FRESNO – “My big brothers stood in front of me so that no one could see who was playing the organ,” Ivan Mileyev recalled. “That is kind of funny! I was 12-years old and playing the organ in a Baptist church in Ukraine. Playing the organ or being involved in ministry at that age was not allowed in the Soviet Union.”
Ivan Mileyev joined the California Southern Baptist Convention (CSBC) Church Starting Group as church planting catalyst in January 2007. His primary area of responsibility is the planting of churches for California’s Slavic speakers, as well as Spanish and Anglo people in Mid-Valley and Sequoia Associations.
His family’s journey from Ukraine to California is a compelling story of God’s providence.
Ivan was born into a Ukrainian Christian family, and was involved in music ministry from an early age. When he was 16, He realized that there was more to being a Christian than coming from a Christian family, being religious, or been involved in church ministry. He repented, accepted Jesus as his Lord, and was baptized.
“I finished music college in Kiev,” Ivan said. “Then I attended the Odessa State Conservatory of Music for five years to earn my master’s degree in music. I studied music for nine or more years, and I was a choir and orchestra director and responsible for special music among all Ukrainian Baptist churches in Kiev, Ukraine.”
Ivan married his wife, Yelena, in 1985, and they immigrated with their two daughters and one son to Hollywood, California, in 1992. God led them to join the Slavic Evangelical Baptist Church of Hollywood, where they learned about Southern Baptist life and mission.
In 1994, God led me to organize a new Slavic church in Minneapolis, Minnesota. I realized that I had the spiritual gifts of teaching and preaching, and that God was calling me to be a church planter. For me, it was all a surprise!”
Ivan became the ordained pastor of the Slavic Baptist Church of Transfiguration that he planted in Minneapolis. He grew spiritually as its minister, and experienced the challenges and joys of the pastorate. As a Southern Baptist pastor, Ivan participated in pastoral meetings with the Minnesota-Wisconsin Baptist Convention, and the congregation enjoyed the fellowship of other churches in the Twin Cities Metro Baptist Association.
“That experience was a benefit for me,” Ivan said. “You must have this experience if you are working and help other pastors. You understand what they face and what they believe.”
Anthony Ahaev, leader, Church Starting group, formerly the language church starting specialist for CSBC, visited Ivan’s church. After a period of time, Ahaev invited Ivan to return to California as a CSBC church planter strategist responsible for planting churches for Slavic people.
“After 13 years living in cold, snowy weather, God moved us back to California.” In California, the Slavic people are spread around, and sometimes it is hard to reach them,” Ivan continued. “It is a challenge for us to reach the people for Christ, especially Russian Jews. We have a lot of Russian Jews living in California, and they resent all Christians. Another challenge for me is to help Russian pastors be more kingdom-focused.”
Ivan’s message to California Southern Baptists:
“It is an honor to be part of the ministry of planting churches. I believe that God wants to grow His kingdom by opening new churches everywhere, but especially here in California. All of the nationalities have come here to us, and we need to meet this challenge by reaching them right here on California soil.
“The key to success in church planting is the power of the Holy Spirit, that changes the lives of people and makes true disciples who can multiply themselves in the lives of other people. It all starts with studying Scripture and letting it transform us"
Discipleshift, Jim Putman and Babby Harrington
- Pray that God opens doors for new church planting possibilities in Mid-Valley and Sequoia Associations.
- Pray that God calls new church planters for the Slavic, Spanish and Anglo speaking people in California
- Pray that Russian Jewish people will make decisions to become followers of Christ.
- I thank God for His faithfulness to my family and I.
- I thank God for the honor of serving on CSBC’s church planting team.
- I thank God for CSBC’s leadership team in Fresno.
- I thank God for the spiritual blessings, wisdom, and strength that He has poured out on this ministry.
Did you know?
Approximately 5 million Russian speakers live in the United States; one-fifth of them live in California with the largest concentrations being in Los Angeles, San Francisco and Sacramento. Russian-Americans have a median annual income of $50,500, with many pursuing higher education in colleges and universities. They are a largely secular population needing access to Slavic church plants. Contact Ivan Mileyev for more information about ministering to California’s Slavic population. (–www.csbc.com)
Church Planting Catalyst
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