Slavic Youth in North America

"Our Hands are Tied“


Conditions for youth among the unregistered Baptists and Pentecostals




M o s c o w – The government is still the adversary for the unregistered Baptists and Pentecostals of the former Soviet Union – but other governments are now involved. Thanks to the 30-year-old emigration wave, most of the government adversaries are now located in Germany and in the USA’s Pacific Northwest. Russia still has roughly 25.000 unregistered, adult Baptists – about 16% of the number present in the USSR in 1966. A good 100.000 Slavic Baptists and Pentecostals are now gathered in the region of Portland/Oregon; a similar number has gravitated towards Sacramento/California. Consequently, unregistered Baptists now call themselves „International Council of Evangelical Christians-Baptists“.


A report out of Portland, which was published by Moscow’s “Portal-Credo” press service on 28 February, describes in harrowing terms the emotional plight of immigrant Russian and Ukrainian parents who now need to come to terms with offspring in a completely different cultural context. This report claims that half to two-thirds of their high schoolers are now leading a double life. Long stints are needed in school bathrooms before and after class to undertake the changes necessary to meet the approval of two very different surroundings.


But drugs, prostitution and violent crime are also topics. David Klassen, the pastor of a Slavic congregation in Gresham/Oregon, stated: “Many from the older generation had spent time in Soviet prisons for their faith. But now their children qualify as bandits and are imprisoned for that reason. This of course breaks their parents’ hearts.”


The longing for material prosperity lured these people abroad. But primary was also the desire to retain one’s Soviet-inspired faith in new surroundings fully free of atheistic and Orthodox repression. Yet all parties had apparently not been consulted – the offspring for ex. The West’s cultural steamroller now quickly and deftly detaches these children from their parents. One succinct sentence states: “Emigration has increased the gap between the generations.”


Having the fortified and united congregation turn back surrounding forces appears much less effective in the North American context. Untrained lay pastors from back home are no match for the challenges of a new society. Yet it would be a disgrace for these mentally-needy families to seek the aid of secular, state-controlled social services. The father and pastor – the patriarchs – are called to take care of affairs. These new arrivals head for construction sites and car repair garages in their search for quick cash; their women are called to take care of the flock of children. There is no space for extensive cultural training.


A suffering mother from the Carpathian region of Ukraine complained that her children threatened her with the police when she spoke of possible corporal punishment. In America, children are able to dictate the terms to their parents. A Russian-speaking school social worker claimed: “Some parents don’t even ask their children about the homework out of fear that the state might take away their children.”


The court proceedings in Salem

That fear is not groundless. During the second half of 2009, the world was able to witness via Internet (for ex. www.examiner.com) court proceedings in Salem/Oregon which ended with the parents of seven children being sentenced to more than seven years in prison. Following floggings, the three oldest children of Oleksandr and Lyudmila Kozlov had reported affairs to the police. A gut-wrenching spectacle resulted by which the six minors testified against their parents in court. (The seventh child was then only several months old.) One heading in the local media read: “Parents on Trial Use Bible to Justify Child Abuse.” Four near-by immigrant congregations supplied up to 100 protesters to picket the courthouse.


Sentences were heightened by the parent’s unwillingness to recognise the apparent folly of their ways. Bible-toting Lyudmila Kozlova compared herself to the Prophet Daniel surrounded by lions and human enemies. The couple refused to respect court etiquette and judge-ordered instructions. Without even the slightest of evidence, the father accused state officials of drugging his children prior to testimony and using Photoshop to digitally worsen the photos of the flogging wounds. A deacon from the couple’s congregation, “First Slavic Church”, assured that he would have refused to report to the police if he personally had discovered any photos of this kind - even if this would have meant his imprisonment.


Transatlantic support arrived – also from Russia. A letter on the “International Council’s” website (http://iucecb.com) from 26 August 2009 addressed to US-President Barack Obama vouched for the couple’s complete innocence. This mostly Russian-language site contains an increasing number of protests against measures taken by Western governments against their own members. It also appeals for the rights of those parents campaigning for home-schooling in Germany (where it is still illegal). A letter of 19 February 2011 addressed to the German Chancellor Angela Merkel regarding seven parents jailed for short terms states: “We are very concerned about the persecution of our brothers and sisters in the faith . . . in Salzkotten. They are being persecuted because they desire to bring up their children in the Christian faith and in obedience to God’s word. They have not permitted their children to participate in class instruction on sex and in godless theatre plays.”



Events in Salem 2009 and elsewhere have seriously compromised suffering at the hands of Soviet authorities as portrayed by the non-registered. Had these people truly been persecuted for their faith, or had they on occasion confused their own (sub)cultural values with the Christian faith? That would appear to be the case in the USA – and was the situation in the by-gone USSR always entirely different from the present one? Has this mix-up only come into being since 1990?


The saga has many tragic elements. Parents have done what they regarded as the best for their children – yet the result was imprisonment. (Though I cannot claim that this was the case in Salem.) Non-registered Baptists and Pentecostals believe they have been motivated by love – yet those on the other side have sometimes interpreted that as contempt. A US-missionary in Russia even claims that relations of the non-registered to other evangelicals are governed “by hate”. Obviously, much distance can accrue between our intentions and their results. „Our hands are tied!“ the suffering mother from the Carpathian mountains moaned. Yet that sentence is pregnant with multiple interpretations. One side can respond with sadness, the other with joy and relief.


These developments are not new – reports circulated early in the 1990s about tensions between the differing generations of recent Slavic immigrants in Pennsylvania. But there are also hopeful signs on the horizon. Olga Parker, a therapist for “Lutheran Community Services Northwest”, noted that flexibility could be the key to greater success. “Russian-speaking parents need to understand that rapport with children is much more important than strictness and precision.”


William Yoder, Ph.D.

Moscow, 16 March 2011

Press service of the Russian Evangelical Alliance


A release of the Russian Evangelical Alliance. It is informational in character and does not express a sole, official position of Alliance leadership. Release #11-01, 1.114 words, 7.214 keystrokes and spaces.