The Struggle for Survival: Nizhnivartovsk Twenty Years On
In 1993 Vladimir Radzihovski was living in southern Ukraine when he was invited to join the third of the river ‘Missions to Siberia’. Passenger ships were hired to visit cities, towns and small settlements along the banks of the rivers Ob and Irtish, to preach the gospel to those who had never heard it before. So he left his family and travelled the long journey of two thousand miles to western Siberia. Several weeks later when the mission was over, he was asked to stay on in the city of Nizhnivartovsk to look after those who had come to faith in Christ and form them into a fledgling church. Those from the west who had funded the mission promised to support him as their missionary in this new gospel outpost in Siberia. He was soon joined by his family and meetings began in a local library. As numbers grew they were obliged to rent larger accommodation in school halls and cultural centres etc.
All went well for several years until 1999. Then the Orthodox Church, taking advantage of the rising tide of anti-western feeling, persuaded the government that western missionary activity was a threat to the Russian State, because to be a true Russian one had to be Orthodox! They also alleged that wicked occult practices were carried out in secret by those whom they called, ‘Sectarians’. Accordingly it was forbidden to hold religious meetings in any property owned by the State. Vladimir had no alternative therefore but to meet in members’ homes. By this time the media were running an anti-sectarian campaign, warning the public not to accept invitations to attend their meetings because of the dreadful things they did in secret! This seemed to place an insuperable barrier to all future progress, but prayer was offered to God to find a way forward for his children to witness to the people of this large Siberian city.
FINDING A WAY THROUGH
To add to his problems Vladimir was suddenly informed that the mission who had been supporting him could do so no longer. Jobs were hard to find at that time, and all he could obtain was heavy physical work as a labourer on a building site. After some time he injured himself and was advised by a doctor not to continue with this kind of work, because physically he was simply not up to it. So his wife Oksana started a small business as an Estate Agent and this, together with our support, has helped them to survive and carry on their witness.
Then he had a bright idea! Land prices within the city boundaries were astronomical. Why not look for a site a little further out? City dwellers in Russia love to spend their summer months living in small “Datcha’s” (summer houses) in the countryside, well outside the city, where they can relax and grow vegetables on small garden plots. Of course not everyone can afford to have one, but it is a much-loved Russian tradition. Vladimir found one for sale within walking distance of the town-centre. It was ideally situated on a major road which was also a bus route into the city. The small cottage was just big enough in which to hold meetings but, most importantly, it had a very large garden on which, one day, they could perhaps build a church! Could we help them to buy it? In God’s good providence sufficient funds were available to proceed with the purchase seven years ago in 2006.
THE NEW BEGINNING
Unfortunately the soft, sandy soil meant that a system of piles would be needed to give an adequate foundation. Hiring a specialist firm was ruled out on grounds of cost. Searching the internet, Valdimir found a piling system that could be done without using either specialist labour or equipment. Three men were all that would be needed to bore specially pointed lengths of heavy-duty steel piles deep into the ground. An interconnecting grid of steel-work is then welded on top of the piles to form a rigid, level and stable platform on which to build a lightweight timber structure.
So, five years ago,Vladimir and his helpers cleared the site, purchased the tubular steel piles and began the heavy, physical task of boring them one by one deep down into the soil. Progress was slow, not least because work can only be done during the five months of the year free from snow, ice and freezing temperatures! Two years later all the piles had been safely driven into the subsoil and securely welded to a grid of steel beams providing support for the timber walls of the new church. But cutting, jointing and fixing the heavy timber beams in place was difficult and tiring work for those unskilled as construction workers. Progress was painfully slow, and it became evident that hiring skilled labour was essential if the building was to be ready within the next ten years!
With the help of friends from the west this was achieved, and our latest photos show the walls and roofs in place and windows safely installed. Central-heating and internal finishes have yet to be completed before the new building can be ‘open for business’ — God’s business!
We salute the grit and determination of Vladimir Radzihovski who, for twenty years, through thick and thin, has stuck to his task to establish a work for God in this northern region of Siberia. Men like him are surely worthy of all the encouragement and support that we can give them.
A LETTER JUST RECEIVED FROM VLADIMIR RADZIHOVSKI
Peace be unto you, all our dear friends in Christ in England! Thank you for all your letters, parcels and telephone calls, reminding us that we are not forgotten but are supported by you spiritually and materially in our work here in Siberia.
