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Church Planting in Moscow: Challenging the Relic of Communist Russia

Moscow, Russia - A Southern Baptist missionary senses the responsibility to spread the good news to Moscow - the former Soviet Union city with ethnic diversity representative of the world.

Since the fall of the Berlin Wall, many missionaries entered into the city with hopes to share the once forbidden gospel. However, more than ten years after the efforts began, less than 1 percent of Muscovites believe Jesus to be Christ. The largest urban center in Europe still remains unreached and unevangelized.

For various reasons, Missionary Troy Bush believes, the gospel was slow in taking hold of the Russian capital. Some Christian organizations, under the assumption that Muscovites would not be open to the Word, did the brunt of their work in the countryside. Other groups, in looking at past Christian gathering such as the 1992 Billy Graham crusade in Moscow, concluded that other Russian areas needed more attention. Conclusively, Moscow became last on the list of missions focuses for many Christian organizations.

"Hence, what you had was a situation where Moscow was largely forgotten in terms of focused missions," said Bush. "Not until about the last two years have any major evangelical missions organizations clearly defined church planting and evangelistic ministries in the city."

Since 1999, Bush, a Ph.D. graduate of Southern Seminary stayed in Russia with his missions teams to design and implement evangelistic strategies aimed for Muscovites. His team equips and mobilizes church-planting groups while serving as a facilitator between Christians in Moscow.

Within five years, Bush hopes to plant 140 Baptist Churches - about one church per district - to reach the city's 12 million people. Currently, there are 23 churches.

One of the greatest challenges faced by the missionaries is the pluralist melting pot of religions. Moscow, once void of any public worship, now has 3 million Muslims, 16 registered Buddhist groups and five Jewish synagogues. Study shows more than 5,000 religious groups in the city.

"You have tremendous plurality in the city that is equal to most any major urban center in the world," he said. "At the same time, because of all the changes Russians have been through, you find that most Muscovites have very syncretistic worldviews. It's not uncommon to find someone who would be Orthodox and acknowledging that there is one supreme God and at the same time they may hold very, very strong elements of naturalism and rationalism. They also believe in reincarnation and see no contradiction at all."

The heavy religious syncretism left many Muscovites unaware of the personal, subjective God, preached through the Gospel.

"For many of them, they would view him as so distant and so impersonal that a personal relationship with him is not something that's really achievable," Bush said. "It's not even something that many of them pursue. Generally, they feel that their life is controlled by fate, an impersonal force."

However, Bush notes the potential of the Russian Orthodoxy in setting a foundation for the missions.

"Russian Orthodoxy has retained some key elements of the gospel, and those are elements on which we can build," Bush said. "Muscovites today would say that the moral state of Moscow has declined dramatically. What that does is that it creates a stark background on which to proclaim the light and the truth of the gospel. I think that is a real bridge"

Because Russian law forbids any foreigner from starting or serving as pastor for a church, Bush works with the Russian Baptist Union in discipling and teaching its members.

"None of our missionaries are going out and starting Southern Baptist churches," he said. "We are leading folks to Christ and discipling them and discipling existing believers so that they can do the church planting themselves."

In realizing the magnitude of the task that lies before him, calls all missionaries to help in the procession.

"The complexity of Moscow and the size of Moscow has been a very humbling experience. We realize that we can't mobilize [solely] as Southern Baptists to come here and work," he said. "We'll never be able to bring enough missionaries to do everything that the Lord desires to be done."

As for the faithful who remain at home, Bush asks for prayers.

"Pray for the pastors and the leaders in the Russian Baptist churches here in the city of Moscow," Bush said when asked how Christians could pray for his work. "Just 10 years ago there was only one registered Baptist church in the entire city of Moscow. Today there are 23 in the Moscow Baptist Association. Most of these churches are small, most of them are struggling.

"Pray that the Lord would lay upon peoples' hearts a burden for the city of the Moscow,

"[Pray] that the Lord would send workers for the harvest. We need workers."

By Pauline C.