A year of tumultuous political change in the Soviet Union, 1991 also witnessed many prison doors open wide to the preaching of the Gospel for the first time. Evangelical Christians began outreaches to local prisons, a historic first for them. In that year Latvian Christian Mission "smuggled" an American missionary into a women's prison for an evangelistic meeting. Western ministry in prisons, however, prior to the failed coup of August 1991, was virtually impossible. Today, three and a half years later, the impossible is now commonplace. Several Christian ministries now have close working relationships with the Ministry of Interior Prison Administration of Russia and Ukraine. Today, Christian believers, formerly in jail, are returning to minister in those very same prisons.
Overview of Ministries
Prison ministry in the former Soviet Union is alive and growing. Young believers from newly planted churches are taking the initiative to visit prisons and share their faith. While Evangelical denominational headquarters in Moscow have allocated few resources to prison ministry, especially active local Baptist and Pentecostal churches have appointed their own prison ministers. As in the West most prison outreach in Russia and Ukraine is carried out by local church volunteers and parachurch organizations. The difference is that in the West resources such as money, materials, and transportation are much easier to obtain, but workers are in short supply. In contrast, in the former Soviet Union people willing to help in prisons are more abundant than are resources.
Western organizations especially active in prison ministry in Russia and/or Ukraine are: International Prison Ministry with Chaplain Ray; Prison Fellowship International; Eastern European Outreach; Set Free Prison Ministries; and Slavic Gospel Association. Indigenous organizations and churches with prison ministries include: Mission DVIM; Christian Center for Coordination of Prison Ministries; and Good News Christian Fellowship.
International Prison Ministry with Chaplain Ray (IPM)
Box 63, Dallas, TX 75221
tel: 214-494-2302; fax: 214-272-0902
IPM's emphasis is literature distribution. Chaplain Ray's goal, working directly with the Penitentiary Department of the Ministry of Interior in both Ukraine and Russia, is to share the Gospel with every prisoner in the former Soviet Union. To date IPM has distributed more than one million pieces of literature itself and provides free Christian literature to other ministries. IPM shipped 64 containers of literature in 1994 with coordination supplied by the Ministry of Interior. As with Eastern European Outreach, the government has become a vital ministry partner. IPM also financially supports an unspecified number of national Christians working in prisons. IPM needs: finances for literature printing.
Prison Fellowship International (PFI)
Box 17434, Washington, DC 20041
Tel: 703-478-0100; fax: 703-481-0003.
In contrast to Chaplain Ray, Prison Fellowship works through only its own national offices, chapters, and local churches. It is committed to working with the Russian Orthodox Church to accomplish its goals. In early 1994 PFI reported two chapters were set up in Russia, both with Orthodox and Evangelical members. PFI also cosponsored a prison ministry conference in October 1994, bringing the Russian Ministry of Interior together with approximately 100 Orthodox priests. Conference goals included the exchange of information and exploring prison ministry cooperation. PFI also has worked behind the scenes helping the Russian Penitentiary Department Chief with drafts of new penal legislation. PFI needs: finances and prayer.
Eastern European Outreach (EEO)
Box 983, Sun City, CA 92586
Tel: 909-244-4492; fax: 714-244-2624.
EEO formed a unique partnership with the Russian Ministry of Interior Penitentiary Department in April 1992. Since then the Interior Ministry has made arrangements for each EEO prison outreach and has assisted EEO missionaries. Agreements with the Interior Ministry in 1994 and 1995 permit EEO to provide Bible instruction in all facilities of the Federal Russian Prison System. EEO prison ministry emphasizes evangelism, discipleship, humanitarian aid, and literature distribution. It has provided computers, medicine (including 200,000 syringes), 11,000 food parcels, 20,000 New Testaments, and 50,000 Gospels. To date EEO has ministered in 42 youth and adult prisons and labor camps. Its goal is to reach all 58 Russian Federal Youth Prisons by the end of 1995. EEO also financially supports five Russian missionaries to prisons. EEO needs: volunteers for two-week evangelism teams, literature, correspondence courses, and finances to support more Russian missionaries.
