East-West Church & Ministry Report
Vol. 12, No. 2, Spring 2004, Covering the Former Soviet Union and Central and Eastern Europe

Russian-German Mission Work in the East

John N. Klassen

Russian-German Baptist and Mennonite migrant churches in Germany have an active ministry in Russia and neighboring states, lands they called home for several centuries. But before detailing that story, some historical background is in order.

Identifying the People of the Story
Russian-German "Aussiedler" (resettlers) living in the West are descendants of German farmers who immigrated to Russia in the eighteenth century upon invitation of Catherine II. Beginning in 1763 some 30,000, mostly Hessians, settled along the Volga River. The first Mennonites moved eastward 25 years later. During a period of 75 years some 10,000 Mennonites established four colonies with some 90 villages, most on or in the vicinity of the Dnieper River in present-day Ukraine. From 1803 to 1845 the largest group, about 60,000, mostly Swabians, settled on the western and northern shores of the Black Sea despite severe difficulties.1

Economic and political conditions in Germany were difficult. Young families needed land, while many craftsmen lacked work.2 The young Tsarina Catherine promised not only land and work in Russia's newly conquered territories in Ukraine, but religious freedom. In addition, some German migrants were inspired by apocalyptic visions of Christ's imminent second coming in the East.3

New German settlers in Russia were about 55 percent Lutherans (known as "Evangelisch", which is a German synonym for "Protestant," rather than "Evangelical" in the Western theological sense), 35 percent Roman Catholic, and 10 percent Mennonite. Beginning in the middle of the nineteenth century many German settlers in Russia experienced a pietistic spiritual awakening and church renewal.4 In the wake of thisrevival new church groups came into being: Evangelical Lutheran Brethren,5 Mennonite Brethren,6 and German-speaking Baptist churches in Russia and Ukraine.

Tsarist Russification and Immigration
Much earlier, German professionals and artisans had settled in Russia before the settlers came to cultivate land in what is now Ukraine. They typically lived in cities and for the most part assimilated into Slavic culture.7 But the German farming population that immigrated to Russia has a different history. Although given citizenship in their new homeland, they, by law and preference, built colonies that were segregated from the surrounding Slavic population. And the religious freedom they enjoyed did not extend to converting their Orthodox neighbors to Protestantism. When in the 1870s Russia began the russification of its German colonists and forced military conscription of the largely pacifist population, Germans began a large-scale immigration to North and South America.8

Post-World War II Immigration
The more recent post-World War II western resettlement began as a program to reunite families separated by the massive upheavals connected with fighting on the Eastern front, 1941-45.9 Some family members lived in the USSR and others in Germany. Initially the former Soviet Union tried by every imaginable method to hinder Soviet-Germans leaving its territory.10 However, Moscow's political liberalizations under Mikhail Gorbachev (1985-91) set in motion a large-scale immigration of ethnic Germans from the Soviet Union to Germany that by 2002 numbered over two million. They included approximately one million Lutherans, 500,000 Roman Catholics, 280,000 Baptists and Mennonites or their descendants, and 220,000 who belonged to other churches or no church. Moscow permitted the first handful of Russian German Baptists and Mennonites to depart the Soviet Union for Germany in 1963, but no appreciable number left until after Mikhail Gorbachev came to power in 1985.

Although no official statistics exist for the number of Protestant, free church families entering Germany, a reasonable estimate would be that from 1963 to 2001 the total is approximately 280,000.11 Factoring in births, deaths, and immigration out of Germany, the post-World War II "Aussiedler" population in Germany today, including descendants, is approximately 335,000. Of this total, about 81,000 are adult members of Baptist and Mennonite churches who migrated to Germany. The rest are minors or adults who affiliated with, but are not members of, the above denominations.

German Resettlement
Upon arriving in Germany, these free church immigrants joined established German Baptist and Mennonite congregations. But culturally the "Aussiedler" came to realize they were strangers in their own homeland.12 Initially--and even today--many resist change, in particular as regards religious customs. As a result, "Aussiedler" have established new congregations in order to practice their faith according to familiar traditions. Only about 11,000 "Aussiedler" joined existing German churches. Most, instead, established their own churches, called prayer houses, approximately 400 to date.13 New "Aussiedler" churches have been growing at an above-average rate of three to five percent annually. As of 2002, of the approximately 70,000 members in "Aussiedler" congregations, about 32,700 had joined through baptism, while the remainder were new immigrants.14 Thus the number of "Aussiedler" believers in their own and in traditional German churches totals approximately 81,000.

Resettlers, Evangelism, and Missions
Contrary to popular opinion, Russian German Christians entered their old/new homeland with a concern for evangelism and mission. And their understanding of the mission of the New Testament Church has been growing. Basically it begins in the home, continues in Sunday school, and leads from evangelism in church services to public meetings. To illustrate this active commitment to evangelism, between 1970 and 2001 approximately one third of baptisms (10,500 out of 31,500) were young people and adults from non-believing families.15

"Aussiedler" Christians and their congregations evidence a growing concern for mission work, both in former East Germany and outside Germany. To date this concern has found expression primarily in short-term endeavors. But more and more "Aussiedler" believers are moving to other countries and are working cross-culturally. With their home church or a mission society serving as the sending agency, most combine evangelism with social and material help. The amount of food, clothing, literature, etc. "Aussiedler" Christians are donating for mission work, primarily in the former Soviet Union, is probably unparalleled in history.16

John N. Klassen holds a Ph.D. in history from the University of South Africa (UNISA) and teaches systematic theology at Bibelseminar Bonn.

