Magazine article International Bulletin of Mission Research

Evangelical Foreign Missionaries in Russia

Magazine article International Bulletin of Mission Research

Evangelical Foreign Missionaries in Russia

Article excerpt

Although the efforts of a few missionaries, such as Dr. Frederick Baedeker and Lord Granville Radstock, promoted the growth of Protestantism in the nineteenth century, comparatively few foreign evangelical missionaries engaged in ministries to Russia until the late 1980s. As religious freedoms fluctuated in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Russian czarist government and state Orthodox church opposition hindered the growth of Protestantism and the expansion of evangelical missions in Russia. In 1917 the Bolshevik Revolution set Russia on a course of official atheism that by the 1930s had erected barriers to foreign missionaries and brought restriction and repression to Soviet citizens of all religious convictions.

Even during the most severe periods of religious persecution, however, foreign Protestants attempted to support their cobelievers behind the Iron Curtain, entering the USSR clandestinely with Christian literature and providing other assistance from outside, such as short-wave Christian broadcasting. Foreign missionaries were revered by Soviet believers for this assistance, and they were equally reviled by the Soviet government.

By 1989, with the presidency of Mikhail Gorbachev and his policies of perestroika and glasnost, Protestant missionaries began to enter the Soviet Union openly. In October 1990 a new law on religion not only provided unprecedented freedom for Soviet religious believers but opened the doors of the USSR to foreign missionaries. The dissolution of the Soviet Union in December 1991 and the formation of the CIS (Commonwealth of Independent States) swung open the doors to Russia even wider.

Warmly welcomed at first by Soviet citizens from all strata of society, the trickle of Protestant missionaries that had entered the USSR before the late 1980s soon swelled to a stream, with evangelists arriving from the United States, Canada, Korea, Germany, Sweden, and other countries. They came as individuals and also were sent by churches and organizations. Ultimately, "they came by the thousands. As the Soviet Union became more tolerant of religion, Western Christian missionaries streamed into Russia. Backed with millions of dollars, they were fueled by the fervent desire to win Communist souls and repair the spiritual damage of seventy years of enforced atheism."(1) Mark Elliott, director of the Institute for East-West Christian Studies, estimated that from 150 ministries working in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe in 1982, the number rose to 311 in 1989, then 691 in 1993, and to nearly 1,000 in 1997, with approximately 561 of the groups actively working in the former Soviet Union in multifaceted ministries.(2)

Commendation and Appreciation

As the foreign evangelical mission crusade to Russia advanced, many Russians, including religious leaders such as Grigori Komendant, former president of the Evangelical Christians-Baptists of the USSR, expressed appreciation and gratitude. "Praise God, there are those who came to us, sought out our churches and our brothers and sisters, and stayed to labor together with us as partners in the work of spreading the gospel message. . . . They labor not to plant American-style churches, but churches in the spirit and tradition of our fellowships and our people."(3)

Alexander Sorokin, editor of a Christian quarterly published in St. Petersburg, noted the blessings the foreign mission movement brought. "Thousands of missionaries have now come to Russia to help its spiritual revival, and I deeply appreciate their time and deeds. May God bless them! I saw people whose lives were completely changed by the Lord Jesus Christ through these missionaries."(4)

Acknowledging that criticism of foreign Protestant missionaries by the Russian Orthodox Church had been considerable, Father George Chistiakov, priest of the Church of Saints Cosmas and Damian, praised the efforts of both Protestants and Catholics. "Who is it that helped us, Orthodox people in Rus, to survive 75 years of Communist dictatorship? …

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