New Missionary Challenges
K i e v – Member states of the former Soviet Union face challenges similar to those of Western countries. Society is becoming increasingly secular; interest in the Christian faith is decreasing. These facts became clear during a convention of the (Baptist) Euro-Asian Federation, which drew 1 000 delegates to Kiev from October 17-19. The Federation was founded twenty years ago, following the break-up of the Soviet Union. With the exception of the three Baltic States, all 12 former Soviet republics belong to this Federation. Among other things, it was noted that Baptists in the Ukraine, the Union with the most members, had enjoyed strong church growth, from 90 000 to 135 000 members, during the first ten years after the end of the Soviet Union. However, since then the Union has stagnated or even shrunk. This is true of many other Baptist Unions in the Federation. The Russian Baptist Union presented a survey, showing how people today came to faith in Jesus Christ. Seventy percent had become believers because of their relationship with Christians, 40 percent because of personal crises, coupled with an experience of God in their suffering; 25 percent through the welcoming atmosphere in a church; and up to 5 percent through special evangelistic events. Alexei Smirnov (Moscow), president of the Russian Baptist Union, called the approximately 1 000 delegates to a new understanding of the missionary challenge. It is necessary for churches to present themselves as “light on the hill”, and less “as defensive strongholds of our traditions”. Various speakers emphasized the significance of theological training for their pastors, as an important element for the future of the churches. In the days of the Soviet Union, many Baptists were self-taught, relying on themselves for their understanding of the Bible. After 1991, the churches were in many cases molded by foreign missionaries. Today, nearly every country in the Federation has its own seminaries and Bible schools to provide theological training locally for future generations. According to the speakers, such opportunities are essential for the development of a national spiritual identity.
Among the guests of honor were Hans Guderian (Berlin), President of the European Baptist Federation (EBF) and General Secretary Tony Peck (Bristol/Prague). Guderian began his greeting with a few sentences in Russian, which were met with loud applause. He then pointed out that the countries in the Federation were closely bound to his homeland, Germany, through a common Baptist history, since the founder of Baptism in Germany, Johann Gerhard Oncken (1800-1884) had also founded many churches in the East. In addition, both regions were oppressed for decades by two ideologies: National-Socialism and Communism. And now both regions stand faced with the same missionary challenges, namely postmodernism and secularism. Here, they must support each other to bear witness to the gospel of Jesus Christ in a world that is dramatically changing. Peck encouraged the delegates to intercede for one another in prayer.