Lots of news that affects our ministry and our near return to Pskov, Russia!
When we hear the word ministry, we often think of professionals – staff at churches or Christian organizations. Do you have a ministry?
The Apostle Paul writes that God, through Christ, has reconciled us to himself and given us the ministry of reconciliation. We are God’s agents – God’s ambassadors to his enemies, offering terms of surrender.
God works with individuals and through individuals. Join us as we consider God’s call on the life of the Christian in Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians 5:14-21.
Listen or download here:
“I don’t read the Bible, I’m Orthodox.”
You don’t expect to actually hear those words. Everyone knows it’s true, but it’s never said. Certainly not as a means of identification.
On the bus home from a seminar the other day, Nansi had a Russian study Bible on her lap. The man sitting across from her, a Jehovah’s Witness, engaged with us – easy enough when someone is carrying a Bible! You can read the story of that encounter here.
There had been four of us sitting in tight quarters, like a restaurant booth without the table. Sitting next to the Jehovah’s Witness was a woman, who I initially thought was with him. After he left the bus, since she had heard the entire conversation, I asked if she read the Bible. Immediately she answered, “I don’t read the Bible, I’m Orthodox.”
["Я Библию не читаю, я Православная."]
In response I asked, “Are Orthodox not allowed to read the Bible?”
After an awkward pause, ignoring the question, she said “that guy’s not normal,” referring to the Jehovah’s Witness.
Below is the rest of our conversation:
“I come from a different branch of Christianity, and I don’t really understand Orthodoxy. What is most important in Orthodoxy?”
“To be a good person.”
“That’s only possible with God’s strength.”
“Sometimes I feel that way.”
“I know you might think that I’m also from a cult, we work with the Baptists. We can’t be good people on our own. You can’t be a good person. I can’t be a good person. My natural self does not seek the things of God. It’s only when God resurrects me, though Jesus Christ, that I can live.”
“Why are you here, in Pskov?”
“My wife and I moved here because we want to help people. We have some friends from the area who recommended it.”
“My priest told me not to help people unless they want to be helped. I’m old, I’m in my 60s, I’m tired of people, I don’t want to spend any time with them. People don’t have the same values today, they’re only interested in money.”
“Were you a Christian in the Soviet times?”
“I never thought of it that way. I sang in the choir at church. I was a schoolteacher and they threatened to fire me because of my church going.”
A standard, nominal Orthodox Christian, who never goes to church, would also say it’s important to be a good person. It’s enlightening, however, to hear that from someone who is a regular part of the church’s life.
She thinks the Jehovah’s Witness is in a cult, and he thinks she’s an unbeliever, but both of them are trying to earn their salvation. I hope she gives up. I hope she stops trying to rely on her own strength.
She knows who we are, and she knows where we meet, but the cultural baggage against Protestants is so strong that very few self-identified Orthodox are willing to engage.
Less than 10% of Russians have any connection to any church. Most Russians are Orthodox only by ethnic identification. To them all Protestants are “Baptists,” and they’ve been taught that Baptists are Western traitors who practice child sacrifice. Seriously. Most believe the first accusation, and some the second.
This is one of our greatest strengths as foreign missionaries in Russia. We’re not Russian. It’s ok for us to be Protestant – I’m not a traitor for being one. Russians can engage with us as a cross-cultural dialogue, not a negotiation with an enemy. The problem is, we don’t eve have the Bible as a common foundation.
Do you have any experience in theological communication with Orthodox? Let me know in the comments!
Read part 1: Evangelism on a City Bus – Jehovah’s Witness
As missionaries in Russia, we’re always looking for ways to steer conversations towards spiritual themes. Sometimes, you get asked directly!
My wife and I were on the bus, going home from a Romans’ seminar that was held at our church downtown. On Russian buses, there are sections of four seats that face each other, in pairs of two. Like a booth at a restaurant, but there’s no table and your legs are often intertwined.
Our Russian language MacArthur Study Bible was sitting on Nansi’s lap, the description written on the spine. The man across from her leaned over and asked what a “study bible” is. Talking to strangers is highly unusual behavior for Russians in public, so I was a little confused at first. I took the Bible, opened it up and showed that the text is at the top and commentary at the bottom of each page.
The man asks, “how do you know to trust what the commentary says?” That’s a brilliant question, one that I did not expect from someone in a nominal Christian culture where nobody reads the Bible. “He’s a known, respected and trusted author,” I respond. Nansi adds that we compare what we read against the text – which was actually a much better answer!
“You shouldn’t read any commentary, just read the actual text,” the man replies. As if to prove something, I show him my English Bible, which doesn’t have any commentary.
