What I’ve Learned About Radical, Selfless Living — From Russian Pastors

By Michael Johnson.

Have you noticed how self-absorbed we’ve become in America?

We’re living in the ultimate “me-centered” culture. Many people are obsessed with their self-image, immersed in the world of TikTok and Instagram, and living in a fake reality.

Meanwhile, most of the world faces harsh realities every day. Conflicts rage. Poverty deepens. Children are abandoned and exploited. People everywhere are running low on hope.

Where is that hope going to come from?

Frontline Pastors
I’ve just returned from Russia and other countries of the former Soviet Union where the organization I serve — Slavic Gospel Association (SGA) — partners with local pastors and churches serving on the “frontlines” in their own nations.

What I experienced there would perplex many in our self-absorbed culture — and will also surprise many Christians in the U.S.

These frontline pastors — living in the former Soviet strongholds of atheism and communism — showed me the power of utterly selfless living. Serving among the poor, the addicts, and the broken, they’re forsaking their own personal comfort — and even risking their own safety.


They’re answering the call of Christ to imitate him in word and action. They hold fast to the conviction that others’ lives — and others’ struggles and heartaches — are more worthy of their attention than their own personal needs and the needs of their own families.

These pastors trek miles on foot — often in brutal weather — to share God’s love and the Gospel, door-to-door.

In eastern Russia — close to the Arctic Circle — Pastor Yegor helped villagers during a raging forest fire that threatened their homes and lives. Pastor Sergei moved his young family into a war zone in eastern Ukraine so they could minister to suffering families. Pastor Alexander and his wife adopted nine orphans. Across the former Soviet Union, there are 700,000 abandoned children and orphans — equal to the entire population of Boston.

To me, these humble frontline pastors — and many others like them — are living out the Apostle Paul’s call to Christlikeness: “Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others” (Philippians 2:3-4, NKJV).

Risking Everything
In these days of rampant self-centeredness and narcissism, I see a picture of Christ in the dedication and sacrifice of pastors in Russia and the former Soviet Union who — risking everything — long to see their neighbors experience the joy and peace of knowing God.

They are the hands of Jesus to their world… the forgotten, the unwanted, the exploited, and those without hope.

Those hands — reaching out to the lost and broken — can be our hands, too.

This winter, SGA aims to help 1,300 frontline pastors in the former Soviet Union get through the harsh winter months as they selflessly serve others, going door-to-door with Bibles, food, medicines, and the good news. In Siberia, temperatures in January can plummet to minus 60 degrees Fahrenheit — or even lower.

I’m personally humbled by the radical selflessness of local pastors across the former Soviet Union — pastors who are living out the Gospel day after day.

The Apostle Paul urged his readers to “imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ” (1 Corinthians11:1, NKJV).

In this era of self-absorption, I believe we’re being challenged to “imitate” those who are pouring out their lives for others, just as Christ himself did for us.

— Michael Johnson is president of Slavic Gospel Association, a mission that serves local evangelical churches across the former Soviet Union, sharing the Gospel with “forgotten” children, orphans, widows, and families.

This article is submitted by Christine Lonsdale of InChrist Communications.   InChrist Communications is a Missio Nexus member.  Member organizations can provide content to the Missio Nexus website. See how by clicking here.

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