Set Free Prison Ministries (SFPM)
Box 5440, Riverside, CA 92517
Tel: 909-787-9907; fax: 909-787-0486.
Chaplain Phil Wagner founded SFPM following a 1993 evangelistic outreach in Russian prisons. His initial six-month trip led to the formation of a new prison ministry to Moscow's largest prison, the notorious Butyrka. Set Free, which has an office and storage space for Christian literature at the prison, is active in training Russians to be prison chaplains, distributing Christian literature to inmates, and in providing Bible correspondence courses graded by volunteers. Its ministry is primarily to Russia's two largest prisons: the Butyrka in Moscow and Prison of the Crosses in St. Petersburg. Russian authorities have expressed high praise for Set Free ministries in these prisons. SFPM needs: literature, medicine, missionaries, and finances.
Slavic Gospel Association (SGA)
6151 Commonwealth Dr., Loves Park, IL 61111
Tel: 815-282-8900; fax: 815-282-8901
SGA works through its suburban Moscow office, staffed primarily by Russian Baptists who are engaged in a range of activities in addition to prison ministry. SGA has funded many Russian missionaries involved in prison ministry. Its primary focus, however, is to encourage local churches to become involved in prison visitation. SGA needs: funding and prayer.
The Salvation Army
16 Krestiansky tupik, dom 1, 109044 Moscow, Russia
Tel: 7-095-271-2600, 2968, or 2723
The Salvation Army has distributed 16,000 Bibles in Moscow's Butyrka prison. The commanding officer in Moscow is Col. Brian Morgan.
13 Klara Scetkin ul.
President: Pasha Golub
Supported by Bridge of Hope, Germany.
Needs: literature, correspondence courses, videos, bulk food and clothing, medicine. Since 1989 this nondenominational, but largely Pentecostal, outreach has worked with prisoners in six different Ukrainian cities.
Christian Center for Coordination of Prison Ministries
113105 Moscow, Russia
Tel: 095-247-16-78; 958-15-11
Since 1992 this primarily Baptist ministry has been involved in prison evangelism and in the training of local Russian churches to minister to prisoners before and after their release. It provides rehabilitation homes and jobs to assist former prisoners in their adjustment back into society. Supported by EEO. Needs: literature, correspondence courses, videos, medicine, bulk food and clothing, finances for rehabilitation house ministry in Moscow.
Good News Christian Fellowship
690087 Vladivostok, Russia
Since 1980 this nondenominational outreach has distributed free literature to prisoners, primarily through the mail. Needs: literature, correspondence courses, videos, a computer, and a photocopier.
Indigenous Prison Ministries
Local Orthodox parishes and priests are also involved in prison ministry in the former Soviet Union. A small Orthodox church has been built in Moscow's Butyrka Prison along with two or three others in prisons across Russia. Orthodox priests generally distrust Evangelicals and resent their determination to "convert" people. At least half of the 50 prisons with which EEO currently has contacts have visits from Orthodox priests. At the conclusion of the October 1994 Prison Ministry Conference in Moscow, Orthodox in attendance rejected official cooperation with Western parachurch ministries. However, they did forge closer ties with the Ministry of Interior. Russian Orthodox leaders are now pressuring Ministry of Interior officials to prohibit Western cults (defined to include Evangelicals) from working in Russian prisons.
Others engaged in prison ministry include:
|Bridge of Hope
35620 Huettenberg 1, Germany
|Latvian Christian Mission
Veidenbauma ul. 13
226050 Riga, Latvia
Tel: 01350-226-189 or 287-72
President: Vadim Kovalevs
Light of the Gospel
Moscow Center for Prison Reform (MCPR) is a secular, nonprofit organization which coordinates a variety of initiatives to encourage the improvement of Russian prisons. The Center sponsors a weekly radio program that highlights prison reform. Its "Letters from the Zone" program relates letters of complaint from inmates. Contact: Valeri Abramkin, Director, MCPR, Luchnikov 4-3, 101000 Moscow, Russia; tel: 7-095-206-8684; fax: 7-095-206-8853.
Jeff Thompson is executive director of Eastern European Outreach, Sun City, CA.
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© 1995 Institute for East-West Christian Studies