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Thursday, March 8, 2007

Mission Efforts Focus on Evangelism, Church Planting, Unity, Renewal, and Building Bridges to a Muslim Society

By Michael Ireland
Chief Correspondent, ASSIST News Service

SEVASTAPOL, UKRAINE (ANS) -- Three recent conferences in Russia and Ukraine have focused on renewal, unity, evangelism and church-planting, as well as ministry efforts to reach Muslims.

According to an e-mail ministry update, Russian Ministries' ministry center in Sevastopol, Ukraine was the site of the "Crimean Tatar Partnership" last month. The conference was geared for national evangelical churches in the former Soviet Union and other Christian organizations that want to take the gospel to Muslim people, especially Crimean Tatars.

Valentin Vasilizhenko, vice-president of church relations for the Association for Spiritual Renewal (ASR) -- Russian Ministries' Moscow affiliate -- emphasized the need for training on how to minister effectively to Muslims.

The Crimean Tatars, the majority of whom are Muslims, were forcibly deported to Central Asia, Siberia and other parts of the former Soviet Union under Stalin's regime. Today more than 250,000 Crimean Tartars have returned to Crimea, a peninsula located in Ukraine on the Black Sea. As a result of this displacement, many Crimean Tatars are receptive to the gospel.

Through ASR's regional ministry center there and other training programs such as "School Without Walls," some young Crimean Tatar believers have the opportunity to become better equipped for reaching their own people for Christ.

Meanwhile, Next Generation Christians have been building bridges to their Tatar neighbors, who are Muslims. Through evangelistic summer day camps in rural villages, Sunday school ministries and special events, these young Christian leaders are reaching out to Muslim families.

As one national worker noted, "There are lots of Muslim children in our Sunday school -- Ruslan, Zaur, Emzi, Lenie -- but there are still more children in our village who have never heard about God. We must pray that both Russians and Tatars will come to Christ."

Two other significant conferences took place in Russia and Ukraine last month that will help the church in the former Soviet Union define itself and its strategic ministries in the years to come.

A Call to Unity

Leaders from the Union of Evangelical Christians-Baptists of Russia gathered in mid-February to address the issue of unity among evangelicals in Russia. Participants not only discussed working together with different groups and denominations, but also addressed the differences between the older generation of believers and the new generation of young Christian leaders.

"Today's young Christian leaders understand that they stand on a foundation that was forged through suffering and persecution," points out Sergey Rakhuba, vice-president of ministries at Russian Ministries. "As the older generation of Christians passes on its wisdom and experience, the next generation of believers is ready to pick up the baton of leadership and run the race God has for them."

Valentin Vasilizhenko was the moderator of the conference. Mikhail Cherenkov and Pavel Tokarchuk, young Christian leaders from ASR, also participated in the conference.

A Call to Growth

The second conference for regional ministry leaders from the Evangelical Christian-Baptist brotherhood in Ukraine took place at the Central Evangelical Christian-Baptist church in Kiev. Teams from all regions were represented.

A seminar on "Planting New Churches" was presented in partnership with the Association of Spiritual Renewal in Ukraine. Moderator for the seminar was Pastor Vadim Kurat from Cherkassy, Ukraine, who represented ASR. Kurat was active in "Project 250," an evangelism and church-planting initiative that played a significant role in the early missionary history of the Commonwealth of Independent States. Vitaly Matveev, director of ASR in Ukraine, also took part in the conference. A three-volume church-planting manual was presented to participants. This manual also detailed the work of Russian Ministries/ASR in the former Soviet Union.

Future church-planting seminars are scheduled for March 16 and May 25, 2007. Church-plant leaders Alexander Rakhuba (Zaporozhye) and Sergei Moroz (Lugansk) will make presentations at the seminar.

An Urgent Call to Prayer

Ivan Bichkov, a national worker with Russian Ministries, reported that Dmitry Shestakov, pastor of Ivan's home church in Andizhan, Uzbekistan, was arrested in a raid on the church on January 21. The police asked the pastor to step outside the church for five minutes, then proceeded to escort him to the nearest police station. Shestakov, better known as Pastor David, remains under arrest.

According to Forum 18, an international news service that monitors violations of religious rights and freedoms, Pastor David has been charged under three articles of the Criminal Code and could face a possible maximum sentence of up to 20 years in prison.

Believers in Uzbekistan report that the criminal case is fabricated from false testimonies against Pastor David, and does not have any basis. The church has been encouraged that Pastor David is witnessing to the military and police while he is in prison.

Pastor David was to be sentenced March 1, but under Uzbek law his trial on February 28 should not have taken place because his own lawyer, who is a Christian, was ill. A court-appointed lawyer apparently did nothing to defend Pastor David.

Please pray for Pastor David, his family and the church in Uzbekistan as they are under fire for their faith.

For more information about Russian Ministries and its work in the former Soviet Union, click

Russian Ministries
P.O. Box 496
Wheaton, IL 60189

** Michael Ireland is an international British freelance journalist. A former reporter with a London newspaper, Michael is the Chief Correspondent for ASSIST News Service of Lake Forest, California. Michael immigrated to the United States in 1982 and became a US citizen in September, 1995. He is married with two children. Michael has also been a frequent contributor to UCB Europe, a British Christian radio station.

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