KHABAROVSK, Russia (BP)–For decades, communism was the bedrock of Khabarovsk, an industrial city in the Russian Pacific. But communism’s failure has left many people as empty and barren as the trees that tower over them through the dark Russian winter.
A visitor can sense an ideological vacuum among those who live in cities like Khabarovsk, once a stalwart of Soviet communism. But the vacuum leaves room for an interest in spiritual matters, especially among the next generation.
Home to more than a dozen learning institutions or colleges, Khabarovsk is a magnet for the young of Russia’s Far East. And as joint ventures with American firms emerge, students are taking note — and rushing to learn English with help from people like Ross and Rebecca Carringer*, Southern Baptist International Mission Board missionaries.
The Carringers don’t advertise their classes because the response is too overwhelming. But they’ve found that many students who hear about them by word of mouth are interested not only in learning English, but in learning about God as well. Several have decided to follow Jesus Christ and have become part of a church very different from other traditional Russian Baptist churches.
“It’s amazing to see how quickly the interest in English kind of goes by the wayside and studying the Bible becomes more important to them,” said Robin Carringer. “Almost immediately they start to attend our Bible studies and other activities.
“It’s been exciting to see how many have come to know the Lord from that start.”
A central part of the Khabarovsk ministry is the Christian Student Center. Started by IMB workers who first came to the area in 1993, the center provides young believers a place to fellowship, to grow and to bring friends who are not Christian.
Some time ago, Natasha came to the center because of what it offered. But the Christlike love of the missionaries drew her to seek God. Now, she’s a glowing witness to the love of Jesus Christ among her peers.
Natasha also plays a vital role in Transformation Baptist Church. Started in 1994, Transformation is unlike most Russian churches. At Transformation, students are welcome to come just as they are.
“Usually a student ministry grows out of a local church ministry,” said Ross Carringer. “In this situation it has been just the exact opposite. We began with a student ministry.”
Since students knew nothing about Christian church life, it was easy to form them into a church body, he adds. “We began to meet just on Sunday mornings with them and conduct a small worship time. And then with the sponsorship of the local Baptist Union, we decided this is a good place to start a new church.”
The Carringers are excited by what they see happening in the lives of these students and in the new church. No longer are they spiritually dormant like barren Russian trees. Instead, like Natasha, they reflect the radiance of Christ. Others will surely be drawn by it.
Adapted from the February 1998 edition of the International Mission Board’s “On Mission With God” video series.
True Love Waits message goes to Washington, state capitals
WASHINGTON (BP)–Three True Love Waits officials from Nashville, Tenn., and two Virginia teenagers peddled the advantages of sexual abstinence until marriage to some of the nation’s power elite, April 21-22.
In Washington, the group made rounds visiting Surgeon General David Satcher, Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott of Mississippi and 11 other U.S. senators and members of the House of Representatives to educate them about the successes of the five-year-old True Love Waits (TLW) movement.
The group also asked the Washington officials to endorse all sexual abstinence movements through speeches and external messages to the public by encouraging teens to choose abstinence as the better option over safe sex.
The entourage of TLW representatives included high school seniors Monica DePaz and Brad Tomas, both of whom have pledged sexual abstinence, and Richard Ross, Jimmy Hester and Clyde Hall of the Sunday School Board of the Southern Baptist Convention. DePaz and Tomas are youth members of Columbia Baptist Church, Falls Church, Va.
True Love Waits is an international campaign that challenges teens and college students to remain sexually abstinent until marriage. The movement was created in 1993 by a group at the Sunday School Board in response to perceived teenage willingness to be sexually abstinent, but an uncertainty about how they would be accepted by their peers.
In each of the meetings, the group briefed Washington officials on the history of the TLW movement, told them what is happening with the campaign today and allowed the teens to present the reasons they decided to take the TLW pledge.
The pledge reads: “Believing that true love waits, I make a commitment to God, myself, my family, my friends, my future mate and my future children to be sexually abstinent from this day until the day I enter a biblical marriage relationship.”
An example of TLW success, Hester said, is evidenced by the number of commitment cards purchased during the 1997-98 year. As many as 750,000 teens may have pledged sexual abstinence until marriage if the number of commitment cards mailed to churches is a good indicator.
“Plus, we know many youth groups made their own cards and even duplicated cards,” he said.
