Valentin Vasilizhenko, a pastor in the Russian Union of Evangelical Christians-Baptists, was among recent visitors, helping to distribute backpacks filled with school supplies for children in late August. Vasilizhenko said local authorities were grateful for Protestant relief efforts and the government did not criticize the fact that the backpacks contained children’s Bibles.
EthicsDaily.com previously reported harsh words were exchanged between Georgian and Russian Baptist leaders over political reasons behind military conflict in the breakaway region that started Aug. 8. But William Yoder, who works in the Russian Baptist department of external church relations, said official communiquÃ©s between the two Baptist groups have been “conciliatory and fraternal.”
The department’s head, Vitaly Vlasenko, issued a statement Aug. 24 titled “Extending the Hand of Friendship,” urging Georgian and Russian Baptists to rise above the fray.
That was before a mid-level employee in the RUECB office e-mailed a paragraph criticizing public comments by a Georgian Baptist leader, reportedly forwarded to Georgian Baptist officials by mistake. Yoder called the incident “unfortunate” but said it would not “derail the much-larger and more significant talks between our two churches.”
“We want to extend the hand of friendship to our sisters and brothers in Georgia,” the RUECB’s official statement said in part. “We invite them to meet with us and talk. This also holds true for the other nations and peoples who were once part of the Eastern bloc. We must talk about the past–not in general, but how we as believers became co-guilty of the sins committed by the Soviet government. We Russians are part of a troubled heritage in which we need to bring clarification.
“But we must in the same breath also talk about the future. How can we who once lived in the Soviet sphere become a great force for peace? We by no means want to fall back into the ways and conditions of the Cold War–we Russians do not want to become isolated from the West again. Let us together become a mighty voice for peace and understanding. Together we evangelical Christians can help reverse the present trend which is leading us down the path of a renewed Cold War.”
A recent World Council of Churches delegation in South Ossetia described “deep wounds” in the area’s populace and said local officials harshly criticized Georgia’s leaders and policies.
Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili has insisted that Russia initiated the conflict by invading his country, but Reuters quoted a former aide as saying Saakashvili had long planned a military strike to seize back South Ossetia and a second breakaway region on the Black Sea coast, Abkhazia.
A Pentecostal bishop visiting the area said he could not blame South Ossetians for taking up arms to defend their homes and families. After the Russian Federation officially recognized South Ossetia and Abkhazia on Aug. 26 Sergei Ryahovski, bishop of the Associated Russian Union of Christians of Evangelical-Pentecostal Faith, joined other Protestants to affirm the move as “a step which expresses the will of the residents of these two republics” that opens the way “for a long history of suffering, the demise of innocents and territorial destruction to be brought to a close.”
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.
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Bob Allen was the managing editor at EthicsDaily.com from 2003-2009, writing more than 1,500 news stories during his tenure. He is currently the news editor at Baptist News Global.