“People pray here about the Kingdom of Heaven, but they have no idea what the kingdom actually is.” Presumably he’s referring to the Lord’s Prayer, or as even Russian Protestants call it, the “Our Father.” I took the bait, “what is the Kingdom of Heaven?”
“A government in heaven, ruled by Christ, established 100 years ago in 1914. If I give you some literature, will you take it?” Let’s find out who this guy is, I think – not knowing this piece of JW theology. As he’s getting ready to exit the bus, he pulls out a magazine – the Jehovah’s Witness style is unmistakeable.
My wife made an insightful comment, that would have been pertinent had the man not left. We’re not supposed to read commentary, just the Biblical text … but we should read the Watchtower? How is that not commentary?
This is the second time that we’ve been engaged by Jehovah’s Witnesses. First, while in Bulgaria waiting for our visas – now, on a bus in Pskov, Russia. They definitely deserve an “A” for effort.
Granted, he had a very helpful hint that we would be a good target, we were carrying a study Bible in plain view. Still, I can’t imagine that many Protestants are looking to start spiritual conversations in the city bus.
I know, from speaking to other Jehovah’s Witnesses, that they need to earn their place in heaven, to be one of the 144,000. It is a religion of works, and he’s trying to do his part to evangelize not just because he’s concerned about us, but also because he’s concerned about himself.
He is trying to earn salvation by his evangelism. That may give him greater impetus to do it – but are we, who are secure in our hope, silent?
The conversation continued with the man’s neighbor in part 2: Evangelism on a City Bus – Russian Orthodox
I visited Crimea, Ukraine in the summer of 2007. Without a doubt, my favorite city was Sevastopol. The Russian Black Sea Fleet is stationed here and you can take tour boats around the harbor – hence the Russian flag everywhere. During the Soviet Union, the Soviet Black Fleet was here. After independence, Russia rents the base and shares the harbor with the Ukrainian fleet.
With its strategic location, Sevastopol has been sieged by the British, French, Turks and Germans over the past several centuries. Crimea is once again in the news with reports of increased Russian troop levels supporting protests against the newly installed government in Kiev.
To see why I loved the city so much – and Crimea in general – check out the photos!
The beautiful Convent of St. John of Rila in St. Petersburg, Russia looks amazing at night.
Closed by the Soviets in 1923, the nuns were all exiled to Kazakhstan. The convent was reopened in 1991.
We spent Christmas Day with Nansi’s home church in a Gypsy village of Dupnitsa, a town south of Sofia. I preached from a nontraditional Christmas passage (John 1:1-16) and Nansi translated. The children all got presents from Samaritan’s Purse, so if you and your church participated in any of the international Christmas gift outreaches, we saw the fruits of that!
This week a friend and I were talking at Starbucks about our ministry in Russia and the history of Evangelical Christians in Russia and Ukraine. In the middle of our conversation, the lady next to us turns around and says that she is from Ukraine and overheard our conversation. We soon begin to understand that her hope for salvation is in her nation. Click on the video to hear about our conversation and the conviction of God on her heart:
Where is Our Hope?
I ask if she believes in God, she says that her grandmother did, but she can’t. Religion is a crutch for the weak. It’s ok for people to go to church, because they learn morals, but God can’t exist because of all the suffering in the world. “After Chernobyl, I can’t believe in God.” In her opinion, the disaster at Chernobyl was not an accident, but an intentional attack meant to kill people and lead to the destruction of the Ukrainian people and the Soviet Union. Why would God allow that? The only hope is for the people and politicians of Ukraine to bring greatness to the nation.
My friend and I told her that our hope is not in democracy and it is not in America. Our hope is in the living God who redeemed us in Jesus Christ – who suffered for us while we were still enemies. That the human heart is evil, not just some people, but all people. “I can’t believe, I can’t believe.” She stood up and prepared to leave. Visibly shaken, she kept repeating “I feel so guilty, I feel so guilty. I see my grandmother standing in front of me, scolding me, ‘Olga, how dare you!’”
Believe in Your Heart and Confess with Your Mouth
Olga confided that she doesn’t usually tell people she doesn’t believe. She doesn’t know why she shared that with us, “I thought you were students of history, I didn’t know you were so religious! I believe in my heart that there’s no God, but I don’t usually say it. I feel so guilty.”
We told her we’d be praying for her and her son and invited her to the Russian language church where I am a member if she wanted to talk more about God.
Paul writes that we should believe in our heart and confess with our mouth (Romans 10:8-13). Interesting that she believes in her heart that there is no God, but she is shaken to the core when she confesses with her mouth. Please pray along with us that the conviction she feels will bring fruit.