Background: Why Russia? What's the purpose?Apr20
20/04/2009 10:34 PM
Christianity officially came to Russia in the 10th century, when Prince Vladimir of the Rus chose the Orthodox branch of the faith from a field of candidates. Orthodox belief and practice became deeply ingrained into Russian culture. However, for most of the 20th century Russia was under communist rule and officially a country of athiest belief.
When communism collapsed in the 1990s living standards actually declined for most Russians, although a handful profited richly from the collapse of the machinery of state. There was a perceived spiritual vacuum as well as a political one, with many searching for answers whether in the materialistic lifestyle they saw in the West, new ideas (from a vareity of willing sources) or - sadly - alcohol and substance abuse.
In 1992 the mayor of Roshina, a small town north-west of St Petersburg, invited small teams of Finnish Christians to visit the many childrens' summer holiday camps in the area and talk about Jesus and the hope of Christianity. After the first season, the Russians were positive but suggested that the teams would have a better impact on their youth - who they perceived as in spiritual need - if the teams actually lived in camp for a time, rather than just visiting. This idea was adopted, and the work spread to other nations from 1994, including the US, UK, Australian and New Zealand. Australians were first involved in 1995 and since then around 100 Australians have participated annually. The work has also spread from its initial base in the St Petersburg region to other centres in Tula (near Moscow), Khabarovsk, Novosibirsk, Vladivostok and Sahkalin Island, as well as Finnish teams ministering to ethnic Russians still living in Estonia.
What's the plan?
This is very much a seed-planting ministry. Teams generally stay in camp for two weeks and spend that time living out their faith - a bit like a practical exercise in 'show and tell' for active Christianity. Team members are encouraged to show Jesus' love for others at every opportunity. Teams may join in with programs run by the camps themselves (eg sports, crafts) and usually bring activities of their own to provide as requested. There is an emphasis on cross-cultural exchange - the Russians are very interested in our culture and Russia itself is a very interesting place to see and learn about for us! Teams can also provide information on substance abuse and dental health that are valued by the camp staff.
Teams do not go into camps with the aim of bible-bashing or brainwashing kids. We are there to show what Christianity looks like 'in the flesh'. Juoko Varis, the Finnish pastor who was instrumental in starting the work put it this way:
'Nobody wants to be converted. But if they see you have something that they can use then the Holy Spirit will help them to convert themselves.'
For this reason, teams rely heavily on prayer support before, during and after their trip so that they are being a positive witness for faith in action. It also means that it is mission that anyone can do - no matter what spiritual gifts they do or do not have. All we have to do is be obedient to 1 Peter 3:15 and be ready to give an answer for the hope we have with gentleness and respect.