Here's a beautiful picture of God at work in Siberia. As bad as things are in the American Church, I am constantly encouraged by the news coming out of Russia and Eastern Europe. The Church is growing and vibrant. It's poor and struggling, but they're focused on the heavenly Kingdom.
I pray they do no succumb to temptation....temptation to buy into the 'Christian' American mindset with regard to prosperity and materialism. I pray they aren't tempted to move to the west in order to be successful and join with other Christians....in many cases only to have their faith destroyed.
I pray they do no fall prey to Dominionist theology coming out of the United States and being promoted by so many American 'ministries.' I hope the Church doesn't get on the wrong track and lose site of who they are and what they're doing in order to engage in Culture War and political reform. Their countries are full of sadness and tragedy in the form of street children, prostitution, alcoholism, and drug use. Those people need a Church bringing the salt and light of the gospel message and Christian love, not reform in the Kremlin. God willing, Russia and especially places like Belarus will become more free and secure, but the Church's mission is to proclaim Christ. As citizens they can vote if they want, they can participate, but I pray the Church doesn't become confused and lust for the establishment position the Orthodox 'church' wields.
The Church doesn't need to worry about whether or not Putin is a Christian. They need to worry about the Church...its health and growth.
And I pray that American Christians will do what they can to help these people. For those of a more Reformed persuasion, you must check out Come Over and Help. They're doing a great work. They're helping churches in Eastern Europe and Russia. They're helping pastors and leaders that are already there. They're not sending Americans over. The stories are stirring and inspiring. They're helping to build much needed orphanages, translate literature and provide basic needs for the poor during the winter.
Years ago I was sitting in a Reformed Church looking over the budget at a meeting. We were spending $3000 a year on maintaining the grass and landscaping...and this was a small building and congregation. Thousands were wasted on such nonsense as new seats and carpet. The pastors are of course paid rather well and have nice benefit packages.
I'll say it. I don't have a lot of money. That is largely due to choices I've made regarding lifestyle and priorities. So, I would rather give $50 to people in Eastern Europe, where the money goes a long way, then waste it giving it to a Church that thinks it needs to cut the grass. In Eastern Europe most people are living off the equivalent of a few hundred dollars a month. $50 or even $20 goes a long way.
What do such sums pay for here in the United States? Next to nothing.
So, I decided then, when I can give money....for the most part, it's going overseas. The American Church doesn't need more money. That's the last thing it needs.
Here's an article from the Banner of Truth. It's a paleo-Reformed site. I don't agree with everything the people at The Banner stand for, but I came into contact with them and the old books they publish during my early days as a Christian, and I've always appreciated and had an affection for them. Some of the books they publish had a deep and lasting effect on my life. I found this at their site this morning and wanted to share it.
Three Christians in Siberia
1. Valera Oichanko has been leading the work in Tiumen very successfully for the past eighteen months. Here is his latest report.
We are very glad to be able to share with you the experiences and blessings we have had in our service for the Lord in Tiumen. We also thank you for your prayers for us and your support.
The summer months were full of activity especially among the children's and young people's work. In Tiumen we held a week of meetings for our children called 'Summer Camp', and more than fifty attended. Our main purpose was to help them know more about the Lord, to teach them how to have fellowship with him and enjoy meeting with other Christians. We also had children from non-Christian families. In addition to Bible lessons each day we had a full programme of sporting events, competitions, model-making and embroidery. For the older girls food preparation, and for the older boys, how to light camp fires and cook a simple meal! It was a blessed time and we felt God's presence throughout the week, not only with the children but their parents as well. It was a joy for us to see their happy faces and to hear their prayers to God for their families and friends. Surely the Lord spoke to the unbelieving parents who were present through their children. At the end of the week they didn't want to go home and asked if we could continue the meetings for several more days!
We repeated these children's meetings in our daughter Fellowships outside Tiumen in the settlements of Onokino and Yar. The children came from unbelieving homes where many of their parents are alcoholics or drug addicts. We were impressed at their openness and their willingness to listen and take part in the programme, to pray and to sing Christian songs! Several children came simply to eat the food because they are half-starved in their own disfunctional homes, due to their parents' lethal and crippling addictions.
We organised a tented camp in the forest for the young people in our church. We felt it was a specially blessed time around the camp fire at night as we discussed spiritual things, prayed and worshipped the Lord. Sometimes this went on almost until dawn! These meetings enabled us also to draw closer to our young people and make friends with them. We rejoiced that many of them were changed by this time together and want to devote themselves to the Lord and to his service.
Therefore we ask you to join us in prayer that the good seed sown in the hearts of all these children and young people will bear fruit for God in the future.
Drug addiction is now a serious scourge in all Russian cities including Tiumen. We would like to start to work among them. Recently a brother from Omsk has joined us, himself a former addict, who has devoted himself to this service. We are praying about opening a Rehabilitation Centre and have begun looking for suitable premises. Please pray for this new venture.
This year we have held two baptism services where twelve people sealed their covenant with God and were added to the church. But due to the economic crisis a number of our members have gone to other countries seeking work. Others have emigrated to Germany or the United States. In addition, each year between eight to twelve of our older folk die. So our membership stands at 230 whereas last year it was 203.
On Saturdays we visit hospitals and give gospels to those who will accept them. We have about forty children in our Sunday School divided into five groups. We continue to visit the Children's Home outside Tiumen once per month where we are allowed to preach the gospel. We also try to help them with clothing and other necessities.
So this is a small picture of our ministry in Tiumen, please remember us in your prayers.
