One of the world’s most inspiring pillars of Christian faith went to be with his beloved Heavenly Father today. The passing of the Reverend Billy Graham moved us at Mission Eurasia to reflect with immense gratitude on his rich life of service to God’s Kingdom and the ways in which his ministry and ours intersected by God’s grace over the years.
Mission Eurasia’s president, Sergey Rakhuba, remembers first meeting Billy Graham in 1987, during the height of the Soviet Union, at a dinner for evangelical pastors in Russia. Sergey shares the memory of this inspiring meeting with Rev. Graham in Moscow and the impact it had on Sergey’s future ministry and the ministry of Mission Eurasia:
“For pastors who had to faithfully lead their churches under the pressures and challenges of the Soviet regime, this dinner with Rev. Graham in Moscow was an encouraging and faith-building night in the midst of a fearful and uncertain time,” says Sergey. “It foreshadowed the growing gospel movement that would spread across Eurasia when the Soviet Union fell a few years later . . .
“My closest colleague, Dr. Michael Cherenkov (Mission Eurasia’s executive director of field ministries), was also impacted forever by an encounter with Billy Graham in Russia. In 1992, a year after the fall of the Soviet Union, Michael remembers traveling as a young man and brand-new Christian from faraway Donetsk, Ukraine to the Red Square in Moscow in order to hear the great Rev. Graham preach to a crowd of thousands. Michael called this an ‘unbelievable miracle,’ writing, ‘In the center of Moscow, not far from the Kremlin, the most famous evangelist in history preached the gospel to thousands, and everyone who wished could freely obtain a formerly forbidden Bible. A revival had started, which promised reformation and renewal.’
“Inspired and captivated by what he had seen and heard that day, Michael returned to his village in Ukraine under the influence of Billy Graham’s message. Feeling the promptings of God’s call and seeing a colossal need for the gospel in post-Soviet society, Michael made a decision. He would be a preacher, an evangelist, and a catalyst for reformation and renewal in the post-Soviet sphere. And so Michael began working with Mission Eurasia (then Russian Ministries) to continue this gospel movement across Eurasia, where it blossoms and flourishes to this day as we train and equip thousands of young Christian leaders for strategic ministry.
“Like Michael and myself, many of the men and women who heard Rev. Graham preach in Russia on that miraculous day in 1992 went on to be trained as church-planters and evangelists, working with Mission Eurasia and other ministries to plant churches, serve the lost, train new Christian leaders, and deliver God’s Word and the message of Jesus to a broken and hurting post-Soviet world.
“The incredible legacy of Billy Graham is still being felt in the heart of Eurasia today and in the hearts of those who serve with Mission Eurasia. We grieve his passing from this world, but we rejoice that Rev. Graham is united with his beloved Savior and hope for the day when we, too, will be united with our Savior and every tear will be wiped away.”
“I grew up in an ordinary village family, and as a child I felt alone, like no one understood me or looked out for me. I wanted someone to understand and accept me and never leave me. I got married, expecting my husband to be this person for me, but he couldn’t give me what I longed for. When we realized that we wouldn’t get what we wanted out of the marriage, we started destroying our relationship with alcohol and abuse. I felt like I was dying and I had to leave my husband. After our divorce I felt completely alone. I felt that I had no reason to live and started contemplating suicide.
“It was then that a young woman was hired in my workplace who had been through a Christian rehabilitation program. We became friends, and I opened up to her about everything and felt much better. She was always full of love and encouragement, and after a month of getting to know each other at work she invited me to a Bible study. There I met other women who told me about Jesus and how He changed their lives. I felt more at peace and loved there than I ever had in my life, and I made the decision to follow Jesus, opening my heart to Him. He took my broken, wounded, and crushed heart and soul and made them whole again.
“Since then I have started studying in School Without Walls (SWW) and have gotten involved in ministry. I lead a home Bible group and I teach an Alpha Course to introduce people to Christianity. My life has been transformed, and my relationship to myself and people around me has changed completely. God is working in me and leading me. SWW helps me change and grow and prepare me to grow my ministry and bring the message of God’s love to the world around me. SWW helps ministry leaders grow in their missions activities, destroying unhealthy ideas about relationships between Christians and towards the world. The practical ministry component of SWW helps us develop our communications skills, responsibility, and creativity. There are lots of people in churches ready to help out and to serve, yet there is a lack of leaders to provide guidance and direction. SWW is the perfect program to prepare and train those kinds of leaders, and my hope is to continue to develop as a leader through the program.”
Give to support the training of Next Generation Christian leaders like Maria through School Without Walls:
Looking back, Regina can see clearly that God was working for many years to reach both her and her husband with the Good News. In 2003 both Regina and her husband gained new coworkers in their workplaces that were evangelical Christians. Regina was a teacher at a vocational school and her husband worked in construction. Her husband’s coworker invited him to church, and Regina decided to go with him. There, they discovered people who were full of life and joy. Fascinated, they continued attending church services and Christian events, and in 2004 they both made the decision to repent and dedicate their lives to Jesus.
Since then Regina and her husband have been growing in faith and serving in the church. Her husband is a worship leader and deacon. They also have three small children, which until recently had prevented them from pursuing a Christian education. However, when Mission Eurasia’s leadership training program School Without Walls (SWW) came to their church in 2015, the program offered the flexible solution that they needed, enabling them to obtain the training and tools they needed for ministry without detracting from their family, work, and ministry responsibilities.
