America and Russia Partner for Evangelism
More than 10,000 souls are baptized because of a lay-run organization in Tennessee and a young Russian evangelist.
Sandra Blackmer, news editor of Adventist Review, talks with Bill Burks, a retired dentist residing in Hendersonville, Tennessee, who founded Evangelism Partners International, and Vadim S. Butov, a 30-year-old evangelist in Russia who works closely with the lay-run ministry.
BLACKMER: What is the mission of Evangelism Partners International, and when did the program begin?
|HEART COMMITMENT: Russian evangelist Vadim Butov baptizes one of the thousands of people in Russia who have committed their lives to Jesus as a result of evangelistic meetings.
The mission of Evangelism Partners International, or EPI, is to encourage Adventist church members living in North America to support Adventist ministers in their home countries outside of this division.
Several years ago I watched a program on the Three Angels Broadcasting Network [3ABN] during which the host and his guest were discussing an upcoming evangelism project to be conducted in a country outside of North America. The goal was to find 2,000 people to pledge $2,000 per year for two years to support ministers and their families so they could start new congregations in that region. Their mission stuck in my mind, and a couple of years later I began wondering whether we could raise enough money to begin a ministry in which people living in North America could support ministers in their home countries. I mentioned it to a friend, Otis Dettamori, and he said, “Let’s do it.”
Otis and I each put in $1,000, then six more families from the Hendersonville church, where we are members, each put in $1,000—and we had a ministry.
Did you solicit legal counsel?
BURKS: A friend from Oregon who is an attorney and who has traveled extensively in Europe was instrumental in helping us. He contacted the Adventist Church’s world headquarters—the General Conference [GC]—and the Euro-Asia Division, and set us up as a legally recognized organization.
Before he returned to Oregon, however, he happened to mention that he was trying to raise money for an evangelistic campaign to be held by a young Russian evangelist named Vadim Butov. So, I talked to my EPI partners, and we wrote a check for $7,000 to contribute to the campaign.
Sometime later I got a call from Pastor Butov thanking me. He phoned me regularly during the campaign to keep us updated on how well the meetings were going. By the time they ended, Pastor Butov had baptized 579 people.
It sounds like the beginning of a friendship.
BURKS: It was. We became both friends and partners. EPI began its ministry by helping to finance his campaigns. From that time EPI has continued to grow, and at one point we were sponsoring 12 simultaneous campaigns in Russia.
How large is this partnership now?
BURKS: We have 400 members, or partners. We’ve been doing this since 1998.
How are funds raised?
BURKS: We’ve let people know about the ministry through 3ABN programs. Contributions are sent to EPI, which then sends them to the General Conference. The GC controller takes care of the account for us—free of charge. All the money donated goes to the ministry of the pastors.
Is the local conference or union involved?
BURKS: No. My wife, Helen, and I are involved on this end, and my bookkeeper—one of our local church members—who retired from the IRS. EPI is totally lay-run and lay-supported. We don’t take a penny for self-support. We are a supporting ministry of the Adventist Church.
Do you feel the program is accomplishing its mission?
BURKS: I feel it is accomplishing a little bit of its mission. Since 1998, more than 10,000 baptisms and 70 new congregations have resulted from the evangelism efforts we’ve supported.
Pastor Butov, tell me a little bit about yourself. I understand you were formerly president of the Yenicey Mission in Siberia?
|AN OVERFLOW CROWD: People pack the auditorium where evangelist Vadim Butov presents the gospel message.
BUTOV: Yes. I left that position in 2004.
I used to work for several years as the conference evangelist in western Russia. I was later the union evangelist, and then I went to Siberia and worked as senior pastor for several churches. After that I served as president of the Yenicey Mission for three years. Now I’m back to pastoral ministry in Nizhni Novgorod in western Russia.
Even as conference president, I would usually hold three or four evangelistic campaigns a year, and right now I am pastoring a church of 600 people. I am also the district pastor of 11 congregations in Nizhni Novgorod. I still run evangelistic meetings. Pastors and theological seminary students from the unions of the Euro-Asia Division assist me. They range in age from 25 to 30, and all have the dream of becoming public evangelists.
