ARCADIA VALLEY -- "I live here, like in paradise," a resident of the Baptist House of Mercy at Zhemchuzhinka, Kobrin, Belarus, exclaimed shortly after moving into her new home in June.
The acceptance of residents to the facility culminates a dream that now offers hope and help to elderly Belarusians. The Baptist House of Mercy opened its doors to its first six residents in June and had accepted two more by the end of the month.
Stepan Trubchik, a Belarusian contractor, began dreaming of such a ministry in the late 1990s, and then started sharing his vision. Word got to Roger Hatfield, a development officer for The Baptist Home in Missouri, who spread it to administrators and trustees. Hatfield had been among the first group to Belarus when a 10-year partnership between the Eastern European country and the Missouri Baptist Convention began in 1993.
At that time, the Belarusian government already recognized Kobrin Camp, on which the facility is located, for religious and humanitarian purposes. Churches and other religious organizations had to obtain government recognition before operating. The camp had been set up to minister to children each summer.
Even after the MBC partnership officially ended in December 2003, several churches and individuals remained close to Belarusian congregations.
By 2005, Baptists in Belarus had already mobilized for elder ministry and slowly began collecting the funds needed for a building. In July 2006, TBH staffer Jim Nelson and trustee Margaret Woolley made a fact-finding trip to the Eastern European country to discuss possibilities with Belarusian Baptist leaders and view possible sites for the ministry.
The Kobrin site had an old Soviet army barrack in reasonably good shape that could be used, and it already offered services the new elder facility would need. Food services could be provided year around, instead of just in summer, and during the MBC partnership, Baptists in Missouri had helped outfit a medical clinic.
During the site visit, Woolley and Nelson were convinced the ministry was needed as they met several older individuals and heard their stories. One woman and her family had not had the money for proper care after breaking both her legs years earlier. Living in poverty, she told the Missouri pair, an elder home "would be heaven on earth for me."
In September 2006, The Home committed to a five-year partnership to open a facility for the aged in Belarus. Trustees authorized a $500,000 capital campaign, which included $250,000 for renovation of the building and the other half for an endowment fund to keep the ministry operational.
Renovation of the abandoned building at Kobrin progressed slowly because a single crew handled on the work, which was completed on a pay-as-you-go basis.
Leaders from Belarus visited The Baptist Home to observe how its three campuses operated. Several Missouri teams trained House of Mercy trustees in Kobrin.
Missouri churches also got involved. A volunteer from Windsor Baptist in Imperial taught the Belarusian construction crew how to texture walls. Women at First Baptist in Farmington and some residents the The Home's Arcadia Valley campus made quilts and embroidered pillowcases for each room in the Baptist House of Mercy.
Missourians from First Baptist churches in Farmington, Dexter, Oak Grove and Jackson celebrated with Belarusian Baptists to dedicate the building on June 26, 2010. Leaders and supporters believed the home would open to residents later that summer.
Though they anticipated some delay while additional required government approval was obtained, “what we did not properly anticipate was conflict within the Baptist ranks in Belarus,” The Baptist Home President Steven Jones recently told project supporters. Issues, both governmental and religious, delayed opening the new facility to residents for two years.
Jones emphasized leaders have worked hard from the project’s beginning to keep it from becoming dependent upon The Baptist Home and donors to keep the facility operating. The House of Mercy also is raising funds that The Home’s foundation will match as money is available.
The facility includes Woolley Gardens, named for Margaret and Bob Woolley, and the Nelson Gallery, a gathering place and socialization room named in memory of the late Tom and Flora Nelson and featuring Flora's art.
In addition to continuing work in Belarus, The Baptist Home is training senior adult ministry leaders and seminarians in Moldova, Ukraine and the Russian Federation.