Cathy and I are in St. Petersburg Russia now, living a block from the apartment we own. Our son Lewis rents that apartment from us with his wife Galya and three children, including, Vasili, just born. Graham and Sarah, living next to Galya and Lewis are expecting #3 in July, which will be our 13th grandbaby! Not too shabby for being born in 1958.
Here I am April 2 in St. Petersburg, Russia, near our home, with our 3rd Russian grandbaby that is a Russian citizen, Vasili. He loves the rare sunshine up here 500 miles south of the Arctic Circle.
I just returned from 4 days in Dmitrov, near Moscow, and 4 days in Siberia, visiting 6 pastors we have or are training and their families and ministries. I am tired but happy!
One of the things that is making me happy is how blessed it is when brethren dwell together in unity! Psalm 133:1. Blessed means happy. Evgeni and I just spent 3 days ministering with wonderful brothers in Christ, pastors in the HopeRussia seminary, in Siberia. Our understanding and I think appreciation and respect for one another grew the longer we were together. Why?
We are a “Reformed” ministry after all! And the Pentecostal are known for being much different than us in many ways. Why do they like us so much, and we like them?
After discussing this with Pentecostal pastors Andrei Skryabin, Roman Pankin, and Andrei Chernyavski, I came up with three reasons why we especially love and respect our Pentecostal brethren in Siberia:
The Siberian Pentecostals Were Born Out of Martyrdom, and Live in Singular Dedication to Christ, and God is Honoring Their Love for Him.
As we bounced along Siberia’s rutted roads with pastor Andrei Skryabin I asked, “How did the Pentecostal get here?” Andrei, trying to keep the car from jerking too much so I would not get nauseous replied, “Pentecostals were exiled here by Stalin in 1948. They immediately began preaching the Gospel.”
He added, “In 1920 The first Pentecostal leader Ivan Voronaev together with Gustav Smith traveled through Western and Southern Ukraine and over 350 congregations in Russia, Ukraine, Poland, Bulgaria were eventually founded. In 1926, the preacher published "Short Catechesis of Christian Evangelical Faith (CEF)". Eleven years later in 1937, Ivan Voronaev was killed by Stalin’s henchmen, right here in Kemerovo region, where our students pastor their churches. But Ivan’s work was not in vain.
Voropaev was arrested by Soviet militia in 1929 and sent to Siberia. In 1937, he was arrested again and sentenced to death and executed by Stalin.
Then in 1993 missionaries from the Assemblies of God in the USA came and lived among them for a short while and introduced them to non-legalistic, winsomely evangelistic ministry and worship, and a new kind of Pentecostalism was born in the Kemerovo region of Siberia. They now own and run 10 drug rehab centers in the region, and put on ultimate frisbee competitions throughout Russia! There are more Evangelical believers in this region than there are Russian Orthodox. A miracle!
The real proof of our 3 pastors love of Christ however, was not just the loving relationships they have with their wives and children, which were very real, but that they stayed in one of the poorest parts of Russia for the sake of Christ! Most of the old Pentecostals emigrated to the USA in the 1990’s. To illustrate the point delicately, there is no running water for toilets in the free standing houses in Siberia!
The drug rehab ministries and sports ministries are so blessed by God that they make up the bulk of the 100 that came to Christ in 2018 in the churches of the pastors we are training now. In Russia, if you do not lead sinners to Christ from outside the church, the church does not grow.
I am reminded of Jesus’ words that reveal to us why our brethren are so fruitful in Siberia.
Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. (John 12:24)
Now, why do the Pentecostals of Siberia love studying at the HopeRussia seminary?
I. We teach the Word of God in an intriguing way
For instance, in my week of lectures week before last to 28 Russian ministers on preaching the Word, I did not focus primarily on, “The Word is inerrant and inspired” but rather on Psalm 147:15, He sends forth HIs command to the earth; His word runs very swiftly.
In Hebrew the word runs here, רוּץ, ruts, is used of horses running in Amos 6:12 and of locusts in Joel 2:9. In other words, the Word is wild and flies! The Word acts like this description of locusts in Joel 2:9, “They shall run to and fro in the city; they shall run upon the wall, they shall climb up upon the houses; they shall enter in at the windows like a thief”.
