PLANO—Children playing water games, listening intently to Bible stories and doing crafts—the scene looked like a typical American summer camp. That is until the children spoke and revealed their thick Russian accents.
The summer camp, hosted by River of Life Church at Hunters Glen Baptist Church in Plano, comprised of about 50 children who come from Slovak descent. Some had Russian heritage while others had heritage from Ukraine, Lithuania, Uzbekistan, Latvia and other Slovak countries. The common denominator is they all spoke both Russian and English.
The 4-year-old church planted its roots in Plano four years ago, shortly after its pastor, Leonid Reghata, moved to Dallas.
When Reghata, his wife and his children moved to Texas five years ago, they began attending an American church. They quickly met other families from Slovak regions and naturally spent time together. At one Labor Day social event, around 75 Russian-speaking guests showed up to fellowship, some believers and some not.
At that point, Reghata and some others felt God's call to plant a church reaching out to the Slovak culture. The church first began meeting at a home on Sunday nights around a fire pit.
"Ten people turned into 15, then 20, then 30, and then we decided to find another location," Reghata said.
The new church's growth led him to approach Patty Lane, Texas Baptists director of intercultural ministries, who helped connect him with Hunters Glen Baptist Church, where River of Life now hosts a weekly 3:00 p.m. Sunday worship service in Russian.
Since then, River of Life members have been seeking new ways to reach out to the Russian speakers in Dallas. According to the Census Bureau's American Community Surveys, about 40,000 people in the DFW Metroplex list their ancestry as Russian, Ukrainian or Lithuanian.
One way the church has reached out is through hosting the weeklong summer camp for children of Slovak decent. Last year, the camp gained much media attention during the wake of the Russia-Ukraine conflict.
Reghata said reporters frequently asked how he dealt with people in his congregation from both nations. To this question he replied, "There is so much more that unites us than separates us. Politicians are here today and gone tomorrow, but the Gospel remains."
He encourages his congregation to focus on what unites them—the blood of Christ—and reminds them they should pledge allegiance to God before a particular country.
"As refugees, sometimes it's easier for us to realize that since we have moved from one place to another, ultimately we belong to another kingdom," he explained.
For River of Life, while leaving a spiritual legacy is most important, they also strive to teach the children to embrace their cultural heritage.
"There are some beautiful things about our heritage that we can bless each other with," Reghata said, "and I think as a church we can bless our society and where we live with our heritage."
A great-grandson of underground church Christians, Reghata has always been mesmerized by his great-grandparents' abilities to uphold their faith, even in the midst of suffering and persecution.
"Thinking of the strength of their spirituality and of their personal relationship with Christ, remembering what they endured and what they went through are things I can only look up to and say, 'Wow'," he said. "And then they also passed it down to future generations. If I can do half of what they did in passing my faith to my children here in the U.S., I will be satisfied."
The summer church camp included science experiments, arts, crafts, games and daily devotions. The staff consisted of volunteers from River of Life, as well as from a mission group from Slovak Christian Church in Salem, Oregon.
River of Life is a church start of Texas Baptists. To learn more about church starting, visit texasbaptists.org/churchstarting.
River of Life has also received assistance through Texas Baptists intercultural ministries team, which seeks to strengthen intercultural churches by serving as an advocate and partner. To learn more, visit texasbaptists.org/intercultural.