Striving for Russian Baptist Unity Out in the Snow
Expedition through Siberia arrives back in Moscow
M o s c o w – Striving for Baptist unity not only at the negotiation table, but also out in the snow-covered boondocks. That´s a motto to live by for Pastor Valentin Vasilizhenko (Moscow), Secretary of the Russian Union of Evangelical Christians-Baptists´ (RUECB) “Public Council”. For that reason he took part in a recent two-vehicle expedition through northern and western Siberia. This, the RUECB´s fourth motorised expedition, started on 10 Februar in Hanti-Mansiisk north of Tiumen/western Siberia and headed north to the Arctic Circle, then southward to Novokuznetsk, and ended on 26 March back in Moscow. This tour covered 9.000 kilometres in 45 days, roughly 40 worship services and meetings took place.
This expedition was entitled „The Gospel for the Peoples of Siberia“, yet the primary thrust was for the first time not on evangelism, but rather on visiting missionaries and small congregations in particulary isolated regions. Pastor Vasilizhenko saw to it that congregations of Baptist tradition, which left the big Union after about 1990, also got onto the programme. He led the tour for two weeks on the home stretch from Kemerovo (central Siberia) to Ufa just west of the Ural Mountains.
He reported after the expedition: “The bread and the fuel never ran out. God has his children everywhere, and when there were church services, they sacrificed beyond their own means with open and honest hearts.” Regarding the meetings with congregations from outside the RUECB he stated: “We were never shown the door. We were accepted very courteously, they left us their pulpit and their meetings. These services were followed by tea, prayer and a hearty fellowship. I am very pleased about this trip. There really is a brotherhood among us and it is our task to strengthen it. There are too few of us in Russia to permit each to do his own thing. We must gather the brothers and sisters together in one hand. We need a feeling of togetherness.”
Not only were congregations of the still-unregistered „Initiativniki“ visited – one of its members even belonged to the 8- to 10-member tour group. This church, which left the large Union in 1961 and is now known under the name of “International Union of Churches of Evangelical Christians-Baptists”, has only observer status within the Public Council. The Council consists of 10 denominations within the Baptist tradition.
The insider Vasilizhenko attributes the unstable nature of the Russian Baptist movement, which fell apart organisationally along with the Soviet Union, to the fact that it consists of three distinct movements. The movement in western Russia stemming from Ivan Prochanov (1869-1925) dealt openly with social and political issues; the Molokhans (milk drinkers) were especially committed to strong family life and a very strict form of church music. Both of these movements originated within Russian Orthodoxy. But the third branch, which consisted of Mennonites of Dutch and Prussian origin arriving late in the 18th century, was clearly a Western import. The Mennonites, who settled in Ukraine and Siberia, were known for their clear separation from the surrounding community, their strict interpretation of morality and their pacifism. It was above all this third grouping which streamed back to the West after 1980 and today shapes the face of the Russian evangelical movement in Germany and – to a lesser extent – in North America.
The RUECB, Russia´s largest unified Protestant church, today represents 80.000 adult members in 1.750 congregations and groups. Its President is Yuri
Dr. William Yoder
Department for External Church Relations, RUECB
Moscow, 28 March 2008
A release of the Department for External Church Relations of the Russian Union of Evangelical Christians-Baptists. It is informational in character and does not express a sole, official position of RUECB-leadership. May be published freely. Release #08-14, 559 words.