Former Bible smugglers and communists celebrate 50 years of Eastern European Mission
Blogging live from Oklahoma City
Twenty-two years ago, if a Russian and Ukrainian addressed a hotel conference room full of Americans, I imagine the whole thing would have been monitored by the CIA — and possibly the KGB.
Now our Cold War adversaries are brothers in Christ.
Igor Egirev, who directs the Institute for Theology and Christian Ministry in St. Petersburg, Russia, and Ukrainian church-planter Alexander “Sasha” Prokopchuk spoke at an Oklahoma City fundraising dinner for Eastern European Mission. The ministers talked about EEM’s role in transforming Eastern Europe through Bible-printing and other programs.
The world has come a long way since the fall of the Berlin Wall — just ask the Christians who work for EEM, which celebrates its 50th anniversary this year. The church-supported ministry began among a group of missionaries in Vienna, Austria. They became professional smugglers, printing Bibles in Czech, Russian and other languages and slipping them under the Iron Curtain, where people were hungry for the Gospel.
Lynn and Barbara Camp were part of the mission team to Vienna in the 1960s. Recently, Lynn Camp became president of EEM. He and his wife recalled the struggles an triumphs of the ministry’s early days, including stops at border crossings where guards searched cars for what they considered to be the biggest threats to the Soviet Union — guns and Bibles.
Now the ministry prints Bibles in countries that used to ban them. EEM also gives Bibles to public schools in Russia and Ukraine.
The evening was a memorable one for Egirev, who got to visit the man who baptized him. Bill Thompson, a member of the Eastside Church of Christ in Midwest City, Okla., traveled to Rostov-on-Don Russia in the cold winter of 1990 and distributed Bibles. Egirev one one of four Russians baptized during the campaign.
“I knew that he had a sharp mind,” Thompson said of Egirev. Thompson asked the new Christians some questions about the Sermon on the Mount and was impressed with Egirev’s knowledge of the gospel story.
Prokopchuk, who was baptized in 1995, also impressed missionaries with his depth of Bible knowledge. A few years prior to his baptism, Prokopchuck’s wife had bought a Bible from a beggar woman during a trip to Germany. He studied it thoroughly.
He remembers the first time he opened the Bible. He started reading the Old Testament books of Proverbs and Ecclesiastes and was especially taken with the verses about the meaninglessness of worldly possessions and the pursuit of wealth.
“It’s like it’s almost about me,” he said, recalling his early meditations on the Scriptures.
After his baptism, Prokopchuk became minister for the Petrovsky Church of Christ in Donetsk, Ukraine. The church grew to about 400 members, making it one of the largest Churches of Christ in Europe. He helped plant the Transfiguration Church of Christ in downtown Donetsk, where he now ministers. He also produces a weekly TV show that has aided in the planting of countless congregations in Ukraine. Donetsk churches also participate in a thriving prison ministry.
FeedbackIt is so encouraging and inspiring to see the persistence and dedication of our brothers and sisters in Christ in Eastern Europe. They truly are in a fight to save their countries’ souls. Thank you for covering this ministry.Donna MitchellMay, 12 2011Cleddy and I will never forget sitting on the Camp’s deck and hearing of their most recent trip to Russia and their activities of passing out Bibles and teaching the Word. We went to school with them at ACU and have been blessed to be able to associate with them periodically and hear of the great work they are doing and have done. May God continue to bless you in your life’s work. Pat VarnerPat VarnerMay, 12 2011I want to add my appreciation to the efforts that EEM invests to make the Bible available to individuals, churches and public schools in Europe. The Word IS powerful and we thank God for His persistence through EEM to make Himself known.Phil JacksonMay, 12 2011Thank you for serving in the East European mission field! It means a lot. Much love from Romanian disciples of Christ.PaduraruMay, 13 2011What a Blessing to the Individuals in Europe. Wat a Missionary Otis Gatewood was as he served after W W II.
God Bless his work and his memory.Bud RawlinsMay, 13 2011Eastern European Mission is one of the truly great ministeries the church has had over the past half-century. May God bless it with continued success as the next half is entered. These men and women who have so tirelessly worked to spread the gospel in countries formerly behind the Iron Curtain have truly served the Lord. The fruit of their work is seen in the good news we are constantly hearing from those areas as new Christians are added to God’s family and new congregations are established. May He bless them and their work.James HaneyMay, 16 2011