Magazine article The Christian Century

Victor Ignatenkov

Magazine article The Christian Century

Victor Ignatenkov

Article excerpt

Victor Ignatenkov, a Russian Baptist pastor whose grandfather was killed for being a Christian, toured the United States recently to study church ministries. He also provided a first-person look at Russia's complex religious landscape after widespread persecution ended.

Under the Soviet regime, Christians could meet only for worship, but Ignatenkov, 59, said now he's free to lead whatever activities he wants as pastor of the Central Baptist Church in his hometown of Smolensk--a city situated between the capitals of Russia and Ukraine--and as regional bishop for the Russian Union of Evangelical Christians-Baptists. The union is a group of Protestant churches that began emerging in Russia about 150 years ago.

The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) International Peacemaker Program sponsored Ignatenkov's U.S. journey, which included stops in Tennessee, Pennsylvania, and Oklahoma.

Ignatenkov spoke to a political science class at Austin Peay State University in Clarksville, Tennessee, on October 6 before heading back to Russia with ministry ideas to share with his church.

Ignatenkov said he was buoyed by seeing large, bustling churches "with rooms for everything." He was most interested in examining churches' social ministries to homeless people and in prisons. He'd like to see cooperative efforts between governments and churches in Russia.

Ignatenkov, speaking through a translator, hedged on discussing Russian president Vladimir Putin's close relationship with the Russian Orthodox Church.

Putin helped resurrect the church, which the state once crushed. And though there is no state religion, the Orthodox Church receives preferential treatment.

"What's important to us, what we value, is that Putin as president holds a neutral stance," Ignatenkov said. "We do not experience governmental limitations because we are Baptist. …

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