Moscow conference on mission experiences of the past 20 years
M o s c o w -- On 18 September, the Russian Union of Evangelical Christians-Baptists (RUECB) held its first conference ever dedicated to analysing the historical successes and failures of Protestant mission in post-Soviet Russia. One-hundred-ten persons from Russia and elsewhere attended the conference in Moscow’s Central Baptist Church. It was entitled, “20 Years Later. Mission in Russia: Experiences and the Prospects of Partnership”, and was organised primarily by the RUECB’s Missions Department.
Reports after the meeting indicated that negative developments were attributed to insufficient cooperation between Western missions and local congregations in Russia. “Some missions arrived with their own, ready-made strategies and financial concepts,” one participant stated. “That placed the congregation in a secondary role; local believers felt left-out and soon lost interest. Missions and local congregations had differing expectations.”
Interdenominational, parachurch missions, very much a part of everyday life in the West, have tended to create programmes operating apart from the local congregation in Russia. Without desiring to do so, they have often drawn the best workers away from the historical churches. One conclusion drawn by Baptist participants present stated: “The mission societies which we must create in Russia will need to operate under church leadership. We desire denominational missions, for they will best strengthen the work of our existing, small congregations.”
Self-criticism was not lacking from the conference. It was noted for ex. that Russian believers frequently came into the employ of a foreign mission without having caught the positive vision the foreign mission was attempting to instil.
In today’s context of strongly-diminished foreign finances and workers and greatly increased public resistance to foreign mission endeavours, models for mission must be found which are financially sustainable for the long-term and can survive, if necessary, without foreign funding. Talk on sustainable models for mission in today’s laissez-faire, capitalist society are still in the infant stage. Honest talk between foreigners and nationals caring about mission in Russia must continue.
The conference was not lacking in praise for the much good which has occurred. Pastor Vitaly Vlasenko, the RUECB’s Department Director for External Church Relations, stressed that there always have been foreign missionaries committed to working through the local church. They approached the local congregation with great sensitivity and did not have a ready-made plan or strategy to push. He added that interdenominational missions have been a vital resource for training and instructional materials. He believes that “Campus Crusade for Christ” could still be a great help to the RUECB in developing its ministries among students and the young.
Exceptions to the rule exist. Slavic Gospel Association, which was represented at the conference by its President, Robert Provost (Loves Park/Illinois), is an interdenominational mission. But in Russia it has worked closely with the RUECB over the past 15 years.
RUECB-President Yuri Sipko noted at the meeting, that in 1992 when the RUECB was founded as one successor to the all-Soviet “All-Union Council of Evangelical Christians-Baptists”, it spoke for no more than 600 congregations. Today, that number approaches 1.750. That major jump is due in part to the breaking-up of the few, often very large congregations resulting from the restrictive policies of the Soviet authorities. But this is also an indication of the ability of Russian Baptists to do mission both with and without foreign support.
A second international forum on the past and future of evangelical mission is scheduled to be held in Irpen near Kiev/Ukraine from 24-25 October. Hosting agency will be the Wheaton/Illinois-based “Peter Deyneka Russian Ministries”.
William Yoder, Ph.D.
Department for External Church Relations, RUECB
Moscow, 07 October 2008
A release stemming from the Department for External Church Relations of the Russian Union of Evangelical Christians-Baptists. But it is a commentary and completely reflects only the opinion of William Yoder. Release #08-44, 588 words.