06 Dec 2007
Opening – Video background – flags and pictures of Russian rulers.
Put on the full armor of God,
that you may be able to stand firm
against the schemes of the devil.
For our struggle is not against flesh and blood,
but against the rulers, against the powers,
against the world forces of this darkness,
against the spiritual forces of wickedness
in the heavenly places.
For over 1,000 years, the people of Russia have been subjugated by tsars and dictators. During most of that time, the Orthodox Church was the State church and religious freedom was unknown.
But, it was in the late 1800’s and the early 1900’s that an evangelical church planting movement was underway in Russia. Missionaries from the Baltic region, Germany, Ukraine and Georgia began the spread of the Gospel of faith and holiness. This message continued an eastward progression all the way to the Pacific Ocean. In less than 60 years, the movement grew from no Baptist Believers to over 600,000.
But, the spread of the Gospel was not an easy task. It was against the law to convert from the Orthodox faith to Baptist. Prayer meetings and worship services were held in hidden locations.
The first Russian Baptist Believer was Nikita Voronin from the city of Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia. He was Biblically baptized in the dark of night August 27, 1867 by a German Baptist missionary. Nikita was very active in sharing God’s Word. For this, he was branded a troublemaker by the Orthodox clergy and twice sent into exile where he died in 1905.
As the movement grew, the persecution also grew. Shortly before he died in 1894, Tsar Alexander III decreed that meetings of evangelicals were prohibited. Widespread and systematic persecution emerged in the Russian Empire and continued for the next 11 years.
In 1905, Tsar Nicholas II, … recognizing the instability caused by the persecution, … issued a decree that required religious tolerance. It became legal to leave the Orthodox faith and Houses of Prayer were allowed as well as meeting in homes.
By 1929, Stalin became convinced that this movement was a significant threat to his power. Consequently, he enacted a repressive law that effectively halted all evangelistic church planting. Thus began a systematic extermination of all evangelical Believers. This continued through Khrushchev and finally on to the end of Gorbachev’s rule.
By the time the Soviet Union fell in 1991, the number of evangelical Believers was reduced to less than 10% of that during the 1920’s. Yet, in Belarus, as in the rest of Russia, the light of the Gospel was not extinguished even in these dark days.
Listen as one couple tells us how they came to know Jesus.
Vera and Sasha, Minsk Belarus (Interview in Russian – text has been corrected for English narration which will be done in different voices. Introduce selves with Mila translating.)
(fade to Vera) Female Voice #1
Since I can remember, I have known that God loved me and that I need to pray to Him. I have always felt the prayers of my parents and when I moved away from home, there were a lot of different situations when I realized that it was only my mom’s prayers that kept me safe. When I moved to Minsk, I realized that I needed to be baptized for my commitment to the Lord; but I couldn’t be baptized in the city. We had to do it at night. I went back to the village where I was born. My parents were there at my baptism service and other older members of the church were there and those people heard the promises I made to God.
(fade to Sasha) Male Voice #1 …
I remember the time when my family was sent to Siberia for ten years and I remember the desire of wanting to hear the Gospel but there wasn’t an opportunity to do that. There wasn’t a Bible. There wasn’t a church there. There was just the desire … the thirst … of wanting to hear the Gospel.
When we were allowed to move back to Moldova in 1955, I graduated from high school then served in the army. After that I moved to Minsk and got a job at the auto factory. It was here that I began to attend church where I accepted Christ and in 1972 I was baptized at night … about 100 km from Minsk at midnight – right at midnight. … It was at night because if you were under 30 years old you couldn’t be baptized legally and so that is why I had to go to a little church in a village where the authorities were not watching. I became a member of the church and I joined a young adult group. I met Vera and for over 30 years we have been together.
There are many strong churches in Belarus that have grown through the short years of freedom as well as the long years of tyranny. The church planting movement in Belarus will continue despite the repressive law adopted in 2002. This law requires that at least 20 people and a separate building be established and registered with the government before meetings can be held. Religious meetings in homes are not allowed, making it very difficult to start new churches … particularly in the rural areas.
This law allows established evangelical churches to continue but growth is slow since their worship and other meetings are constrained to the specific location in which they have a government registration. Often, the pastor is not allowed to preach in districts other than his own. Despite these problems, the Baptist pastors of Belarus are working to accelerate the church planting movement.
Nicolia Sinkovets, President of the Baptist Union in Belarus
Male Voice #2
Today we have 75 cities and more than a thousand villages without a Baptist Church. Those numbers make us look to the future and think how we could reach the people for Christ. Today, less than 1% of the people of Belarus are evangelical Christians. In the past 16 years, we have opened 206 churches. We pray that those churches would grow and be healthy and be missions minded and send missionaries to start other churches. Our goal is to have a Baptist church in each town.
Victor Kruktrkto, General Secretary of Baptist Union in Belarus and Senior Pastor, Bethlehem Baptist Church
(Pastor speaking in English)
Before freedom the main goal was to edify church. After freedom came we received opportunity to edify church and preach the Gospel. That is the #1 change. The #2 change I would say … Soon we found out that we have to do something better to preach the Gospel … how to reach these people … how to reach this culture. We have to adjust something … we have to change some approaches in our churches. Like in my church for example, our services are directed toward church people and unbelieving people. If you would know our country, Belarus – of former Soviet Union – in one service, we used to have 3, 4 even 5 sermons, which under Soviet Union was OK but now we have 1 or 2 sermons with a lot of Bible Study. A lot has changed. The music has changed through the years.
Dima Lazouta. Senior Pastor of Good News Baptist Church, Minsk
(Pastor speaking in English)
I have a dream to start 20 churches in 20 years. So the first church will be started very soon in one or 2 months. For a while it will be a part of Good News Church. Then it will be a totally independent congregation. We have a dream to start more churches in the big cities of our country and I am starting leadership school. In one month, I hope I will have 40 to 50 young leaders and I would try to train them. It will be a Saturday kind of studies.
Pavel Rudoy, Pastor of Hope Church, Grodno
Male Voice #3
We have three musical groups in our church involved in outreach ministry. The ministry is not only in our city but in many other places in Belarus. Also, we have a strong ministry among handicapped children with special activities for them at the church. Many people help in the rehabilitation center including bringing food. This ministry began three years ago and we have good results. Our church is built and equipped with these special ministries in mind including a wheelchair ramp.
The message that these and other Believers want all of the Belarusians to understand is clearly displayed in almost every Baptist church. This proclamation: “God is Love” serves as a reminder that God IS the source of … love … peace … joy … hope.
Yes! Your involvement is important! Listen to Pastor Oleg …
Oleg Borisov, Pastor of Word of Life Church, Mogilev
(Pastor speaking in English)
Pray for our people. Pray for our churches. Pray for a generation – for the next generation to come to know Jesus because the future is in that. I would like to invite Christians from America to come here for short-term mission projects to work with churches because it really encourages us here when we can work together in the Christian camp or a building team or a building project can come and help the church. It really encourages people here to see that people care for them and people love them and people are willing to help.
Sing along with the Belarusian Believers as they proclaim, “It is Well with My Soul”.
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