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Moscow's vast mosaic

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  • Bill Samsonoff
    http://www.sbcbaptistpress.org/BPnews.asp?ID=26054 Moscow s vast mosaic Posted on Jul 12, 2007 | by Erich Bridges MOSCOW (BP)--How do you reach the 15 million
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      http://www.sbcbaptistpress.org/BPnews.asp?ID=26054

      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.

      CHALLENGES, OPPORTUNITIES

      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."
      --30--
      Prayer:
      -- 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.
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