baptists of Belarus can achieve tremendous “bang per buck” with Western donations. The wooden beds were donated by the Russian-German “Friedensbote” mission from Meinerzhagen/Germany; the equally-attractive quilts on them were created by the Baptist women of Missouri. Some items are still lacking: Who for ex. would be able to donate silverware, plates and hardware for the kitchen?
How it all began
In 1990, the Southern Baptist Convention of Missouri began an official partnership with what soon became known as the Baptist Union of Belarus. The construction of Kobrin’s new Baptist church – its 1.400 seats probably make it Europe’s largest Baptist church structure – and the opening of the Zhemchuzhinka children’s camp in 1995 both occurred during the official Union-to-Union relationship. That partnership was to be of limited duration and after several short extensions, the partnership was finally terminated in 2002.
Yet not all those who had been heavily involved in Belarus were capable or willing to pull up stakes and begin projects elsewhere. The creation of the independent, Jefferson City/Missouri-based “Future Leadership Foundation” (FLF) was one result of the unwillingness to drop Belarus. In 2005, FLF-President Roger Hatfield asked Steven Jones, the President of “Missouri Baptist Home” (MBH), if his organisation would be willing to help create one of Eastern Europe’s very first Christian homes for the elderly. MBH-leadership agreed and began to gather funding for the construction of the Kobrin centre in 2006.
A common trait of Missouri Baptists: Their service organisations are interconnected and no organisation is involved solely in one type of activity. MBH for ex. has helped fund a retirement home for pastors – and the printing of Bibles – in China. FLF is supporting the Baptist seminary in Minsk/Belarus. FLF is also involved in the 1976-founded “Crown Financial Ministries”, which train individual Christians and organisations globally on how best to apply Christian principles to their private and business finances.
In his short sermon at the dedication service in Kobrin’s church; Belarusian Union President Viktor Krutko noted, that the Good Samaritan had returned a second time to pay for the costs accrued at the inn. But the guests assured repeatedly that they were involved in Kobrin “for the long-run”. Steven Jones of The Baptist Home affirmed: “God also finishes what he starts.” MBH is committed to helping Baptist House of Mercy-personnel receive the necessary nursing, housing and bookkeeping training they will need. It has even begun an endowment to help cover the on-going, future costs of the home in Kobrin.
The guests assured that they hoped the Kobrin model would prove to be “contagious” and a multiplier throughout Central and Eastern Europe. They confirmed their readiness to support other projects elsewhere – also in Russia. Yet Kobrin is to remain the centre and “mother hen” of Missouri Baptist efforts in Europe. “We are not just into housing care,” Jones explained. “Home care is also an option. We are into churches reaching out to assist an aging humanity, wherever that may be.”
The camp and home in Kobrin remain the sole property of the Belarusian Baptist Union. Missouri wants to be only one helper among others and intends to play only a supportive and advisory role. It wants its efforts to be understood as a Christian, no-strings-attached love for all of humankind. Missouri would be happy if also Orthodox circles were involved in any future efforts.
Regarding the fact that general US-Belarusian relations are poor, Jones added that “we are not interested in politics. We are not here to confront or conflict with others. We are here to cooperate and provide help and humanitarian aid in the name of Christ.” Stefan Trubchik reported that government approval for the work of the camp and the new home remains clear: “We have no real government barriers.” But the church is very much on its own in financial terms.
Zhemchuzhinka has been doing agricultural work on its property in hopes of improving its income.
Soon Baptist House residents will be awakened early by the aroma of baking bread: A bakery with seven employees and material assistance from Germany is to open next door in August or September. Trubchik is already thinking of further projects: A centre on the property offering massage, water and many other forms of physical therapy to the general public for a fee would also be a helpful source of income. Dental equipment has been in use for a number of years.
The situation in Eastern Europe
The first Protestant-owned home for the aged in the lands of the former USSR may well have been the “Tabita” home begun by the Reformed group “Holland-Help “ in Iabiona/Moldova in 2000. Russia’s first Protestant-owned home for the elderly is the 24-bed Lutheran “Carl-Blum-Haus” opened near Gussev in the Kaliningrad (Königsberg) enclave in 2006. Kobrin is a third home – the first one in Belarus. Trubchik reports that the Belarusian Orthodox run a type of sanitorium; all other of the few homes for the elderly in this nation of nearly 9,5 million are government-run.
William Yoder, Ph.D.
Moscow, 5 July 2010
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