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Partnership in Mission in Russia

After the collapse of the Soviet regime, a great number of missionaries have arrived at Russian soil to assist the great task of re-evangelizing the nation. Yet, mission in partnership is at stake as some have raised the question: "Why are missionaries coming to preach to Christians in Russia?" In fact, every amounting tension between Russian host churches and Evangelical mission churches goes back to this one unresolved question.

    The argument is that the seventy-five years of "the Babylon exile" under the Communist iron had not blot out the rich Christian heritage deeply embedded in Russian culture from a thousand year of Christian history. Yet, what we observe in Russia is the co-existence of Christian and Communist philosophies. We find the unique of Russian context in the three mosaics: A mosaic of European and Asian cultures, a mosaic of rich heritage of Russian Spirituality and the practices of unreached people groups, and a mosaic of devoted Christians and those who have become nominal.

    In this regard, let me describe the two mission frontiers where both Russian Protestant and Russian Orthodox Christians must stand together and cooperate. First, we have a mission frontier for re-evangelizing nominal Christians who are exposed to every influence of Western secularism. Here, there is no neutron zone. If we do not win their souls to Christ, the world will take them. The Russian Orthodoxy can stop missionaries coming. But, they cannot stop the sweeping influence of Western materialism. Now the question is: Is this the result they expect to achieve by endorsing the New Religious Law?

    I believe that Russian Orthodox and Russian Evangelical Christians can find a common ground in our mission theology. Admitting that Western missionaries have been sometime culturally insensitive, yet we can focus on what we can do together for greater harvest. For this, we will need a missiological dialogue.

    Second, we also face a mission frontier to Muslim.  Describing it from a Korean perspective, our missionary service in Russia is more than just coming to a former communist country. We are coming to a land where Moslem is growing fast. In this sense, we can say that our missionary task in Russia include evangelism to people groups with Moslem backgrounds. And this is the area where Russian Protestants, Russian Orthodox and incoming missionaries can find a common ground to cooperate. Historically speaking, the Communist years in Russia was not only the years of persecution of Christianity, but also a time of weakening Muslim religion within the former Soviet territories.

    In Russian history, Muslim is not a traditional faith. Christian faith and Muslim religion could never coexist together. If one did not conquer the other, it meant being conquered by the other. They have shared the same citizenship whether the Muslim ruled or Russians ruled. They conquered each other by the military power, but one thing they could not do. They could not share the same faith, they could not proselytize each other. Sharing the same citizenship, they were quite different people group, people of different cultures, and people of different heart languages. Advancing to Muslim's territory, the Russian Orthodoxy found themselves still far away from the hearts of Muslim people groups. Mission to these people groups remained unfinished missionary task when they celebrated a thousand year of Christian faith.

    Ironically, it was the Communist atheist regime that had provided a highway for gospel communication to these Muslims by weakening them.  In addition, Stalin's deportation policy played a role too.  In 1937, he deported a hundred thousand of dispersed Koreans from the Far East to the Central Asia, the very territory of the Soviet Muslims. In Godís providence, the Turks in Central Asia including the Uzbeks and the Kazakhs share the same cultural and linguistic origin with Koreans. The missiological importance of the dispersed Koreans in the Former Soviet Union, namely "Koryo-in" or "the Soviet Koreans" is that they can play the role of cultural bridge for Korean missionaries. In this regard, Korean missionaries stand as the ally of the Russian Orthodox Christians in their mission frontier to the Muslims.

    Speaking of mission to Russia, I do not encourage using the word, "mission." Russia is not Africa of the eighteenth century. Appearing to be a nominal society, yet Russia has her own rich spiritual heritage. Therefore, it must be clear that our calling to Russia is the work of empowerment, that is, the work of assisting the indigenous Christian movements in Russia. In the New Testament, we find that the Antioch church was not the replica of the Jerusalem church. Thus, the goal of our mission is not to transplant or insist our cultural form and our church model, but to empower their Antioch church movements.

    I believe our mission theology of the Kingdom can help us to be united across denominations. Here, missionaries have their share of the role as bridge builders. We go not to stand against the Russian Orthodox Church, but to stand by them for our shared goal of building Godís Kingdom in Russia. Therefore, it should be our priority work that we build bridges between the denominational gaps. Indeed, we have an urgent need to develop a mission theology of unity for our partnership in mission in Russia.
    Finally, I must appeal the need of partnership in mission among Evangelicals, namely, Evangelical unity because our Evangelical mission has a multi-denominational structure. Missionaries should work in supporting relationship. When Paul was suffering from his unduly reputation in Jerusalem, Barnabas protected him. By protecting him as a potential missionary leader, Barnabas was protecting the potential of the Christian mission movements in Antioch. Now, is not this the kind of partnership in mission for which we need to build a bridge across Evangelical denominational gaps in Russia?


  © This is Kim, Dae Ryeong's manuscript as originally presented for a Russian Church History class in August, 1998.