Archive for the ‘Russia’ category

The Word of God is not chained

May 7, 2015
Title page of Lucena’s revision of the Reina Valera  printed by the Oxford University Press in 1862

Title page of Lucena’s revision of the Reina Valera
printed by the Oxford University Press in 1862

The Apostle Paul’s words to Timothy, written from a prison cell, were meant to encourage him as to the irresistible power of the Scriptures (2 Timothy 2:9). In today’s Europe we need to hear this message and to hold on to the promise that nothing can contain the power of the gospel.

This edition of Vista deals with Bible translation and engagement in Europe. That Bible translation might still be necessary in some European languages may come as a surprise to some. More generally, the challenge of Bible engagement is a pressing one across the continent.

Our guest editor for this edition is Maik Gibson, director of the Centre for Linguistics, Translation and Literacy at Redcliffe College. He presents the challenge of reaching today’s audience with translations which effectively and authentically communicate the good news.

Jim Memory then tells the story of two forgotten heroes of Bible translation and engagement in Spain: Lorenzo Lucena and George Borrow.

Darrell Jackson gives a personal account of evangelical Orthodox collaboration in Bible translation in Eastern Europe, and Joanne Appleton completes the edition with another review of resources, in this case non-English language Scripture resources.

No chains can bind God’s word, not even the apathy and secular disdain of today’s Europeans. Paul’s words to Timothy, written to encourage him to hope beyond hope in the power of the Scriptures, are words that we need to heed today. May we never take for granted the Bibles we have in our hands nor fail to remember those who work to translate the message of the gospel into the language of today’s Europeans.

Download Vista 21 here

Baptist history in the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad

May 20, 2011

Very likely the first Russian-language book dealing with Baptist life in the once-German Soviet enclave of Kaliningrad (German East Prussia) after 1945 appeared recently. Its author is Anatoly Krikun, the current Baptist Bishop (called “Starshy Presbyter”) of Kaliningrad/Königsberg. Publisher is the “Russian Union of Evangelical Christians-Baptists”’ “Moscow Theological Seminary”. The book is part of the Bishop’s work on a Master’s degree.

Intended to be a model zone for the socialist experiment, the newly-annexed region of Kaliningrad was to be denied any visible church life. Yet Krikun makes clear that despite persecution, church life on this once German turf never did disappear. The initial two-thirds of the book describes the German period up until 1945 and offers nothing new of substance to the German-language reader. But the description of the Soviet period from a Russian Baptist perspective indeed does break new ground. But the booklet’s title is confusing: “History of the Evangelical Christians-Baptists in East Prussia and Kaliningrad Region” (Istoria evangeliskikh khristian-baptistow w Wostotschnoi Prussi i Kaliningradskoi oblasti). German East Prussia never did sport a Russian Evangelical Christian-Baptist congregation.

In no way does the author gloss over the existential hardships and vandalism of some Soviet citizens during the initial years. Hunger occurred not only in the Russian “motherland” immediately after the War. Krikun notes that 51% of the settlers who arrived during the period from 1948 to 1953 chose not to stay. Being that only 7.000 new settlers had arrived by November 1945 and more than 100.000 Germans remained, church life was very much in hands of Germans until their final deportion. Without regard for anyone’s denominational loyalties, Germans and Soviet citizens gathered at first under the spiritual leadership of Germans to worship. German clerics were highly-respected: “Generally speaking, relations between the two groups were positive.” (p. 81). The lack of any Orthodox church structures made it particularly easy for Baptists to evangelise on their own terms. In Kaliningrad, a 60-member Baptist congregation headed by the German pastor Heinrich Fenner was granted state registration in 1947. Yet that congregation did not survive the deportation of the final Germans.

Baptist settlers first appear in the Soviet archives from 1947. The departure of the final Germans a year later nearly rang down the curtain on church life. That indeed appeared to occur among the Lutherans. Krikun does not mention that anyone wanting to attend a Lutheran service in the four decades after 1948 needed to travel to Lithuania. The Lutheran church in Silute (Heydekrug) in the Memel border region never was shut down by the Soviet authorities.

The arrival of ever-new settlers from Western Russia, the Ukraine and Belarus repeatedly restocked the meagre Baptist ranks. In March 1947, the double-amputated preacher M. P. Reitusky arrived from Zaporozhe in Ukaine. Until 1954, he served as the leading Baptist clergyman for the entire region. In 1950, his Kaliningrad congregation had 40 members; 30 more attended one in Chernyakhovsk (Insterburg). Other house fellowships were located in Gusev (Gumbinnen) and Sovietsk (Tilsit). One-hundred-thirty of the faithful attended a feast in 1961; Krikun reports on 70 “activists” at that time.

