The Commonwealth Challenge:
Moscow: More Workers and Less Time
Interview--Sharon Linzey's move to Russia should help Christian workers
When did you arrive in Moscow?
I arrived in Moscow on September 11 after finishing up the draft of Phase 1 of our East-West Christian Organizations Directory and Database Project. In fact, until the last minute in New York, I was printing out at the JFK airport, assuring that all would be finished before departing from the U.S.
Why have you moved to the CIS?
First, I will begin Phase 2 of the East-West Christian Organizations Directory and Database Project. This will include researching indigenous mission organizations, churches, and parachurch organizations that are cropping up within East Central Europe and the former Soviet Union--Orthodox, Catholic, and Protestant. Second, I am teaching courses in sociology, including the sociology of religion, at Moscow State University by arrangement with the International Institute for Christian Studies.
What has been the most difficult part of living in Moscow so far?
Not getting as many things accomplished in one day as I would have expected in the States. I have learned that I cannot put eight things on my calendar for a given day and get them all done. I realistically can put one major item on the calendar and fill in the rest of the day with other minor tasks. It is simply not as easy to get things done. So you learn to slow down. This could be very difficult for me, but I hope I am learning. For example, last Friday I had three appointments on my calendar. I missed the first, sent someone else to the second, and made the third, which happened to be the most important--it was my first day in class. So I quickly readjusted the rest of my schedule for the month.
Have you had any surprises? If so, what were they?
My biggest surprise here in Moscow is how lovely it is. That may sound strange, but I find Moscow to be a wonderful place to live. We had been told that it was gray, dull, and depressing, but I have not found this to be the case. The people have problems, and often are downcast because of their many hardships at this time, but I have found that many of the Russian Christians are not as downcast as many of the people I meet on the streets and in public transportation. Of course, many large Christian families are extremely poor, and I would not say that they have exhilarated spirits. But even in sadness, there is a consolation that is found in the Christian context, without which a person could become deeply embittered.
How difficult has it been so far to find food and medicine in Moscow?
Moscow is better off than many of the other cities and villages as far as food and medicine goes. While there are shortages of these items in many parts of Russia and the CIS, they can be found here--for a price. We brought household medicines and even some food staples with us. These have come in very handy. I have already had colds and minor ailments, but I had the basics to take care of them. An Australian missionary friend had a common intestinal infection, and I was able to take care of her. An American missionary friend of mine slipped on the ice and fractured her wrist last week. She went to the American Medical Clinic and they put a cast on her arm. The care was as good as would be found in the States. Of course, one must pay for these services in hard currency.
Based on your observations, what are churches and missions doing best? In what area are they most effective?
It appears to me that Russian mission endeavors are opening up to the idea of participating in research and better thought-out mission strategies in terms of church planting and parachurch activities. For example, a few days ago I participated in a mission conference aimed at training indigenous pastors and missionaries to investigate the needs of their various locales. I thought the scope of the conference was rather sophisticated and I hope these ministers can benefit from this experience. Clearly there is a growing body of educated, ministry-minded professionals who desire strategic plans for church planting and developing parachurch ministries aimed at reducing suffering and meeting the needs of the people.
There are a growing number of Christian centers developing in the republics which are aimed at activities such as establishing medical clinics, creating associations of Christian businessmen--the idea of a businesswoman is too novel yet--working on ecological problems such as waste-water treatment, improving food quality, developing publishing ventures, and other creative enterprises. Most of them are quite new, but very creative in terms of how they go about their aims without relying on assistance from external sources.
How many groups are involved in Christian work in East Central Europe and the CIS?
We have record of over 700 Christian organizations from the West doing some form of Christian work in East Central Europe and the former Soviet Union. Many of these organizations have numerous offices around the world. If we counted all the offices and affiliates of each organization, we would have more than double the number of entries. However, we chose to enter the official headquarters of an international or national group only, which cut the total count to over 700. These are viable groups ranging from two or three people to groups with hundreds of workers and multimillion dollar budgets.
We are now beginning Phase II of our project which entails documenting as many indigenous mission and parachurch works over here as possible. I say "works" because "organizations" may be too formal a term for many of these groups. While there are many organizations working, some registered and some not, many are kitchen-table organizations which play a useful role in society and are funded from workers' pockets or seemingly out of thin air.
I presently have information on about 700 indigenous mission groups working in East Central Europe and the former Soviet Union, but I can already see that the number of active works is in the thousands. These must be identified, documented, and entered into a new database system in Cyrillic. This will eventually be published in Russian, translated into English, perhaps other East European languages, and languages of the independent republics.
Have you revised your research strategy at all since arriving in Moscow?
My ideas have undergone some revision since being here. For example, many churches are mission organizations as well, so it may be that churches themselves will have to be documented. Also, there are other databases of information and these need to be located to ensure as exhaustive a master list as possible. This information will aid networking, church planting, joint venture activities, and the furtherance of the Good News of Jesus Christ.
People can benefit from this research by helping us locate what exists out there in the republics of the former Soviet Union and East Central Europe. We need wide dissemination of our questionnaire and cooperation in getting the data in _ no matter how insignificant the work may seem. I can't think of a better way to provide assistance to those in need than to disseminate information to the haves of this world so that they can help the have-nots. This is a strong motivation for me personally in pursuing this work.
NOTE: Readers with information on indigenous Christian organizations are encouraged to assist Dr. Linzey (Box 120, Moscow 117296, Russia) by completing a questionnaire available from East West Church & Ministry Report. Missionaries, researchers, and ministers who travel in East Central Europe or the former Soviet Union are encouraged to take the questionnaire with them and return it to Linzey. This will help assure the most complete results.
Prior to her move to Moscow, Sharon Linzey was professor of sociology at the School of Social and Behavioral Sciences, Seattle Pacific University.
The East-West Christian Organizations Directory, edited by Sharon Linzey, Holt Ruffin, and Mark Elliott, is available for $15 from Berry Publications, 701 Main Street, Evanston, IL 60202, Tel: (708) 869-1573.
Written permission is required for reprinting or electronic distribution of any portion of the East-West Church & Ministry Report.
© 1993 East-West Church and Ministry Report