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Insights on Christ and Russian Culture

From Rev. Blake Purcell

When biblical Christianity comes into contact with any of this world’s fallen cultures, the resulting transformation can be profound and sometimes heartbreaking. For this first entry in his new blog page, HopeRussia’s Founder and President, Blake Purcell, gives us an inside look at what happens when biblical masculinity—even an imperfect representation of it—encounters a culture where God’s image shown through masculinity has been harshly distorted by the Fall.

 "Why weren't you my papa?" He wept as he fell to one knee. The clarity of how bad it had been exploded into his awareness—now that he and his wife had given birth to their first child. "My dad brought women into our house when my mom and I were home and took them into his bedroom. Can you imagine what that was like for us?" "Blake, why weren't you my dad?" he cried. "Evgeni, what was your relationship with your dad like?" "Well, he drank...and then he beat me." His experience is not unique. When men who have been raised in the former USSR interact with me labout what their fathers were like, the interaction is often like the conversation I had with Sasha F in 1994: "Who influenced you more, Sasha, you mother or father?" "Well...really, my Soviet school teachers influenced me more than either of my parents. Blake, you are the first adult that has ever asked me questions about my life." My ongoing conclusion after living in Russia full-time from 1990-2015 is that Russia was and continues to be a nation dominated by fatherless men. And the Evangelical Church in the Russian speaking world is the same. Almost all of the 50 pastors and ministers that have attended our seminary have never had an older mentor—a spiritual father—as Paul called himself to the Corinthians, in I Corinthians 4:15.  Paul called Timothy “his dear son” in II Timothy 1:2, and “my true child in the faith” in I Timothy 1:2, even though Timothy was already a believer when he met him.

Since founding HopeRussia Seminary in 1999 in St. Petersburg, I have become the spiritual father for a short time to all 50 of the men who have come through our training, and more long-term spiritual father for about 15 of them. (Some of them left because they did not want a spiritual dad who asked hard questions!) The distinctives of my mentoring of all of these men fall into two mutually dependent categories:

    1. I introduce them to a life lived in the whole counsel of God, the whole Bible.

    2. I coach them in every area of life, especially their personal walk with God, their marriages, and their family lives.

The stark reality is that, since they have never had anyone do this with and for them, they really struggle to do this for others, so their pastoring can be very shallow.  Right now I am actively mentoring fifteen Russian pastors in following ways:

With Pastor D: How to earn your wife's respect, and my wife Cathy is coaching the wife on how to trust your husband.

Pastor F: With your background you probably need to go a whole year without drinking any alcoholic beverages.

Pastor R: You need to support your family financially first, and do the ministry second.

Pastor A: You need to spend time every week as a family, eating at least 1 family meal every day.

Pastor S: You need to take your wife out on a date every week.

Pastor B: You need to read the Bible and pray every day just for yourself, at least 15 minutes. And pray over and for everyone in your ministry every week.

Pastor G: You need to live with your wife and kids. Living apart from them for months on end is very dangerous.

Pastor P: You need to have your worship service empower people with a positive experience of the Lord's supper every week, so that you do not have people leaving worship simply with a long list of new things they have not been doing or doing right.

As we try to love them with the love of Christ, many HopeRussia students have “come out of their shell,” asking poignant questions like, “I have a gum disease and need to replace all my teeth. Can you help?” and “My father has just died in China and I need to go there to bring home his body. Can you help me?” Here is Pastor Evgeni's feedback on how HopeRussia’s commitment to building relationships with our students has helped them grow in biblical masculinity: "Before I came to the seminary, I did not know how to use the whole Bible in my life and ministry. I worked at the church until 11 o'clock every night. I spent no meaningful time with my wife and children. So when I learned the Biblical approach to life and ministry in which a husband and father prioritizes those roles, especially when he is a pastor, this radically changed my life, saved my family, and even kept me in the ministry. I think I would have quit if it were not for the teaching and coaching the Blake and the staff do with us.  I do not know of any other ministry in the former USSR that focuses on the lives of those in the seminary as the HopeRussia seminary does."

Your friend in Christ,

Blake Purcell

“For you shall go out in joy and be led forth in peace.” (Isaiah 55:12)