Greater Unity: A Recipe for Getting Heard
An interdenominational and two Baptist sessions convene
M o s c o w -- Rather than putting major resources into PR, the Baptists of Russia should concentrate their efforts on “mutually strengthening the relations between their congregations”. They should also “plant many new congregations and improve the size and quality of their existing ones”. Those are the views of one high Russian government official quoted by Pastor Vitaly Vlasenko, head of the Russian Union of Evangelical Christians-Baptists (RUECB) Department for External Church Relations, at a pastors´ conference in Bryansk on 12 April. The official had added in conclusion: If your brotherhood “would work together like the strings of a well-tuned piano and carefully organise and synchronise all of its activities, then you could become within five to ten years the kind of genuine force from which the government would be happy to hear.” The department head also noted in his lecture that it is often brothers and sisters in Western countries who understand least well why autonomous congregations “desire to join our Union“.
A meeting of the “Advisory Council of the Leaders of the Protestant Churches of Russia“ in Moscow three days later noted that the state Ministry for Education and Science had initiated a meeting with Protestants on 11 April. The state’s intent had been to hear out Protestants regarding their views on the planned Orthodox school classes entitled “Spiritual and Moral Culture”. The Council intends to propose an alternative, less-partisan form of school instruction on moral and religious topics. This government invitation could be interpreted as a sign of Protestants already being taken more seriously.
The desire for closer Baptist cooperation was also evident at this year’s sessions of the “Euro-Asiatic Federation of Unions of Evangelical Christians-Baptists” in Kiev on 9 to 11 April. Pastor Vlasenko, who had been present in Kiev, reported in his Bryansk lecture: “It is apparent to me that we Russians will soon be able to better support the church in the Central Asian countries and elsewhere.” The Protestants of Central Asia are all subject to increasing government pressure. The Euro-Asiatic Federation unites 12 of the 15 unions which had formed the “All-Union Council of Evangelical Christians-Baptists” during the Soviet era. (Only the Baltic unions did not join this successor organisation.)
This initial “Day of Brotherhood” in Bryansk fulfilled a promise made by Union leadership in January (see our release from 18.01) to leave Moscow offices and visit pastors on-location throughout the vast regions of Russia. The response of the 120 pastors in this region southwest of Moscow was overwhelming and gratifying – the heightened congregational fees for the work of national headquarters (they have been increased 300% to 150 roubles - $6 US - annually per church member) have already been collected there. Pastor Vlasenko reports that such sessions, which promise to be an exhausting exercise for Moscow staff, are to be held monthly in hopes of covering all of Russia’s 50+ Baptist regions within a five-year period. He projects: “In the end, local pastors will know us not only from our letters, but also by our faces.”
The Advisory Council session on 15 April also covered issues other than Russian school classes. The assembled leaders expressed great satisfaction in this year’s National Prayer Breakfast, which was held in Moscow on 18 March. It is to be expanded in both size and length next year. Discussion groups are to be introduced and the Breakfast could be extended to cover nearly an entire day. The “Global Leadership Summits” sponsored by the North American Willow Creek movement are to be headed in Russia by Vitaly Vlasenko for the foreseeable future.
Dr. William Yoder
Department for External Church Relations, RUECB
Moscow, 19 April 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 #08-17, 593 words.