Still, a definite count of nearly 68,000 new pledges came into TLW headquarters following the TLW Goes Campus event on Feb. 13, according to Hester. Students and youth leaders were asked to report the results of the new pledges by the end of February.
Texas had the highest number of youth making TLW commitments with 8,109; Mississippi came in second with 8,082, while Georgia made third with 6,876. Oklahoma had 5,360 youth who took the pledge; Tennessee, 4,776; Florida, 3,111; North Carolina, 2,899; South Carolina, 2,860; and Missouri, 2,128. Several states has well over 1,000 taking the pledge, including California, Alabama, Arkansas, Indiana, Kentucky, Illinois and Louisiana.
During two national TLW gatherings — one in Washington in 1994 and another in Atlanta in 1996 — 210,000 and 340,000 cards were displayed, respectively, Hester said.
In the meeting with Satcher, Ross, a part-time youth leader, told the surgeon general, the campaign got its start when he discovered young people in his youth group who had chosen to be sexually abstinent “were feeling alone.”
A pilot program conducted in Nashville-area churches revealed young people were willing to make pledges of sexual abstinence, he said, “and the movement quickly swept the country.”
Ross said to date 80 denominations have endorsed True Love Waits, and the campaign is active in 60 to 100 foreign countries.
“The campaign gave national visibility to sexual abstinence at time when many young people were saying, ‘We’re not all sexually active. There is a better way,'” Ross said. “True Love Waits emerged as a youth-based campaign originating with teenagers and conducted today by teenagers and college students.”
True Love Waits Goes Campus encourages students who have made a commitment to abstinence to challenge their friends to do the same, Ross added.
Ross told Satcher and other Washington leaders he believes the sexual abstinence movement appeals to a middle group of teenagers who haven’t yet made up their minds whether to become sexually active.
“We think there are three groups of teenagers in American today,” Ross said. “One has a strong family and faith and don’t need the campaign because they are committed to sexual abstinence.
“Another is going to be sexually involved no matter what. And the very large, middle group haven’t yet made a decision in either direction. It is for that group we think the positive challenge to abstinence would be useful.”
When asked by Satcher what challenges he faced in keeping his promise to sexual abstinence, Tomas said the pledge “keeps me from placing myself in situations where I am easily tempted. The promise is keeping me on the right track.”
Tomas, a student at George C. Marshall High School, Falls Church, Va., and DePaz, a student at George Mason High School in the same area, both said they feel they get more respect from fellow students who know they have pledged to refrain from sex. Both teens said they have kept their pledge for four years.
Satcher, who said he would be very happy to “play a role of using my bully bullpen” to spread the word about the virtues of sexual abstinence, asked the group to send him more teenage testimonies so he can use them when addressing the public about the subject.
Meanwhile, several Baptist state leaders across the nation met with their governors or top-ranking officials in April providing them with numbers of teenagers who made pledges of sexual abstinence in their states during the Feb. 13 True Love Waits Goes Campus event.
In Oklahoma, James Lankford, youth ministry specialist for the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma, said he was able to meet with the governor and almost all the senators and representatives. His group received a standing ovation in senate chambers for its work in sexual abstinence.
“Our visits were very positive, with our governor offering to write all of the school superintendents in the state a letter outlining Oklahoma law concerning abstinence education. Oklahoma law requires that any school that teaches sex ed must have as its primary purpose the teaching of abstinence,” Lankford wrote in an e-mail to TLW headquarters.
“It was a very risky thing to try to do this (meet lawmakers) across the nation, but I can tell you, it was worth it in Oklahoma.”
In Texas, Chris Liebrum, a consultant for Baptist General Convention of Texas and a group met with Gov. George Bush for about 20 minutes.
“Gov. Bush is a strong supporter of abstinence-based education and has done wonderful things in that area. He is in full support of our efforts and position.”
Following the meeting, Liebrum said the group and Bush met in the governor’s outer office where he presented a report of TLW pledges in Texas before a group of about “20-25 media folks. He responded with the same support he had given us in his private office.”
State leaders in Alabama, South Carolina, Mississippi, New Jersey, New Mexico, Florida, Missouri, Georgia, Indiana, Oregon and Washington, among others, were attempting to meet with officials from their states to talk with them about True Love Waits.
Two lists of TLW numbers, broken down by states and by schools and churches participating, can be found in the SBCNet News Room until the filenames TLWbreakdown and TLWbystate.