2. Pastor Timothy Oleinik reports on the work of his church in Tobolsk during the last six months. His health broke down earlier in the summer and he spent several days in hospital. Pastors in Siberia over-work themselves and seldom take a day of rest. This is one of the reasons why we help them to have a regular summer break in the warmer south of Russia.
We are grateful to God that our Rehabilitation Centre outside Tobolsk is working so well. We have again between six to eight persons there whom we are helping to free from alcohol or drug dependency. Dedicated workers visit every week by rota to talk to them, pray together and read the Bible. The church provides food and all other material needs. On Sundays we bring them to church and one of them was recently baptised. But it is difficult to find work for them once they leave the Centre because without it they are tempted to return to their old life.
In the countryside around Tobolsk there are lots of Tartar Settlements. Many of them are strongly Muslim and very opposed to our efforts to reach them with the gospel. One man who visited our church was subsequently beaten up by his friends for dishonouring his traditional faith. Unfortunately he hasn't visited our church again. However one Tartar lady, Fawzy, has come to faith in Christ and we send you her written testimony.
We had a request from a Russian Orthodox man wanting to testify in our church. It was a big surprise for us as it had never happened before! His daughter had been helped through attending our Rehabilitation Centre. He thanked us for continually teaching and explaining the truth of the Bible. He said that he only learnt about God and the Bible when he came to our church, in spite of attending an Orthodox Church for several years. His priest even said to him, 'Pass on my thanks to the Evangelical Church and tell them to keep to the Protestant Faith and avoid the ceremonies of the Orthodox and Roman Catholic Churches!' He said this as he was leaving Tobolsk. The man who testified to us often brings people from the Orthodox Church to our services.
We thank you again for providing the money for our daughter church to be connected to the town's sewage system. This enabled us to hold two weeks of special summer meetings for the children of the deprived district where this little church is situated. The young people of our central church had two summer camps near the Ural mountains this year. Quite a number were unbelievers who heard about Jesus Christ and his salvation for the first time. A young man called Vassia repented and accepted the message of the gospel. We rejoice at the opportunities we had this summer for teaching the Scriptures to children and young people.
I was invited by my brother Boris to visit some churches in the Kirov region where he has been working for the past sixteen years. I led seminars in each one. A Seventh Day Adventist Pastor was present and a debate between us ensued. When I spoke to him, proving from the Bible that salvation was by grace alone and not through the works of the law, he thanked us and agreed that it was so!
In August we had a service of Baptism for eleven persons wishing to seal their covenant with God. It was a special joy for us because our youngest son, Pavel, was among them! We give heart-felt thanks to God for this great blessing to our family.
I hold regular meetings with the leadership of our church at which we study a biblical topic together. We are encouraging other brothers to join us to share the burden of leadership more widely in the future. At these meetings we also have special prayer for the families of those in leadership and for our numerous house- groups. We are pleased that there are so many prayer-groups in the church focusing on the different ministries within it - evangelism, Sunday School work and family problems etc.
Finally I want to thank you all for your continual support, and for enabling us again this summer to travel to the south to restore our health in the Caucasus with its warm climate and beautiful scenery. Praise God!
3. The testimony of Fawzik, a Muslim lady from one of the Tartar communities living in the forests outside Tobolsk. I was born in a Tartar Settlement deep in the Siberian forests living with my parents. We were very poor. We were nominally Muslim but in fact had no faith. We lived without God but on religious festivals visited the mosque. God and religion were never discussed in our family.
When I became an adult my parents arranged a marriage for me. Muslims customarily do not consult the wishes of the bride. Soon I had a child but our family life was very unhappy; my husband didn't work and was constantly drinking. When he was drunk he usually got into fights. Neither I nor his child mattered to him and soon he left us. I experienced a deep sense of betrayal and misery. I decided to leave this isolated Settlement and move to Tobolsk in search of a new and better life. I married again but my second husband also drank. My only consolation was my children, but in my spirit I was always crying out to God. Secretly I was praying to God and speaking with him. So things became a bit easier. I began to seek God by visiting either the mosque or the Orthodox Church, but in neither place could I find peace for my soul. My unsuccessful search resulted in dark depression. Several times I visited a psychiatrist seeking help. The tablets he gave me only brought temporary relief. My sense of dissatisfaction increased and the mental pain I felt made me want to scream.
Then one day I met an old friend of mine, a Tartar like me. She told me she was just going to a church where people of all nationalities were welcome. She seemed so happy and explained that there both Russians and Tartars sing praise to God and pray together. Looking at her joyful face I asked if I could come with her. And what do you think? As soon as I entered the service I knew immediately that this is what I had been looking for all these years! I felt God's love and his presence there among all these people. I burst into tears and began praying to God accepting him into my heart.
This caused such an upheaval in my life that it is, even now, difficult to describe. Christ became the centre of my life and I began to pray both for my husband and our children.
My husband, seeing such a change in my life, also began to come to church with me. Now he has repented, believed the gospel and been baptised. After some time one of my sons also believed and was baptised. My joy knew no limits! Now I am praying for my second son. He is not unsympathetic to my faith but his wife doesn't want him to go to church. I believe that he too will be saved; it's only a matter of time. Now I am always joyful and love speaking to people about Christ - he is the goal of my life and gives it new meaning. This summer God gave me a wonderful gift - a former Tartar friend of mine was baptised and now comes to church with her daughter. We are so pleased that God's Kingdom is increasing and people are receiving salvation.