In this tenth and final episode of the first season of Inspiring Stewards, Nathan Jones speaks with Michael Cherenkov from the Ukraine. He talks about how special it is to grow up as a Christian during Soviet times and how that has shaped him into the “storyteller for Jesus” he is today. He shares about his heart for Christian mission, which led him to now serve as pastor to a multicultural church in Washington State, USA. Finally, he encourages the church at large to be resilient, strong, compassionate, and faithful – not just successful – agents of change during these challenging times.
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The music is Concerto a’ 4 Violini No 2 by Telemann played on classical guitar by Jon Sayles. Published by Exzel Music Publishing.
On this tenth and final episode for season one, I know you will not be disappointed. I had the privilege to spend time with Dr. Michael Cherenkov, who currently serves as pastor of Revival Baptist Church in Vancouver, Washington but also has extensive missional experience throughout Europe. With a powerful family background, Michael was born in Russia, grew up in the Ukraine, and now serves in the US as both a local pastor as well board member for Global Trust Partners.
My name is Nathan Jones and I want to thank you for joining me on this final episode of season one of the Inspiring Stewards podcast.
Michael, it's great to be with you today. Thank you so much for taking the time to join me. I would love to kick our time off by hearing a bit more of your story. Where are you from? Where did you grow up? Kind of, give us your background.
So my name is Michael Cherenkov, but my original name was Mykhailo, which is Russian version of the name. I was born in Russia, by the way. I'm now in Vancouver, Washington State, and I'm pastoring Revival Baptist Church in Vancouver, Washington. But I was born in Russia and then we moved to Ukraine. So I was raised up in Ukraine, and my father is Russian and my mom is Ukrainian. So our family was Christian and it was Soviet time, let me remind you. So that's interesting that my wife is from Moldova. So it was very typical for those years to mix all those nationalities. Yeah, my family is very typical for Soviet Christians.
So I was born and raised up in a Christian home. And I would say that all my life, I have been going against the stream. So we understand ourselves, I mean, Soviet Christians, Soviet evangelicals as like very special people. And I grew up in the Soviet Union where everyone marched together, singing the same songs, glorifying the Communist leaders or I would say, Communist gods or idols. We were special because we belong not there. We belong community of Christ and believers.
So it was interesting time, interesting time. And it was interesting even for me when I was just a kid. But then, I would say everything became more complicated because the price for being Christian in Soviet Union was always rising. So saving my identity, my faith in the mass was not easy, especially because I was Christian and my family was big enough. So I had three more brothers and three sisters, so total, seven of us. And my parents actually were repressed as enemies of the people. So it was not easy to keep faithful, to be yourself in this time.
But my parents agreed to pay this price for being faithful to Christ and His church. So it was their impact that made me myself. And I remember, you know, when the police or KGB agents came to our apartments for searches and so-called conversations or interrogations. They took my father to the police station many times. And it was interesting, an interesting experience. I want to save it more because the experience of my parents for me in very special way. My dad was jailed for almost five years for being faithful to Christ. And once again, that's my family story, but it made me special. And you know, all my time, I just want to be like my dad, to be faithful, and just do my best for Christ and His church. So that's briefly about my family background.
Wow, thank you for sharing. I think about how different that is than where I grew up, and deep respect for you and your family and your parents and how they led and supported you and your siblings. That's tremendous. Well, Michael, share with us how you then came to a personal faith in Christ. Certainly, the conditions were set in your home. But walk us through that journey.
As I said before, my parents’ strong example of faith and their power of prayer actually helped me to find my calling and accept Christ and be true to God. But I remember well how it happened, I mean, my conversion.
We were sitting around a bonfire in the dark woods. Actually, it was an underground camp for the children of persecuted families in the late 80s. So we were very far from big cities and roads, from KGB and police. And it was very special time. The sky was filled with stars. And we were listening actually to a story from my older brothers in Christ, stories of their faithfulness, and their persecutions. And then I had this thought that, well, there is no better way to live my life than to give it to God and serve Him.
So it was so strong, so powerful. I couldn't resist this impulse. As I said right before, we were listening to testimonies from our older friends in the faith who had suffered and had been deprived of many things for Christ. And I knew that my decision to commit my life to Christ was going to have major consequences. I knew that committing my life to Christ will take something from me. But I made this decision, and I never regret about that.
So it was late Soviet time. And, yeah, my parents helped me to make this decision, but it was my personal decision, and I'm so happy that I made this decision in 1988. It was 1988 exactly.
