Poorer, but not Poor
Peter Lunichkin creates a social department for Russian Baptists
M o s c o w -- Peter Anatolovich Lunichkin has been given a lot – which is also why he wants to give. He reports that at times there was no food in the house for him and his six brothers and sisters. So he is acquainted with the feelings of gratitude and joy that erupt when a needy person is helped in love.
His prayer, that he might also be able to help others materially, was already heard when he was pastoring a congregation he had founded in his hometown, Vladikavkas. It was the social accomplishments of this congregation, now numbering 220 members which led the Russian Union of Evangelical Christians-Baptists (RUECB) a year ago to ask him to organise a national social service. This project was greatly helped by the pastor’s move from the North Ossetian capital to St. Petersburg, where he is now heading the city’s largest Baptist congregation.
His Vladikavkas congregation had organised care and support for 500 of the lonely and elderly. Local Christians donated 400 roubles a month (now $17) in order to supply them with groceries several times per month. Believers in Holland also donated $28 monthly. Baptists warned of the HIV-danger in schools and during Saturday “subbotniks” they helped clean up neighbourhoods. A special project had children from Lunichkin´s Sunday school donating 35 bicycles to the children of a village in the strife-torn republic of Ingushetia. That was an event attended by numerous public officials and politicians.
He reports: „Great co-operation developed between us and government organisations. We even invited Orthodox clergy to our events – and they came. Because of his service, the Baptist pastor was invited to join the Human Rights Commission located at the seat of the President of North Ossetia (which borders on Chechnya). Despite all sentiment to the contrary, Pastor Lunichkin continues to believe that Orthodox circles will not automatically oppose Protestant-inspired humanitarian efforts: “I believe we can reckon with zero opposition if we continue to sponsor efforts such as these.”
Operating now from his Petersburg office, the energetic pastor is working at the creation of a database cataloguing all existing humanitarian efforts and resources among Baptists. “We have doctors, social workers and much experience working with children. We have many large and contented families. We have no reason to hide.” He is also thinking up programmes directed at tobacco and alcohol abuse. Yet all beginnings are modest. His social department has no paid employees and he receives his pastor’s salary from the German “Light in the East” mission.
Stones in the way
This 46-year-old grandfather and father of six concludes: „We Russians are selfish. We do not find it hard to pass on aid we have received from the West. But giving up our own shirt or our own automobile – that is quite another matter. That is why we are called to motivate people to also donate that which is theirs.”
He also tells of a city with five Baptist congregations in which all of them are in competition with one another. “I believe we need to teach our people to rejoice over the successes of others. We are still working in isolation from each other, each-for-his-own. That is our great weakness. We do not trust each other; we’re always suspicious of somebody. But the problem is not that we Baptists are unable to love. We do love, but often we feel incapable of expressing those feelings.”
Contradictions arise when the topic turns to wealth and poverty in Russia. “We are of course poorer than the Americans,” the pastor states, “but we are not poor. There are always persons less well-off than we whom we are called to help. If each Russian Baptist would tithe, then our church would be living in abundance.” But he also adds: “Many Western missions have left Russia with the words: ´Russia is a wealthy country.` That is correct, but it does not hold true for our congregations and people in general. We remain dependent on the aid of Western sisters and brothers. It strikes me that churches in the West have become indifferent to Russia, and that is very unfortunate.”
Regarding future prospects, Pastor Lunichkin remarks: „It’s problematic for us that the Russian Orthodox Church has become so politicised. Russia’s biggest problem of all is its lack of spirituality. That is why we are called to proclaim the Gospel and to speak out against no one – be they from the state, the Charismatics or the Pentecostals. We will only be blessed with success if we worship the Almighty and refrain from attacking the shortcomings of others. If we live the Gospel in love, then the time will come when society will realise how much they really do need us.”
Dr. William Yoder
Department for External Church Relations, RUECB
Moscow, 24 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 #08-18, 780 words.