With the collapse of Communism in the former Soviet Union in 1989 there began a brief period of religious freedom coupled with a popular interest in all things Western. The old Soviet order was thoroughly discredited and the Russian people hoped that the coming of democracy and private enterprise would usher in a new dawn and a brighter future. Western goods, fast food restaurants, shops and TV programmes, which had never been seen before, were now very popular in the bigger Russian cities. Religion, which had been a completely taboo subject under Communism, could now be freely discussed and many people were curious to learn what they could by visiting the new churches, borrowing books from the numerous ‘street libraries’ organised by those churches and watching American evangelists on TV with Russian ‘voice-overs’.
The Orthodox Church was thoroughly alarmed and saw all this as a serious threat to its ancient hegemony, its privileges and its place in Russian society. It simply could not compete with the flood of aggressive Western missions, many of them very wealthy, spreading into all the major cities and towns of what it regarded as its own traditional territory. By playing on the xenophobic prejudices of Russian politicians the government was persuaded that Western religions were somehow dangerous to the Russian way of life. They were classified as ‘cults’ and laws severely restricting their freedoms were passed; they were banned from the media and from meeting in all state owned property, and a campaign of vilification in the state owned media has been continuing ever since.
The failure of the old government-subsidised industries, swelling the ranks of the unemployed, plus high inflation and the collapse of the economy in 1998, brought Russia’s brief flirtation with all things Western to an end, and a reaction against the West set in and has been hardening ever since. This will be seen in the reports of some of our workers that follow.
PAVEL BOICHENKO OF TIUMEN CITY
I am responsible for meetings in the eastern region of our city (pop: 900,000), our main church building is located quite far away at the opposite end of town. The objective for us was to plant a new church here in the east using rented public halls. This we did until new laws made it illegal for ‘sects’ (as non-Orthodox believers are called) to hold religious meetings in any public buildings. However we have found that God has given us spiritual work to do and being obliged to meet in flats has not hindered our spiritual growth. The media, influenced by the Orthodox Church, has spread evil reports of the awful things that ‘Sectarians’ do when they meet together in their flats. As a result new people are afraid to come to our meetings for Bible teaching, fellowship and prayer.
However a door has been opened to us in several local Orphanages, to give Bible lessons to the children. One of these, outside the city, is home to eighty young teenagers where we have been made especially welcome. Their parents are either in prison or are alcoholics or drug addicts, others have already died. The young people suffer much because of these sad experiences and they often ask us why it is their fate to be in such a situation. I used to wonder why God had not provided us with our own church building in the Eastern part of our city. Now I realise that we have a ministry to many children in these Orphanages and the believers in our meeting agree that this is the Lord’s will for us. Members in our parent church regularly write letters to the older children and take a friendly personal interest in them. They have also donated books to form a Christian library for them. At Christmas we made a special effort to visit all the orphanages to tell them the true meaning of Christ’s birth and to give the children some small presents.
Several times in the past we had approached the headmaster of a large school located quite near our church to ask if we might speak to the children. Each time we had been angrily rebuffed. To our great surprise this Christmas we were allowed to tell the Christmas story to the younger children. We were also allowed to distribute some children’s tracts and to invite them to visit our Sunday School. In view of the current public attitude towards ‘sectarians’ it seemed to us like a real miracle! We have also been allowed to visit hospitals and distribute gospels to all willing to receive them. We are thankful to the Lord for all that we can do for Him and we value your part in this work, may God bless you!
DENNIS BELOV IN ONOKINO
Greetings to you our Brothers and Sisters in the Lord! Our small Settlement lies twenty miles to the south of Tiumen City. Work began here eight years ago with meetings in a room in the local school. Three years later a disused shop was purchased and converted into a Meeting Room. I have served here for the past four years, but I think I can truly say this year has been the most successful in that I begin to see real fruit from our labours. Formerly I saw people coming to hear God’s Word but they were seldom affected by it spiritually. Now I have seen people not only professing conversion but living changed and joyful lives.
It all began with the conversion of a man who was a notorious sinner in our Settlement, one who was known as a drunkard and an immoral person. But when God touched him he repented and to everyone’s surprise he began to change. He ceased to drink, to smoke and to curse and came regularly to church. Then he began to invite his friends and acquaintances and told them how God has changed his life. He has a car and often drove them to our church in Tiumen and there several of them were converted. Now they are regularly visiting the church and some of them are preparing for baptism. Also a young man and his fiancÃƒÂ©e were converted and want to get married in our church. Her parents are against it, not wanting their daughter to marry a believer, but I think God will overcome this.
We organised some special meetings for people in our Settlement:1) A Bible Festival where we explained what God’s Word is for and presented a Bible to all who wanted one.
2) A Harvest Festival where we explained the importance of thanking God for the fruits of His creation.
3) Two evangelistic programmes specially for young children.
4) We showed three video films dealing with our attitude to God, to the sufferings of Christ and to questions of family life and morality. We distributed invitations for each of them and, thank God, people responded and came to see them. We were glad that these films made people think seriously about what they had seen; it had been a good witness to them.
5) God abundantly blessed our Christmas programme and many children were able to come to special meetings for them. We managed to give each one a small present.
However for me the most important part of my work is the regular preaching of God’s Word three times each week. We praise God that the inhabitants of our Settlement are visiting these meetings.
We thank you for your prayers and support that enables me to be fully committed to this service. May God reward you.
The Slav Lands Christian Fellowship
Secretary, Roger Weil, 28 Hayesford Park Drive, Bromley, BR2 9DB
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