Among the few Baptist churches in Syktyvkar, capital of the Komi Republic at the doorstep of Russia's frigid North, the Church of Christ the Savior is testing new ways to blend cultural tradition and Christian outreach. But not all Russians are warming up to the idea.

Standing majestically on a hilltop surrounded by the woods of Michurinski Park, the new sanctuary of Church of Christ the Savior is most certainly Syktyvkar's most beautiful structure, a striking contrast to the surrounding unadorned architecture of the Soviet era.

Further into Michurinski Park and nestled among the trees sits a four-story theological training school. The first floor is dedicated to what promises to be the most modern rehabilitation facility in the region for persons with physical handicaps. The next two floors provide space for classrooms, libraries, and study areas to equip future pastors, missionaries, and church workers to reach Komi and Siberia. And on the top floor is a dormitory that will be home for 100 seminary students.

But it's the mud, silenced construction equipment, and piles of building materials immediately surrounding these buildings that tell a story of how the church's innovative plans have run afoul of Russians' growing ambivalence toward non-Orthodox Christians.

UNFINISHED LANDMARK
In 1990, when Pavel Kobzar, the church's pastor, approached city officials with plans to build a modest Baptist church building, they instead offered him prime real estate in the city's central park with one condition: That the Baptists build a landmark structure that testifies to the hoped-for progress of Syktyvkar.

Church leadership boldly threw out their modest plans and launched into a building project, the dimensions of which they hadn't dared ...

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