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Church’s long-term commitment makes impact in Russian city

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (BP)–Strategy and prayers as solid as concrete have laid the foundation for an ongoing ministry that neither a small Russian congregation in Novgorad nor a mission planning committee in Little Rock, Ark., could have envisioned.
More than five years ago, a missions strategy committee at First Baptist Church, Little Rock, was studying a plan to have a long-term mission presence in some area of the world. About that time, a church member returned from an unrelated visit to Novgorad, Russia, and told the church about the needs in the area. In April 1993, the church sent an exploratory team to see how they could impact the city for Christ.
“We just went,” explained pastor Bill Elliff. “We wanted to know if a continued presence would make a difference. … We had heard there was a little Baptist church, but at that time there was no relationship.”
What the team found was a city with humanitarian aid needs — and a little church meeting in a small green house outside the city, affiliated with the Baptist Union of Russia. “The church had been wiped out in the 1930s during the communist era,” Elliff said. “Some ladies kept the faith and came back and rebuilt the congregation outside the city.” First Baptist, Little Rock, built a relationship with the church and completed its 10th trip to the Russian city this summer.
“We started out with medical and humanitarian aid,” Elliff said. International Mission Board leaders were encouraging individual churches to go on their own because the IMB couldn’t mobilize workers fast enough to meet the burgeoning needs.
“The hospitals in the area had incredible conditions,” Elliff continued. “If you went to the hospital, there were no linens, no food or hospital gowns and medicine only if you had the money.”
The doctors who went on those early trips returned home and prayed about the needs — and looked for used equipment that could vastly improve the hospitals in Novgorad. “Things happened in incredible ways,” Elliff said. “One day we would get a large shipment of heart catheterization tubes and a couple weeks later a hospital would call and tell us to come and get their used heart cath lab equipment.”
The eventual result was three moving vans full of $3 to 4 million worth of medical equipment and supplies.
Team members also worked in Novgorad’s universities, hosting meals for doctors as well as professors and students in the English department. Volunteers also worked at developing relationships with the city leaders.
Meanwhile, the church in the little green house was going strong. The pastor, Anatoli Korabel, was very aggressive, starting 20 preaching points and training pastors to lead them.
With the church growing and relationships with city leaders strong, another opportunity unfolded. “Through a miracle of God, the church was given a piece of property right in the midst of new development,” Elliff said. “The condition was that they had to build a church in two to three years.”
“The land had originally been slated for a communist center for families,” explained Jerry Johnson, associate pastor at First Baptist. He noted “there are at least 150,000 people in the immediate area.”
“Our church and others around the country have made major contributions — at least $400,000 in the last two years — resulting in the church constructing a five-story facility housing a worship center, educational space and a dormitory to house pastors for training.”
During the past two years, First Baptist also has partnered with Joe DeLeon, a Southern Baptist missionary serving in St. Petersburg. “Joe’s main thrust has been training people to go into the field through a 10-month pastor training school,” Elliff said. “Our vision was the same for training pastors. We’re partnering with Joe to provide Bibles and literature, hopefully for distribution all over Russia.
“Usually it is not the best idea to be involved in building a church in Russia,” Elliff acknowledged. “Five years of humanitarian aid laid the foundation for the building project. In the St. Petersburg state they have 36 churches, but only five have buildings. In God’s economy, the church is becoming a sending station.”
Last year, the training school prepared 17 pastors and 20 are already registered for the session starting in September. “It’s not just our involvement,” Elliff pointed out. “The prayers of the 120 people who met in that green, rural shotgun-style house 10 miles outside the city, and the martyred lives — this church has been built totally on faith.”
The Little Rock church’s most recent mission trip in June involved the largest group yet — 29 members, including youth, to conduct a crusade. Thirteen high school students sang for the crusade, as well as performing concerts in the city orphanage, a day care, children’s hospital and summer camp. Elliff and Little Rock pediatrician Jerry Byrum preached at the weeklong event, which resulting in leading more than 200 people to faith in Christ.
Elliff emphasized the partnership is a laity-driven ministry.”Miracles have happened because of the prayers of the missions committee and the Russia committee,” he said.
First Baptist also has dreams of becoming a regional clearinghouse for medical mission trips. “We have a warehouse now with medical supplies,” Elliff explained. A number of doctors were a part of most of the mission trips, lecturing at universities and even operating on the spot. “Their presence has been a blessing,” he affirmed.
Elliff also noted as a result of the church’s increased missions involvement, missions giving, not only to the project, but to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for international missions, has increased. “I want our experience to be an encouragement to churches,” he noted. “The motivation of people going and then telling their friends reaps great rewards.”

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  • Colleen Backus