KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- A Russian-speaking congregation that shares a building with Norwood United Methodist Church is hosting a fundraising lunch and bake sale on Saturday, April 9, to help people in the Ukraine suffering from war.
Grace Christian Church will serve Ukrainian foods from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. for dining onsite or for takeout at 2110 Merchants Drive in north Knoxville. The goal is to raise $100,000 to help partner churches and missionaries in the Ukraine who are aiding people at risk for starvation, said Pastor Petr Fesyuk.
“As we speak, people are literally dying. They have no access to food and water. I know it is 2022, but it’s the reality of war,” Fesyuk said.
Grace Christian Church, with about 100 Slavic worshipers, has leased space in Norwood United Methodist Church since 2018. The congregation worships in both the Russian and English languages and is comprised of people with roots in the Ukraine (70%), Moldova (20%) and Russia (10%), Fesyuk said.
“Grace Church has been a godsend to us,” said the Rev. Bill Rimmer, pastor of Norwood United Methodist Church.
The Russian-speaking congregation has helped the United Methodist congregation replace the roof and make other building improvements and repairs that would not be financially possible with only 20 in current worship attendance, Rimmer said.
Many of the Grace Christian Church members have family in the Ukraine, including Fesyuk’s father-in-law, also a pastor. “They are working fulltime to help locate and send food to the east side of the country in these hot war zones,” Fesyuk said.
Grace Christian Church works with a network of churches who are “risking their lives” to get food and water to families trying to survive invasion by Russia. “Even fleeing is risky now. I’m sure some died on the trail," Fesyuk said.
Many refugees have fled to neighboring European countries, although a few have made their way to the United States. Fesyuk's congregation is expecting more to come join their families here, he said.
Even though members of his congregation have homes either in Ukraine or Russia, Grace Christian Church’s focus is on living out their faith in Jesus Christ, the pastor said.
“It’s very difficult because war brings out so many views and everybody speaks their views," he said. "My view is if you’re a Christian, you should love and help all people. Let’s just feed people and talk politics tomorrow. Right now, we have to help persons who are just trying to survive.”
The public is invited to the fundraising lunch on April 9. Fesyuk shared the invitation as well as the emergency situation in the Ukraine in a Tennessee Valley District clergy meeting last week.
Ukrainian foods to be served on Saturday may include plov (rice pilaf with meat), borscht (savory vegetable soup), dill coleslaw, carrot salad, babka (sweet braided bread or cake) and halushki (potato dough dumplings).
Grace Christian Church also has an online giving site for those wishing to give financially. Mark "Ukraine Relief" in the drop-down menu.
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Holston Conference includes 850 United Methodist congregations in East Tennessee, Southwest Virginia, and North Georgia.
Annette Spence is editor of The Call, the Holston Conference newsletter.