Baptists in Russia are celebrating this weekend, despite a passive-aggressive approach from government officials that has left them relying on emergency power. The biannual congress of the “Russian Union of Evangelical Christians-Baptists”’ (RUECB), dubbed “Transformation 2008,” began July 31, but only after a last-minute change of heart from local officials who had banned the gathering, according to a press release from William Yoder, riting for the RUECB’s department of external church relations.
More than 2,000 people registered for the congress, which is being held at the “Little Creek” (Rucheyek) children’s camp near the village of Rumyantsevo, about 40 miles west of Moscow. The camp, formerly run by the Communist Party’s “Young Pioneers” and now owned by the Association of Brethren Churches.
Local officials reportedly complained that the congress would lead to “gross overcrowding” because the facility has only 350 beds. Additional tents and sanitation facilities apparently helped get the ban lifted, but electrical power to the camp was cut off, leaving participants to rely on emergency power equipment. Earlier, power to RUECB offices had also been interrupted.
The Baptists were undeterred. According to Yoder, activities on Aug. 1 were “marked by incredible music, worship services, seminars, joyous reunions and frolicking crowds of children.” Yoder quoted Vitaly Vlasenko, the RUECB’s director for external church relations, as saying “People are overjoyed, the mood is terrific and the Holy Spirit is moving in an impressive way!”
Despite a law calling for freedom of religion and good relations with government officials on the federal level, Russian Baptists often confront obstacles thrown up by regional or local officials. A Baptist World Alliance delegation led by general secretary Neville Callam was warmly received by government representatives in June of this year, and one high official said he hoped Baptists could could grow and help begin new farming settlements in the country. Some lower level officials, however, continue to repress a free expression of faith.
Let’s pray that the RUECB congress, meeting under the theme “Transformation 2008,” will continue to see lives transformed through their ministries — and perhaps a transformation in acceptance by those who antagonize them, as well.