KHABAROVSK, Russia (BP)–On the far eastern side of Russia, Baptist work is humming.
Southern Baptist foreign missionaries Wayne and Lee Kensington* are elated at the growth they’ve seen in both student work and church planting during the two years they have been here.
“Four years ago there may have been 24 Baptist churches in the far east of Russia. Now there are more than 60,” Kensington said. “Baptist work has really expanded in the last four or five years.” Kensington works closely with Gennady Abramov, superintendent of Baptist work in the region.
One reason for the growth: fewer restrictions. Evangelicals in eastern Russia don’t face the opposition from other religious groups experienced by their counterparts in the west, Kensington said.
Another reason may be youthful curiosity. Khabarovsk, a city of some 750,000 people, is home to a dozen major schools, so there are tens of thousands of students in the city.
Through their student center, the Kensingtons work with dozens of students every week who range in age from 12 to 27. Bible studies, fellowship times and other student-related activities have helped him share the gospel with many students. “There are no anti-American feelings here, and things are fairly open,” he said.
“At first the students seek contact with English speakers so they can improve their English. But as they attend the meetings and are exposed to the Bible, they begin to develop an interest in religious things. In time they are generally drawn into a personal relationship with Christ,” Kensington said.
Through his student ministry, Kensington launched Transformation Baptist Church. Although 80 percent of the members are students now, he said they are beginning to reach families and eventually they will have a strong Baptist congregation. Kensington is comfortable in this work, since he helped start churches in Alaska before he and Robin were appointed foreign missionaries in 1993.
One of Kensington’s biggest victories, he feels, is Roma Alexev, a young man who is showing leadership promise. Kensington hopes Alexev will take over leadership of the church, freeing Kensington to focus on another church start.
Though they live seven time zones and an eight-hour flight from Moscow in a part of the world where winter leaves snow on the ground for six months each year, Kensington dismisses any suggestion that he, Lee and their son and daughter are suffering by living in Khabarovsk, saying he’s more excited about what tomorrow holds.