This gets men interested.
For example, below left is Alexander Karelin, from Novosibirsk, Siberia. He is the most popular person in Russia. He won 3 gold medals in Greco-Roman wrestling and now is a Senator in the Duma and friend and advisor to President Putin. Russians respect men like this. Russia is still in many was a hard place to live, so the Russian love men’s men.
Below right: And here am I, doing my version of Alexander Karelin, after I preached at a Reformed Church in Springfield, MO.
Since I founded our seminary in 1999 one key to our success is to invite only intriguing teachers! We should never bore folks with the Gospel!.
II. We try to be relevant to where Russian men are in their lives and ministries
Pastor Roma of Kaltan, Siberia, with a church of 50 souls, asked me when here in St. Pete, two weeks ago, “When you come we will have you talk to our 10 key men. What will you speak about to our men?”
I answered, “What about The Word of God in our lives, how to battle and win against pornography, and the cultural mandate of Genesis 1, taking dominion of the earth and being fruitful and multiplying?”
“Wonderful!” He said. “The men will love this!” And they did!
Here I am Saturday, March 30, in Katlan, Siberia, with pastor Roma to my left, and his cool men after a hot banya and even hotter message from the Word on the need to fight the use of pornography in their lives. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God!
Most of the men of Russia coming to Christ are either former convicts or substance abusers. They love a good clear message and challenge. They have no time for subtleties (which I don’t know anyway).
I have realized more and more the last few years how the Lord is making Cathy and me live out our sermons, by no planning of our own. My background (former US Army Infantry Officer, Texas Collegiate Wrestling Champion 1978 and 1979, and leading men to Christ and leading ministries from 1974 until now, including in the USSR in 1990-1991) is interesting to them.
Raising 6 children, 5 of whom are now serving the Lord with their 12 children, is attractive to Russian leaders. Having 2 sons with the families living in Russia and in ministry is relevant to Russian leaders.
This is how the Gospel is effectively preached, by credibility. I Thessalonians 1:4-5, “For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you, because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction. You know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake”.
My and Cathy’s 30 years of ministry in the USSR and former USSR have equipped us to be uniquely relevant.
III. The God-orchestrated blend of 30 years of religious freedom, with our Russian pastors 5-20 years of ministry experience, their need to have proof of a formal education, with the need for an education they can afford.
My final guess as to why we are growing in popularity in the former USSR is because God has blessed Eurasia with relative religious liberty for the first time in 1000 years. This has allowed Russians to hear the true Gospel of salvation by Christ alone, through faith alone, by God’s grace alone, and to plant churches everywhere based on this foundation. But after 20 years of ministry they realize:
1. They have no understanding of the whole Bible nor are the able to preach the whole Bible.
2. They have no clear teaching on the family in both husband wife relations, and parent child relations.
3. They a limited and sometimes legalistic view of true godliness.
4. They are not able to keep growing in Christ on their own.
5. They have no one much more mature in Christ than them who can mentor them.
6. They have very limited understanding of the Historic Christian Church or faith and feel rootless.
7. They cannot afford a formal ministry education in a brick and mortar facility, and cannot educate themselves on-line effectively.
8. The denominations that brought them to Christ are not as equipped to meet these needs as we are.
9. The Russian government is putting pressure on them to look like and act like the Historic Church which includes:
Have a formal education with a diploma
Meet in public church-looking building
Wear distinctive clothing of a formal leader of the formal Church
Prove they are not trying to do anything in secret against the government or the welfare of the people.
10. In their thinking we are able to help them make measurable progress in each of these areas
In the above 2 photos we see the direction the Russian churches are heading as they become a part of Russian society. Evangelicals are building church buildings and wearing clothing that identifies them as pastors. This is me (my collar tab was out) and pastor Andrei Skryabin this past Sunday. In his region of Russia, the Kemerovo region, the Protestant churches and flocks outnumber the Russian Orthodox! This is probably one of the only regions like this, but a great “beachhead” into Russian culture!
We feel blessed and honored to be with them, and they feel the same way about us. I call this the Siberian Blessing!
And the results?
Acts 19:20 “So the word of God grew mightily and prevailed.”