The year 2003 is a unique year in the history of the Ukrainian Evangelical Baptist Church of Winnipeg. The church celebrates 100 year of God's love and grace. It recognizes the supernatural power which sustained and guided a group of saints throughout the past century.
This is a celebration of thanksgiving for the men and women committed Baptist believers and dedicated warriors, for the faith of Jesus Christ. The remembrance of the Baptist pioneers, who withstood persecutions, social and economic adversities yet untiring continued to proclaim the Great Commission of Jesus Christ in Winnipeg and beyond.
It was a group of persecuted Baptist believers, about 15 families, who were led by God to come to Winnipeg from the district of Kyiv, Ukraine and lay down the foundation for the Ukrainian Evangelical Baptist Church of Winnipeg. Among them were the family of Theophil Kapustynsky, Illia Koval, Andrew Lysyk, Abraham Zabolotny, Sperydon Osadchy, Anton Kotko and others.
When in 1902 persecution in Ukraine became intensified, the state, church and police authorities imprisoned, tortured, fined and banished many believers just because they were Baptists. Many families decided to leave Ukraine and head for Canada. Some of these pioneer immigrants carried the marks of persecution on their bodies but counted it a joy to suffer for the Lord and they knew that God was on their side.
Then, in 1903, Rev.Ivan Shakotko, with his wife, arrived from Kyiv to Winnipeg. A young, energetic Baptist believer began to organize Baptists, provide leadership and conduct worship sevices.
In the fall of 1903, the Ukrainian Evangelical Baptist Church was organized. It had about 25 members and met for services in the private homes of brother Kapustynsky and brother Babys, on Grow Street and Barber Street in the north-end of Winnipeg. Ivan Shakotko was elected to be the pastor. Two deacons were also elected: brother N.Nykiforiw and brother Bill Babys.
The believers lived the Lord, net regularly for their services and now, in freedom and without fear of persecution, shared Gospel with the new immigrants arriving in Winnipeg, as well as the Ukrainian people of Winnipeg. To support his family, Pastor Ivan Shakotko worked as a tailor. He served a large mission field in Manitoba faithfully sharing the Gospel and inviting immigrants to the services. God blessed the pioneer church in Winnipeg and many people added to the congregation.
The Winnipeg church was the only Ukrainian Baptist Church in Western Canada. Soon members of the English First Baptist Church in Winnipeg learned about the organized Ukrainian Baptist group. Their deacon, Charles Hilton, who spoke Russian, began to help the Ukrainian believers to minister to the thousands of immigrants arriving from Ukraine. He assisted spiritually and financially as well as with organization and settlement of the new Baptist believers. Many English Baptist leaders such as D.B.Harkness, H.McNeal, Charles Hilton, C.S.McLaren and others, who were interested in the mission among the Ukrainian people, provided guidance, financial help and assisted in establishing the Ukrainian Baptist work in Winnipeg. In 1904, with the help of the English Baptist churches, a little building was erected on the north side of the city on Burrows Avenue. Then in 1905, Pastor Ivan Shakotko was ordained by the Baptist Union of Western Canada for the ministry among the Ukrainian people in Manitoba.
Meanwhile a great number of new immigrants came from Ukraine and settled in Saskatchewan. A new mission field was opened and brother Shakotko went to Saskachewan with a vision to establish Baptist work in that province. When in 1905, Rev.Ivan Shakotko left the Winnipeg church, the congregation called N.Krievetzky to be its Pastor. Brother Krievetzky was, at that time the pastor at Overstone Baptist Church. He then provided leadership to both the Winnipeg and Overstone churches.
In 1908, with the assistance of the Baptist Union, Rev.John E.Artemenko, a young man who had his theological training in Germany, was brought from Ukraine to serve the Winnipeg church. He was an effective missionary and many new converts were added to the church. However, Pastor Artemenko soon left for Saskatchewan. So in 1910, the Winnipeg church again called N.Krievetzky to be its pastor. Brother Krievetzky moved to Winnipeg and provided leadership to both churches - in Winnipeg and in Overstone.
These were very difficult times, economically speaking, for pastors and missionaries. As immigrants, they had to find employment to support their families and be responsible for the constantly growing mission field in Western Canada. The churches were small in numbers, consisting mainly of new immigrants, therefore, they had difficulty financially to support pastor.
When Rev.Krievetzky left the Winnipeg church in 1913, the church was without a regular pastor until 1929. However, the ministry was carried by dedicated deacons, laymen and visiting ministers from other churches.
Brother Prokop Scraba, a laymen who moved to Winnipeg in 1916, provided effective leadership for the Winnipeg church. He preached during the Sunday services and assisted many newcomers who had joined the Church both spiritually and financially.
Then, in 1921, when Rev.Peter Kindrat moved from Ottawa to Dauphin, Manitoba to pastor a small Baptist church, he frequently visited the Winnipeg church and provided leadership and pastoral care to the congregation. Regular services were held and many new converts were added to the Winnipeg church.
