Editor's Note: Findings published below come from a 1999 survey of 110 Russian youth in 20 cities from a wide range of denominational backgrounds.
About 80 percent of young Russians questioned said that Christians from abroad could be helpful. However, 50 percent also said that foreigners had been either unhelpful or ineffective. The vast majority stated that foreigners had come with their own programs and had not taken sufficient time to listen to local Christians. Other problems were a lack of understanding of Russian culture; sermons that did not relate to local issues; and illustrations which were either incomprehensible or offensive. Examples included illustrations concerning golf, baseball, or learning to drive a car, which only a very small percentage of Russians can afford to do. Other sermons by Westerners sought to prove that we all fall short of God's standard, which is not doubted, or elaborated a list of reasons for belief in God. Logical proofs are unlikely to convince Russians to change their worldview. However, a life demonstrating the plausibility of God's transforming power is very challenging. One respondent noted that Western ministry fails "when foreigners do things their way without listening to local people." Another shared, "You cannot simply transfer foreign methods 100 percent."
Survey responses of interpreters were particularly perceptive, as they are often put in the awkward position of trying to minimize the offense of cultural misunderstandings. A 21-year-old interpreter, who had been involved with four different churches and clearly was used to working with foreigners, summarized the views of many:
If foreigners come here to help, [the value of] their help depends on their attitude. You see, some come and try to hold on to their culture [and do] not try to understand our people, our culture. They sort of create their own society around themselves. It's true of fulltime missionaries!
Edited excerpt reprinted with permission from Alison Giblett, "Christianity in Russia and Young People's Agenda for Change," M.A. Thesis, All Nations Christian College, Hertfordshire, England, 1999.
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© 2000 East-West Church and Ministry Report