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Russian Baptist president describes evangelistic challenges, opportunities

FORT WORTH, Texas (BP)–Russian Baptist Union President Yuri Sipko witnessed a great desire for the truth of the gospel in his country after the fall of communism, but he told students at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary that “doors which were being opened … now we see how they are closing.”

Sipko recounted through translator Josif Makarenko during chapel at the Fort Worth, Texas, seminary Jan. 29 that a 1992 Billy Graham crusade in a 45,000-capacity stadium could not contain the crowds. Despite Graham’s plea that the people not run to the floor when he gave the invitation, they ran to gather at the platform.

Thirty new churches were started as a result of the crusade, Sipko said, but only 15 of those remain today. “Russia still needs the gospel,” he said.

The Russian Baptist leader said there are approximately 93,000 Baptists in Russia today. That number could seem daunting in light of the country’s 145 million people. But those who profess Christ in the country are not sitting still, he said.

“When we have summer across the region, they are taking suitcases of Bibles and they are going back to the villages and towns around,” Sipko said.

Russian believers travel by river and, upon coming on a village or town, stop to tell them about Christ and offer them Bibles, the Russian leader said.

“Every time when people see these young men and young women, they are looking at them like angels, because in these villages they don’t have radios, television — even sometimes they don’t have electricity,” he said, noting that the people have had no access to the gospel before.

On many occasions the gospel is received warmly, he said.

Sipko said it was like being “in heaven” standing before the students of Southwestern Seminary. He spoke of the opportunities God is now giving Russian Baptists to teach students in theological education as well.

“Can you believe that until 1992, we didn’t have even one theological institution in the vast territory of Russia?” Sipko asked.

The Moscow Theological Seminary of Evangelical Christian-Baptists opened its doors at a new building in September 2002, he said. Classes for the seminary were first offered in 1993 in an older building.

Growth at the seminary continues, Sipko said, though there are still many needs, such as books for the library. He also noted the need for teachers.

Rick Yount, author of “Created to Learn” and “Called to Teach” and a professor of educational ministries at Southwestern, has been to Russia on 12 occasions in the past 11 years. He said that providing theological education for Russians requires a proper understanding of their cultural context.

“We don’t need to go and tell Russian Baptists how to do church,” Yount said. “They’ve been doing church in horrible circumstances, terrible persecution for years. But they would certainly welcome us to come and stand with them, beside them — to teach them and allow them to teach us and together work for the glory of God in the former Soviet Union.”

Yount’s “Created to Learn” was recently translated into Russian for use in Russian Baptist seminaries.
(BP) photos posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo titles: DIRECT FROM RUSSIA and JOINING IN PRAYER.

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  • Lauri Arnold