Ministry Leverages World Cup Matches to Compete for Souls As Russian Government Cracks Down on Christian Evangelism

Young leaders trained by Mission Eurasia at events like this will be helping distribute Russian-language New Testaments during a special World Cup outreach hosted by scores of churches, next month.

Although open evangelism now illegal, Mission Eurasia will work with churches in Russia for creative Scripture distribution campaign

WHEATON, Ill.—Because open evangelism in Russia is now illegal, Mission Eurasia—a ministry equipping and mobilizing the next generation of Christian leaders in the region—will capitalize on a closing window of opportunity. The campaign will enlist Russian evangelical churches to distribute 100,000 Russian-language New Testaments to soccer fans who come to watch 2018 World Cup matches. The evangelistic campaign will coincide with the games, which start June 14 and conclude July 15.

Mission Eurasia and two partnering organizations are producing the specially designed New Testaments. They will be presented to visitors who come to 250 registered Russian churches—basically being transformed into community centers—to watch live, big-screen broadcasts of the World Cup games that are already nearly 90 percent sold out. That means events in churches, many of which will use their sanctuaries to screen the games, are likely to attract considerable crowds, according to Sergey Rakhuba, president of the ministry.

“This is an unprecedented opportunity, especially at a time when the Iron Curtain that cracked down on Christianity during the Soviet era has been strictly limiting public missionary activity and evangelism under the guise of anti-terrorism,” says Rakhuba, a native of Russia. “It will likely be a little bit of a stretch for the more traditional evangelical churches to use their facilities as soccer game viewing centers, but this fresh, strategic approach, which actually is a demonstration of the power of ‘the gift of hospitality,’ is needed in the current political and social climate. Creative outreaches like this one are what our young leaders are trained to do through School Without Walls, Mission Eurasia’s flexible, ministry-based leadership training program.”

The Russian New Testaments will contain a modern twist: a QR code that will connect users with a New Life app and 70 pages of discipleship materials. They will also include 12 pages of printed material that provide an introduction to Christianity, the gospel, and Bible reading.

Second only to ice hockey in popularity, soccer has created a frenzy among ticket buyers. The Moscow Times reported this week that more than 2.3 million tickets to 64 matches in the international tournament had been sold by May 3, which is 89 percent of all tickets. Alexey Sorokin, chairman of the tournament’s organizing committee, told a crowd in Sochi they can already predict the stands will be full for each match.

The games come at a time when the Russian government is displaying increased hostility to religious groups other than the Orthodox church (71 percent of adults there identify with this group). A law passed two years ago as part of anti-terrorist legislation placed tight restrictions on missionary activity and evangelism outside of churches.

The Forum 18 news service reports the law is being used to confine religious exercise to easily regulated places, with 156 prosecutions for violating it last year and others continuing this year. Activities ranging from prayer meetings in homes to posting worship times on a religious website, or praying in the presence of other citizens, have been interpreted as “missionary activity.” Evangelical Christians make up the vast majority of the law’s victims.

“When the law was passed in 2016 we were alarmed, but we were not sure to what extent the law would be implemented,” Rakhuba says. “We are now seeing how the law is being enforced by the government, and we are becoming increasingly concerned. The restrictions have had a discouraging impact on missions, evangelism and church growth in Russia. They have forced churches and our young leaders to be very creative about how they share the gospel.”

Mission Eurasia has launched a campaign to raise $75,000 to meet a matching grant from one of its partners to provide the New Testaments. “The strategic key to the Scripture distribution and follow-up is that it will be handled solely by Russians and registered local churches in Russia,” says Walter Kulakoff, the ministry’s vice president of ministries and church relations.

“Our annual summer Bible camp outreach will be used as a follow-up to the World Cup outreach,” says Kulakoff, who has trained nationals for evangelism and discipleship across Eurasia for 15 years. “During the World Cup outreach, we will be inviting children and youth to the summer Bible camps, where our leaders will have additional opportunities to impact them with the gospel and continue developing friendships with them.”

Mission Eurasia (formerly Russian Ministries) was founded in 1991, just after the collapse of the Soviet Union, by Reverend Peter and Anita Deyneka. Designed to react quickly and decisively to new opportunities for evangelism and church planting in the former Communist region, the ministry and the Association for Spiritual Renewal (now Mission Eurasia Field Ministries) helped train more than 5,000 church planters and start more than 1,000 evangelical churches. Today, under the leadership of Rakhuba, Mission Eurasia and Mission Eurasia Field Ministries work in 13 former Soviet countries (now known as Eurasia) and Israel to train, equip and mobilize the next generation of Christian leaders.


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