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American church recruits team of Russian missionaries to reach island in Far Eas

The island of Sakhalin is rich in oil and cultural diversity. Part of Russia’s territory in the Far East, a mix of Russians, Koreans, Chinese and Japanese live and work in its main city, Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk. Visitors from Exxon and Shell make regular appearances. The growing city, about 25 miles north of Hokkaido, Japan, also is home to a 20-member Church of Christ. Leonard Otte, an elder of the Lakeview church in Tacoma, Wash., helped establish the congregation in 1994. Otte continued to visit and encourage the new Christians, but realized that they needed full-time workers. Rather than recruit a team of Americans for the work, “we believed that the community would welcome a team of native Russian Christians,” Otte said.
He traveled to the Siberian city of Barnaul and recruited workers from the branch school of Sunset International Bible Institute. The team made a five-year commitment to work in Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk, with support from the Lakeview church. Team members are Leonid and Valentina Pavlov, from Birobidzhan in eastern Russia; Sergey and Anna Shulekin and their daughter, Maria, from Chilyabinsk in central Siberia; and Nadia Nikolaenko from Barnaul.
One of the church’s greatest challenges is affordable housing, Otte said. The island has vast, untapped reserves of oil, and international interest in Sakhalin has caused land values to skyrocket.
The attention also has brought several church members who work for oil companies. John Black, an American who formerly worked for an oil and gas firm in Moscow and made trips to the island, now lives on Sakhalin and assists the church.
Church members have made connections with nearby universities and civic groups, Otte said, and has a 15-member deaf ministry. Maria Shulekin is the primary interpreter.
Nikolaenko, a former English teacher, said the young church and the missionary team have faced many challenges.
“But God is so good,” she said. “He strengthens us day by day, helps us to look straight at the face of any trouble or problem and not be afraid.”
Oct. 1, 2006

Filed under: International

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