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Church encourages IMB workers in Moscow

MOSCOW (BP)–Challenges abound for the team of International Mission Board missionaries serving in the bustling city of Moscow. In their challenging cross-cultural context, the need for encouragement is real.

Beginning this year, the Moscow team will have a new helper — North Metro First Baptist Church in Lawrenceville, Ga. Leaders of the Russian Baptist Union asked the church to focus their attention on encouraging the missionaries serving in Moscow and to assist in strengthening Russian-led churches.

North Metro’s commitment is part of the Georgia Baptist Convention’s five-year partnership with IMB missionaries in Moscow and St. Petersburg, Russia.

Initially, the leaders at North Metro wanted to focus more attention on direct evangelism. But the church began to understand the encouragement needs of the missionaries and agreed to take on that role. Frank Cox, pastor of North Metro, traveled to the Russian capital in early January to meet with IMB missionaries and work out the details of the new relationship.

“We came over to meet with the missionaries and catch a glimpse of how our church can engage in their lives and how we can be an encouragement to them and their work here,” Cox said. Cox also sought to identify several future projects that could utilize mission teams from North Metro in the work of local churches.

“The missionaries here are doing a great job. They are making great inroads,” Cox said. “I’m glad we are able to partner with them.”

Cox acknowledged that the size and population of the city and the scope of the task can seem overwhelming. The missionaries face long, slow work as they seek to build and strengthen self-sustaining, Russian-led churches.

“The work that they do is tremendous, but the harvest is hard,” Cox said. “They are out there planting those seeds. It’s kind of hard when you are plowing the field.”

Even as West encroaches on East through the proliferation of American and Western brands since the fall of the Soviet Union, Russia remains a unique and mysterious place. Each day missionaries in Moscow are faced with a multitude of challenges.

The difficult language, long winters, overwhelming population and people who are resistant to the Gospel provide ample reasons for missionaries to contemplate quitting. And these are just a few of the items on a list that includes education, transportation and the challenge of paying monthly bills.

The most immediate challenge is the language. Russian requires hours of study to gain the basic level of proficiency needed for quality communication. The missionaries must continue to learn Russian and improve their language skills throughout their time of service.

Winter is another issue, with its cold, snowy, gray days. Sunrise comes after 9 a.m. and by 3:30 p.m., the sun is setting. Ice-covered walkways create hazardous conditions for pedestrians. Slip and fall injuries are common in Moscow. In early January, one SBC missionary suffered a broken leg when she slipped on icy steps.

After the defeat of communism in 1991, Russia enjoyed a brief time of spiritual awakening. Many turned to Christ in the early 1990s. Now the people are not as open to Gospel witness.

New challenges could be on the horizon. As Baptist Press reported in November, lawmakers have introduced legislation that, if passed, could restrict religious freedom. Russian Baptist leaders said the law seems to target the mission efforts of Protestants and Roman Catholics — namely the use of foreign missionaries and foreign mission teams in Russia.

In the face of these real difficulties, the call of God on their lives won’t let the missionaries leave. And a little encouragement from churches like North Metro goes a long way.

During a recent trip to Moscow, a team of volunteers from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary and Southern Baptist churches in Louisiana, Mississippi and Tennessee found out how even the smallest gesture of love can provide encouragement to missionaries.

Encouragement came in the form of 11 large jars of peanut butter, an American staple not readily available in Russian supermarkets. Each member of the NOBTS volunteer team packed a jar or two in their luggage — one jar for every missionary or missionary family.

The gift of peanut butter was a big hit, especially for the missionary kids in Moscow.

When volunteers visit the missionaries, they don’t hear complaints about the challenges. Instead, the American groups experience the challenges firsthand. The missionaries typically don’t talk about the sacrifices they have made to follow God’s call.

Conversations quickly turn to thankfulness. The missionaries are encouraged by Southern Baptist support. Each SBC missionary the NOBTS team met expressed thankfulness for the Cooperative Program and the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering. It was common for the missionaries to ask volunteers to take a hearty “thank you” back to American churches.

North Metro’s commitment to the Cooperative Program and missions giving makes the church a great fit as encouragers. The church gives 13 percent of undesignated receipts through the Cooperative Program. North Metro’s world missions offering, taken throughout the year, funds gifts to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions, the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering for North American Missions, as well as local and state missions.

In addition, North Metro sets aside a portion of the missions offering to help church members participate in mission trips. Cox said the church tries to provide half of the trip costs for its members.

“We go half with them, because we want to get more of our people out doing missions,” Cox said. “We are trying to show that a church can [be involved in local and world missions] while keeping the Cooperative Program strong.”

Cox was clearly moved by his meeting with missionaries in Moscow. As they told of their work and shared their prayer needs, Cox was inspired.

“If Southern Baptists could see this, they would be faithful to the Cooperative Program,” he said. “If Southern Baptists could understand the impact they are having around the world, they would see the importance of cooperating together.

“I’m excited about what our church can do, whether it is being prayer support, whether it is meeting some needs they have while they are here, whether it is sending teams over to encourage them in their work,” Cox said. “It’s going to be a good partnership.”
Gary D. Myers writes for New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.