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Baptist worker in Russia recounts blessings of partnership efforts

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (BP)–“Russia will never let go of my heart,” the late Ken Murphy reflected in his book, “Russian Harvest,” about the five-year missions partnership between Baptists in Kentucky and Russia.

Published by Woman’s Missionary Union in Birmingham, Ala., Russian Harvest describes the 1993-98 partnership between the two Baptist groups encompassing more than 1,500 volunteers. While most of the volunteers went for two-week visits, several made repeat trips and some spent several months in Russia.

Murphy, who died unexpectedly in July 1999, was associate director of partnership missions for the Kentucky Baptist Convention and the moving force behind the five-year partnership.

A German major at Samford University, Murphy, 60, had an affinity for languages. Robbie Murphy, his widow, noted he was a “sponge for learning languages” and was fluent in seven different languages. At the time of his death, he had begun learning Swahili and Polish with the intention of being able to minister in those languages as well.

The partnership originally had been scheduled for three years, Robbie Murphy recounted, but everyone involved realized at the end of three years their mission had not been completed, so the commitment was extended for two additional years. Telling the story of the missions partnership became a priority for Murphy, and he finished the book while in the hospital only a few days before his death from complications after surgery to remove a lung tumor.

Robbie Murphy speaks proudly about the extent of Kentucky Baptists’ commitment to partnership missions. More than $1 million was given toward the partnership with Russia, she said, which was used to help churches rebuild as well as to provide medical supplies and treatment and assist with music programs and evangelism efforts carried out by the volunteers.

The Murphys had the opportunity to form lasting friendships among Russian Baptists. His primary ministry was to train English-speaking Russian Baptists to work as interpreters with the volunteers, and over the span of the partnership he formed continuing friendships with many of those he trained. He tells of Alexei, an engineering student trained as an interpreter, who was so enraptured with Murphy’s copy of the English-Russian dictionary that he spent hours copying words and their meanings.

Although the Kentucky Baptist Convention had sponsored other partnerships, the one with Russia was unique because it began soon after the fall of the 70-year rule of communism. Pastors of local Russian churches welcomed the Kentucky Baptists into their pulpits. Murphy recounts many opportunities to preach as the Russian believers reveled in their newfound freedom to worship openly.

Robbie Murphy particularly remembered it was common for Russian Christians to weep during worship services because they were so thankful to be able to worship openly. Church members who had previously suffered persecution for their Christian beliefs welcomed the Kentucky Baptist volunteers with an outpouring of hospitality from their meager resources.

The Murphys were both touched by the commitment they observed in the Russians. Even elderly Christians were willing to walk many miles to attend church services and then would stand during the service because of lack of space. It was common for worshipers to change places midway through the service to give those standing a chance to sit down.

Robbie Murphy said her husband was committed to establishing partnerships between Kentucky Baptists and other countries because he sincerely believed that missions should be the primary focus of all Christians. The partnerships are a way to fulfill the Great Commission, she said, as well as to promote missions awareness for those who go as volunteers and for others who support the volunteer efforts by prayer and giving.

Both the Murphys saw their time spent with Russian Baptists as a life-changing experience. Ken Murphy wrote, “The prayers of Russians and Kentuckians loosed the power of God to do incredible things.”

Looking back on his ministry in Russia, he concluded: “This was God’s harvest, and we were blessed to be his laborers.”

Russian Harvest is available in LifeWay Christian Stores or through WMU’s Customer Service, 1-800-968-7301. The book costs $10.99.

A scan of the book cover is available from WMU upon request.

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  • Sammie Jo Barstow