ELLISVILLE – Yaroslav “Slavik” Pyzh, president-elect of the Ukrainian Baptist Theological Seminary, is a church builder in the Ukraine, not building with brick and mortar, but with one pastor at a time.
“The way to help the church in the Ukraine is through the future leaders,” said Pyzh during a recent visit with Missouri Baptist churches in the St. Louis area. “It is important to teach pastors who have open hearts and minds and who are willing to change.”
According to Pyzh, legalism took over the church in the Ukraine because of the persecution by the Communist regime.
“As the church was persecuted,” he said, “the congregations pulled in and withdrew from the ‘enemy.’ We still have that mindset today. It is difficult to change the congregation and it limits evangelism.”
For the 2011-12 academic year, the Ukrainian Baptist Theological Seminary had a total of 202 students with 123 in the Ukraine and 79 in the extensions in Portugal, Italy, and the United States. The seminary was founded in 2000 by the All Ukrainian Union of Churches of Evangelical Christian-Baptists. Co-founders are Ukrainian Baptist Unions of the United States and Canada.
“Our plan,” Pyzh said, “is two-fold.
First, we want to emphasize pastoral development, and second, we want to plant churches.”
Pyzh pointed to the need.
“We have 46 million people living in a country the size of Texas,” he said, “and we have only 130,000 Baptists. If our population were a brick building, it would be a 20-story building, but only three of the bricks would represent the number of Baptists.”
Pyzh wants to equip his fellow Ukrainians to share with others.
“We want to build up pastors so they can build up their people to reach out,” he said. “It is good to train our people for service because we share a background with others in our country.”
The strategy for equipping includes United States pastors.
“We want to set up a network of 20 pastors mentoring 20 Ukrainian churches,” Pyzh said. “We want to match pastors and churches for more than financial aid. We want them to share time. Americans have the methods in abundance. We want the American pastors to share the spirit of the New Testament and lead us in learning how to step outside. The American pastors would provide new blood to give us an infusion of something good and help us break the cycle of our issues.”
Pyzh has partnered with Missouri Baptists over the last several years. His network includes: First Baptist Church, California; Ridgecrest Baptist Church, St. Charles; and First Baptist Church, Ellisville. These churches have served as his support while he was earning his doctorate degree from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Fort Worth, Texas.
Pyzh and his supporters are planning a trip for pastors to the Ukraine in 2013. For more information, contact Joe Privott of the Ukraine Partnership Foundation through First Ellisville at (636) 227-1383.