Paul and Sasha Shulga helped launch a Slavic night at their church. The event was a success and there is now a “Slavic campus” at Caldwell Christian Faith Center, where Paul is pastor. The Shulgas are shown here with their two daughters: Abigail, 6, being held by her dad, and Adeline, 4, shown in her mom’s arms holding a small flower. (Photo by Lily Kuzmenko of Memories by Lily)
By Gaye Bunderson
For anyone not familiar with the term “Slavic,” it’s time to become more aware. One Slavic nation is frequently in the news and most people have no doubt heard of it: Ukraine.
A population of Slavic people make their home in the Treasure Valley, having come here from one of a broad range of Slavic countries that includes: the West Slavs of Poland, Czech Republic, and Slovakia; the East Slavs of Russia, Belarus, and Ukraine; and the South Slavs of Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Bulgaria, North Macedonia, Montenegro, and Slovenia*. These people share a common culture, as well as many common languages.
Paul and Sasha Shulga are a Slavic American couple currently serving others in their community at the Caldwell Christian Faith Center at 301 S. 34th Ave. Paul was born in the U.S. after his parents immigrated here from Ukraine by way of Italy prior to his birth. Sasha came with her parents from Ukraine when she was 6 years old.
The Shulgas started a Slavic church campus roughly a year ago. Caldwell Christian Faith Center holds Sunday services at 9:30 and 11:15 a.m. The Slavic service is at 2 p.m.
Things changed dramatically for Slavic church members when Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24 of this year. “Before, the people were not political. Now it’s a full-blown war, and people are affected by it – they have family members there who’ve been run out of their homes and bombed. People are concerned about the lives of their loved ones. It puts a different perspective when you talk to people who have family there,” Paul Shulga said.
On February 27 – a Sunday and just one day after the invasion – prayers for Ukraine were deeply heartfelt during all the services.
“The churches came together,” Paul continued, explaining the local Slavic population has gotten tremendous support from other churches and from the local community at large, including non-believers. Asked about Russian immigrants and descendants versus Ukrainian immigrants and descendants in the Treasure Valley and if there is any tension between the two groups, Paul replied: “There might be pockets of that somewhere, but not in my congregation. Russians here are not in favor of the war. Here we have definitely come together around the cause, not the culture or the country, and not the nationality but the injustice.
“We are praying over the whole region, not praying for any specific people. We are praying about innocent bloodshed. For the Slavic church, it is an important issue.”
Paul wasted no time in lifting the war-torn European region up to God. The same day as the Russian invasion, he led a group of 200 people in prayer on the steps of the Capitol Building in Boise. “There were Ukrainians, Russians, and people from the community,” he said.
During the specifically Slavic service at the church on Sunday, March 6, the Shulgas had developed a program that felt largely church-as-usual and included the blessing of five babies born to families in the congregation. Paul joked that, “We will build the Slavic campus one way or another” – and that included the very smallest and newest members.
A husband and wife, Yuriy and Lidia Buchinskiy, spoke briefly during the service. Yuriy was flying back to Ukraine to help where he could. Lidia still has family there. Later, in a phone interview, Lidia said of her time at Caldwell Christian Faith Center’s Slavic campus: “My church has become my family. I can’t imagine life without it. They have helped emotionally, financially, and spiritually. They call and ask, ‘What else can we pray for?’, and their prayers have been answered.”
For her, attending the church is not optional. “It’s essential,” she said. “It’s a lifeline right now.”
[See the sidebar for more on the Buchinskiys.]
Many congregants of the Slavic campus are bilingual, including Paul and Sasha, who speak both English and Russian. Members include people from Romania, Ukraine, Armenia, and Moldova. “The church is centralized around a culture more than a language,” explained Paul. “I preach in English, with a full translation in Russian through headsets [if requested], so the worship is bilingual.”
About 150 Slavic people from throughout the valley attend services, and many of them are second or third generation Slavic people who don’t fully assimilate into American culture. “We are building a bridge between the American church and the Slavic culture, then there is no need for them to forfeit their cultural background,” Paul said.
For the CFC services held earlier in the day, there is a mix of all sorts of people as well. “America is the melting pot – there are bits and pieces of many cultures,” Paul said.
For example, many Hispanic people attend the church and, according to Paul, Hispanic culture is very similar to the Slavic culture in terms of “a close-knit community that is hospitality-driven and family-driven.”
At Caldwell Christian Faith Center, the Shulgas seek to establish a tight-knit fellowship. “People are more comfortable in a church where someone is going to understand you, and you have common experiences,” they said.
So how was a specifically Slavic campus established?
Paul explained: “Lead Pastor Jordan Hodges believed that God’s Kingdom is not about one people group, so this is all part of a bigger community church.” Christian Faith Center, in all, has 6 locations and 7 campuses between the Treasure Valley and a location in Orville, Calif.
However, the part that Paul and Sasha played in launching a uniquely Slavic service can’t be understated. “It’s all our fault,” Paul said with a smile.
Both he and Sasha were youth leaders at one point. “Then, about 4 or 5 years ago, we felt a call for our people stuck between two cultures. One year after we helped plant Christian Faith Center in Boise, we thought, ‘Let’s do a Slavic night’. We did and 200 people showed up. We answered a need in our community. We can reach that demographic and be a bridge point,” Paul said.
“We provide a place for people,” Sasha confirmed.
The married couple with two children serve the church and their community together. But the main beauty of the Caldwell Christian Faith Center is its complete lack of exclusivity. All are welcome. And all come.
Paul explained: “Part of the vision is that it is not only Slavic people but also Latino, Asian, American. Anyone can come. My goal is to be able to preach something that God has put into my heart that touches someone in his or her 80s, or someone who is a teenager. That’s how Jesus did it. He was surrounded by children and many people of all ages and walks of life.
“We have a varied congregation. About a third are seniors and the rest are young families and Latino young adults. People will stay at a church if they ‘see themselves’.”
Paul likened the diverse congregation to Jesus casting out His net and pulling in all kinds of fish. “I embrace my culture. That is a strength of a church: multiple generations and multiple kinds of people. That is the Kingdom of God. We’ve seen people get saved, baptized. We’ve seen families that haven’t come to church in years.”
Though the Shulgas are personally acquainted with religious freedoms from residing in America, the older members of their families lived a different experience. Said Paul: “My great-grandfather was sent to the labor camps for being Christian.”
Family members got in trouble for merely owning a Bible, and both Shulgas agreed, “Many were imprisoned for their faith.”
Ultimately, the Shulgas’ primary focus for all three services in the church is, like all good churches, helping parishioners know God and His love.
“It’s about saving souls. Jesus is the only one who can save – save the hungry, thirsty, and dying. My heart was to have one church. As it is written, ‘every nation and tribe and people and language’ (Revelation 7:9). We offer a service to the Slavic population; it’s a niche we’ve been given. But our priority is to build the Kingdom,” Paul said.
For more information, go to https://experiencecfc.com/caldwell/.
*Information from https://worldpopulationreview.com/country-rankings/slavic-countries