Role reversal for Ukrainian missionaries |

Role reversal for Ukrainian missionaries

Michelle Rindels
Staff Writer

As a child living behind the Iron Curtain, Viachslav Miroshnychenko was the one to receive shoeboxes full of gifts from the American charity Operation Christmas Child.

His wife’s family spent time in a shelter run by American missionaries, and many of the churches in his native Kiev, Ukraine, were founded by missionaries.

Now, the 29-year-old and his wife Masha are in Grass Valley, working as missionaries in the very country whose missionary work once served them.

“Through those many things, we could feel the care and the love (of Americans),” said Miroshnychenko, a youth pastor who goes by “Pastor Slavik” because his name isn’t nearly as common here as it is in Ukraine.

When Pastor Mike Cornelison invited the family to work at Life Fellowship Church in Grass Valley starting in July, “we said, of course,” Miroshnychenko said, “having this mindset that we’re grateful to this nation and this people.”

Cornelison met Slavik and Masha in 2003, and the two served as translators for several mission trips of Nazarene churches. Between summers, they kept in touch through e-mail, and Cornelison later invited the two to help him re-start Life Fellowship where the now-closed Church of the Nazarene Grass Valley was located.

When Masha, 28, isn’t busy caring for the couple’s 2-month-old son, Lucas, she uses her interior design skills to craft elaborate sets for plays in the church sanctuary. Like other missionaries, the family has to raise their own financial support from a variety of activities, including gifts from donors across the country.

Though Miroshnychenko is new to the United States, he’s not new to ministry.

His great-grandfather was a Baptist pastor in Ukraine during Stalin’s rule – when evangelical churches were illegal – and was twice imprisoned in Siberia for it.

His father is a music minister, and Pastor Slavik himself did youth ministry in his home country before arriving this summer.

Working with American teens is a whole different ballgame.

“It’s absolutely different,” he said. ” I have to learn from the very beginning a new culture. Interests, passions, lives are different.”

In Ukraine, for example, Miroshnychenko noted drug addiction is even more common than in the United States. Evangelical churches grew exponentially in the years after the fall of Communism, though the fervor has been waning in recent years, he added.

Coming as a missionary to America is an unusual role reversal, and Miroshnychenko said people are sometimes suspicious of the concept.

“They ask, ‘Why? We Americans are the ones that go (overseas),’ ” he said. “But it doesn’t matter who comes where.”

For Cornelison, having a youth pastor from out of the country has been refreshing.

“My whole philosophy of ministry is that there are different viewpoints of the same truth,” Cornelison said. “When we have people outside the normal context … there’s a much greater opportunity to see truth.”

During staff meetings, Miroshnychenko will ask questions about things Cornelison never questioned – such as why the church conducts Communion a particular way.

With a large Russian-speaking population in the Sacramento area, Miroshnychenko – who speaks English, Ukrainian, Russian and German – said he may get involved in Russian-speaking ministry.

Whatever language he’s working in, he said, some things don’t change.

“The universal problems still remain the same. Those are issues of being alone, being accepted and being understood,” he said. “It’s the same in Ukraine as here.”

Another personal mission is helping teens realize how lucky they are to live in America, the minister said.

“In the U.S., kids have much more opportunities, and it seems like they do not notice those,” Miroshnychenko said. “Our mission is to tell people they live in a great country. That’s one of those things that we have to share.”

To contact Staff Writer Michelle Rindels, e-mail or call (530) 477-4247.

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