Vol. 1, No. 1, Winter 1993, Covering the Former Soviet Union and East Central Europe
The Commonwealth Challenge
Do's and Don't's for First-Time Ministries in the Former U.S.S.R.
by Mary Raber, Mennonite Central Committee
Mary Raber, a graduate of Denver Seminary, moved to Russia in
January 1993. She served on the editorial staff for the Russian
translation of the Barclay New Testament Commentary and
continues to work on the Old Testament project. She has experience
teaching in a Russian-language seminary and plans to continue this
ministry as opportunities arise.
DO read some serious, basic material on Russian and Soviet
history, church history, and literature before you go. This is one way
to show respect for the people you wish to serve.
DO try to learn the Cyrillic alphabet--that way you can at least use a dictionary and read street signs.
DO expect people from the former Soviet Union to be every bit as
complex, wonderful, irascible, funny, capable, illogical, and resilient
as North Americans. These are people, not trophies.
DO be willing to learn from those you seek to serve, both
Christian and non-Christian. Dialogue isn't genuine without true
openness on both sides.
DO express appreciation for all that you honestly can.
DO dress modestly and simply. Go easy on jewelry and makeup.
Speak quietly, even if you are sure that no one around you understands
English; think about the tastefulness and appropriateness of what you
say and do. My personal rule is never to say anything in English that I
would not want to be understood by everyone within earshot.
DO check the cultural appropriateness of examples or
illustrations you may wish to use in a sermon or lecture. Be sure your
listeners know what you're talking about.
DO realize that much of the population of the former Soviet
Union is ambivalent about the West. We tend to think that everyone we
meet will be endlessly grateful and that they now have a chance to be
exactly like us. Not so.
DON'T start to believe the out-sized expectations many CIS
citizens seem to have of their North American acquaintances. Be
realistic about what you can actually contribute.
DON'T try to make jokes from the pulpit. For that matter, don't feel you have to smile and laugh incessantly.
DON'T give in to the temptation to confuse capitalism with the
gospel. The lineup at McDonald's in Moscow does not mean that people
want to learn about God. As one of my Russian Christian acquaintances
has said, "People must learn that salvation is from Jesus Christ, not
DON'T answer questions people aren't asking. A Ukrainian friend
of mine asked me to translate a letter she had received from an
American Christian pen-pal. The American woman went on at great length
about the proven reliability of the King James Version. It's an exteme
example, to be sure, but we need to remember that our issues may not be
theirs, and their issues may not be ours. Editor's note: The
Synodal version of the Russian Bible, completed in 1876, still is the
only complete translation of the Scripture in the Russian language.
Mary Raber, "Do's and Don't's for First-Time Ministries in the Former USSR," East-West Church & Ministry Report, 1 (Winter 1993), 5.
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© 1993 East-West Church and Ministry Report
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