Visitors to Baptist, charismatic, or Pentecostal congregations in Western Siberia will usually see rows of silent men between the ages of 20 and 50, unaccompanied by women or children. They represent the success of evangelism efforts among Russian drug addicts and alcoholics.
Government estimates suggest 4 million of Russia's 142 million citizens suffer from drug addiction and more than 2.3 million abuse alcohol. Roughly 18 percent of addicts seek help in rehabilitation centers—over 500 of which are evangelical.
The 350 rehab centers allied with the charismatic Associated Russian Union of Christians of Evangelical-Pentecostal Faith (ROSKHVE) report 12,000 long-term "success stories" between 1995 and 2005. Including Baptist and Pentecostal figures, rehabilitated addicts top 20,000.
Examples can be found nationwide. The Dobry Samaryatin (Good Samaritan) Baptist ministry reports 600 clients have kicked drugs or alcohol in Siberia's Novosibirsk region. The largest effort—the charismatic Novaya Zhizn (New Life) ministry—treats nearly 400 clients near the Estonian border.
Yet well-known evangelical journalist Mikhail Nevolin warned recently in the evangelical magazine Mirt that "every coin has a flipside." He observed that new converts may be "remaking the social composition" of evangelical churches, citing the example of churches in the Leningrad and Perm regions that have struggled to integrate ex-addicts with middle-class families. Several congregations have split.
Nevolin says former addicts are certainly welcome but fears the ensuing departure of established families. "I think this should be just one form of ministry—not our only one," he said. "This dare not occur at the expense of our ministry to the ...