In the early weeks of 2014 the world focused on Russia for the Winter Olympics in Sochi. Then the attention abruptly turned west, to Ukraine, where unrest in the capital city of Kiev would lead to violence and Russian military intervention.
Allan Vincent has traveled regularly for 16 years to several former Soviet states, known as the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS). He stays with believers, “sleeping in their beds and sitting at their tables,” and has a good grasp of the region’s history.
Allan is Executive Director of the Slavic Gospel Association/Canada (SGA), which primarily serves the ten CIS members: Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan, Georgia and Armenia.
“We serve the churches, and they don’t want to do anything to hinder their freedoms,” he says.
Also early in the year, over 100 missionary pastors—many supported through SGA Canada—gathered for a conference in northwestern Ukraine. Their time together included fervent prayer for political stability. Around the same time, more than 300 church youth leaders from former Soviet countries attended a training conference in Moscow. Allan traveled to both conferences, which he says were “far more exciting and eternally significant” than the semblance of unity the Olympics offered.
“By God’s grace and miraculous intervention, He has brought us together in ways that could not have been hoped or imagined 30 years ago.”
SGA works with partner ministries to translate, print, and provide Russian-language Bibles and sound Christian materials for distribution by local evangelical churches. They also provide theological works for pastors and others who wish to be grounded firmly in God’s word. SGA has maintained the same focus for 80 years of ministry, though the methods have changed.
More than two decades since the collapse of the Soviet Union, good theological materials can be hard to obtain. Allan says governments restrict them in Muslim-dominated areas of the CIS, and poverty keeps people from affording them in others.
Seeing the need
Between the two conferences, the SGA team distributed around 400 copies of a new Russian version of D.A. Carson’s The Cross and Christian Ministry (Baker Publishing). Based on 1 Corinthians, the book offers a comprehensive view of what the death of Christ means in preaching and ministering to God’s people.
The Carson book was a 2012 theological-famine-relief project, a joint effort of SGA and The Gospel Coalition-International Outreach (TGC-IO). Each group raised 50% of the funds to translate and print 15,000 copies. Allan says the project serves as the beginning of a developing partnership between them.
He explains the need for sound theology by saying the West made assumptions about Christians in post-perestroika Soviet nations. “Though no liberal church influence from Europe affected these countries, many believers have been self-taught,” he says. “The newer generation has come to recognize the difference between evangelical and conservative evangelical. With Internet they’ve become familiar with The Gospel Coalition and others, and they have a desire to avail themselves of solid resources.”
Evangelical Christianity is merely tolerated, not officially recognized in Russia—which even recognizes Buddhism—and in much of the CIS. It’s not among the “big three” religions: Russian Orthodoxy, Judaism and Islam.
Russia is the largest country in the world, spanning nine time zones. It’s the weightiest member of the CIS, Allan says. But more important for the Gospel, the Russian language is spoken in all the countries that once made up the USSR—and beyond those borders.
“The Gospel reach is from the north down, through Russian-speaking CIS countries like the “stans,” which have a strong Muslim presence,” he says. The influence travels south to other Muslim countries.
Ukraine is also vital to the spread of the Gospel. Considered a Bible belt, it has a stronger Christian legacy and more freedom of religion than its neighbors. Allan says it’s also the segue-way to other Russian-speaking countries. “It’s a natural conduit, and more respected for its shipping. From Ukraine it’s easier to get books to the rest of the CIS.”
Ukraine’s customs processes were shut down in the political upheaval, which prevents shipment of IO books into Ukraine for now. But Allan believes the strife will be resolved somehow.
“There are always bumps in the road over there. But oil pipelines to Europe run through Ukraine. The countries need each other desperately.”
Family helping family
Christian organizations need each other too in these restricted countries. Allan Vincent says Slavic Gospel Association’s work of printing and shipping gospel resources is done quietly in the CIS, using whatever door opens best. “We’re like family helping family.”
TGC’s International Outreach is a member of this extended family, working together to supply the body of Christ in areas of need across the globe.