In 1929, with the assistance of the Baptist Union, Rev.John Kmeta was invited to come from Ukraine and to be pastor the Winnipeg Church. There were very turbulent times in Ukraine. Stalin and his regime were beginning to liquidate churches and were sending church leaders to prison camps in Siberia. But our loving God had a different plan and made the way for Rev.Kmeta to come to Winnipeg. As a poet and Christian literary writer, Rev.Kmeta provided effective leadership to the church. He wrote and published a magazine called "Evangelical Herald" that influenced Baptist ministry among the Ukrainian people in Western Canada and beyond. Under his direction a hymn book was published which brought great blessings to Baptist groups scattered across Canada and the U.S.A.
Thus the Winnipeg Church experienced again, new blessings and growth in numbers. A new church building was erected by the English Baptists on the corner of Parr Street and Redwood Avenue. From this location children's work was carried out by Mrs. D.M.Thomson and Miss Leila Smith at the same time, regular worship services were held on Sundays by the Ukrainian Baptist congregation.
When in 1933, Rev.John Kmeta accepted an urgent call to the Saskatoon Baptist Church, the Winnipeg Church called a young man, Rev.N.Shelpuk, to be its pastor. Rev.Shelpuk had completed his training at the Northwestern Seminary in the United States and was ordained in an English Baptist Church. He was an effective pastor and dedicated missionary among the Ukrainian people and served both the Winnipeg and Overstone churches. Under his leadership, the Winnipeg Church experienced many blessings and an increase in membership.
In 1938, Rev.Shelpuk accepted a call to pastor a Baptist church in the United States. The Winnipeg Church then called Rev.Peter Kindrat to be its pastor. Rev. Kindrat had organized several churches in Saskatchewan and moved to Winnipeg from Prince Albert. He was the Pastor of the Winnipeg Church for almost 50 years. He became the editor of "The Christian Herald" and travelled extensively to various Baptist churches in Western Canada conducting special services and encouraging Baptist believers to stand firm in their faith for the Lord, sharing the Gospel with the Ukrainian people who thought spiritual food for their souls. Many people came to know the Lord but at tremendous cost to the missionaries who were often abused and physically harmed at the hands of the enemies of the true Gospel.
In 1952, Rev.Kindrat left the Winnipeg Church to devote his time to the Ukrainian Baptist movement in Canada. The Winnipeg Church then called Rev.John Polischuk from Swan River Baptist Church to be its pastor. Rev.Polischuk was an excellent choir leader. He organized a great choir and involved many young people in a ministry of music not only at the Winnipeg Church but also in various communities in Manitoba. The congregation again experienced many blessings and an increase in church attendance.
When in 1957, Rev.Polischuk left for the United States, the Winnipeg Church called Rev.D.Marychuk from the U.S.A. to be its pastor. Under his leadership the sunday school and women's work were strengthened and increased. Both Rev.Marychuk and Rev. Polischuk studied theology in Germany and after the Second World War came to Canada and served the Winnipeg Church with dedication and enthusiasm winning many people for the Lord.
It should be noted that after the Second World War, many new immigrants came to Canada from the displaced persons camps in Germany. Among them were many trained Baptist leaders who organized new churches, conducted evangelistic rallies and became pastors of the existing churches, which strengthened the Ukrainian Baptist churches in Canada.
In 1962, Rev.D.Marychuk left the church for the U.S. At that time the Winnipeg Church invited Mr.M.Brych, an energetic young student who was studying theology at the Mennonite College in Winnipeg to be its pastor. He organized a choir and produced records of its music. He conducted a weekly radio program to evangelize Ukrainian people. He wrote a number of spiritual songs for worship and translated many others which were used for praise and worship in Ukrainian churches throughout Canada and the United States.
The Winnipeg congregation purchased the church building from the Baptist Union and made extensive renovations. Church membership grew to about 70 people with a good number of visitors attending the services.
When in 1970, Pastor Brych left the church for Toronto, Ontario the Winnipeg Church called Pastor Dan Zyla from Edmonton, Alberta to be its pastor. Pastor Zyla was the church's first pastor who was born in Canada and received his theological training here. He was bilingual and felt a need to have worship services in both Ukrainian and English languages. The young people were ready for the change, anticipating great blessings but the older members resisted the change having difficulty understanding the English language. However, Pastor Zyla persisted and often gave his message in both languages and sometimes with translation. The young people organized many youth rallies and under that direction of choir leader John Stepaniuk, the church was blessed by the ministry of music and through the ministry of evangelism.
In 1976 Pastor Zyla left Winnipeg. The church had no regular pastor for about 2 years. Layman, N.Lysack, with assistance for deacons, M.Podworniak and A.Tkachenko provided ministry for the Church. Mr.John Kowalchuk, who came to Winnipeg from Argentina to work at the Christian Press, became the choir director and occasionally preached on Sundays. Mr.Nick Melnyk, who received his training at Providence Seminary, became the adult Sunday School teacher.