Beginning in 1964, ethnic German families from Kyrgyzstan with abundant numbers of children began to arrive. The arrival of these Germans furnished the Baptist movement with its first heyday lasting from 1976 until about 1989. Pavel Meissner already arrived from Kyrgyzstan in 1963; he headed the Baptist church of the region from 1965 until his emigration to Germany in 1976. In the years from 1966 until 1976, the Kaliningrad congegation usually gathered for worship at his house in the village of Pervomaiskaya near the former Bladiau far to the south of Kaliningrad. Thirty-percent of the region’s Baptists were of German ethnicity in the mid-70s – a fact which heightened the suspicions of state authorities. Krikun reports that government pressures forced Meisser to emigrate – his departure was followed by a wave of Germany-bound emigration. Today, only a tiny handful of ethnic Germans remain. In 1976, just before that initial exodus, the Kaliningrad congregation had 220 members.

A turbulant chuch life

Baptist church life did not remain free of divisions and strife. Pentecostals began to arrive from Western Belarus in 1951. After worshiping together for a year, Pentecostals decided to go their own way – taking a number of Baptist families with them. The primary issue of content was speaking in tongues.

Krikun reports that massive state pressure around 1959 – also in the public media – caused major discord among Baptists. Personal misconduct forced Pastors Reiutski and A.A. Mogila to terminate their leadership. Divergent opinions on how best to react to the government – and its KGB infiltrators – nearly finished off the Baptist movement. Pastoral authority was undermined: “Some of the less-stalwart left the church never to return.” (p. 101)

Yet the church was able to regain its footing and decided to ordain two additional men in 1965. New members were in need of additional care. Yet Moscow’s All-Union Council of Baptists refused to ordain, citing the fact that the Kaliningrad congregation remained unregistered. Church leadership therefore approached a non-registered congregation of the “Initiativniki” in Brest/Belarus. During the visit of a small delegation from Brest in Kaliningrad, the guests made clear they would only be of assistance if the Kaliningrad group halted all cooperation with the USSR’s registered churches. The hosts decided not to accept the offer; unauthorized ordinations without outside sanction followed. One other result of these contacts was the formation of a group of “Initiativniki” in Kaliningrad. The Master’s thesis of the Russian-German Alex Breitkreuz, which appeared in 2006, states that this unregistered group had a respectable membership of 300 in 2004.

Government repression appeared in waves. Krikun lists 1954, 1958, 1964, 1971, 1981 and 1984 as the years in which state pressure was the strongest. (p. 108)

Since the region’s congregations were unregistered and consequently illegal, it was impossible for them to open chapels of worship. All attempts after 1948 to achieve legality were repulsed. Yet a dramatic breakthrough occurred in May 1967: The Baptists were legally registered as the region’s first religious group. That can be seen on the webpage of Kaliningrad’s Baptist church („“). Yet Krikun writes in his book that Baptists were only “one of the first religious organisations” registered within the region. (p. 106) Significant in any case is the fact that this registration occurred long before registration of the Orthodox, which did not occur until April 1985. The Catholics and Lutherans were registered there in 1991.

Closely tied to registration issues was the matter of real estate. Only on the third try was it possible to dedicate with major festivities a small, brand-new house of prayer on 12 August 1979. It was located at Krylova Street 38 on the northern edge of Kaliningrad far removed from any means of public transportation. Even the region’s Secretary for Religious Affairs, Y. Y. Makhobaisky attended. A trusting relationship had developed between him and the church. Krikun describes Makhobaisky as an “honest and intelligent person”. “When it was called for, he would defend the rights of the believers.” (p. 114) The very early registration of the Baptists was very likely due to this special relationship.

Private houses had been obtained in 1965 and 1973 with the intention of remaking them into houses of worship. In the first case, the house was quickly confiscated by the state. In the second instance, after many months of official foot-dragging, the nearly completed building was torched by supposed arsons and leveled in 1975.

Following Messner’s departure in 1976, the chauffeur Viktor Shumeyev was appointed “Senior Pastor”. He had arrived in the region as a 10-year-old with his parents in 1950 from Belgorod region in Western Russia. He retired as a pastor in January of this year.

The 1946-born engineer Anatoly Krikun hails from Berdichev in Zhitomir region not far from Kiev, where his father Ivan had served as a lay minister. He arrived in Kaliningrad region in 1967 and replaced Shumeyev as Church Secretary in 1973. Krikun was ordained a deacon in 1993 and became a pastor a year later. He was officially named the Senior Pastor (Bishop) in 1996.

