EMMAUS WALK IN RUSSIA
The Walk to Emmaus movement, a ministry of the United Methodist Church, is well known to many evangelical Christians in the West and worldwide. This unique, three-day spiritual retreat is held in a camp setting, far from the daily routine and business of life. It is a special time to refresh one’s commitment to Christ and to experience God’s love expressed through His people. It also is a time of meditation and reflection upon one’s own spiritual journey and priorities in life.
Since the beginning of the Emmaus Walk in the 1970s, the movement has spread across the United States and to 32 countries worldwide, with nearly one million participants to date. Currently, eight European states have Emmaus Walk movements. In 1990 I was honored to be a part of the introduction of the Walk to Emmaus to Estonia. At that time I was on the faculty of the newly formed Baltic Methodist Theological Seminary, translating for Russian-speaking students from Estonia, Latvia, and Russia.
Emmaus to Estonia
Wes Griffin, the first dean of the seminary, became convinced that the Emmaus Walk movement would be a blessing for Estonia. (A native of the U.S. state of Georgia and a graduate of Asbury Theological Seminary, he currently is president of Leadership Institute, Carrollton, Georgia.) In 1995 Griffin contacted the Emmaus communities of North Georgia and Peoria, Illinois, which led to key leaders of the United Methodist Church in Estonia (Estonians, Russians, and one Latvian) and students and some faculty from the Baltic Methodist Theological Seminary receiving invitations to participate in Emmaus retreats in the U.S. Five men and three women attended Peoria Walks 102 and 105 in February 1996, and eight men and nine women attended North Georgia Walks 49 and 58 in February-March 1996. (Participants refer to Emmaus retreats as “Walks.”) I had the privilege of serving as translator in North Georgia. That Walk and others where I translated were “mountain top” experiences for all of us.
After meeting with Cheri Jones, who was then International Director of the Walk to Emmaus, our whole group had a vision to start the Emmaus Walk movement in Estonia. The first set of two Walks — men and women participate separately —was held in Estonia in the summer of 1996. The team from America helped us a great deal in launching the Emmaus movement in Estonia, and we continued on our own. In 1997 I translated all Emmaus materials into Russian, and we started to translate them into Estonian as well. I was honored to serve as the first lay director for the Estonian Emmaus Community, which is now known as “Eesti Emmause Kogudus.” Because of the lack of facilities, the Walks are conducted in the summertime in Estonia. (The camp where the Walks are held, Camp Gideon, cannot be used in the winter since it has no heating system.)
By 2006, the tenth anniversary of the Emmaus Movement in Estonia, the number of participants in Emmaus Walks had reached more than 500 people. Over the years the Walk to Emmaus has proven to be an excellent tool to unite Christians in Estonia. The outpouring of God’s love at the Walks has helped people to become “nationality” blind. Not only ethnic barriers, but also denominational barriers have been lowered through the Emmaus Walk movement.
From Estonia to Russia
I want to use the experience and help of the Estonian Emmaus community to launch the Emmaus Walk movement in Russia. The longstanding close ties between Estonian and Russian Methodists should help in this process. Methodism began in Estonia with the preaching of Vassili Täht in 1907, a missionary from St. Petersburg, Russia. The Methodist movement survived in Estonia during Soviet times even though all Methodist churches were closed in Russia, Latvia, and Lithuania. Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, the first Methodist Church opened in Russia in the city of Samara in 1992. The pastor, Vladislav Spektorov, was a convert to Christ (and Methodism) in Tallinn, Estonia, at the Estonian Methodist Church in its Russian congregation. In 1997, Stas and Maria Ossipov from Tallinn, Estonia, joined a mission group to Satka (in the Chelyabinsk Region of the Urals). In 1998 the Satka United Methodist Church opened with Stas Ossipov as pastor. Another group from Tallinn, Estonia, visited Satka in the winter of 1999 and three people from Estonia joined an American group on a mission trip to Satka in 2005. Fortunately, Rev. Olga Kotsuba, District Superintendent of the United Methodist Church in the Ural District of Russia, is a veteran of a 1995 Emmaus retreat in Nashville, Tennessee.
Let me share my vision for launching the Emmaus movement in Russia. With the help of the Upper Room ministry, a number of practical steps need to be taken in order to realize this vision.
1. Eesti Emmause Kogudus and Gulf Breeze United Methodist Church have invited key leaders from Satka and Ekaterinburg United Methodist Churches to participate in the Walk to Emmaus in Estonia in August 2007. (The Estonian Emmaus Community is multilingual and all talks are simultaneously translated into Russian. In addition, all printed Emmaus materials will be published in Russian by 2007.)
2. In August 2007 Emmaus Walk veterans from the U.S. will assist with the Walks in Estonia and will meet with the new pilgrims from Russia after their retreats to discuss the launching of Walks in Russia.
3. Bishop of Eurasia Hans Vaxby and Victor Perez, International Director of Emmaus (Nashville, Tennessee), will attend the Walks in Estonia in 2007.
4. In Fall 2007 and Spring 2008 invitations to Emmaus Walk retreats will be sent to believers in the Ural District of the United Methodist Church.
5. An Emmaus Walk team from the U.S. and from Estonia will lead Walks in Satka in 2008.
6. In 2009 three teams will conduct the first Walks in Yekaterinburg and arrange a second set of Walks for Satka.
The Upper Room Emmaus Movement has a great future in Russia, but it will take vision and hard work to realize that dream. Emmaus Walk retreats, which help deepen Christian commitment for life, are well worth the effort. F
Editor’s note: Readers of any denomination or Christian confession are welcome to contact the Emmaus Walk office (www.emmaus.com) to explore the possibility of participation in Emmaus Walk retreats.