‘Does God love Russians?’
The question caught Sorina Vintila off guard: “Does God love…
‘Thank you for remembering us.”
That was the message we received, over and over, as we reached out to Christians in Russia for this month’s front-page story.
Since the war in Ukraine began in late February, we’ve shared stories of grace under fire — from the besieged Eastern European nation and from countries that have experienced an influx of refugees. We’ve seen Churches of Christ show love and mercy to the most vulnerable. We’re proud of our Ukrainian brothers and sisters and thankful for all of those who have stepped up to serve.
Related: ‘Does God love Russians?’
But we haven’t written much about our brothers and sisters in Russia — during the war and, to be honest, for much of the past decade.
During the Cold War, brave missionaries and ministries including Eastern European Mission planted gospel seeds in the communist world, smuggling tiny Bibles across the border. As the Iron Curtain fell, a new generation of missionaries found fertile soil in the former Soviet Union. In eastern Ukraine — and across the border in Russia — the message took hold and thrived.
But the atmosphere changed in Russia as Vladimir Putin stoked the fires of nationalism. The Russian Orthodox Church has become a sort of state religion, and other faith groups often are viewed with suspicion.
In a way, what’s happening now in Russia feels more dangerous than the Soviet threat. The Russian president has weaponized the language of faith and morality, positioning his war as a crusade against the liberal West.
We half-expected our Russian brethren to be caught up in the rhetoric, the propaganda. Instead, there was a feeling of sincere thanks that we were reaching out at all.
This is Putin’s war, a missionary to Russia stressed, and we err when we lump all Russians into the same heap. He cited blistering — albeit understandable — attacks made by Ukrainian Christians on social media that label Russians, including Russian Christians, as “miserable cowards” who flee to their borders rather than flooding to the Kremlin to depose their ruler. Some Russian Christians have relatives in separatist-held eastern Ukraine who have endured shelling by Ukrainian forces. Firing shots across Facebook doesn’t help.
The missionary likened the status of Churches of Christ in Russia to the apostle Paul’s house arrest described in Acts 28. Despite arriving in Rome as a prisoner, Paul lived in his own rented house and “proclaimed the kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ — with all boldness and without hindrance” (Acts 28:31).
“The church in Russia has done wonderful works,” the missionary said, “and continues to do so since the war began — orphans ministries, helping battered women, singing schools, online education of leaders — despite the limitations.” He noted that Christian camps for children in Russia are “bigger than ever and fruitful — many baptisms.”
“The church in Russia has done wonderful works and continues to do so since the war began — orphans ministries, helping battered women, singing schools, online education of leaders, huge children’s camps — despite the limitations.”
He continued: “While the churches in Russia are not under arrest or illegal (depending upon the local authorities and local Orthodox church) it’s like they are quasi-legal. But the Gospel is unchained, and they are mostly unhindered in preaching Jesus. People are coming to Christ, and the Kingdom is expanding in spite of this.”
The missionary concluded, “Thanks for remembering and writing about the church in Russia.”
“Remembering” is a big deal. As we consider our brothers and sisters in Russia, we’re reminded of another kind of captivity described in Scripture. Genesis 8:1 tells us that “God remembered Noah and all the wild animals and the livestock that were with him in the ark, and he sent a wind over the earth, and the waters receded.”
Send your wind, your Spirit, your ruach, Father. Change the hearts of Cold Warriors and heal our land. Bring peace to your people. — Erik Tryggestad, for the Editorial Board
Subscribe today to receive more inspiring articles like this one delivered straight to your inbox twice a month.
Your donation helps us not only keep our quality of journalism high, but helps us continue to reach more people in the Churches of Christ community.