I am feeling a bit better, but with the seasonal changes in climate in Siberia I get very painful headaches. Oksana often feels very tired as her business is quite stressful. My two daughters Katya and Liza are both well. Katya has started college and Liza is now in the fifth class in her school. My two young brothers-in-law, Vadim and Pavel, who have been such a help to me, are both working hard at their own jobs, making a new start in life for themselves.
NEWS OF THE WORK
I am glad to say that five new people began to visit our fellowship on Sundays and on Thursdays. One of them only occasionally, but the other four more regularly, and we can see some positive changes in their lives under the influence of God’s Word. Besides them we also visit the very poor and homeless in our city; some suffering from alcoholism who have never in their lives been to a church. Some do have somewhere to live, but others (three men) live in the forest in a kind of cave they made for themselves in the ground! They keep warm by using a home-made wood-burning stove, and are living in the most primitive conditions. We bring them basic foods of various kinds, and the ensuing conversations during meals together enable us to share the Scriptures with them. Periodically people are giving them odd jobs to do, but often reward them with vodka instead of money with disastrous results. I was glad to see on my last visit that they have been reading one of the Gospels we had given them. They told me what they had read about Jesus and his life. This gave me a unique opportunity to point out the devastating effects that sin has brought about in our lives, hoping that God will bring them to repentance and faith in due time. I also noticed that they had pinned to the wall a card I had given them on which were printed the Ten Commandments. They asked me for more copies to distribute among their friends.
Another person whom we have contacted is an elderly lady in her seventies, a devout member of the Orthodox Church. She invites us to her home for tea and conversation on spiritual matters; we read the Bible and pray together. Due to her upbringing in the Orthodox Church she has many questions about salvation by faith in Christ, which is irreconcilable with the customs she has received in Orthodoxy. So we endeavour prayerfully to help her distinguish between God’s Word and the human traditions practised by the Orthodox Church over many centuries. But there is some news that divisions are emerging in this Church. Many people are finding that the gospel is more easily understood when it is read than by listening to the liturgy or following the Orthodox calendar. A few Priests in their hearts are ready to make some reforms. We pray this will prove true in the near future, but there are many obstacles in their way.
PRESENT CONDITIONS IN RUSSIA TODAY
Although we do not experience open persecution, we find people are unwilling even to listen to the gospel. All our efforts to contact people on the street are met with total indifference; spiritual matters are not worth thinking about it seems. Broadly speaking, people are divided into two categories. The first are nostalgic for the old days under communism – the Soviet Union and all it stood for. Life was good, the State looked after everyone, jobs and housing were guaranteed, health, education and child-care were all free, food was cheap, wages for everyone were more or less equal, and while there were shortages, life was safe and predictable, no one starved. They hope that some kind of strong communist leader will emerge and lead the people back to socialism as it was before.
The second look with envious eyes at the West where they think paradise exists on the earth! They dream about being able to emigrate to America or Europe, alternatively about building a western lifestyle here in Russia. In order to achieve it (human rights, real democracy, an independent judiciary) some are willing to suffer persecution and imprisonment. But both groups are opposed to the Christian gospel and in favour of some form of Libertarianism, even if it involves same-sex marriage etc., believing that by human endeavour happiness can be achieved without God and his Word. Paradoxically many ethnic Russians are turning to Islam, and mosques are being built in many places. If the Lord does not intervene and awaken people to repentance and faith, the prospects for our nation are bleak indeed.
THE NEW BUILDING
We continue to build our ‘House of Prayer’ and believe that God will help us to use it to preach his Word to the people of our city. When it is ready then we can invite more people to hear about his salvation and the life that is in Christ Jesus. We are very grateful to God for all the brothers and sisters from abroad who, by their prayers and financial support, have enabled us to proceed to where we are today. We want our building also to be used as a centre for missionary activity, biblical education and humanitarian aid for homeless and deprived families. We know that there is still much work needing to be done, both inside the building and outside, chiefly installing central heating and electrical systems, completing internal finishes and equipping the building for meetings. But we are conscious that it is people who are our main priority. So we endeavour to keep in touch by inviting friends and acquaintances to share a meal with us, or a barbecue, which we hold from time to time after our Sunday services.
We end with our renewed thanks to all who are helping us by their prayers and practical support both now and in the past.
Taken with permission from the Slav Lands Christian Fellowship Newslettter, edited by Roger Weil, 28 Hayesford Park Drive, Bromley, Kent. Tel. (+44) 2084 020695).
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