Letter to the Editor
An Anonymous American Missionary Responds to Lawrence Uzzell's Review of Ekspansiya [Expansionism] by Nikolai Trofimchuk and M. P. Svishchev, East-West Church and Ministry Report 11 (Winter 2003), 12.
Having now served in Russia for ten years, I have seen much evidence that Trofimchuk's thesis is valid. Much more than many people realize, churches are a reflection of the culture in which they are rooted. C. S. Lewis once said that when a church feels it has made its place in the world, it often finds that what has actually happened is that the world has made its place in the church.
I have been in several missionary flats where large expenditures had been made to import all-American appliances and furnishings, reproducing almost exactly all the conveniences of an American home. I have listened to Americans "evangelizing"(?) Russian guests with a whole evening of jokes about how backward Russians are and how advanced Americans are. The Russians were probably thinking exactly the opposite, of "nyekulturniy" simpletons who don't even try to understand Russian culture. Some Russian pastors have been so infected with Americanism that they are obviously working toward the day when they can join other Russian pastors in America. One Russian told us that he had visited a single church in California that had 40 Russian ex-pastors. This disease makes it extremely difficult for Russians to separate the gospel of Christ from the gospel of Americana.
I had a conversation about seven years ago with a missionary when the subject of Russian Orthodoxy came up. He emphatically disclaimed any interest whatsoever in the subject and didn't even agree that understanding what Orthodox believe was relevant to his work of church planting in Russia. For a significant number of American missionary organizations I am acquainted with, the main goal is to reproduce as closely as possible a "native" church in Russia that is 100-percent loyal to all the programs of the home office in America. "It worked in Haiti and in Africa and in Papua New Guinea, so it should work for Russia!" When it comes to freedom of religion, many groups support it where they think it is useful to advance their program, but they actually operate in a different way.
The "successful" missionary in many cases may be simply the one who is most effective in maintaining a strong base of support at home. This means that the one who fits in best with American culture is most likely to be sent to the foreign field. Quite often the ones who are missionaries are those most deeply committed to the social and cultural organization they represent. They are inclined to be servants of the organization first and that definitely includes the culture of the organization. Therefore, there is a strong tendency toward the very problem Trofimchuk has highlighted.
I think one reason for the wide discrepancy between what is reported as happening here in Russia and what is really observable is a matter of definition. Quite a few American church organizations count even the slightest indication of a profession of faith as a conversion. Careful studies of actual church attendance are much more reliable than reports of conversions. From what I have observed (and I still would be considered an outsider), it appears that indigenous Russian Protestant groups have been much more successful than American Protestant missionaries. From where I am located there is little visible evidence of any great revival with tens of thousands of converts in Russia. The situation here more or less stabilized five or six years ago. For every evangelical group gaining members, another probably is losing members. In the long run, the greatest beneficiary of the era of "Perestroika" still appears to be the Russian Orthodox Church.
I have been intrigued by the "Bible Belt" phenomenon. I understand that Russia, just like America, has a "Bible-Belt" where almost all the churches do better. Here in northwest Russia, it seems the majority are very European and not very interested in spiritual questions. I have been told there are regions in southern Russia where the interest in spiritual affairs is much more intense. No matter what the case may really be, I am convinced that Russians themselves are best qualified by far to reach the Russian people.
Letter to the editor, East-West Church & Ministry Report 11 (Fall 2003), 12.
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