Krikun’s book suddenly ends with 1985 and Mikhail Gorbachev’s ascent to power. Krikun’s own naming as Senior Pastor is not mentioned. Also unmentioned is his congregation’s move to an impressive new structure at Gagarina Street 18 in the east of the city. A church centre with space for 500 worshippers was dedicated there on 23 August 1998. The event’s 700 guests included 100 from Germany. The Germans contributed most of the funding (500.000 German marks) for the building of the structure – many donors had been residents of long-gone Eastern Prussia. Breitkreuz reports that this Kaliningrad congregation had a membership of 318 in 2004; the entire enclave had 426 registered Baptists. Church life has remained stable; in 1999 a “Bible college” now enjoying state recognition was opened. That institution relates to the Germany “Bible Seminary Bonn”, which is run by German emigres from Russia.

William Yoder, Ph.D., Moscow, 19 May 2011” or “

This press release of the Russian Evangelical Alliance is informational in character and does not express a sole, official position of Alliance leadership.

Moscow’s ‘National Prayer Breakfast’ has a new format

April 1, 2011

europeanmission is to carry summary versions of press releases written by William Yoder, working among the evangelical commmunity in Russia. This is the first such piece from William Yoder and we are glad to be able to offer this service.

— On the 15th March, approximately 200 religious and secular leaders gathered in Moscow’s exclusive “President-Hotel” for the 11th Russian National Prayer Breakfast (established 1995). This year’s gathering, which was entitled “Russia – a Multi-National and Multi-Cultural Country”, was marked by Nikolay Svanidze’s impassioned call for Russian society to address the crying social and economic needs of its young. Svanidze, a prominent TV journalist and head of the state-run “Commission of the Public Chambre for Multi-National Relations and Freedom of Conscience”, decried the aggressive, xenophobic nationalism increasingly prominent among the nation’s young. Millions of youth are suffering from “poverty, crudity, violence and unjust courts and are seeking a release for their aggressive emotions”. He described the state’s propaganda for the young as promoting xenophobia and being “majestically-superfluous and nationalistic in character”.

Svanidze noted that Russia’s “patriotic” societies and media have described the earthquakes in Japan as just “punishment for encroaching upon our rights to the Kuril Islands” just off the Japanese coast. This is an expression of our total lack of pity for the needy of Japan and elsewhere. He branded this inhumane reaction “a result of our moral isolationism, a post-imperial syndrome”. He consequently appealed for a “national programme teaching respect for one another, something almost completely absent from our country”. “Social escalator” programmes could instil in the young a sense of hope for the future. Russians too must learn that all of us are first-of-all simply human beings without ethnic or confessional boundaries.

Unity was the order of the day. Sergey Melnikov, Head Secretary of the “Council for Cooperation with Religious Organisations at the Seat of the President of the Russian Federation”, cited the terrorist attack at Moscow’s Domodedovo airport on 24 January which killed 37 and injured 180. He remarked that thanks to blood donations, “the blood in the veins of the survivors was merged with the blood of those from differing faiths”. This symbolises Russia’s existence as a united and single organism. Akhmad Garifullin, a deputy of Moscow’s head mufti, noted that the USSR’s victory over fascism was only possible because the nation acted as one organism irrespective of individual confession. Today‘s challenges demand a similar amount of unity: “Prayer is the weapon of the believers. We stand together in the struggle against terror.”

Alexander Torshin, First Vice-Chairman of the Council of the Russian Federation (Upper House), explained the traditional Russian aversion to the term “tolerance”. Along with the positive connotations of friendship and mutual respect, it is to the Russian mind also associated with undue acceptance of “injustice, crudity and lack of culture”. Tolerance can mean, in English terms, that “anything goes”.

The event’s new format

Some church leaders expressed concern that they were unable to make any contribution to the event. The Russian Prayer Breakfast has traditionally been a forum largely for the self-presentation of Protestant churches and organisations. So this year’s format, in which the lectures and greetings were limited to politicians as well as one Catholic, Muslim and Jewish representative, was a significant remake.

Thanks to its brand-new format, this smaller and briefer Prayer Breakfast was not without hiccups. In a vast departure from Russian tradition, the audience usually did not rise from their tables for prayer. The prayers from the Catholic, Jewish and Muslim speakers seemed to be more read than prayed.

Alexander Torshin, a veteran participant at Washington’s National Prayer Breakfast, explained in his short speech the intended future direction of the Russian movement. In agreement with the North American model, the Russian event is intended to become more of a presentation from and for politicians – not clergy. That is something quite different from the past Protestant event attended by a few politicians. Torshin regards Russian politicians publically testifying of their personal faith to be a distant dream, but he does believe that prayer gatherings will begin to take place within the Russian Duma and Parliament in the coming months.

Criticism of the Breakfast’s new format centers on the fear that the event may not remain explicitly Christian. Evgeny Bakhmutsky, Senior Vice-President of the “Russian Union of Evangelical Christians-Baptists”, stated in an interview that he missed Christ-centered praying among the Protestant speakers.

