The White Harvest Fields of Russia

We’re republishing this as part of our 25th anniversary series featuring favorite stories from our archives. This story by George Ainsworth about an ambitious missionary movement in the harvest fields of Russia appeared in ANM’s magazine in 2013. Enjoy!

Since 2010 believers of the New Testament Church in Russia under the national leadership of Edward Grabavenko have “boldly gone where no one has gone before” with the gospel. Yet even in this 21st century there are 120,000 communities in Russia with no evangelical church. Thirty of these cities have over 100,000 population and still no church! So evangelicals of Russia have banded together in a national effort called “One Year for Jesus” to reach them.

How it works

Russian Christians volunteer one year of their lives as missionaries. The national church provides training, organizes the volunteers into teams of about 25, and assigns each to an unreached region. The missionaries receive food, a place to sleep, and local transportation. They hope to plant 10,000 churches by the year 2020.

They’re off to a flying start!

One team from Novosibirsk began to visit a semi-permanent village composed of 300 gypsies with lots of children. But the children were wild—fighting constantly and using bad language.

So the team began conducting children’s Bible classes. After only three months the change was astonishing: No more fights! No more bad language! One time when the team arrived, the children were already dancing in a circle singing, “Do you love Jesus with all of your heart?”

Waiting for the Gospel

In the Orenburg region a team going house to house met an 85-year-old lady who was blind. When they started to share God’s love with her, she told them that just before they came she’d seen a vision of God on a throne with someone seated next to Him, but she did not know who that was.

“That was Jesus Christ,” the missionaries told her. “Whoever calls upon Him would have eternal life. “Do you want this?”

“Yes, I do,” she said, and a new believer was born.

Missionaries in the Sverdlovsk area met Alexander, age 74, who claimed to be a pagan. But when the missionaries began to pray for him, he started to cry. For the first time in a long time he felt loved and cared for. The missionaries told him of the one Holy God who came as Jesus Christ to show him mercy and save him. He then asked Jesus to be his Lord and Savior.

Galina had been an orphan since age six. She had always prayed and wanted to know God but He still seemed aloof from her. The One Year for Jesus team from Perm arrived and held a public rally and concert. Galina saw the posters advertising the event and came to every meeting.

She told the missionaries she wanted to study the Bible, but the arthritis in her hands made it painful, and her eyesight was poor. The missionaries “just happened” to have an audio Bible, which they gave her as a gift. She received it with tears in her eyes.

Pastor Sergei Potapov of Barnaul has organized several teams from his church to reach the Altai Region. He writes: “As we cover more territory with God’s Word, we also revisit the places where we have the most response, praying and looking for a ‘man of peace’ who will open his home for a weekly worship service.” In this way the missionaries are opening more and more house churches.

Trained pastoral leadership

As these new churches begin, leaders assign them Bible-school-trained pastors. One of these is Vladimir Bazhenov, who pastors the church planted in Kchyovo in 2012. His own story is typical of many new leaders in the churches of Russia.

As a young man he became addicted to alcohol. Then thanks to the guidance of a friend, he went through rehab in a Christian center connected with the church in Perm. Once delivered he became convinced that God is the answer to any person’s problem.

The town where he pastors now has limited employment and rampant alcoholism. So Pastor Bazhenov visits home to home every Tuesday and Thursday. He gets to know the people and talks to them about their lives and about God. He prays for them and invites them to church. He also visits the local hospital. He and his wife, Ruslan, also plan to start visiting an orphanage for disabled children about 20 miles away.

I had the joy of spending time with some of these Russian missionaries this past spring. Every one of them overflows with stories of how God has used them to reach lost souls who have never heard the Gospel. Most inspiring are the large numbers of them who, having completed their “One Year for Jesus,” gladly reenlist for a second year. Some told me they even planned to do a third year! Each year the number of missionaries and mission teams increases.

Programmed for success

I asked Vyacheslav Safronov, national coordinator for the One Year for Jesus project, where the finances come from. He said they almost all come from the churches in Russia. He was glad, though, that they learned they could run the project for less than they originally estimated. They thought their cost per team was going to be about $3500 a month, but instead they find it is only about $1500 a month.

Think of fielding 25 youthful, zealous, fulltime missionaries for so little! That’s only about $60 per missionary per month! They can do it because Russian missionaries will sleep in a church, be content with very basic food, and do without anything for themselves. Yet they volunteer freely because they see the glory of God coming to their beloved Russia, town by town and village by village.

Every gift we can send to the New Testament Church for this project means more missionaries going out and more churches planted. It also means entire unreached people groups, such as the Muslim Tatars, can be penetrated with the Gospel. At 5.5 million, they’re the largest unreached people group in Europe. “One Year for Jesus” teams, including ethnic Tatar missionaries, are already beginning to reach them.

ANM receives and sends gifts for “One Year for Jesus” with joy, knowing the fruitfulness of these Russian missionaries in their whitened harvest fields.

Twenty-five years after we started partnering with native ministries to make a difference in places like the harvest fields of Russia, we are closer than ever to seeing the Gospel proclaimed and lived out among every people group in the world. Thank you for your partnership in the Gospel!

There’s more to be done, and just $25 a month can equip another missionary.

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