In 1978 the Winnipeg Church asked Mr.A.Chrypchuk to be its pastor. He came to the Church from Argentina, where he had his theological training. Under his ministry the Church had well organized women's work and young people's services. Then in 1980 Pastor Chrypchuk left the Church for the United States. Once again the leadership of the Church fell on the shoulders of the dedicated laymen.
The ministry and work of the Church was divided amongst the layman. Mr.Fred Lawryniuk took on the responsibility of chairman of the board, while Mr.N.Lysack, Mr.M.Podworniak and Mr.A.Tkachenko were responsible for the Sunday morning services and Mr.Nick Melnyk took responsibility for the evening services. He also organized the "Manna Singers" by inviting hiw two sisters, Anne and Ruth, to sing with him as a trio. For years they provided blessings through their ministry of music to the congregation, on radio and in the community at special services.
The church services were conducted in the Ukrainian language but on special occasions there were messages and singing in English. However, some young people moved away, others got married and left the church, joining their spouses in other congregations, while still others preferred services in the English language and decided to become members of other evangelical churches in Winnipeg. Thus the membership at the church decreased to about twenty-five active members.
In 1982, on advice from the Ukrainian Baptist Conference of Western Canada, the Winnipeg church extended a call to Reverend John Tkachuk to be its pastor. He was pastoring the Roseau River Baptist Church and while accepting the call to service the Winnipeg Church, he continued to minister, one Sunday a month in Roseau River, in order to provide leadership to that congregation. Pastor J. Tkachuk received his ministry training at McMaster University and Divinity School in Hamilton, Ontario. He studied at University of Toronto at Social Work faculty. Also he received Doctor of Ministry Degree from Theological Seminary in Kiev, Ukraine. The Winnipeg Church also called Mr.Nick Melnyk to be assistant pastor and to preach at the services during Pastor Tkachuk's absences.
Under the ministry of Rev.Tkachuk, the church, though small in number, showed enthusiasm and dedication. The members took on the challenge of witnessing for the Lord and dedicated their time and resources to that end. The church faithfully supported a radio broadcast with Rev.Tkachuk as radio pastor. Special music was organized by Aura Tkachuk. Occasionally a choir ministered on a local television program. Extensive humanitarian work was undertaken by the women of the Winnipeg Church. They sent aid to Ukraine - parcels of food and clothing. Several thousand Christian books printed by the Christian Press were also sent from the Winnipeg Church under the sponsorship of the Ukrainian Baptist Conference of Western Canada. These were then distributed to churches and individuals in Ukraine.
The Church experienced great blessings and God added new souls to His Kingdom by way of a number of baptisms at the Winnipeg Church. The congregation had a strong and effective witness to the Ukrainian community in Winnipeg and beyond.
After almost eighteen years of ministry, Rev.John Tkachuk was looking for his successor, since he had already retired from his secular work and was planning his retirement from the pastorate. The church was praying for a new pastor to continue the witness among the Ukrainian people in Winnipeg.
In 1991, when Ukraine became an independent nation from the Soviet Union many new immigrants arrived in Canada and some settled in Winnipeg. The church felt that it was imperative to continue the Ukrainian baptist witness in Winnipeg and to offer the way of salvation to many people who came from the former Soviet Union and who were raised under the atheistic system of communism.
The Winnipeg church was blessed when Rev. and Mrs.A.Andrusyshyn became members. In 1998, Rev.Andrusyshyn was asked to became the assistant pastor and to devote his time to ministry among the new immigrants from Ukraine. Then in the year 2000, when Rev.John Tkachuk had retired, the church elected Rev.A.Andrusyshyn as its pastor. Pastor A.Andrusyshyn completed his theological training in Canada and was ordained by Baptist Union of Western Canada.
Presently, Pastor Andrusyshyn is the pastor of the Ukrainian Evangelical Baptist Church in Winnipeg. The services are being conducted in the Ukrainian language. Pastor Andrusyshyn has extended his ministry primarily to the new immigrants arriving in Winnipeg. Under his leadership a number of new converts have been baptized, the congregation has been blessed and the church building has been extensively renovated with the assistance of the Baptist Union of Western Canada.
In conclusion, let us thank God for His faithfulness, standing by many dedicated leaders of the Ukrainian Evangelical Baptist Church in Winnipeg through the past 100 years. Let us thank God for the leaders and laymen that sacrificed so much by serving others through this church, those who needed salvation and were searching for a meaningful life - eternal life in Jesus Christ. Let us thank God for the men and women who passed through the doors of this church and followed Jesus and His Great Commission by effectively touching thousands of others for the Lord and His Kingdom around the world. We all want to repeat the words of Samuel as written in 1 Samuel 7:12 - "Ebenezer, Thus far has the Lord helped us".
May God bless you all...
John Tkachuk, October 19, 2003