Wow. So this next question I want to ask – how has that decision impacted your life? – typically leads to a positive response, but in light of what you just shared, I'm sure there was a positive side of the impact, but also maybe a challenging reality in light of what you shared and that you knew the cost of what you were saying yes to. But share with us then how that decision to follow Christ impacted you and your life.
Yeah, that's so true. There is always a cost of following Jesus. I knew that I could not be part of this society because the Soviet society was Communist, actually Communist, so they worshipped other gods or as we say, idols. So, I was in opposition to that mainstream. But it helped me to understand my special, my personal calling.
I read the Bible at a very young age, and then I began to understand. Actually, I was ten when I finished my first Bible reading. And I began to understand my own distinction and advantage. I began to understand it more clearly. And I realized that I had special calling to share this knowledge about God, knowledge of Bible.
Because you know, in Soviet time, printed Bibles were in high demand. It was actually illegal to distribute even one copy or some copies of Scripture. Bible was smuggled to the Soviet Union. Actually, my parents, they distributed the holy Scripture throughout the whole Soviet Union. And I understand this special calling from God to share this knowledge.
So I remember well how I talked to my friends at school and they were so amazed to hear some prayers and some scripture passages for me. So people knew nothing about Jesus, about God, about Bible, and they were so hungry to learn at least something about the Bible and God. So I had this opportunity to be an important witness for God. I would say a storyteller of Bible, of Bible or biblical stories.
So that was my specific call. And yeah, I was happy to do that. I was happy to do that. But that decision to follow Jesus impacted my life significantly. You remember that I used to live in the Soviet Union and I understood that, “Well, Michael, it is time to follow Christ and pay a high price for that.” So it is not only about the pleasant advantages of life, it's Jesus. It is not about many blessings. It is not about prosperity gospel, right? It is about the privilege to suffer for Christ and work together with Jesus.
You know, I have made many mistakes in my life, but I never regretted my first and most important decision, because I can't imagine what my life would be without God. That made me special. That decision actually made me what I am now.
Michael, it puts it in perspective even as I sit here at my desk and I had my microphone for this interview sitting a little too low. And I looked around my office to say, "What do I have that I can raise this microphone?" And I looked behind me and there was a stack of Bibles and I grabbed a few and I used them to prop up the microphone. And to hear you share what the cost was of having access even to a single Bible really puts that in perspective. So thank you for sharing.
Many people were jailed just for sharing not the copies of Scripture, but just word from the Bible. So just sharing their stories or Bible verses. So it was absolutely illegal in Soviet time. And that was very special calling from God to serve as a storyteller. Just share stories: stories of my parents, stories of Bible heroes, story of Jesus. And it was so powerful.
People, as I said before, they were so hungry to hear this word of God. And even now, even now in some countries of former Soviet bloc or Soviet empire, it is absolutely illegal to share even a link to online Bible resource. So this spirit of Communism is still in power. So we have to pray earnest, to pray for religious freedom, and for those brave people who serve out there.
Amen. Wow. Well, Michael, I feel like we could go on and on, so much of your history and story. That would be good. And perhaps one day we can have an extended interview. But let's, for the sake of today, jump to today, 2022. What does the Lord have you involved in His Kingdom? And tell us about your vocation, your calling today.
So, I used to be a God storyteller in Soviet time. And then I had many opportunities to read good theological books and commentaries. I made my PhD. So God blessed me abundantly and I just want to share those blessings with others. So my main passion is to train younger leaders to serve the Lord and the gospel, maybe in the same way, going against the stream, going against some mainstream, like secular mainstream here in the Western world, or going against some dictators, against some totalitarian tendencies or trends in Soviet or post-Soviet space.
So I was in ministry with Mission Eurasia, which is an international ministry. They serve post-Soviet states. So I was Executive Field Director for almost 20 years. And then God told me, “Michael, take all your stuff and move from Ukraine to Kansas and then from Kansas to Vancouver, Washington.” So it was absolutely unexpected to me. I wasn't looking for this opportunity. But now I am pastor in Revival Baptist Church, which is a congregation of 400 people. We have English service, which is about maybe 200 people, and Russian or Slavic international service. So it is multicultural, multi-ethnic congregation. I'm happy to be useful here.
And plus to that, I'm part of different ministries, like GTP ministry. Meeting with Gary was such a blessing to my family. He came to Kansas to meet me. Well, I saw that this man like looks and sounds like my older brother. He's so like-minded, so close to me. So it was a huge blessing to me to join this ministry as GTP board member.
