On this inauguration day I wanted to give incoming President Trump and American Christians my view on how to relate effectively to Russia. (I will tweet him ASAP!)
Why do I feel equipped to give advice on Russia?
Back in 1990, when Cathy and I with three of our six children moved to Leningrad (now St. Petersburg), we were among the first Westerners allowed to live in the USSR without government connections. In fact, we lived there full time, with Soviet and Russian realities, delights, and pains in our lives from 1990 to 2015. In those twenty-five years, having planted churches from Latvia in the Baltics, to Vladivostok in the far east, we’ve come to know Russia right well.
Here is my advice on Russia for President Donald Trump and American Christians:
1. Honor the position and perception of all world leaders. I Peter 2:7, Honor all men.
Selecting Rex Tillerson as Secretary of State is a very shrewd choice by President Trump. Someone on the Trump team knows what they are doing.
I know Rex will do well first of all because he is from the town of my birth, Wichita Falls, Texas. His wonderful drawl is exactly how I talked when we moved from there in 1962 to Mount Vernon, VA. For such a proper way of speaking, I was mercilessly teased by my classmates. They called me “Col. Saaaanders”. (Hear Rex Tillerson’s speech here)
Tillerson is a good choice because the Russians know that he has already helped them develop their oil fields in the Arctic, and therefore they trust him to be able to look at things from their perspective and their perception of the world.
In I Corinthians 9:22 the apostle Paul’s example of becoming all things to all men that he might by all means save some gives us a pattern for all diplomacy with governments and peoples that are different from ours. We have to see things from their perspective and take their perceptions seriously.
In the case of Russia you do this while you know that all people and governments can be hiding much evil under the cloak of their perceptions as you are negotiating and building a relationship.
The Apostle Paul’s greater point is that all real communication comes only when the other person knows that you understand or are trying to understand them and take their opinions seriously.
Effective communication and change happen only through mutually trusting relationships, or at least ones in which both parties feel publicly honored in the process.
On the West sanctioning them on their “annexation” of Crimea, they look at the West as complete hypocrites for these sanctions after our (in their eyes) “illegal” invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan against the wishes of the governments and peoples of those countries.
2. Build a strong personal relationship, or at least a working relationship, with the leaders of world powers, namely Russia and China.
Honor publicly those you must deal with in any case by dealing with them extensively behind the scenes as much as possible before you expect any influence with them. Make them a priority in your administration and schedule.
Two countries that are open to a relationship with President Trump that all American interests abroad must deal with are China and Russia. President Trump should meet with the leaders of these two countries with no agenda but to get to know them and understand them with long visits on the phone and in person during his first days in office.
3. Understand leaders of World Powers will never allow another nation or group of nations publicly to make them appear weak.
Never publicly dishonor another country’s government, nor try to force it to lose public face, unless you are prepared to break off relationships and commerce with that country altogether and lose all ability to continue to support your interest in that country. This flows from the first point.
For example, if President Obama had developed a good relationship with President Putin prior to 2014, the Russian leader might have notified him before the invasion of the desire to annex the Crimea, or at least met at length with President Obama immediately after.
This did not happen. All people and countries are willing behind the scenes to make deals that they will never admit in public. All countries want to appear to be independent and strong. We should never try to force any country publicly to appear weak and fearful. It doesn’t work with strong individuals or governments.
One possible consequence of the sanctions of the USA against Russia is that in July of 2016 the Russian Duma enacted new laws that appear to contradict the rights of religious freedom in their constitution. Now most house-churches in Russia are illegal, and any kind of overt evangelism by believers in Russia is illegal.
Have the mild sanctions of the West worked well enough to counterbalance the loss of human rights? No. They have laughed at the US government over them ever since they were imposed.
We should understand that a proud people like the Russians will endure almost anything not to appear weak to the outside world. Our sanctions came nowhere near having any real effect on the Russian people or government because they required public groveling which no self-respecting nation will do. In the Russian language world of 275 million worldwide, Putin became the boy named David standing up against the Goliath of the West.
4. American Christians need to realize that the greater Russian world has a preeminent potential for the extension of the Kingdom of God today.
Wikipedia, my inerrant source of truth (joking!) , explains a major priority for the spread of the Gospel of Jesus Christ for the 21st Century:
This is all true, but it overlooks one giant key to growing the Kingdom of God on the earth at this point in time.
Virtually one hundred percent of these countries do not permit church planting by non-nationals, and most of the time, even by nationals. Though most Russians consider themselves Russian Orthodox, the Russian-speaking world of 275 million has only 1% of non-Russian Orthodox Christians. Almost every taxi driver of some 200 I have visited with in the last 10 years claims to be Russian Orthodox, but not one I asked understood that Christ died for our sins; not one had any concept of a personal relationship with Christ. This idea of a personal faith in a personal savior Jesus Christ is nowhere in the traditional Russian Orthodox spiritual landscape.
But in this world of 275 million Russian speakers, 50 million in Russia alone are nominal Muslim, and it is converts from these people who will make the best missionaries into the hard-core Muslim nations to the south, namely Iran, Pakistan, and Afghanistan. Islam will be reached through Central Asians, not Westerners, I believe. In this same greater Russian world, nationals are officially or at least unofficially allowed to plant new churches, and even foreigners most of the time can help them, as I am still doing today.
For Church planting, the Russian-speaking world is therefore the only unreached larger part of the world where there is relative freedom to plant churches. That is why the Russian-speaking world should be the number one priority of all church planting missions. Sadly, it is not.
Though many missions experts consider the 70% baptized rate in the Orthodox church means the Russian-speaking world is “evangelized,” nonetheless, the statistics below represent how low a priority reaching the unreached is in the Christian world.
We find the following at The Traveling Team:
May we be faithful to the Lord Jesus Christ at this time in Kingdom history. And may we believe that winning small victories now in the unchurched world like Russia yields greater glories to Christ in the future.
Praying that God will mightily use the Trump administration to free up American Christians to bring, through Christ, peace on earth and good will to all men. May they also continue believing…
Evangelist, Pacific Northwest Presbytery PCA
Field Director, Slavic Reformation Society
+1 (682) 333-2854