Letters from Bulgaria: Overview of Rev. Ivan Voronaev’s Correspondence

voronaev_californiaThe following article comprises the available documents on the life and ministry of Rev. Ivan Voronaev drafted as a chronological outline for a longer paper, which will be presented at the 2010 SPS meeting in Minneapolis. The materials were gathered from several archives across the United States among which were three major ones:

(1) The Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center where Voronaev’s ministerial records and his reports to Pentecostal periodicals are kept;

(2) The Southern Baptist Historical Library & Archives, where records of Voronaev’s publication are preserved;

(3) The Graduate Theological Union of Berkeley, which holds in archive the California Baptist records, where much could be found about Vornoaev’s early minister in the United States (California, Oregon and Washington State) as an ordained Baptist minister.

1886: Ivan Ephremovitch Voronaev was born in Russia under the name of Nikita Petrovitch Tcherkesov.

1908: Having married Ekaterina Bahskirova, Tcherkesov received Christ as his personal savior, during a visit to a Baptist church service, while serving in the Tzar’s army. Shortly thereafter, he was court-martialed for his refusal to bеаr arms. In order to escape, he was provided with the passport of a Christian brother from the Tashkent Baptist Church, whose identity he took for the remaining of his life under the name of Ivan Ephremovitch Voronaev.

1910: Together with his family Voronaev crossed the Chinese border and remained for a short time in the city of Carbin, Manchuria, where he preached in the Baptist church and work in the bank of one of the church members by the name of Shubin.

August 25, 1912: The Voronaev family, along with their two children, after receiving visas for the United States through the consulate in the Japanese port city of Kobe, arrived in San Francisco. Voronaev began working with the First Russian Baptist Church in town, which was founded several years earlier on 928 Atkinson Street by S. K. Kunakov. Voronaev also worked as a typesetter, travelled and preached to the Russian communities in Los Angeles and Seattle, where he established a Baptist church and a mission. Meanwhile, he began publishing the “Truth and Love” magazine for the Russian speaking emigrants.

November, 1912: Voronaev is mentioned for a first time in the annual report of the North California Baptist Convention as a newly accepted minister.

February, 1913: A revival began among the Russian Baptists in Los Angeles and they requested the sending of Voronaev to minister among them.

September 18, 1913: The San Francisco Bay Baptist Association held its meeting at the Russian Baptist Church in town. Voronaev was represented as a pastor, who led the benediction. North California Baptist Convention ordained him as pastor in San Francisco. While living in town, Voronaev attended Berkeley Baptist Divinity School for three years, although school archives do not have his student records. Later on, when ministering in Odessa, Voronaev receives Assemblies of God ordination thanks to his seminary preparation and ministry as a Baptist pastor. In a handwritten request to Assemblies of God headquarters, he points out his date of ordination as October 17, 1913, while the ministerial certificate which he receives as evangelist and pastor in Bulgaria is dated March 10, 1920.

1914: S. Gromov assumes the pastoral position at the Russian Baptist Church of San Francisco, after Voronaev had left for unknown reasons. According to Voronaev, this is the time when he first hears about the teaching of Pentecost while ministering in Los Angeles.

November, 1915: Voronaev arrived in Seattle to begin work among the Russian emigrants and renews the publication of theTruth and Loveperiodical.

October 1916-1917: Voronaev was mentioned in the annual reports of the Baptist Convention of West Washington State as Russian missionary in Seattle.

October 1918: Voronaev was mentioned in the annual reports of the Baptist Convention West of Washington State again, but now as a pastor. The Russian group met regularly at the church pastored by Earners Williams who will later serve as Assemblies of God superintendent in the period 1929-1949. It was Williams who introduced Voronaev to the Pentecostal doctrine.

1917: A number of members of the Russian Diaspora in California and of the Russian Baptist community returned to Russia after the Bolshevik Revolution. The Baptist Church of San Francisco went through a period of church split in 1915-1916, noted in the record of the Baptist Association, as follows: “During the past year this church has passed through dark days on account of the interference of a man of the Pentecostal faith …”

November, 1917: Voronaev organized a Baptist church on Henry Street in New York. His family is befriended by their neighbors by the name of Siritz who are Pentecostal Christians.

1918-1919: The New York Baptist Association reports Voronaev as a pastor of the New York Baptist Church organized in 1916. The church has 10 members in 1917 and 18 in 1918. The 1920 report states that the church has remained without a pastor in the middle of 1919.

