A Texan Finds Refuge in Naberezhnye Chelny
M o s c o w – Five years ago Mike Fisher, a Texan nearly as large as Texas, decided the time had come to begin a side activity as short-term missionary. Dr. Fisher, owner of a dental practice near Rockwall, a suburb of Dallas, then paid his first visit to a congregation of the “Russian Union of Evangelical Christians-Baptists” in Naberezhnye Chelny near the Western edge of the Ural Mountains. That church is pastored by Alexander Mandzuk. Now, in a conversation in Moscow`s Golgotha Church on 17 August he conceded: “I didn’t go to Tatarstan initially with any burning desire to engage in missions. I thought it would be interesting and fun. I thought I would try Russia, then maybe China and Cuba.” He wanted to see the world and fill up his passport with interesting visas. Yet today, after 10 trips to Naberezhnye Chelny and surrounding areas, his pass displays little more than Russian visas.
On the floor of a pastor`s flat during the third night of his first visit in 2002, it suddenly dawned on the dentist that there were still major matters he needed to learn. In the conversation at Golgotha Church he explained: “I realized then that I had just worshiped with Christians who according to our standards had nothing at all materially. They had nothing more than a shelter and a few personal possessions. And yet they were because of their faith the most contented people I had ever met. God used that moment as a real Epiphany experience for me. I was on a track headed for houses and cars and all that America tells us are important. But that had never made me content.”
Mike Fisher conceded: “I still struggle with slipping into that lifestyle.” That pursuit is still prevalent everywhere in the US. “That’s why I need to get out of America about every six months and get my bearings again. I need that to get regrounded in the basics of the faith.” Yet I do not have the impression that the Texan wants to overstate the extent of his internal conversion. It is of course dishonest to idealise the lives of the poor if one oneself is still living in the best of conditions and has no plans to share the fate of those who are not by choice poor. Nor is Russian society in general worthy of idealisation. Also in Russia the New Rich have lost no time internalising the worst of Western tendencies – selfishness and antisocial behaviour. Yet Fisher is convinced that believers in the Naberezhnye Chelny region have uncovered truths which are vital for the witness of the churches in Texas.
The very-tall dentist is nevertheless proud and thankful for his congregation: the 10.000.member Lake Pointe Church with ties to the „Southern Baptist Convention“. Interestingly enough, this church elder labels America`s widespread “Prosperity Gospel” a “horrible thing”. “It simply isn’t true that all my troubles will be solved if I come to Christ. That didn’t happen for the Apostles and Christ didn’t even have a pillow on which to lay his head. Frankly, God does not call all of us to be successful in business.”
Number-wise, Lake Pointe Church is also not labeling its cooperation with Naberezhnye Chelny a grand success. It counts as success the new relationships formed between existing local church members and non-believers. They form the basis for long-term relational evangelism. Past mission projects have included summer camps for children, English-language camps and street work. The very first seminars on business topics were held from 11 to 19 August by a five-member team in Naberezhnye Chelny, and for the first time also in Moscow (Golgotha Church). The dentist states: “Some trips in the past consisted strictly of my wife and I visiting dental clinics. But it is essential that we care enough to keep coming back. Only that will lend us the trust and credibility we need, only that will open doors.” He is concerned that one-time, short visits “all over the place are often responsible for wasting a lot of God’s resources”. The relationship with Texas therefore intends to be a long-term partnership going very deeply.
In Moscow Mike Fisher concluded: Our friends in Russia “know much better than we what we can best do for them. Evangelistic techniques successful in the US might fall flat here. We can therefore only be servants. The Russians tell us how they can best use us. Then we figure out together what we can do to meet their suggestions. Our greatest desire is that the church will grow through more people coming to faith in Christ.”
Dr. William Yoder
Department for External Church Relations, RUECB
Moscow, 21 August 2007
As a commentary, this text reflects only the opinion of its author. This text is not an official statement of the Russian Union of Evangelical Christians-Baptists. Republication is permitted. Release #07-28, 764 words.