Using a Great Opportunity for the Cause of Christ
Russian Baptist leader visits the government of Chechnya
M o s c o w -- Chechnya and its capital Grozny are being rapidly rebuilt, and Baptists need to be a part of that rebuilding process. That was the conclusion of Rev. Vitaly Vlasenko (Moscow), Director of External Church Relations for the Russian Union of Evangelical Christians-Baptists (RUECB), following a visit to the once war-torn capital from 3 to 5 April. Vlasenko visited Grozny at the invitation of Sultan Mirzayev, the Chief Mufti of Chechnya, whom the Baptist had befriended at a joint government studies programme in Moscow. In Grozny, Vlasenko and his wife Yana also visited Ramzan Kadyrov, the 32-year-old strongman and President of the Chechen Republic.
Vlasenko reported later in Moscow: “The Chechen government has promised to support us in our efforts to rebuild, and I believe it is proper for us to accept the invitation. We must use this great opportunity for the cause of Christ. We must send a full-time pastor there very soon to re-establish our congregation. It would be impossible to achieve very much from the outside.” Until the outbreak of the first Chechen war in December 1994, 450 Baptists had resided there. Now, probably only a few elderly women, whom Vlasenko unfortunately was unable to locate, remain. During the period between the two Chechen wars (1996-99), the destroyed Baptist house of prayer had been partially rebuilt. But the work stopped and has not been restarted; the structure has a new roof, but windows and all insulation are still missing. Its legal ownership is also unclear.
The second Chechen war ended in late 2000. Pastor Vlasenko was astonished by the speed of reconstruction and the positive spirit now apparent in the Chechen capital. “People are working day-and-night to rebuild their houses and city. The streets are spotless; war damage is evident only on the edges of the city. There are children everywhere and even smaller children are going to school without being accompanied by adults. The new mosque in the centre of Grozny, which has become a focus point of the Chechen life and nation, is truly an impressive structure. The rebuilt Russian Orthodox church will be reopened shortly and Russians are heartily invited to return. There is even talk of rebuilding the Jewish synagogue.” In a private conversation, a leading Chechen politician assured Vlasenko that the Chechen government desires a secular state open to believers of all faiths – not an Islamic one. But he is unsure to what extent this politician can speak for the government in general.
President Kadyrov’s father, Akhmat Kadyrov, had served as the unofficial and later official head of Chechnya from 2000 until his assassination in May 2004. Ramzan Kadyrov has been President since February 2007. Both had fought against the Russian army during the first Chechen war. In conversations now with his Baptist guest, Ramzan Kadyrov attributed his family’s change-of-heart at the outset of the second war to the realisation that Russia was resolute about keeping Chechnya within the Russian Federation. The freedom which the people of Chechnya desired could also be obtained from within the Russian Federation. In addition, the people of Chechnya had become aware of their need for protection from the increasingly radical – and often foreign – Islamic extremists in the region. The present President harbours deep gratitude towards now-Minister-President Vladimir Putin for his unwavering support and loyalty.
In view of the Kadyrov family’s negative international reputation, Vitaly Vlasenko concedes that he did not have the opportunity “to check behind the nice facade” during his short stay. The Baptist is convinced that Christians dare not gloss over the crimes that have been committed on any or all sides. “Some say the war is over and that we must for the sake of peace let bygones be bygones. But a stable and lasting peace can only be founded on the truth. Lawyers must be given the freedom to pursue their task of investigation. The facts must be found out and the guilty brought to justice.” The pastor adds that the efforts of the Kadyrov family have brought the region an initial phase of peace and stability - two values of major significance. He states: “I am so glad the war and insurgency are finally over and that people can start to rebuild their dreams.”
William Yoder, Ph.D.
Department for External Church Relations, RUECB
Moscow, 07 April 2009
A release of the Department for External Church Relations of the Russian Union of Evangelical Christians-Baptists. May be published freely. Release #09-12, 701 words, 4.289 strokes and spaces.