Tag Archives: Russia

Sofia, Bulgaria

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As of April 2017, our team still needs $600 in monthly support to be minimally funded and remain on the field. We are looking for 12 people willing to partner with us for $50 per month. As you read about our calling and mission, please consider partnering with us!

Until January of 2015 year my wife and I were missionaries in Pskov, Russia.  There we came alongside a local church and partnered in their ministry.

(Listen to the above audio for a more in-depth update)

In Pskov, our work centered around orphanages, drug & alcohol rehab centers, and youth ministry. Unfortunately, new legislation by the government has forced us to leave the country.

In conjunction with our supervisor we decided to relocate to Sofia, Bulgaria – a Slavic country in Southeastern Europe that borders Greece and Turkey.

Bulgaria Total Population: 7 million
Bulgaria Total Protestants: 65,000

Ethnicities:
Bulgarian: 5.25 million (30,000 = .5% Protestant)
Roma: 300,000 (30,000 = 10% Protestant)
Turkish: 560,000 (95% Muslim)

The Roma (Gypsy) and Bulgarian populations are highly segregated. Of the ethnic Bulgarian population, less than one-half of one percent self-identifies as Protestant of any kind.

(Evangelism in a Slavic, Orthodox Context)

Over the last several months, we have been evaluating the mission field, getting to know local churches in Sofia and missionaries around the country.

3 Key Areas of Opportunity:

  • Internship program: Christian groups aren’t allowed on campus, so we’ll embed Christians on campus. (Read more)
  • Sermon and Book Translations: Bring solid Biblical resources to the people of Bulgaria.
  • Church Planting: Initially in Sofia, with the goal of spreading around the country.

Below are two recent sermons that I preached:

Every Christian’s Ministry

Invited by the King: Would you turn down a free invitation to a royal wedding?

They’re not Christians, They Sing!

A conversation with our landlady in Pskov illustrates the challenges of evangelism in a Slavic, Orthodox context. Click below to listen:

Some highlights from the conversation:

  • “They’re not Christians, they sing!”
  • “The Pechersky Monastery is the most unholy place on earth. People come from all over the world to hang their sins there.”
  • “We’re Christians, we paid to have all our apartments blessed.”

Read about another conversation, “I don’t read the Bible, I’m Orthodox!

Evangelism on a City Bus – Russian Orthodox

“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.

Orthodox Bible

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.”

Orthodox WomanAt first we thought she was angry when she asked us why we were here. I think she was just generally confused, didn’t understand why we would come. Admittedly, it doesn’t make much worldly sense.

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 even 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

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.

Study Bible Russian

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?
Watchtower Russian May 2014
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

Pskov: The Russian Region That’s Dying on Europe’s Doorstep

An article from Time shows the particular problems that the Pskov region is facing:

“Having tucked into his first bottle of vodka earlier than usual, Anatoly Zhbanov goes on an afternoon stroll to buy another one along the dirt road through Lopotova, a dying village on Russia’s western edge, in the region of Pskov. It is mid-April, and clumps of snow are still melting at the roadside where Zhbanov, a local artist, stops to peer inside a lopsided cabin, the home of a local bootlegger. In the window stands a plastic jug filled with murky liquid, its neck sealed with a rubber glove that seems to be waving hello. “That’s how you know it’s ready,” Zhbanov says. “The gas released from fermentation makes the glove inflate. We call that the Hitler salute.”

In the past few years, the region of Pskov has become famous in Russia for two interconnected blights: moonshine and depopulation. In 2006, a brew tainted with chemicals killed at least 15 people and poisoned hundreds, marking the first time a Russian region had to declare a state of emergency because of vodka. Last month, when the federal government released the census data collected in 2010, Pskov earned another claim to fame: it is dying out faster than any other region in Russia’s heartland … more than 6,000 villages have turned into ghost towns, or as the census calls them, “population points without population.” About 2,000 of these are in Pskov.

In just eight years, the region has lost 11.5% of its population, a rate of decline more often seen in times of war and famine. This might have been expected in Russia’s permanently frozen north, like the region of Magadan, once home to the Gulag prison camps, where the population dropped 14.1% in that time. But Pskov lies on the border with the European Union, and the city of St. Petersburg, Putin’s birthplace, is only 100 miles (161 km) away.

In Soviet times, huge collective farms and machine works were based in Pskov. Village life thrived, and the main city was famed for noble things like fending off the Teutonic Knights in the 13th century. But traveling the region’s backroads now inspires the creepy feeling that a plague has just passed through. Every few miles a cluster of huts emerges from behind a hill, and most of them turn out to be abandoned, their floorboards warped and splintered, releasing a smell of decay. The fields are overgrown, and old grain elevators tower over them like enormous ghosts — landmarks to Russia’s demographic catastrophe.

“People know that working a tractor means getting up at 5:30 in the morning, washing yourself, getting dressed, staying sober the whole time and working a full day at the wheel,” Turchak says. “The mentality here is such that people ask themselves, Why would I humiliate myself like that?”

That doesn’t seem far from the truth in Lopotova. Around sundown, one of Matveev’s friends passes by, drunk and stumbling, having finished a day driving a combine a few towns over. “There goes one of our working stiffs,” Matveev calls out to him, and the rest of the young men burst out laughing before they settle back onto their log.

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Lots of updates and photos from our mission trip to follow. Please subscribe to our mailing list to learn more!



We’re Headed to Pskov, Russia!

Pskov in Europe

My wife and I are headed to Pskov, Russia!

We recently quit our jobs and are moving to Russia with a team of three for a year. Nansi will be helping orphans, I will be working with local churches and Philip will focus on corporate prayer. We are going with East-West, a missions agency dedicated to the Great Commission.

Lots of updates and photos to follow. Please subscribe to our mailing list to learn more!

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Photos

Some photos to give you an idea of our ministry in Pskov, Russia:

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Our neighborhood in Bulgaria:

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Photos of Pskov and the surrounding areas: