LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP)–The spiritual journey with God is still a miracle for Russian Michael Belkin, unlike many American Christians who take it for granted. A student at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary who was exposed to the gospel through radio beams broadcast into his homeland, Belkin cherishes the opportunity to follow Jesus.
A third year master of divinity student, Belkin began his spiritual journey by searching for direction and meaning. He was raised in a family of engineers and followed in their footsteps. He entered the Moscow Technical University of Telecommunications and Informatics, graduated in 1983 and began working as a radio engineer. It was then he began to question.
For Belkin, his questions began with discontent. “I was beginning to wonder what to do with my life. I didn’t like my boring job,” he explains. Although his answer ultimately was found in a relationship with Christ, he was still far from such a discovery.
His first attempt to fill the void was to take up a hobby — learning the English language. This hobby, as events would transpire, would be used by God as an integral part of his future ministry. It soon turned into career, beginning with the task of translating literature in his field.
At this time in his life, Belkin experienced two life-changing events. The first was his marriage to Irene in 1987. That same year, Belkin was “invited” to join the military and was stationed in the Far East of the Soviet Union.
It was in his military position that he first came in contact with the gospel. Belkin admits before that time he knew little of this truth. “I didn’t ‘get’ church. It was nice; I knew what it was; I had even been a few times.
“But in the Soviet Union, the church was suppressed. It was mainly for the elderly. For the younger people, it was a big no-no. This was because the younger were the future,” Belkin explains.
After purchasing a short wave radio and listening to religious broadcasts, Belkin began to understand the importance of the church while at his post in the Far East. Trans World Radio broadcasts out of the Pacific Islands introduced the gospel to the searching Soviet soldier. The Christian organization airs radio broadcasts in countries and languages all over the world through satellites and translators in order to bring the Word of God to those who may not hear it otherwise.
The church services he had attended in Moscow had not fulfilled the lack of purpose in his life, but through the words confronting him from the radio, things began to fall into place. “Being able to hear these programs in plain Russian really helped me to understand,” he recalls.
One evening, Belkin finally surrendered and prayed to receive Christ. “I decided to pray when the preacher asked us to. There was no purpose in my life, and then something came from above … and it was different after that,” he proclaims.
Belkin continued to listen to the programs until he, his wife and their baby daughter moved back to Moscow. At that time, he felt the need to lead his wife to the same decision and to begin attending church. Although his wife initially put off a profession of faith in Christ, Belkin says, “It was a family crisis that brought her to the right time. We joined the First Baptist Church of Moscow — went forward together and were baptized as a family.”
The fall of the Soviet Union in 1991 significantly contributed to the ability of the Belkins to worship God. Along with the upheaval in the Soviet government and economy, Belkin says religious freedom permitted wider practice of religious faith in the new Russian nation as missionaries from across the globe streamed into the now open nation.
“A lot of people got a taste of freedom, and they couldn’t exchange it for anything else,” Belkin recalls.
For Belkin, the changes in his country affected every part of his life. He was soon expanding his English translation work by combining it with his new found faith. He worked as a public relations interpreter for the Russian Baptist Union, then as a translator for theology classes at Moscow Bible Correspondence Institute, and finally in 1993 as the business manager of the newly founded Moscow Theological Seminary.
While at the Moscow Theological Seminary, someone suggested he needed to get his own theological education. “I had never thought of it until then. Then, I did it!” he exclaimed. He graduated from the Moscow Bible Correspondence Institute in 1994 and the next step was seminary.
Belkin had a lead on this choice. While working at the Institute, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., formed a joint effort with the school in Moscow. Professors from Southern traveled to Russia to teach the theological courses offered at BCI. Belkin spent many hours translating for these American professors.
After those experiences, choosing Southern Seminary was obvious. “There were many suggestions of other schools where people told me they could ‘pull strings,'” Belkin explains. But according to Belkin, there was already “a special spirit of fellowship” that led him and his family, now including a son, to Louisville in 1995.
As part of his theological education in the United States, he fulfilled an academic requirement that linked him to his native land. During a supervised ministry experience course, Belkin worked at the Kentucky Baptist Convention from February 1995 to February 1996. Belkin helped with the KBC’s partnership with Russian Baptists by training Kentuckians in the state office and in local churches to participate in mission trips to Russia. Belkin was also able to assist Russian Baptists from Dubna who traveled to Henderson, Ky., to work with Zion Baptist Church.
Belkin says Southern Seminary has extensively equipped him for ministry. “Southern has helped me stand firm in my convictions and strengthened my faith.” The practical training gained in seminary is also important to him. “I am not just getting theological knowledge, I am getting knowledge of real life — not just of books,” Belkin says. “There is also fellowship and building relationships.”
While building those relationships in the U.S., Belkin still thinks of his Christian brothers and sisters at home. The political instability in Russia is obvious to Belkin in the attitude of many of his countrymen. “There are a lot of people there who don’t want to think on their own. They really want restoration of the old system,” he notes.
Such instability, Belkin fears, may have profound implications for the continuation of religious freedom in Russia. Commenting on the religious life of Baptists and other Christians, Belkin notes, “At the personal level, it is easy to go to church anywhere you want. But socially, that is not so anymore. It is more regulated now, especially with the new law on religious freedom. Many people say that the window is very narrow and may even close in a few more years.”
Although his own future is not yet clearly defined, Belkin hopes to be involved in some aspect of international ministry. “It’s hard to predict where I will be,” he says. “It doesn’t matter; I will go as the Lord leads.”
As Belkin has learned, that’s part of the miraculous journey with God.