Go Ye Into All the World: Russia

Russia is a vast country covering an area of 17,075,400 square kilometers. When the time is 12 noon in Kaliningrad Oblast, in the west, it is 9 pm in Kamchatka, in the east. The estimated population in 2012 was 143 million.

Russia was under the control of communism from 1922 to 1991. During that time, the preaching of the gospel was very much restricted in Russia. It appears that most assemblies were absorbed into the Baptist Church. However, some assemblies may have continued to exist right through the communist era, meeting in secret. If this is so, we have no contact with them. Even the churches that continued to exist in public were infiltrated by the KGB. Children in school were taught that God did not exist, with the result that the majority of people in Russia are totally ignorant of the Bible.

With the fall of the Berlin Wall and the subsequent dissolution of the USSR on December 25, 1991, Russia became a democratic country for the first time. Foreign Missionary organizations flooded into the country, including the cults. At first, there was a great deal of liberty to distribute Bibles and Christian literature. People would line up in the streets to receive whatever was being offered, and would read it on the spot. There was complete freedom to visit schools and other institutions, and to rent public buildings for gospel meetings. All that changed around 1996.

Due to the influence of the Orthodox Church, foreigners were very much restricted in what they could do. It is no longer possible for foreigners to distribute literature in public or rent public buildings for the purpose of preaching the gospel or teaching the Scriptures. According to the Orthodox Church any religion other than Orthodoxy is heretical, including Roman Catholicism. This has greatly limited what can be done for the spread of the gospel.

It should be understood that I can only report on the work of the Lord in Russia as I know it. Doubtless, there have been assembly believers who have sought to serve the Lord in Russia as opportunity allowed who are not known by the present writer. There have been those who have visited Russia with a view to serving the Lord even when Russia was under communism. One such was brother George Osachoff from the Vancouver area. George is now with the Lord.

In June 1991, Jesse Fitch, and his son Andrew, of Council Bluffs, IA, visited Tobolsk, Siberia as a result of an invitation from the administration of the city. They were kept very busy for five weeks, visiting prisons, schools, and factories. All who were willing to listen were presented with a Bible. Before leaving Tobolsk, Jesse asked the mayor if he wished them to return in 1992 to distribute 20,000 books, and preach the gospel.

In the summer of 1992 they returned to Tobolsk with Louis Smith and Mark Walvatne. Other cities and villages heard of this and invited them to come. The mayor of the city of Surgut, in northern Siberia, asked them to come in April 1993 with 50,000 Bibles. Other places in the south of the Tyumen Region also requested literature, totalling 350,000 pieces of literature.

In November 1992 Jesse, with Louis Smith and Larry Perkins visited Tobolsk and Tyumen. In the summer of 1993 George Osachoff and 35 brethren and sisters, visited Siberia to distribute literature and preach the gospel. They were taken by helicopter to many remote places.

In the summer of 1994 the assembly in Surgut commenced. An assembly was also formed in Tobolsk in 2000.

In 1995 a couple from Kaskara, Pasha and Irina, moved to Severouralsk in the Ural Mountains, and in September of that same year Louis Smith and Howard Pratt went to Severouralsk to have meetings and distribute tracts. When Howard had to leave, Eric Fowler came to join Louis. Attendance at those meetings was between 30 and 80. Eleven professed faith in Christ. A follow-up was arranged for 1996, and a number of other villages were visited, with interest being shown. Fourteen were baptized on April 29, and on May 12 the assembly commenced.

During this time meetings were also held in the village of Volchansk, about 20 miles south of Severouralsk, with between 70 and 100 attending. Other visits were made to both Severouralsk and Volchansk later in the year. Doug Yade and Max McLean accompanied Louis at different times in 1997. Eventually an assembly was planted in Volchansk in February 2001.

I commenced work in Russia in 1997, visiting the assembly at Surgut with George Osachoff. We visited Severouralsk and Volchansk with Louis Smith the spring of 1998, and Tyumen, Tobolsk, and Surgut later in the year.

In 1998 I returned to the city of Yekaterinburg, capital of the Ural district, with my wife, Elizabeth. Between 1998 and 2004 we labored in and around the city, having a number of home Bible studies, and visiting a school in the nearby town of Sredneuralsk twice a week for two 40 minute classes each time. There was total freedom to share the gospel with the children and the teachers who attended the classes. In November of 2004 we moved to St. Petersburg to help the struggling assembly and engage in work with street children.

In January of 2005 Sabrina Booth of Arnstein, ON, began working with the assembly in St. Petersburg. She visits orphanages, engages in English classes, and runs a small Sunday school. She has recently obtained a temporary residency permit, allowing her to remain for three years. She will likely eventually obtain a permanent residency.

The work is changing in Russia. Fewer brethren visit the country, leaving the existing assemblies weak and vulnerable. Jesse Fitch continues to work in Russia, mostly in Siberia. I have started visiting the assemblies in the Ural Mountains and expect to also visit the assemblies in Siberia, to give teaching. My main focus is to see Russian brethren raised up to preach the gospel and teach the Scriptures.