I am behind in my reading and just got to the Boris Gontarev article, "Practical Advice for Western Missionaries" (East-West Church & Ministry Report 7 (Summer 1999): 7). He has some good points but a huge, gaping blind spot. Gontarev's pen was pointed in the wrong direction. It should have been entitled "Practical Advice for Russian/Ukrainian Immigrants." There is a need for people like him to be here [in the former Soviet Union] and not there [in the U.S.] with a green card. The clean-cut students so sharply criticized should not be my students and those of my colleagues. They should be Gontarev's students.
If Russians who have an understanding of Russian culture and Orthodoxy would stay, or at least come back to help, we foreigners would not have to try to pick up where the emigrating population left off. Gontarev has given too harsh a critique to a group of good-hearted servants [missionaries] who are doing the best they can without much help from those who could be here leading them.
Unfortunately, we could count on one hand the number of native Russians/Ukrainians holding a church-related doctorate who are willing to live in their home culture. I and many others like myself have entered a Slavic culture to answer the call that has been coming from this area for decades. When we arrived, we soon understood that we were salmon swimming against a stream of emigration: cab drivers with relatives in New York; churches abandoned by a shepherd who went on to greener pastures in Northern California; students seeking a relationship with short-term workers to gain a scholarship in the West. If they marry, you know the Russian proverb: "American is not a nationality; it is a means of transportation."
We must mobilize the huge Russian/Ukrainian immigrant population to assist in pastoral work. The leadership vacuum will eventually stabilize. How long before they fully embrace the Russian soul? That depends on who disciples. It will not be soon if done by muddling missionaries. It could be now if done by nationals who dig in and, despite huge odds, stay and disciple.
Gregory L. Nichols
Greater Europe Mission and Odessa Theological Seminary
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