East-West Church & Ministry Report
Vol. 2, No. 1, Winter 1994, Covering the Former Soviet Union and East Central Europe

Western Christians and Post-Soviet Evangelicals:
Problems and Possibilities in Working Together

Paul Semenchuk

Christians in the former Soviet Union are amazed at how foreigners spend money.  No sanctified sleuthing necessary.  No need to look for clues.  Evidence is abundant.  But why not bring local Christians into the economic loop, whether or not they know the monetary ways and means of a Western mission?  Crusade coordinators from the West would not have to pay exorbitant prices for facilities if they would turn over the arrangements to local evangelical leaders.  Westerners would not have to pay Western prices for apartments and offices if they would let nationals handle such matters.  At least 50 percent of an organization's support staff would not need to be imported if local Christians were allowed to learn and do the work.

When a mission from the West does hire national workers, usually it does not clear its action through the local church.  And it generally gives workers four or five times the salary they were receiving in nonchurch jobs.  This disrupts the way things are done in churches in the former Soviet Union.  It also has a negative effect on the attitude and productivity of the worker.

North American and West European denominations and parachurch organizations have a global reputation for personally controlling their funds--at any cost.  Sometimes, this tradition is defended by an expression of concern for good stewardship and accountability.  And, where biblical business principles have not been taught and applied, there is reason to be concerned.  But this is true for any country.

From public relations and good business perspectives, it is natural and healthy to include the local church in local financial strategy, at least in developed countries.  Far more problems are eliminated and avoided than are created.  Sharing pocketbook responsibilities with nationals removes the last and most delicate partition and does wonders for morale and ministry.

In recent interviews leaders of the Union of Evangelical Christians-Baptists (UECB) shared what they considered their major areas of need:  humanitarian aid, equipment/technology, print materials, teaching/training, and financial resources.  When aid comes to Russia and other post-Soviet republics through government channels, a portion is diverted by various agencies and offices.  The entire process could be improved simply by working directly with the region's denominations and churches.

Material shortages, "deficits" the Russians say, include medical equipment and supplies, medicine, vitamins for Chernobyl children, food, and clothing.  Vitalii Kozubovsky, a senior pastor in Kiev, Ukraine, points out:

It is expected that today's CIS theological students, including those studying abroad, will be the teachers and professors of tomorrow.  Until then, UECB leaders look to the West for training and teaching?biblical, church, family, media, and technical.  According to Peter Konovalchik, UECB Russian Republic president, Similarly,  Alexander Chepurnoy of the UECB mass-media department notes, "Westerners can best help by training our spiritual leaders and workers.  It would be more appropriate if front-line work were done by us because we understand the culture and the mentality of the people."

Without the financial help of the West, CIS evangelicals cannot respond adequately to today's opportunities.  To start a Christian ministry, publishing for example, they usually have to begin from zero:  no educational, technical, or journalistic background, no equipment, no supplies.  Start-up costs are enormous.  Industry is disorganized.  Most of the country lies in poverty.  The majority struggle just to put food on the table.  And the situation probably will worsen before it improves.  National leaders would like to see some hard currency go directly to building churches for new converts and for the support of native-born evangelists and missionaries.  As Pastor Kozubovsky explains,

An unsettled political situation and harsh economic conditions provide greater flexibility and receptivity for the mission, for the missionary, and for the gospel message.  Whatever the end-time role of Russia, there is freedom today to evangelize her people and to build her church.  Some Western Christians might be waiting for the CIS to normalize--whatever "normal" is--before they get involved.  What if normalcy never comes?  What if this is one bright but brief moment in Russia's dark history to respond to the massive spiritual hunger created by the Soviet state?  It remains to be seen if more Christians in the West will join hands with evangelicals in the CIS. 

Paul Semenchuk has been involved in Russian Christian broadcasting for 35 years.  He currently works as a Trans World Radio correspondent for the former Soviet Union.

Paul Semenchuk, "Problems and Possibilities in Working Together," East-West Church & Ministry Report, 2 (Winter 1994), 7-8.

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1994 Institute for East-West Christian Studies
ISSN 1069-5664

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