June, 1919: Voronaev receives the baptism of Pentecost after his daughter began attending Glad Tidings Tabernacle (Hall).

July 1, 1919: Along with some 20 believers, Voronaev left the Baptist denomination and founded the first Russian Pentecostal Assembly of New York, which held meetings at the building of the 6th Street Presbyterian Church.

Fall of 1919: In a cottage prayer meeting at the home of Koltovich, through the wife Ana, a prophecy was given: “Voronaev, Voronaev, go to Russia!” Voronaev ignored the word until several days later he heard them again while praying alone and obeyed the Heavenly call.

December 13, 1919: Voroneav sent the Pentecostal Evangel a letter which was published under the titlePray for Russia.

December 19, 1919: Voroneav contacted the Missionary Department of the Assemblies of God with a letter to H. E. Bell to inquire about Pentecostal believers and missionaries in Russia.

January 1, 1920: Upon Assemblies of God recommendation received in response to his last letter, Voronaev contacted J. Roswell Flower with a request for sponsoring a mission trip to Russia. In return, the “Evangelization of Russia” fund was open. In the letter, Voronaev changed the name of his church from “Russian Christian Apostolic Mission of New York” to “First Russian Pentecostal Assembly of New York.”

March 10, 1920: Assemblies of God issued Voronaev a certificate as apastor and evangelist in Bulgariavalid till September 1, 1921.

June 22, 1920: Voronaev notifies the Assemblies of God about his plans to set sail for Russia with his family on July 13, 1920. The Missionary Department marked the letter with the words: “He plans to return to Russia.

July 13, 1920: The Voronaev, Koltovitch and Zaplishnys families set sail on theMadonnasteamboat from New York to Constantinople. Along with them traveled a group of Kavkaz believers among which was the Bulgarian Boris Klibok.

August 10, 1920: After arriving to Constantinople, they had to wait for visas to enter Russia. Voronaev immediately began meeting with the Russian community in town recognizing the lack of Russian Bibles and Pentecostal churches.

August 15, 1920: „ ….with the help of God opened Russian mission here [Constantinople], and God our work blessed;” Voronaev wrote.

August 30, 1920: „…. we had first baptism with water in river. I baptized one lady wife of a Russian office. Glory to Jesus!

September 2, 1920: Voronaev sent the Assemblies of God a report about his work in Turkey, which is marked by the receiver withWorks among 100,000 Russian refugees in Constantinople.

September 1920: The annual report of the San Francisco Bay Baptist Association recorded the reuniting of the Baptist church split in 1917.

November, 1920: After waiting for three months in Constantinople, Voronaev arrive in the Bulgarian port city of Bourgas along with the Bulgarian Boris Klibok.

March 5, 1921: The Pentecostal Evangel published Voronaev’s report from Bulgaria where he has been holding Russian-Bulgarian revival services in various churches in the cities of Sliven, Yambol, Varna and Sofia. Seven had received the baptism with the Holy Spirit.

April 16, 1921: The Pentecostal Evangel published Voronaev’s second report from Bulgaria about services in Sliven, Bourgas, Plovdiv and the Baptist Church in Stara Zagora where the daughter of the Baptist pastor from Kazanlak received the baptism with the Holy Spirit.

May 14, 1921: Services in the Congregational Church in Plovdiv and baptismal service in the Martiza River.

June 11, 1921:In Bourgas, Bulgaria the Lord baptized with the Holy Spirit about fourteen souls. We have about twenty candidates for baptism with water, and about thousand Bulgarians and Russian were there and were much interested.”

July, 1921: The Latter Rain Evangel published an article under the titlePentecost in Bulgariain which Voronaev wrote about new Pentecostal believers in seven Bulgarian cities, his relocation in Varna to work with the local Methodist church and his plan to move to Odessa. The Pentecostal Evangel from the same month wrote, “God called Brother J.W. Voronaeff, who had charge of a Russian Pentecostal Assembly in New York City, to Russia.”

August 6, 1921: The Pentecostal Evangel reported Voronaev to be working “among Russian refuges in Varna at the Black Sea.” The same issue records Voronaev’s apparent intent to move to Odessa: “Brother J.E. Voronaeff writes that the Lord could use American missionaries in Bulgaria. At the present time He particularly needs two Americans, a man and his wife. Anyone who feels a burden for carrying the Gospel to the Bulgarian and Russian people can address Brother Voronaeff through this office.”

August 21, 1921: The Voronaev and Koltovitch families received the long-awaited visas for Russia and moved to Odessa.