Tens of thousands of Evangelical Christians from the former Soviet Union have arrived in the United States. In the Sacramento, California, area alone, almost twenty thousand have settled during the last five to six years. This migration of Evangelicals has created a deficit in Russia of experienced, mature leaders and lay people in a time when they are desperately needed to disciple new converts. Also, emigration has created a sense of uncertainty among those who are left in Russia. Who is going to leave next? How sure can we be that this minister or that parishioner is not preparing to leave? How can we make long-lasting plans? These and other questions often preoccupy minds and weaken zeal to serve God sacrificially.
Emigration also has some positive sides. First, Evangelical emigres coming to the West have an excellent opportunity to be immersed in Western culture, which sometimes softens sectarian, legalistic views about church life. Emigres in turn transmit these changes back to those who remain in their homeland. They also try to develop financial support for their brothers and sisters in Christ in the republics of the former Soviet Union. Although most of the newcomers to the United States belong to low-income families and cannot raise a lot of money, their help often is more effective than aid sent by the American government and charitable organizations. Emigres know the real needs of the Russian people and they know whom they can trust and who can honestly deliver aid to really needy people.
Recent immigrants from Russia usually try to form their own ethnic churches. This fact also can be viewed as helpful for evangelism in their homeland because "ultimately they [immigrants] and their children are the most effective missionaries to the people in the former Soviet Union." (Christ's Work in Russia: Conference on Effective Ministry in the FSU, 27-28 January 1985, Sacramento, CA). Not many of them will go back. However, those who go back after being trained in the West will be able to make a significant impact on the Evangelical movement in the former U.S.S.R. In case the situation in Russia reverses from democracy to an authoritarian regime, which is quite possible, this newly established Slavic community could become a very important source of support for Evangelicals in their homeland.
Vyacheslav Tsvirinko is admissions director and teaches in the Bible Department at Fresno Pacific University, Fresno, CA.
Edited excerpt reprinted with permission from A Search for Theological Identity Among Russian Evangelicals, M.Div. thesis, Mennonite Brethren Biblical Seminary, Fresno, CA, 1995.
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