I'm part of another ministry, which is a mission. So they help Ukraine, especially in this difficult time. It is my home country and I left at least half of my heart out there in Ukraine. So I'm happy to serve as their board member. And to add to that, I'm part of two Christian magazine teams, so I'm helping them as a editorial board member. So that's all about myself. I'm trying to focus myself here at Revival Baptist Church, at least for the first years. I have to, I have to stay focused to the new team and to serve this congregation, to helping them to renew, to refresh their vision. So it requires my whole time. But I'm happy once again, I'm happy to be there to serve the Lord in this way.
Well, that's amazing. I think about the similarities between Kansas and the Ukraine and I think, well, they both have the letter A in the name, but I can't think of much more that might be similar. So God certainly took you to a distant land, but what a tremendous testimony. So speaking of GTP, Global Trust Partners, and your role on the board, this is the Inspiring Stewards podcast which is part of the ministry of GTP. How does this concept of stewardship inform your life today?
Well, it reminds me that Jesus came to serve, not to be served, and I just want to be His follower. I just want to be Christ-like. As I mentioned previously, I can’t imagine my life without God, without following, without serving Him. And it's the same way I can't imagine my life without the church and I can't imagine my life without mission.
So I was with international mission agency almost 20 years. You know, I was always preaching, teaching, sharing. And after all, the church exists in this mission movement as it represents God and His Kingdom, through preaching and serving people. So that's my whole life, mission, church, and maybe plus education. I spent like, twelve years, even more than twelve years to make my PhD. I love to serve Him in this way, integrating church, mission, and education. Training more people and serving them, not just leading or overseeing, but serving them.
Well, Michael, a question comes to mind. I just have to ask: you live now in North America. I live in North America. And I know that the audience listening is scattered all over the world. But one of the things I'm seeing in North America is people leaving the church for any variety of reasons. And as you shared that you are passionate about God's church, would you share some perspective on what is it that draws you to the church?
And I know a lot of people are leaving for various reasons, programmatically or a leader had fallen, which feels like such a small issue in light of God's plan for the church. Would you just share from your heart, what is it that draws you to the church? Because I think that could encourage some listening in today.
You know, we meet God in our church. It is a place of meeting with God. So He's moving so mightily. So if you want to be close to God, if you want to understand, if you want to serve, if you want to live your life as abundant life, not just for yourself but for a higher goal, higher sense, join Him in His church.
And I feel when I'm traveling around the globe, I feel, I see, I observe that God is preparing His church for the time of great trials and temptations. So it is time to stick together, to stay together because this is time to teach us actually in church how to be resilient, strong, faithful – not just successful – but faithful. So we have to answer this question in church. And those even who are still around but not in, they have to answer this question. Show you all Jesus and His few faithful people or social and cultural sector, mainstream majority.
Personally, I want to be an agent of change rather than part of a silent majority of this world. So if you want to be agent of change, if you want to understand God and His ways in this time, just join His church and serve His church. So, I would say for everyone, be faithful. That's the important thing, not just successful. Be faithful.
That's a great word. And I think it leads into this final question I want to ask is: Michael, as you have been involved in many different corners of God's Kingdom in different parts of the world, how are you seeing God at work in the world today? Maybe that's locally in your context or maybe it's globally. And you mentioned a little bit about that, of God is preparing His church. But what else would you add?
Well, today, God makes me crying because I went on a mission trip to Ukraine recently, and I've seen so many tragedies. I feel that now it is all about my compassion and solidarity. I just can't live my own life without praying and crying for those people. So it is time to be compassionate. It is time to understand others and share with them our blessings, our bread, our hugs, our smiles, our prayers.
So that's my message to all of you. Time is so short. As my parents often remind me – actually, they stay in war zone in Ukraine: my whole family, my siblings, my mom still in the bed after surgery and they stay in war zone – but they remind me very often, “Michael, remember serve Him well because Christ is coming. Christ is coming. So this is the most important message to our global Christian family: Christ is coming back. So be faithful. Today, we hear everywhere “be yourself, be yourself” so people encourage each other to follow their own ways, agendas.
But for me the most important: to be faithful to God, to His calling. Be that kind of man He wants us to be, He wants me to be. So I wish all of us to be faithful to follow God's way because He's coming back and let us respond Him this biblical way: “Come, Jesus, come. Come, Jesus, come.” Be ready. Be prepared. Be on alert.
Wow. What a good word. Michael, as we wrap up, any final thoughts that you would leave us with today?
Just be attentive to what God is telling you through these podcasts. And be blessed.
Thank you so much, Michael. I appreciate it.