The EAU is Up-and-Coming
A major convention is planned for this year
M o s c o w – The „Euro-Asian Federation of Unions of Evangelical Christians-Baptists“ (EAF) in the area of the former Soviet Union is up-and-coming. It is presently organising a major convention scheduled to take place in Kiev on 18 and 19 October 2011. This was made official during a press conference at the Moscow seminary of the “Russian Union of Evangelical Christians-Baptists” on 25 March
According to Alexander Firisiuk from the Belarusian Union in Minsk, the EAF was formed at the USSR’s demise “in order to preserve our dialogue and unity of Spirit. We indeed have remained one family in Christ.” The EAF is also the entity which reminds one most readily of the giant, Soviet-era All-Union Council of Baptists. Vyacheslav Nesteruk, President of the Ukrainian Union, added: “Conversing with one another is a very pleasant matter. When I travel to Moscow and meet the brethren, I feel as if I have returned home.”
During the press gathering, the Federation’s spokespersons stressed their positive relations with the Prague-based “European Baptist Federation” (EBF) – most ex-Soviet unions belong to both federations. But it was added that the EAF regards itself to be more conservative. RUECB-President Alexey Smirnow noted: “It is very important that we demonstrate our unity in Christ to the world. Liberalism attacks not only the mind, it also divides the world into factions and subjects people to all kinds of convictions and opinions.”
One speaks English in the EBF, but Russian remains the EAF’s lingua franca. The unions of 15 countries now form the EAF – the primary unions of the three Baltic states and Georgia are no longer members. But these countries also possess groups of Russian-speaking Baptists who count themselves a part of the EAF. The Baltic states for ex. have a significant number of Ukrainian Baptist residents. In contrast to the EBF, the EAF, which is headed by the Muscovite Yuri Apatov, has no legal status.
It was actually a cross-border work among youth led by parlamentarian Pavel Unguryan (Kiev) and Pastor Yevgeny Bakhmutsky (Moscow) which revived the EAF from its slumber. In August 2008, an impressive youth conference with nearly 3.000 participants from 19 countries was held near Odessa. Each year in February, a working conference for youth leaders takes place near Moscow under EAF auspices. In August 2009, immediately after the Amsterdam conference commemorating the 400th anniversary of the European Baptist movement, a similar, Russian-language conference was held in Kiev with 1.700 adults in attendance.
This year’s conference in October is to be held under the motto of Philippians 3,13: „Forgetting what is behind and straining towards what is ahead.” One leading speaker is to be John MacArthur from Sun Valley/California – he has been active in the countries of the former USSR for more than 20 years and is well-known in Eastern Europe. “The Master’s Academy International“, which he heads, now has branches for ex. in Samara/Volga and in Irpin near Kiev (the Baptist “Irpin Biblical Seminary”).
The EAF’s return to the scene is also supported by the fact that Russia’s inter-confessional bodies have lost their momentum. The EAF offers Baptist unions once again the opportunity to form coalitions beyond the boundaries of their own union. Russian Orthodoxy and the state are already pushing the significance of Kievan Rus, the medieval union of Russia, Ukraine and Belarus.
On 23 March, Moscow’s venerable „First Baptist Church“ celebrated the graduation of one of the most-experienced classes in the history of European evangelicalism. Sixteen of the RUECB’s superintendents (called “starshy presbyter” in Russian) received a Masters degree from “Moscow Theological Seminary”. Some of these clergymen had no previous academic degree in theology. Over the past three years they had prepared themselves for their final exams mainly through studies by extension. In conjunction with the Union Council, which meets twice annually, they had usually come a week earlier to Moscow in order to attend lectures on campus. Primary guest speaker at this graduation was the Moldovan pastor and politician Valeriu Ghiletchi (Chisinau), the EBF’s current President.
Alexey Smirnov has now been President of the RUECB for exactly one year. That was one reason why the Union Council, which lasted until 25 March, was concerned more than ever with numbers. Yevgeny Bakhmutsky, the Union’s Senior Vice President, explained: “We want to obtain a true picture of developments within our brotherhood. We want to discover how things really look among us and where we are headed.” He is concerned above all with the recruitment and preparation of further pastors for congregational work.
The webpages of the RUECB’s Missions Department report on two expeditions taking place during February and March. Missionary expeditions even during the coldest times of the year have proven their worth – they have been taking place for a decade. The Russian East then has more ice (better roadways) and fewer flies than in the summer. Both expeditions aimed to visit as many prisons and penal colonies as possible; one travelled primarily in the southwest (for ex. Tambov, Voronesh, Tula and Belgorod), the other in the central Siberian regions of Krasnoyarsk, Khakassia and Tuva. The western expedition terminated on 24 March after having visited 21 colonies and 3 rehab centres as well as 15 churches. Since many inmates were or are addicts, not only spiritual literature was distributed. Information on evangelical rehab centres which can be looked up following release from prison was also supplied. The number of listeners at meetings ranged from four to 250; the youngest listeners in special schools were only 10 years old. Employees and administration were frequently also present. The testimonies of missionaries who themselves were once addicted or incarcerated has proven to be particularly effective.
The RUECB, Russia´s largest unified Protestant church, represents nearly 80.000 adult members in 1.750 congregations and groups.
Department for External Church Relations, RUECB
Moscow, 05 April 2011
A release of the Department for External Church Relations of the Russian Union of Evangelical Christians-Baptists. It is informational in character and does not express a sole, official position of RUECB-leadership. Release #11-5, 959 words, 6.104 keystrokes and spaces.