On Sabbath afternoon, November 19, two church communities gathered at the Sunnyside Adventist Church in Portland to acknowledge the calls to ministry of Violeta and Ben Bilan. The service was punctuated by music and reflections from friends, mentors, and ministry leaders. Yet the experience was unique because ministers gathered to lay hands on both Ben and Violeta as their individual calls to ministry were affirmed.
Ben Bilan began ministry as a pastor in Ukraine nearly 23 years ago. The joy of studying and sharing the word of God helped motivate Ben to attend Zaoksky Theological Seminary in Russia, where he earned his BA in Biblical Studies. Ben come to the Oregon Conference as a pastor in 2007, entering the pre-ordination training track. In 2012, as he completed his M.Div at the Andrew University Adventist Theological Seminary, Ben began to feel the call toward chaplaincy, and fully pivoted toward hospital ministry in 2016. "I would've never thought that I would enjoy being a chaplain," Ben explained, "yet I know that God has prepared me for this ministry. Growing up, I was not a very talkative person and still am not. I've always been insecure about it. I like to listen to people, and thought it was my weakness. It turns out, that listening is the main tool I use in my ministry now. I'm humbled and grateful that I can be me, and by God's grace, it's enough to serve people in need." Now nearly 10 years later, the Adventist community has recognized the call through this ordination service. Dr. Terry Johnsson, representing North American Division Adventist Chaplaincy Ministry, presented Ben with his ordination certificate and officially welcomed him into the community of chaplains.
Growing up in an Adventist family, Violeta Bilan graduated with a BA in Biblical Studies from Zaoksky Theological Seminary, as well. "My journey has been full of surprises," Violeta shared. "I never would've imagined standing here today and being a pastor. When I started my undergraduate theology degree, it wasn't even a dream. It was impossible [to become a pastor]." After graduating from Zaoksky, her career began as conference communication director in the Eastern Dniprovska Conference of the Adventist Church in Ukraine. Coming to the United States, she experienced life as a mother, pastor's spouse, and hospice chaplain. When the family moved back to Berrien Springs, Michigan, she also studied for, and received her M.Div. from the Andrews University Adventist Theological Seminary. Yet It wasn't until 2016 that the impossible began to take shape. That's when the Oregon Conference called Violeta to be an assistant pastor at Living Word Russian Adventist Church in Portland. It was her turn to join the Oregon pre-ordination track. On November 10, 2021, the North Pacific Union Conference voted to approve Violeta Bilan for commissioning, making her the first woman to graduate from Zaoksky Theological Seminary to be commissioned to gospel ministry. Dr. Kara Johnsson, the first woman to hold the office of Oregon Conference VP for Administration, represented pastors as she spoke words of affirmation, welcoming Violeta into the community of pastors. Finally, President Dan Linrud presented the certificate of commissioning, signifying this significant milestone.
What once seemed impossible, through God's grace, is now possible.