In 1989, when Mark Elliott, director of the Institute for East-West Christian Studies, compiled a directory of Christian ministries to Eastern Europe, it contained 369 entries. Now Elliott, along with Sharon Linzey of Seattle-Pacific University and Holt Ruffin of the Seattle-based USSR Project, is working on updating that list. By mid-April, the count was up to 969.
“The three of us are running across new groups almost daily,” says Elliott. And the directory does not include the many independent efforts by individuals and congregations. The majority of ministries, Elliott says, target evangelism and church development. They include numerous radio and television efforts, as well as publication of Christian literature.
One of the most promising ministry possibilities, according to Anita Deyneka of Deyneka Russian Ministries, is Christian camping. Campgrounds once reserved for training future Communist leaders are now being used to develop the next generation of church leaders, as well as to reach unchurched youth.
Among the most ambitious evangelistic efforts on the drawing board is a project known as “CoMission.” It is being spearheaded by the Jesus Film Project of Campus Crusade for Christ, along with Walk Thru the Bible Ministries and the Association of Christian Schools International. Organizers have solicited participation of dozens of diverse Western Christian groups. CoMission’s plans call for placing over 12,000 people in full-time ministry in the Commonwealth of Independent States in one-year appointments over four or five years, and for thousands more to serve for periods of between two weeks and three months.
Humility And Respect
The burgeoning Western missionary activity in the commonwealth, however, has been accompanied by voices of concern from those most familiar with the Soviet culture. Said Deyneka, “The ministries that are most respected by the Russians are those that are carried out with humility and with respect for the country and culture, ministries that will help evangelize the nation, even if it means little direct involvement, credit, or publicity.”
In response to those issues, the Evangelical Christians-Baptists this summer will launch a training program for Westerners who want to minister in the commonwealth. Training will be held in Odessa, where the Moscow-based church coalition has recently opened a seminary.
Indigenous leadership will be emphasized at the Nations for Christ Congress, scheduled for Riga, Latvia, at the end of May. The congress is cosponsored by AD 2000, the World Evangelical Fellowship, and the Latvia-based Mission of the Cross. Some 800 representatives from all 15 former Soviet republics will attend, along with 200 church leaders from other countries. Plans call for each republic to hold its own, major evangelism conference in the fall with outside help, but without outside ownership. “It is their church,” says Wang. “We are participating because we were invited.”
A similar philosophy undergirds the approach to ministry taken by the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (BGEA). Ten different Russian denominations, including the Russian Orthodox Church, are represented on the board of Vozrozhdeniye (Revival), which is both an evangelistic organization and a movement. Three-hundred-fifty nationals will be trained to teach Christian Life and Witness courses. This is part of their preparation to serve as counselors and do follow-up work in association with the Billy Graham crusade scheduled for October at the Moscow Olympic Stadium.
“Our heart’s desire is to be culturally sensitive,” says Blair Carlson of the BGEA. In fact, the literature usually distributed at BGEA evangelistic meetings has been changed, said Carlson, because it would be perceived as “too simplistic in a culture where taxi drivers read Dostoevsky.”
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