Russian- and German-Background Baptists in Dialogue

A Trusting Relationship is in the Offing


Russian-German gives a hopeful word of greeting at this year’s conference of the German „Federation of Evangelical-Free Churches“


K a s s e l – Delegates at the German „Federation of Evangelical-Free Churches’“ (BEFG) annual conference in Kassel on 6 June heartily embraced a word of greeting given by Pastor Heinrich Derksen. Derksen is Rector of “Bibelseminar Bonn”, a school supported primarily by “Aussiedler” - ethnic Germans from the former Soviet Union. His greeting was interpreted as a possible breakthrough in relations between them and native German Baptists. He stated for ex.: “The initially reserved meetings between Aussiedler and BEFG-leadership have recently been transformed into a trusting relationship.” Klaus Rösler, Chief Editor of “European Baptist Press Service”, wrote: “His statement was for me the highlight of the entire conference.”


In his short speech, Derksen assured that ethnic-German believers from the East were in Germany not strictly because of its higher standard-of-living. “Aussiedler did not come to Germany only in order to have a better life. They have also come to help transform this country spiritually.” Currently, 2,5 million Germans from the former Soviet Union are residing in Germany; the Baptists among them see the evangelisation of other Russian-Germans as their foremost missionary calling.


But Aussiedler are still faced with considerable hurdles if they are ever to become native in Germany. “In the past, Aussiedler have unnecessarily isolated and distanced themselves from other Christians and society in general,” the Rector confessed. “Russian-Germans are in need of a new perception. Perhaps we will in time be able to overcome our existence on the fringe of German society.” In view of the theological shortcomings of Russian-German congregations, Derksen described the task of his school as one of “coming to grips with our theology and history. They need to be clearly formulated and discussed. Only then can we understand ourselves and also be understood by others. We live our theology, but we have not yet formulated it in words.”


Derksen reported that Germany has 450 Russian-German congregations within the Baptist and Mennonite traditions. As many as 120.000 persons attend their worship services. Yet he lamented that Aussiedler have not taken seriously Christ’s command to express unity, “so that the world might believe”: “I must confess to our great shame that we have not taken to heart this holy and spiritual concern.” In the past 30 years, “a good dozen church unions have arisen, and there is not a trace of solidarity between them! And fully half of these congregations are completely independent and do not belong to any of these unions. That’s where the Baptist Federation is a great role model for us.” The BEFG, which has 83.285 baptised members, is significantly larger than any of the individual Russian-German church unions.


In order to accelerate the process of rapprochement, the guest suggested that cherished stereotypes be cast aside. “May I ask that you not automatically exclude Russian-Germans from your circles and not resort to clichés when censuring them? Not all of us are home schoolers, not all of our women always wear dresses and braids. Not all of us drive Mercedes and have big houses.” He continued: “Aussiedler are in the middle of a major transformation process. We need to learn together and from each other.”


BEFG-President Hartmut Riemenschneider has contributed significantly to the present process of rapprochement. The Rector announced that Riemenschneider will be speaking at a joint Southern Baptist-Aussiedler conference scheduled for early June in Lemgo/Westphalia. Derksen reported that the conference is supported by the “progressive”, third wing of the Aussiedler-Baptist movement.


A delegation headed by Pastor Riemenschneider attended the major Russian Baptist conference in Moscow in late March. The President also has family reasons for caring about the East: His own spouse is also an Aussiedler.


William Yoder, Ph.D.

Moscow, 14 May 2010

Press service of the Russian Evangelical Alliance


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