Church-Building Programme in the ex-USSR

A Church Building within 57 Hours


The Bible Mission gets serious in the former USSR




M o s c o w – In the Baptist church of Orsha/Belarus on Easter Day, 4 April, the Russian-German Paul Hagelgans seemed to take on airs of the Prophet Amos as he invited the congregation to attend a worship service in a non-existent “house of prayer”. He announced that the service would take place on Saturday evening, 10 April at 18,00 hrs in the neighbouring village of Yakubovo. His team got to work Monday early; 57 hours of labour later, on 10 April at 11,45 hours, the chapel was ready for its opening service. Nearly all of the work had been done by a gang of 14 men from the large Hagelgans clan in Germany. Yet only a few of those were professional construction workers. Paul Hagelgans’ spouse, Katharina, explained: “We usually reckon with two weeks for the building shell, but we had scheduling difficulties and needed to get the job done in record time.” If everything is in place, three to four weeks are usually needed to complete a church project of this nature. Husband Paul is Field Director for “Bibel-Mission” (Bible Mission), headquartered in Niedernberg near Frankfurt/Main in Germany.


The Bible Mission’s model constructs in four stages: This stage, the erection of the building shell with roof, was stage two. The hosting congregation in Yakubovo had been expected, as is usually the case, to do a major amount of preliminary work. It had needed to take care of real estate issues, complete all legal formalities and pour the foundation. Stage three refers to the interior fittings: doors, windows, sanitary equipment, electricity and heat. The final stage involves exterior work and landscaping. No prefab units or heavy machinery are used. All construction materials are purchased locally.


The Bible Mission developed its own construction plans; the architect is a friend of the mission. Hagelgans assured that the plans would “of course” be shared with other groups. The internal measurements of the building are 6 x 12 meters (19,69 x 39,38 feet) and offers room for as many as 100 persons in the main sanctuary. About a fourth of the building consists of space for the toilets, a heating room and an extra room over the toilets.


The Field Director explained the concept as follows: „If a congregation has achieved a membership of 100, then it should be able to construct a building on its own steam. Consequently, this concept is directed towards congregations numbering from 30 to 50 persons. Such a group is too large to meet in private quarters and too small to finance its own building.” The group in Yakubovo numbers 30. The large concrete blocks used for the walls can be easily cut if and when the building needs expansion.


This concept assumes that the building shell and interior work will cost no more than $27.000. “We never pay labour costs,” Hagelgans assured. “Final external work will also need to be covered by the congregation or other outside helpers.” In Yakubovo, a second team from Germany will finish the interior work (stage three). The Bible Mission usually donates $27.000 for the construction of such a chapel. One strong financial partner is the Virginia-based „International Cooperating Ministries“ (ICM), which is specialised on church construction globally. ICM covers roughly 60% of the building costs. The Bible Mission’s Lydia Wiebe wrote: “Costs vary according to the country and situation, and we have no set price for a complete house. But if someone has further questions regarding costs, we will be happy to answer.”


The Bible Mission has built nine of these chapels during the past two years, for ex. in Siberia, Moldova and Central Asia. It 2010 it intends to build 15 chapels, 10 of them according to the plans used in Yakubovo. This mission constructs only buildings of worship; they also need to be located on the territory of the former USSR.


Hagelgans stressed that his Bible Mission is not open to any and all construction efforts. “It must be a congregation with clear Bible teaching,” he insisted. “It must be concerned about evangelism and not only about helping itself. The church must promote peace. We do not aid congregations which live in enmity with others.”


After the final touches, the congregation is expected to produce a twice-annual report for three years on developments within its ministry. “We care about evangelism and house groups. It is our goal to do more than merely construct a church building – we want to be involved in spreading the Gospel. We also work closely with the Baptist Unions.”


It is no coincidence that the Bible Mission has focused its intentions on a modest, standardised chapel. It has been involved in church construction for approx. 15 years and has seen more than once how churches and organisations have wasted significant amounts of cash. Hagelgans explained: “We used to help on all kinds of projects. But we also experienced how many projects came to a halt – sometimes after $250.000 or even more had been invested. We would therefore rather be involved in many small projects than in a single large one. If the people want something fancy – be our guest. But they’ll need to do it without us. We want to help those willing to accept our conditions.”


Rapid construction also has major financial advantages. If a structure is built over a period of two or three years, one can expect costs to explode – due in part to inflation.


The Bible Mission, which was founded by émigrés from the Soviet Union in 1984, now has a staff of 22 in its German headquarters and another 89 full-time workers at six outposts. These outposts are spread between Almaty and Omsk in the East and Moldova (Chisinau) and Minsk in the West. Kiev and Moscow are located in-between. In 1999, this Mission opened a US-branch based in Wichita/Kansas: The „Bible Mission International“ presently has a staff of two. See „www.biblemission.org“ for further information in English. The German phone number is: +49 6028 / 80 70-0.


William Yoder, Ph.D.

Moscow, 22 April 2010

Press service of the Russian Evangelical Alliance


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