On Russian Youth Director Yana Aizetova

Faith Isn’t Inherited – It’s a Gift from Above


M o s c o w – Seven years ago Yana Aizetova found herself in an Orthodox church in her home city of Ulyanovsk requesting a chat with God. But it only consisted of a single plea: “God, I cannot believe in you. But I want to believe – please help me.” God answered her call. Her life finally had meaning. Later her brother felt the same need and also joined the Lutheran church. Obviously, the longing for faith is often present even when it can’t be inherited from parents. The parents of these two still regard themselves as unbelievers. Their father is a Tartar of Muslim background and pensioned army officer. Their mother is Ukrainian and can only be described as Orthodox in cultural terms. Yana explains: “I was brought up as an atheist. We always laughed about God.” Their parents remain convinced that their children have ended up among sectarians. Only thanks to devious tricks was it initially possible for Yana to meet other believers. “But I’m an adult now,” adds the young lady going on 24. “I can do as I like.”


It was a placard announcing an organ concert at the Lutheran church in Ulyanovsk that brought Yana very early in her Christian walk into the Lutheran fold. “I like the Lutherans,” she states simply. She relishes the balance between tradition and innovation, between liturgy and spontaneity. Yana rapidly ascended up the Lutheran “career ladder”. Already in 2002 she succeeded Julia Haefele as ELCER youth director (Evangelical-Lutheran Church European Russia).


And sometimes Yana’s work demands steady nerves. If she appears in a fledgling Lutheran congregation still regarding itself first-and-foremost as a German cultural club, she is initially regarded as an outsider. But soon the able, English-speaking lady has usually spotted an ally or two among the younger folk. That’s indeed a large part of her work: She networks those who have a heart for the young and coaches them on getting a youth work in their congregation up-and-running.


One doesn’t notice from her friendly demeanour that Yana is essentially smothered in work. Except for the Volga region, Lutheran youth work is often still in its infancy. That’s why she annually holds two or three regional seminars for youth leaders as well as weekend retreats and summer camps for the youth themselves. A youth conference for all ELCER congregations hosting 100 participants was held in Samara/Volga during the summer of 2005.


Vitally important for the Youth Director are connections with foreign Lutheran youth. Only then do many young people realise how deeply they are tied into a Christian world movement. For precisely such reasons a youth camp will be held jointly with the Bloomington, Minnesota-based „East European Missions Network“ near Samara, 6 – 11 July.


Not least of all, this youth department is cooperating with ELCROS headquarters in St. Petersburg (Evang.-Lutheran Church in Russia, Ukraine, Kazakhstan and Central Asia) on rejuvenating the youth magazine “Generation of Christ” (Pokolenie Xrista). It has until now been a quarterly with a circulation of 100-150.


What would the law student Yana Aizetova still really like to see happen? That a small, full-time youth department be formed! The frequent trips and major distances greatly tax the abilities of half-timers and volunteers to combine their spiritual work with a secular occupation.


Yana tires from the constant grind of finding sufficient funding. And who likes being on the foreign-donation dole longer than absolutely necessary? An intense longing for jobs offering a liveable salary emanates not only from Yana’s heart. Creative, Christian businesspeople would be extremely welcome in the wide expanses of Russia – and they would not need to be young.


Dr. William Yoder

Moscow, 29. Mai 2006


Article created in cooperation with ELCER and offered for general publication, 595 words.