1. Karl Stumpp, Die Auswanderung aus Deutschland nach Russland in den Jahren 1763 bis 1862 (Stuttgart: Landsmannschaft der Deutschen aus Russland, 1991), 25-26.
2. Hans-Christian Diedrich, Siedler, Sekteirer und Stundisten (Berlin: Evangelische Verlagsanstalt, 1985), 29.
3. Stumpp, Die Auswanderung, 26-30; Kalendar 1954 Heimatbuch der Ostumsiedler (Stuttgart: Arbeitsgemeinschaft der Ostumsiedler, 1954), 17-22.
4. Hans Kasdorf, Flammen unausloschlich: Mission der Mennoniten unter Zaren und Sowjets, 1789-1989 (Bielefeld: Logos Verlag, 1991), 62-84. 5. Reinhard Schott, Integration von Aussiedlern, in Gnadauer Kongress...1993 (Dillenburg: 1993), 207-24.
6. John A. Toews, A History of the Mennonite Brethren Church (Fresno, CA: General Conference of Mennonite Brethren Churches, 1975), 26-36; Diedrich 23.33-57.
7. Karl Stumpp, Die Russlanddeutschen 200 Jahre Unterwegs (Stuttgart: Landsmannschaft der Deutschen aus Russland, 1993), 6-9.
8. Herbert Wiens, Volk auf dem Weg: Deutsche in Russland und in der GUS, 1763-1997 (Stuttgart: andsmannschaft der Deutschen aus Russland, 1997),12-14.
9. Alfred Eisfeld, "Die Deutschen in Russland-gestern und heute" in Die Deutschen in der UdSSR-einst und jetzt: Globus Spezial (Bonn: 1989), 54.
10. Wiens, Volk, 22.
11. John N. Klassen, "Church Planting and Church Growth Among Evangelical Russian German Christians in Germany in the Tension Between Immigration and Integration (in German)," Ph.D. dissertation, UNISA, South Africa, 2002, 113.
12. Ibid., 61.
13. Ibid., 104-07.
14. Ibid., 62-66.
15. Ibid., 121-26; Unterwegs zur besseren Weide: Festschrift...Mennoniten-Bruedergemeinde (Neuwied-Gladbach: MB-Gemeinde, 2002), 233-58.
16. Unterwegs zur besseren Weide, 259-69.

Selected Russian-German Mission Efforts in the East

Selected Russian-German Mission Efforts in the East*


Efforts in the


in Former

Former Soviet Union



East Germany

(by percentage)

Assistance To Date

Hilfswerk Aquila


Kazakhstan 85

Literature 55 tons

Liebigstrasse 8

Moldova 10

Clothing 550 tons

D-33803 Steinhagen, Germany

Russia 5

Food 55 tons

Tel: 05204-88803

Medical 11 tons

Building Materials 90 tons

Vehicles (in 5 years) 23 tons

Bibel Mission



Clothing 25 percent

Pfarrer-Henning-Strasse 4


Food 25 percent

D-63868 Grosswallstadt, Germany


Literature 25 percent

Tel: 06022-25271


Other Help 25 percent


Total: 3.8 million Euro in

money and in kind

Missionswerk Friedensbote


20 percent

80 percent

Clothing 25 percent

Volmestrasse 51

FSU breakdown:

Food 5 percent

D-58540 Meinerzhagen, Germany

Estonia 5 percent

Church Building 30 percent

Tel: 02354-77780

Georgia 15 percent

Church Planting 30 percent

Yakutia 15 percent

Literature 10 percent

Kazakhstan 5 percent

Total: 1.5 million Euro in money

Kyrgyzia 15 percent

and in kind

Russia 15 percent

Ukraine 30 percent

Logos International


25 percent

75 percent

Belarus 10 tons (4,000 Euro)

Ehlenbrucher Strasse 96

FSU breakdown:

Kyrgyzia 40 tons (50,000 Euro)

D-32791 Lage, Germany

Belarus 12.5 percent

Russia 40 tons (50,000 Euro)

Tel: 05232-96010

Kyrgyzia 25 percent

Ukraine 10 tons (4,000 Euro)

Russia 50 percent

Total: 100 tons (108,000 Euro)

Ukraine 12.5 percent

Neuwied Mennonite Brethren Church

3 couples with

75 percent

25 percent

Church Building

Pablo-Picasso Strasse 5



Money and Manual Help

D-56566 Neuwied-Gladbach, Germany


Church Purchase

Fax: 02631-947248


Humanitarian Aid

*The author queried five mission agencies and one church that are involved in ministry in the East. The table is based on the responses of four agencies and one church in fall 2003. Four additional mission agencies deliver approximately the same average volume of assistance as the groups listed. Also, approximately 23 individual churches are as active and generous as the Neuwied congregation. Churches tend to work more in former East Germany than in the former Soviet Union.
**Also, one missionary family serves in New Guinea.

John N. Klassen, "Russian-German Mission Work in the East," East-West Church & Ministry Report 12 (Spring 2004), 10-12.

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2004 East-West Church and Ministry Report
ISSN 1069-5664

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