SBTC grant helping Russian church reach immigrants in New York

ALBANY, New York?There are more Russian-speaking people in New York than any other state. And the Russian Church of Albany (SBC) is reaching those who settled in that capital city, where the Hudson Baptist Association and the church have both benefited from a $100,000 grant from the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention.

Russian Church of Albany is the daughter congregation of Cross Road Church, which was one of the first Southern Baptist church plants in the area. After meeting for three years in a Unitarian facility, Russian Church of Albany bought, for about $90,000, a building just three blocks from Albany’s capitol building. The fledgling flock managed to scrape together some money. However, a no-interest loan from a Jewish man helped seal the deal. Formerly a church, the facility was serving as a nightclub when the Russian flock bought it.

Stepping out on faith, their own labor and money, and borrowed money, too, the Russian believers gutted the place, removing four tons of debris. After renovating the interior?which included adding a previously non-existent balcony?and constructing a fresh, exterior faæade over tired looking bricks, the young church had spent almost $250,000.

Under the leadership of Sergej Katko, the church’s pastor, the congregation intentionally bought a building close to where most Russians in Albany live. That’s why they also fashioned the building to reflect a cultural center with a coffee shop atmosphere, the likes of which are found in many cities and neighborhoods across Eastern Europe. “This means it’s not a ‘Sunday morning only’ church,” said Sean Pierce, the Hudson Association’s director of associational development, who added that the strategy helps reach unchurched Russians.

“One Russian immigrant was walking down the street and saw the church’s sign in his own language, knocked on the door, and upon entering, said, ‘I want to be a part of what’s going on here,'” Pierce related. U.S. Census data show that the church is the only Russian-speaking Southern Baptist church in New York state.

Immigrants in the U.S. are very effective networkers, Pierce explained. And since New York City is the major port of entry for Russian immigrants, “the Russian Church of Albany and Pastor Katko have unique and significant opportunities to be missionaries to their own people throughout the state,” Pierce said.

In addition to reaching Muslims and Jews from Russia, and other Russians, too, the church was also instrumental in an avowed atheist’s conversion to Christ. At the church’s dedication service, she shared how the church’s influence pointed her toward God.

EMPOWERMENT, NOT ENABLEMENT

Upon completing the renovation, members had to repay their loans. But because the church was financially overextended, local banks wouldn’t approve a debt repayment loan. However, the church dug deep, and through sacrificial giving and other donations they whittled the debt down to $50,000.

And thanks to a no-interest loan from the Hudson Baptist Association, Russian Church of Albany paid all its remaining debt. However, without the $100,000 grant from the SBTC for Hudson Association to start a foundation, the church still would be strapped.

“This is a great story of money empowering a church and not simply enabling them,” Pierce said. “These hard working people did it themselves on faith,” he added, saying that the SBTC and the association “were able to resource them at a critical point of their need. What the SBTC has helped us do is to aid church plants to procure their own viable facility so they can develop community identity and establish ongoing ministry.”

Still a pioneer area for Southern Baptist work, the Hudson Baptist Association has about 30 congregations. Only 10 have their own buildings, Pierce said. The others are paying an average rental fee of $3,000 a month, which makes it almost impossible for small congregations to do much else. “Most are able to service a mortgage payment, but they lack the down payment banks require,” Pierce said.

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