For the first time in years, not a single Orthodox cleric was visible at the event. The Moscow Patriarchate explains increasingly that the Prayer Breakfast’s format does not sync with Orthodox convictions. In the Orthodox tradition, public prayers need to be prayed by Orthodox clergy, and joint prayer with non-Orthodox Christians is now discouraged. Consequently, the Orthodox are championing their own inter-confessional forum. Its first public sessions may take place as early as Fall 2011.

However, Russia’s National Prayer Breakfast movement is far from dead. A similar Breakfast was held in St. Petersburg on 20 March; another will take place in Krasnoyarsk/Siberia in April. Next year’s Moscow event is scheduled for 13 March.

William Yoder, Ph.D., “” or “

Planting, growing & emerging in Europe

December 3, 2010

This post features church plants in two very different European contexts. Oeds Blok is working in Amersfoort as a church planter with the Union of Baptist Churches in the Netherlands. The Incarnate Network is a network of European church planters, based in the UK, that encourages sharing and community learning between church planters. They have a growing collection of video interviews with members of their network and this one features Oeds’s experiences of church planting, the problems he’s encountering, and his plans for the future. See more by following the link.

In Russia, the indigenous mission project (IMP) of the European Baptist Federation is supporting the work of church planters, Stepan and Tamara, in the city of Tula. Stepan leads a planting team with three other members (all female) which currently meets for worship in his home. He comments to the IMP Mission Co-ordinator, Daniel Trusiewicz, that the people of Russia are not as open to the Gospel as they were 10-15 years ago. He says that individual contacts are more likely to lead to growth in the church than are the traditional mass evangelistic meetings.

A similar story is told by Alexy and his team of three co-planters in the Tambov oblast. The church plant currently has 15 members after three years labouring the area and a small building has now been purchased for worship meetings. Despite some opposition to their presence, the small congregation is actively but sensitively involved in mission to the local community.

More information about the IMP programme can be viewed on the website of the EBF.

Pagans in the Russian Federation: ‘you are selling God!’

August 3, 2010

Source: Wikimedia commons

An ancient pagan religion, claimed to extend back over 7,500 years, is facing new and unwelcome attention from the Russian authorities, according to TOL.

The Mari people have been worshipping in sacred groves of the forests along the Volga and Kama rivers for a very long time indeed and although persecuted during the communist era, Stalin is known to have consulted with their karts, or priests, during the period of the Second World War. The Mari people are divided into the Meadow, Mountain and Eastern Maris and number a total of 604,000, according to the Russian 2002 census. The majority live in the Mari El Republic and speak one of the small group of Finno-Ugric languages, distantly related to Hungarian, Finnish and Estonian. Aater the collapse of communism in Russia, a number of small Christian groups from Finland and Estonia have begun working among the Mari, many of whom have been nominally Christian since the sixteenth century. Efforts to resist this focussed around the establishment in the 1870s of new Kuga Sorta groups (that deliberately combined Christianity with traditional pagan beliefs, venerating Jesus Christ as the greatest prophet). The Mari regard nature as sacred and holy. They worship a pantheon of gods, chief of whom is the Great White God, Osh Kugu Yumo.

During the communist era in Russia, the Mari groves were targetted in much the same way that churches, mosques and synagogues were treated by the authorities. Rituals were disrupted, sacred groves desecrated, and leaders persecuted. Since the political changes of the early 1990s the Mari have known a period of relative freedom and are seeing a resurgence of their religious practices. TOL reports, however, that their understanding of living in harmony with nature has brought them into conflict with the Russian authorities who view the forests as a commercial rather than a natural resource. The Mari see spring water as an incarnation of Osh Kugu Yumo (selling water would be selling God)  and the trees as living beings with souls in a state of transition. In advancing their ancient and moral claims over the forest, the Mari’s karts are generating opposition. State prosecutors have used religious and ethnic hatred laws to silence them and ban their publications. ‘A Priest speaks’, written by Mari kart Vitaly Tanakov, claims that ‘Morality has gone to seed, there is no pity, charity, [or] mutual aid.’ Continuing that Christians and Muslims ‘have lost harmony between the individual and the people.’ This  allegation, apparently stirring up religious hatred, led to 120 hours of hard labour for its author. Their protests, grounded in their religious convictions,  have a political dimension that seeks tp underline their ethnic and historic distinctiveness. It remains to be seen whether the vision of a multi-religious Russia, espoused by both Putin and Medvedev, is evidenced by the responses of the authorities to the Mari claims.

It also raises significant questions for Christian mission and ministry within and among the Mari, at a time of rising ethnic and religious distinctiveness. Longer term Christian work in these areas may have to take greater account of the use of the Finno-Ugric languages spoken among the Mari, the particularities of Mari culture, will need to acknowledge the importance of the claims to the proper care of natural resources, and also respond wisely to allegations that Christians are guilty of a loss of harmony between individual and people.