For almost 70 years, SGA(UK) has been ministering in the former communist-dominated countries of Central and Eastern Europe, often in areas formerly unreached by the gospel.
Some 20 years ago a link was forged with believers in Kazakhstan, Central Asia. Ministry engagement there led to involvement in other central Asian republics. The mission’s activities are centred in leadership training but include many other support ministries for churches, leaders, and needy groups such as orphans and widows.
Now SGA(UK) is going where we have never been before! In fellowship with the four other SGA ‘families’, in USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, we are supporting a new initiative aimed at taking the gospel to far east Russia.
The collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 caused seismic change not only in Eastern Europe and Central Asia, but in Russia itself. In the political, economic and social upheaval which ensued there was an openness for gospel witness in the country, which lasted through most of the next decade, an openness which some would say was unprecedented.
Things are moving in a different direction today, however; a ‘Yarovaya law’ was introduced in 2016 by President Putin and passed by the Russian parliament. If implemented in full, this legislation will severely limit gospel witness and evangelical church life.
‘Yarovaya law’ deems house churches illegal; prohibits religious activity of any kind outside the confines of church buildings; requires missionaries to obtain and hold official permits; and has introduced a range of punitive measures, including large fines, for those who breach the law. Unprecedented openness is being replaced by what some would judge as unprecedented opposition and persecution.
There is, therefore, a marked urgency about SGA’s outreach to Far East Russia. Over 6 million people live in a vast eastern region, almost equal in area to the USA. Many are in isolated villages which have no road access, no electricity, telephone or internet connections, and no church buildings of any kind.
Folk religion, superstition and witchcraft dominate many lives. After his recent visit to the area, SGA’s general director, Derek Maxwell, reported: ‘There has been a revival and spread of shamanism and other new religious movements. Paganism is rife. People offer vodka to the “god of the fish” to get a good catch, or to the “god of crops” to have a good harvest. There are hundreds of towns and villages with no church, Orthodox or evangelical’.
This must be seen as a frontline ministry! The desperate physical and material needs of this region are only outstripped by its acute spiritual needs, needs which demand immediate attention while the door still remains ajar for missionary activity, perhaps due only to the authorities’ struggle to apply the new religious laws in such a far-flung area.
Many difficulties confront us. The lack of infrastructure and communication, vast distances to be travelled, and the scattered nature of the population present challenges which appear almost insurmountable.
Praise God that believers, supported by the worldwide SGA family, are finding ways to respond to those challenges. Backed by committed prayer intercession and the necessary financial and material resources, a number of evangelists and church planters with their families have taken the courageous step of moving out to live in isolated areas, with the aim of bringing the gospel to many who have never heard.
The personal sacrifice involved is considerable, particularly in view of the parents’ willingness to move their families into lonely and difficult circumstances where facilities are few and often very basic.
Initially, SGA(UK) has undertaken the financial support of three of these families, with a view to offering support to others whom God calls to this ministry.
Avel and his family drove 9,000 kilometres across Russia in their old Lada car, responding to the call of God to go to unreached parts of their land with the gospel. In the town of Pereyaslavka (population 14,000) they found four believers meeting in an old church building. Already they have seen God at work and their congregation has tripled!
Avel reaches out to a further four villages, up to 40 km away from his home and near to the Chinese border. His wife is endeavouring to develop a Sunday school work.
Aleksy and his wife have eight children. They work in the Lazo region, where he ministers to a few small groups of believers in several villages. Recently Aleksy was encouraged when around 40 people attended meetings where he shared what the Bible has to say about home and family life. The links made and the contacts formed are invaluable to him as he works to break down barriers and have opportunities to share God’s Word.
Konstantin ended up in prison for crimes he had committed, but while there he had a New Testament given to him, and it led to a wonderfully transformed life. He writes: ‘While reading it I saw the beauty of Jesus Christ. After that I met some believers from a Baptist church, who gathered together in prison. They explained to me the way of salvation through repentance and faith in the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. I repented … In 2010 I was ordained for missionary ministry in the church of Tambovka village. I continue this ministry till now’.
Konstantin reaches out from his home village to four other villages which have no gospel witness, and God has blessed his ministry. Some have been converted and he rejoices in evidence of real spiritual growth in their lives.
Two significant ‘firsts’ mark out this new initiative. First, all five SGA ‘families’ in USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and here in the UK, have joined forces to support the project. In other regions there has been an agreed division of ministry responsibility, in order to avoid unnecessary duplication, but the magnitude of this venture calls for the united support of SGA worldwide.
Second, an exciting new strategy — outreach by aeroplane — will enable God’s servants to reach isolated communities which cannot be reached in any other way. This venture is undertaken in fellowship with ‘Kingdom Air’, based in Alaska, who will supply the planes and the training of pilots to serve in this ministry.
Ivan Sobolev is a pilot already active in it. He writes: ‘Here with bad roads and where it is difficult to get to villages to evangelise, the plane is really helpful, because there are many places that are very hard to reach. In winter, many places you can’t get to in any other way, just by plane’.
Three planes, with a missionary pilot and pastor team, are already in operation, two in the Khabarovsk region and one in Yakutia. The eventual goal is to have twelve planes and teams to reach isolated areas of this vast, spiritually untouched region.
The planes will be based in or near cities or large population centres, where the pastor will be active in evangelism and Bible ministry. From there, the missionary pilots will undertake evangelistic sorties to outlying towns and villages to share the Good News. The operation calls for massive investment in prayer, effort and finance, so that this goal can be reached by 2021, DV.
Pastor Benjamin Levtseniuk of Khabarovsk writes: ‘We must reach the unconverted with the gospel. There are laws that could hinder us, but we must keep going … May God bless us in this work, that through different means we can reach these people … that Far East Russia will be awakened through the gospel for Christ. Thank you for your prayers, your love, your partnership in this great work’.
Praise God for what is already being accomplished in this vast spiritual wasteland and pray for God’s richest blessing on the ambitious plans for the future, that many thousands will be reached and saved through the message of Jesus Christ, Saviour of the world.
Slavic Gospel Association (UK)