In what region of Russia will future evangelistic meetings be held?
BUTOV: All regions: Siberia, the far east—Russia is a big country. Think of the United States with Alaska combined, double that, and that’s the size of Russia. It’s the biggest country in the world, with a population of 145 million. The Soviet Union used to have 300 million people before it split into 15 different states.
I’m told, Dr. Burks, that EPI has worked with Pastor Butov to build a training center for ministers in Russia. How did that come about?
BURKS: About two years ago Pastor Butov threw an idea at me. “I’d like to start an evangelism center to train ministers to become effective evangelists,” he said. He also added that it would be quite expensive—about $25,000 in United States currency.
BUTOV: Dr. Burks’s response at the time was, “Vadim, I don’t like the idea. That’s not enough money. Let’s make it $50,000. Let’s do it right.” So, I said, “Good.”
BURKS: Vadim came to the United States a few months after that, and we did a program for 3ABN during which we described our vision and our need for funds. That was on a Wednesday. The following Monday I had a call from a woman who lives in Oregon. She sent us a check for $50,000.
BUTOV: And the building has recently been evaluated, and now it is worth about $350,000. We built it mostly with volunteer labor. The only costs were for materials.
Is the center used exclusively for training pastors?
BUTOV: Is also hosts two churches. It is located in the city of Yar Chally, which comprises 110 different nationalities and includes Muslims, Russian Orthodox, and atheists.
The funds to construct this center came exclusively from EPI?
BUTOV: The local church also contributed some funds, and the members provided all the labor free. The people who constructed this building were the new members who were baptized as a result of the ministry of EPI.
Tell me a little bit about your background, Pastor Butov.
|NIZHNI NOVGOROD: Thirty-year-old evangelist Vadim Butov is the district pastor of 11 congregations in the city of Nizhni Novgorod in western Russia.
BUTOV: I was born in a home that knew nothing about God; a born-and-bred Communist and atheist. When I was 14, I was converted and joined the Russian Orthodox Church. Then when I was 15, I became a Seventh-day Adventist. My parents were very unhappy that I made this decision and made life very difficult for me. But the Holy Spirit worked on their hearts over the years, and praise the Lord, they are now planning to be baptized into the Adventist Church.
How were you introduced to Adventism?
BUTOV: In 1991 my school teacher invited me to attend a series of meetings conducted by an Adventist minister. The campaign was short—only five days—but afterwards I pledged to myself that I would study the Bible well enough to prove Adventism to be wrong. But that didn’t happen. What did happen as a result of my Bible studies was that in 1999, in my home city of Magnitogorsk, I preached for a series of meetings sponsored by EPI. A crowd of 2,000 people came into a hall that could seat only 700 people, and I had to run three sessions a day to fit everybody in. We baptized 505 people and started three new churches—and the meetings were held in the same auditorium where I had dreamed of proving Adventism wrong, the same hall where I had publicly disagreed with the Seventh-day Adventist evangelist. Eight years later, in that same building, I was an evangelist for the Seventh-day Adventist Church.
In what year were you baptized?
BUTOV: 1992. I became an evangelist in 1993, attended the Zaoksky Adventist Theological Seminary, and have been in the ministry ever since. And by God’s grace, more than 10,000 people have been baptized and 70 new Adventist churches started in the former Soviet Union as a result of that ministry and our partnership with EPI.
The ministry has now extended to the point where more than 400 laypeople in America have donated money for evangelism. We are working in close cooperation with the church, and EPI has sent us more than $400,000 in the past eight years. I praise the Lord for the great things He has done.
Is there anything more either of you would like to tell our readers?
BURKS: Just a few words of encouragement: If I can do a ministry like this with Jesus, so can anyone. All we have to do is take the first step.
BUTOV: Please pray for our country, because we are losing religious freedoms and nobody knows how long we will be allowed to continue to preach publicly. Pray for our pastors and evangelists, that we will be able to share the gospel message with everyone possible in our division, and pray that the Holy Spirit will convert the hearts of the people we reach.
For more information about EPI and the evangelism work in Russia, e-mail email@example.com.
Photo credits: Svetlana Barinova