Aid at the Beginning and End of Life
Russia’s have high hopes
M o s c o w – Abortion was the prominent form of contraception in the former Soviet Union. One therefore finds older women in Russia who have had as many as 20 abortions. Russian Baptists want to do something about this on a number of levels, for the issue involves more than simply convincing a pregnant woman that she should give birth to her child. Their programme combating abortion is linked with a counselling initiative as well as one providing aid in carrying out adoptions. The latter even includes a programme for accepting foster children into families – a new concept in Russia. It also includes the Protestant initiative “Take a Child Home with You”, which concerns itself primarily with the placement of orphans. A group entitled “Quiet Voices” offers counselling for the pregnant.
The brain behind many of these projects can often be found in a small office at Moscow headquarters of the Russian Union of Evangelical Christians-Baptists (RUECB). There one sees a warm-hearted woman, Dr. Valentina Grigorevna Belashova, encircled by boxes of medical supplies and pounding onto a computer keyboard. The retired cardiologist is head of the “Christian Medical Association” (ChRAM). This industrious woman is committed most of all to palliative medicine – a primary reason for the founding of ChRAM in 1994. She reports that Russia already has 70 state-run hospices throughout the country – Moscow alone is scheduled to have 10, eight of them are in operation. This Baptist, who was not baptised until 1991, reports: “The experience of the Orthodox in palliative medicine is very helpful to us. When conversing about the terminally ill, they are more open and supportive than some Protestant partners. In the existing Moscow hospices, the spiritual care of Protestants is also feasible. Yet the ambulant hospices common in Western countries remain a thing of the future. Being able to do the entire supervision, care and treatment of the terminally ill at home – that is a dream which I still have.”
ChRAM´s webpage, which is partially in English (www.medichrist.ru), reports that it and forerunner organisations have already been active for 18 years. A surgeon, Professor Victor Grishkevich, had then gathered 300 Christians. He became the charismatic founding father of the “Christian Medical Society”, yet he soon emigrated to the United States. His umbrella organisation is known today as the “Society of Christian Health Professionals” (Obvshestvo Christian-Medikov) and is headed by the Baptist Professor Nikolai Didkovsky. One of its tasks involves support groups for health professionals and students in St. Petersburg, Samara, Kursk, Tver, Tula and Joshkar-Ola (near Kazan). An initiative named “Stand Up!”, which is closely associated with ChRAM, deals with the rehabilitation of alcohol- and drug-abuse victims. It has also been active since 1990.
ChRAM as well as “Medical Centre Agape” (www.agaperu.org) organise mobile clinics which also visit the Far North and Far East on occasion. Agape is led by a US-American physician residing in Moscow: Dr. Bill Becknell. ChRAM, Agape, “Stand Up!” and the “Service of Mercy” organisation active in the village of Saltikovka near Moscow are the sole Protestant organisations legally permitted to do medical treatment. All groups listed here function as state-registered NGO´s – not as Protestant entities.
Despite contacts reaching as far North America and Australia, these Protestant initiatives possess surprisingly little contact with Baptist medical professionals in Western Europe. Although for ex. German Baptists possess broad experience in palliative care, it was the Catholic “Maltese Hospice and Palliative Counselling Service” which invited the ever-grateful Dr. Belashova to a Berlin conference in October 2007. She considers Western medical expertise on the psychological care of the terminally ill and their families as a particularly strong need. She writes: “Moscow Hospice Nr. 3 is eager to invite Christian specialists from the West to hold lectures on the psychological care of patients.” In general, the Baptist physician believes Western specialists can contribute best by passing on the newest medical knowledge.
ChRAM´s most loyal Western partner is Dr. Manfred Weise, a physician, professor and conservative evangelical from Kassel/Germany. He heads the small organisation “Christians in Service to the Ill” (Christen im Dienst an Kranken). He frequently lectures in Russia on issues of medical ethics; he has also accompanied the mobile clinic.
The ChRAM´s immediate plans include participation in preparing conferences for Christian health professionals. The series will begin with a conference in Kiev from 1 – 3 Mai, followed by one entitled “Christianity and the Solving of Society’s Social Problems” in St. Petersburg from 26 – 29 May. An all-European conference is scheduled for Austria in September.
The active retiree doesn’t hesitate long when asked about the primary problems facing her work. The time in which the state could be expected to supply comprehensive health care is long past, yet many leaders do not seem to have taken the consequences seriously. “We must convince our pastors of the need to motivate their members to help meet the health care challenge.”
The wish list remains long for outsiders willing to help: medicines, walking aids, tuning forks, metres for measuring blood pressure and sugar. Funds are needed for ex. for purchasing special mattresses, printing medical
literature and holding conferences. Yet the cardiologist does not allow spiritual concerns to be last. Joint Bible study and
prayer are also of great importance to stressed-out health professionals. She maintains: “We Christian health professionals may live very far from each other in the vast regions of
Russia, but we remain very close on the issues that matter most.”
Valentina Belashova can be reached via the address: „belashova(at)mtu-net.ru“. Her English-speaking colleague, Dr. Vera Shinkarenko has the following address: „cvera(at)email.ru“.
Dr. William Yoder
Department for External Church Relations, RUECB
Moscow, 05 February 2008
A release of the Russian Union of Evangelical Christians-Baptists. It is informational in character and does not express a sole, official position of RUECB-leadership. Release #08-05, 920 words.