Today’s 10 minute interview is a continuation from a series of short reports from wider church leaders in different countries. (Listen to #1 with Zafar from Central Asia, or #2 with Booker from Malawi, or #3 with Jonathan from Tanzania.) Though Ruslan was ok with identifying his location, knowing the dangerous situations he has faced in the past, we felt better generalizing.
Ruslan, Southern Russia
Hi Ruslan. Can you introduce yourself and tell us about what you are involved with there in your country?
I am Russian. I moved to my current location with YWAM in 1997 and I’m still there. I met my wife there – she’s from a Muslim background, but she was saved when she was 13 years old.
We are involved in church planting. God gave us grace to prepare 25 workers and now they all serve there, and we’ve started 8 churches in different cities and villages. Our area is mostly mountainous and the mountain area is mostly unreached. We started churches in the valleys, because the cities are there and they have many different nationalities. In our region there are 39 different nationalities. One big positive of the Soviet Union is that now we can all understand each other. We speak many different languages. These aren’t dialects – they’re completely different languages. But we use Russian to understand each other.
We planted churches in the valley, in the big cities. We try to reach people there and we hope they will bring the gospel from the cities back into their villages, but it’s not working yet. It has started in some places, but it’s difficult to go to the mountains, because mountain villages are very closed. It’s a family culture. It’s difficult if you are not an insider. Everyone knows everything that happens.
We have a school where we teach people how to start house churches, how to find men of peace. For us it’s difficult to invite people to an open church. In our situation it’s easier to reach people in their own houses and start something there. Usually people promise to come [to a meeting] and never come. If they come to church, it’s a big shame. Because they think someone will see them and judge them.
When you go into people’s houses, what do you do?
There are different situations. Some people have already had a connection with Jesus supernaturally – with dreams or something. Sometimes we just build up relationship. We drink tea… a lot of tea… and talk together. It depends. If it’s relatives we can visit more often. But if we feel this is a man of peace, we can start working with them. Sometimes the whole family receives, sometimes the whole family resists.
We had a situation when a husband came to the Lord and really followed God. The wife became very aggressive. She is part of the Salafi Wahhabi movement, a division of Islam. That’s unusual because usually in Islamic culture the husband is the leader; he’s the boss. But we had another situation. He’s a follower of Isa and she’s not. She also tried to teach the children about Islam and he’s under pressure because she talked with the whole family – parents, uncles, everyone is against him. So we have many different situations. Sometimes the whole family is saved and it’s easier for us to work.
So when you start to work with a family like that, when you’re in someone’s home, would you start telling stories about Jesus and who he is? Bible storying?
We don’t start from Jesus, we start from the beginning – from Genesis. Because Muslims have a different story. So we try to give the story about Abraham, Moses, stories about Creation, what’s happened in the past… because we need to lead people to Christ and explain why they need to receive this Sacrifice.
I know you’re a lot of pressure there, from many sides. What’s the current situation as far as what is legal, what you can do? What are your limitations and your opportunities?
It’s changed over time. Ten years ago we did concerts – not “Christian” concerts, but drug prevention concerts. During the concert we would give an invitation: “If you need help to get off drugs, we will help you.” During that time we did over 300 concerts, even in very conservative Muslim villages.
But with time the atmosphere has become more closed. We started a rehab center for drug addicts. Later that also stopped working. We started working with orphans. Now we have built a house for orphans. Last two summers we did a summer camp for children – half Christian, half Muslim. We always try to find a way how we can help the community, to answer their needs. If it’s a poor village, we bring food, clothes. Sometimes we just visit people to pray. It always changes – it’s never the same.
What are some ways people can pray for you and for your region?
- Our first need is to seek a man of peace – or a house of peace, a family of peace.
- The second thing is for local leaders, because some local leaders are under pressure from their families and they are afraid of going forward.
- And also, for our social work, because social work helps us make many connections – with drug addicts, with children, with the blind, etc.
- Also for protection. We always pray for protection! (with a laugh) Sometimes we really need it.
I just have one last question. What do you love about Jesus? Why do you follow Him?
Because he’s never judged me. I can talk with him about everything. I feel he’s… like my best friend. I can share anything, not just religious prayer. Even if I have temptation, I can share with him, “You know Jesus, help me!”And also when I came to the Lord, he showed me how he loves the nations. Because I grew up in St. Petersburg in Russia, where fascism is very strong. We always fight with black people in the streets. I grew up in such an area. When I came to YWAM I went to my area for outreach, and when I saw all these black people around me I was shocked.
And first I had to repent, “O Lord, forgive me – I’m a nationalist!” At first I could not preach, I really didn’t like them. For one week I had cultural shock. I talked with the leaders and said, “I don’t want to reach them. I don’t like them.” For one week I just laid on my bed and I talked with God honestly, from my heart.
And one day something changed and I stopped crying and started understanding how He loved them. I think it’s the main point in my life that God put people in my heart. Everything changed.
Now my main ministry when I visit churches around Russia, especially when I visit churches in St. Petersburg, Moscow – the big cities – is always sharing about this topic. Most people in churches are Russian, but in cities you can meet Tajik, Kazak, Dagestanian, people from Africa, Vietnam… many nationalities. But if you visit a church, most people are Russian. I think we need change in Russia on this topic.
Thank you, Ruslan. May the good news of the God who loves all nations spread in your multicultural area – to the mountain villages and beyond!
– Grace Henry