Nearly 5,000 pastors, lay preachers, and other church workers came from across the 11 time zones of the Soviet Union to attend a Billy Graham School of Evangelism conducted last month in Moscow. It was the largest such school the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (BGEA) has ever sponsored. And for the Soviets, according to local denominational leaders, it was the most representative gathering of Soviet Christians ever held. The five-day conference brought together Baptists, Pentecostals, Seventh-day Adventists, Methodists, and members of other denominations, “registered” (government sanctioned) and “unregistered” alike. Symbolic of ongoing religious tensions, however, the Russian Orthodox Church declined to participate formally in the school, though several Orthodox Christians did attend as individuals. In scores of interviews with the Protestant leaders, reporters were able to piece together a picture of what is happening at the grassroots of Soviet religion. Among the gleanings:
• The current evangelistic wave began building in 1988, the year the Russian Orthodox Church observed the millennium of Christianity in the Soviet Union and when many Protestant leaders finally concluded that Mikhail Gorbachev was serious about religious freedom. The vast majority of new converts are young people under age 30. Some come from Orthodox roots but are attracted by the Bible teaching and study groups in the Protestant churches. A surprising number of the new Christians are public-school teachers and other professionals with higher educations, forming a potential base of new leadership for Soviet Protestant churches, whose pastors and members were denied educational opportunities for generations.
• Many congregations, from the Polish ...1
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