Moscow's vast mosaic
Posted on Jul 12, 2007 | by Erich Bridges
MOSCOW (BP)--How do you reach the 15 million souls of Moscow? One at a time.
The Metro, Moscow's renowned underground rail
network, mirrors the city itself. It is huge,
with untold miles of tunnels buried deep in the
earth and escalators stretching out of sight.
It's crowded; an estimated 9 million people ride
daily, from homeless immigrants to high-powered
executives. It's elegant and cultured, with
chandeliers, marbled mosaics and works of art
adorning more than 150 station platforms.
And it's dark. The people you see there seem
achingly alone despite the pushing crowds around them.
"See their faces?" whispers a missionary riding
with a trainload of Muscovites. "See how sad they are? They've got no hope."
The Metro mirrors Moscow. And Moscow mirrors Russia.
Approaching its 860th birthday, the city begun by
a medieval warrior prince has been the capital of
a vast nation, the stronghold of czars, the seat
of the Russian Orthodox Church, the mind of a
great culture, the center of Soviet communism.
Ruled by the Mongol Golden Horde and Ivan the
Terrible, burned and rebuilt, starved by famine
and revolution, "conquered" by Napoleon, besieged
by the Nazis, terrorized by Stalin, Moscow has endured.
"We know how to suffer," boast older Muscovites,
who pride themselves on their combination of toughness and sophistication.
Communism did its best to destroy that spirit
during 70 years of grim, gray conformity. Today,
however, Moscow has re-emerged as the gleaming
jewel of the "New Russia." It throbs with color,
energy, life - and spiritual hunger.
"They have it," a missionary says of that inner
hunger. "But they don't realize it."
NEW GENERATION, OLD PAIN
Red Square on a sunny summer day surges with
young hipsters, families out for a stroll,
wedding parties, stylishly dressed women, ragged
pensioners scrambling for loose coins. A
demonstration by a small band of aging communists
mourning the Soviet Union's demise attracts
little more than a few curious onlookers.
"We are dying off," one of the communists
bitterly complains. "Every year there are fewer
of us. The youth don't care about anything. They only live in the present."
Actually, Moscow's new generation does care about
something: getting an education, scrambling for a
good job, making money. Moscow is the social and
economic dynamo of Russia. An estimated 80
percent of the nation's total wealth flows into and out of the city.
Up to 15 million people - more than a tenth of
all Russians - live within the four urban
"rings" that surround the Kremlin's walls. It is
Europe's largest metropolitan area.
At least 4 million Muscovites are between the
ages of 18 and 40. They include the heart of
Russia's educated leadership class. Graduates of
the city's 220 colleges and universities compete
for the best jobs. The successful enjoy the
city's shiny shopping malls and nightclubs. The
rest of Moscow's millions hustle to make a living.
Underneath the bright surfaces of the city,
however, lies a hard substratum of Russian pain.
Six in 10 heads of Moscow households are
alcoholic. Many men die too young from drinking
and despair. Many children seldom see their
fathers. Mothers struggle alone to make ends
meet. Dysfunctional families are the rule, not the exception.
Russians are proud of their heritage of great
literature, music and art. But the revolutions,
wars and mass dislocations of the 20th century
tore away much of their history - and left
nothing to replace it. Nearly all Muscovites are
born into the Russian Orthodox Church, but few
worship in its ornate, mostly empty sanctuaries.
Longstanding suspicion and hostility persist
toward non-Orthodox religious groups - including
Baptists, who have worshipped in Russia 130
years. Even if they don't practice Orthodoxy,
many Russians feel they would be denying their
"Russianness" by joining another church.
The novelty of post-Soviet religious freedom has
worn off. In heady days of new openness in the
1990s, Muscovites would respond by the thousands
to evangelistic campaigns. No more. Now it's a
hard, slow effort to make committed disciples of Christ.
That's not necessarily bad, according to
missionary Ed Tarleton, a 14-year resident of Moscow.
"There would be a hundred people accept Christ,
but a year later you couldn't find them,"
Tarleton recalls of the early post-Soviet days.
"It doesn't sound as glamorous, but now if a
missionary says to you, 'We've got 10 to 15
people in our Friday night Bible study,' a year
later that Bible study is turning into a church."
The biggest challenge of all is the sheer size of
Moscow. An estimated 8,000 evangelical believers
live among the city's 15 million people.
Mikhail Chekalin, 46-year-old leader of the
association of 28 Moscow Baptist churches,
understands the enormity of the task. As the
grandson of a Baptist pastor shot for his faith
under Stalin's reign of terror, Chekalin relishes the new freedoms.
"It's wide open," he says. "We can do evangelism
without being reprimanded. We can do it in the
streets. We can meet with our brothers and
sisters without problems. We can start churches.
We can preach like our fathers could not. People
are searching for Christ - and we must search for them."
How do you find them in a sea of 15 million?
"We have 28 churches, and that is small,"
Chekalin admits. "But there are people in these
churches God is preparing to do evangelism and
start churches. God has given us the inspiration
and desire for this to happen."
VEINS OF GOLD
As partners with Moscow Baptists in the
evangelism task, Southern Baptist missionaries
seek effective ways to help. A key strategy is to
break the enormous city into smaller, more manageable pieces:
-- Geographical pieces, like the Northern
Administrative District, where veteran
missionaries Brad and Lori Stamey coach a team
focusing on starting churches (see "'Co-laboring' in the North" here).
-- Social pieces, like students from elite
universities (see "Golden Rule nurtures a revolution" here).
-- Cultural pieces, like the city's musicians and
artists (see "Reaching the 'culture shapers'")
and the Deaf community (see "God's love transcends their ears" here).
-- Religious pieces, like the city's Jews (see
"Making room for the Messiah" here).
Tarleton calls them "veins of gold" in Moscow's rock-hard mountain.
"You can't take on the whole city - it's too
massive," he acknowledges. "But you can find
avenues. If you find a responsive pocket, follow
it, and it leads you to the next."
It's an impossible task without God. With Him, all things are possible.
Reaching Moscow "is going to take an outpouring
of God's Spirit," Brad Stamey says.
"That's what we need to pray for - an outpouring
into the hearts and minds of people that gives
them a hunger for spiritual truth, that makes
them seekers. As the Scripture says, he who seeks will find.
"We're seeking the seekers."
-- That ministry teams will find spiritual seekers among Moscow's masses.
-- That God will pour His Spirit in the hearts and minds of Muscovites.
-- That Russian Baptist believers will plant many churches in greater Moscow.
-- That ministry doors in the city will remain
open as long as it takes for church-planting efforts to take solid root.