by Anita Deyneka
We will be better stewards and more effective strategically by planning together and sharing resources.
For most of the last 70 years, the only avenue into Soviet society open to Western missions was through the church. Believers there faithfully and valiantly followed Christ, and despite the stranglehold of communism and seven decades of suffering, the church survived. But it was marginalized and relegated to a small corner of society. New statistics seem to show that the evangelical Protestant church actually declined under communism.
However, when the earthquake of events under Gorbachev started opening fissures in all spheres of society in both the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, it was as if a stream had become a sea. God was opening many channels to carry his living water to a land that for so long had experienced a spiritual drought, and Soviet evangelical leaders began asking my husband Peter and I to start entering the doors that were not yet open to them. So we started meeting Soviet secular leaders and found more doors than we could possibly go through.
NEW CHALLENGES REQUIRE NEW SOLUTIONS
Even before glasnost, Peter and I had come to the realization that no one organization had the resources and ability to complete the Great Commission task in the Soviet Union. Multiple and massive resources would have to be mobilized if that country sprawling over one-sixth of the earth with nearly 300 million people were ever to be evangelized. This need to have all hands helping, made even more pressing by the crisis the U.S.S.R. is experiencing, leads inevitably to networking.
An article entitled "How Networks Reshape Organizations-for Results" in the September-October, 1991, Harvard Business Review asserts, "No traditional corporate structure, regardless of how decluttered or delayered, can muster the speed, flexibility and focus that success today demands. Networks are faster, smarter, and more flexible than reorganizations or downsizing-dislocating steps that cause confusion, sap emotional energy and seldom produce sustainable results."
Christian organizations also find it difficult to swiftly restructure in response to radical changes in places where we minister. But networks can help compensate for that inability and also provide more flexibility. That has been the experience of an informal network of Western Christian agencies that have begun evangelizing the Soviet Union through its educational system, which until 1989 was still a difficult door for Soviet Christians to enter.
OPEN DOORS THROUGH EDUCATION
The educational system in any society functions as the womb where ideas are nourished and the lives of millions of people are shaped-especially those of young people. Most of the Western Christians who have become involved in the Soviet educational system have done so not only because the need is so great, but because it is unavoidable.
Most Soviet education officials have responded to the slightest overture. At the request of the Christian College Coalition, in January, 1990, Peter and I contacted the Russian Republic’s Ministry of Education to see if the Soviet Union would be interested in having exchanges with Christian colleges in the United States. I will always remember the Minister of Education’s reply: Not only was he interested in exchanges with American schools, he was especially interested in working with Christian colleges because of the values they had to offer Soviet society.
Many Christian organizations are are discovering or have discovered openness for evangelism in the Soviet educational system.
InterVarsity, for example, became the first Western Christian student organization to place students at a Soviet university for a summer. InterVarsity Missions Director Dan Harrison has stated that a Western Christian student may have more hours with non-Christian Soviet counterparts during a summer than a traditional missionary would have with the people he or she is trying to reach. Campus Crusade has also placed professors and students in universities, among other innovative out-reaches. Other groups-such as the International Institute for Christian Studies, International Business Institutes, Educational Services International, International Teams, the Christian College Coalition, and individual Christian colleges and universities-have pioneered programs.
Each of the Christian organizations involved in networking have pursued independent initiatives, while remembering that each one has something to contribute to and receive from the others. For example, Slavic Gospel Association (SGA), with whom we were working at the time, did not have a pool of Christian professors and students to send to the U.S.S.R. The above-mentioned organizations, however, did, along with an understanding of educational philosophy, psychology, and methodology. We, on the other hand, had Christian literature, which is an invaluable tool for those professors and students who would be going. SGA and other organizations also had important contacts with Soviet education leaders. All these components were necessary to conduct this uncharted ministry.
Of course, an essential element in networking is communication. Most of us involved in educational ministries in the Soviet Union managed to keep in touch remarkably well, if only on an informal basis. I believe that in the future, however, a newsletter would help give some needed structure.
As a result of this networking, much more has been accomplished than any of us could have done alone, for which we can praise God. Many non-Christian Soviet students are studying at Christian schools in the U.S. Christian professors from the West are teaching courses on Christianity at such unlikely places as the former Communist Higher Party School (correct title?) and the Department of Atheism at Moscow State University. Soviet school officials are considering Christian value-based curricula for public schools. Also, there are initiatives under way to establish Christian schools in the U.S.S.R.
A SACRED SYNERGISM REQUIRED
Still, with all our collective efforts, we have only scratched the surface. There are many competitors for the souls of the Soviet people, such as the Mormons and the Unification Church, who have seemingly unlimited resources.
Networking is really nothing new for Christians, however. In the body of Christ, members work together for the good of the whole. To evangelize the U.S.S.R., we need to network with the whole body-both the Western Christian entities with something to offer, and especially our brothers and sisters in the U.S.S.R., listening to them and taking direction from them.
Networking will help our ministries to be better informed about what is happening. Getting the whole picture was difficult enough when the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe were closed. In some ways, it is more difficult now or it is at least a more complex challenge. For example, new regional developments should make us re-evaluate our long-standing ministries of literature production and distribution. Recently we talked with two Christian businessmen from the West who are trying to encourage the publication of Soviet Christian literature. Several secular Soviet publishers said that although there was a market for Christian literature in the Soviet Union, they were hesitant to publish it because the West was already supplying so much for free. Is it possible that we are retarding the development of indigenous, self-subsidizing Christian literature? The only way we can get the facts about this important issue and many others is to have as comprehensive a knowledge as possible. This requires sharing information through networking.
In addition, networking will help equip us to meet the complex challenge of evangelizing the U.S.S.R. Networks inside and outside the region need to be developed for a task the requires the full strength of the body of Christ. Macro changes in the U.S.S.R. require a macro response. We have found that our few resources, which seem so small in view of the mountainous challenge, have been multiplied through networking. As we continue to work together for the expansion of God’s kingdom in the U.S.S.R., a sacred synergism will occur.
Copyright © 1992 Evangelism and Missions Information Service (EMIS). All rights reserved. Not to be reproduced or copied in any form without written permission from EMIS.