“As I studied in SWW, I kept asking myself, ‘How can I serve people who don’t yet know God?’” shares Regina. “I enjoy attending church and serving our church body, but I wanted to reach people outside the church, just as our coworkers reached out to us over a decade ago. I kept pondering and coming back to this question as I proceeded with my SWW studies.”
Last year, Regina’s SWW group got involved in ministry in a pediatric oncology unit in a Krasnodar hospital. “I knew that this was a ministry where I could share God’s love and speak hope to those who had lost theirs,” shares Regina. In addition to speaking individually with children and their families, Regina had the privilege of dressing as an angel and declaring Good News of great joy throughout all five floors the pediatric unit as they invited children and their parents to a Christmas concert last Christmas. Many children and parents came down to the hospital’s performance hall, and there Regina and the rest of the SWW team shared a message of hope with them through their concert, and took the opportunity to get to know many families personally. They made it their mission to discover how they could help these families, and then set about doing so – they helped buy expensive medications and purchase tickets to St. Petersburg for a life-changing surgery.
“These bridges allow us to share the Gospel with parents and children,” shares Regina. “I know that this is a long-term ministry, which requires a lot of patience and care for these people. I am grateful that SWW motivated me to take steps to increase my faith. I firmly believe that many of these children and parents will come to faith in Jesus through this special project!”
On a visit last winter Regina met 7-year-old Tanya. Tanya has brain cancer, and had part of a malignant brain tumor surgically removed. She has also been through two rounds of chemotherapy. The tumor presses on the part of the brain that controls the endocrine system. One of the effects of this is severe fluctuations in hormones, which sometimes lead to a halt in her physical development, followed by drastic changes, such as gaining 20 pounds in a very short period of time. The chemotherapy has stopped the tumor’s growth. Generally these types of tumors will resume growth after two years, at which point another round of chemotherapy will stop the growth for another two years, and so on, until the tumor reaches a critical mass. Tanya’s mother shared that she is praying for her daughter and asked for prayer support. The family lives in the village of Gulkevichi, and have another child. Tanya’s father is unable to find full-time work, and they are struggling financially. SWW students helped purchase some items that Tanya needed, as well as raising money for travel to Moscow in April for treatment. In addition to offering financial support, the students have been visiting the family in their home and building a relationship with them, taking every opportunity to share a message of hope in Jesus with them.
To support the work of our School Without Walls students like Regina who are serving people in need and proclaiming the gospel with their unique gifts and abilities, please give to our School Without Walls program:
Elza is one of our first School Without Walls graduates from Russia. She and her husband planted a church several years ago in the capital city of Kalmykia, Russia and they feel called to minister to the native Kalmyk people there. Elza has an incredible faith story about how God touched her heart and convicted her to renounce Satanic influence in her life. The Truth of Christ has truly set her free!
Elza and her husband considered themselves good Kalmyks – they zealously followed Kalmyk traditions, and their tribe could trace its ancestry back to Genghis Khan. They were very proud of their identity and history, studying Kalmyk culture, music, folklore, and making frequent trips to Mongolia. In keeping with Kalmyk tradition they married early, and by the age of 16 Elza was already expecting her first baby.
Elza’s husband was a third generation healer – he had inherited an ability to see injured joints and correct them. His father was very respected as he had the ability to find lost people and animals by rubbing two sharpened sticks together. “The superstition which surrounded us from childhood made us, on the one hand, very proud,” says Elza. “On the other hand, we were afraid to in any way break the traditional rules binding us, and were constantly afraid of curses, and looked to shamans and Buddhist teachers for guidance, hoping to please all the gods. Ironically, at the same time we saw ourselves as good Soviet citizens – educated, modern, making independent decisions.”
Elza’s husband was a professional wrestler, she graduated from a music conservatory, they hadn’t ever argued in their four years of marriage, yet their perfect lives turned upside down when the Soviet Union fell. As repressive state control disappeared, food shortages, drastic inflation, and a spike in crime took its place. Many people, unable to deal with the new reality, turned to alcohol or drugs. Others, upon receiving their freedom, started looking for something new to give their lives meaning. Elza and her husband joined this search.
Their folk Buddhism couldn’t offer a satisfactory solution to their hunger for the truth. So they started to search. “We searched, and it is hard to say what we hoped to find,” shares Elza. “We simply felt unsatisfied with our lives, so we went searching. We started with ufologists. This seemed like the most modern and likely explanation – aliens sent great teachers to Earth: Buddha, Jesus, Mohammed, and others. However this theory did not offer any answer to what happens to us after death, so we did not find it very comforting. The whole country was looking for the meaning of life, and there were many different teachings, societies, and groups promoting their worldviews. Every day we would visit a new group to hear a new take on the Apocalypse, reincarnation, or life on Mars.”
At one ufologist meeting someone told Elza’s husband that the reason for meaninglessness and for death is sin, and that God can free people from their sins through Jesus. Elza refused to listen to this new theory, saying it was better to stop their search altogether and to return to their Buddhist faith like good Kalmyks rather than even consider worshipping the Russian God.
Elza’s husband didn’t argue with her, but rather started secretly attending Christian services. After a few months he repented and gave his life to Christ. Elza noticed that he was changing, and couldn’t understand what was happening. They started arguing for the first time, and finally, at the end of her rope, Elza decided to go to one of these Christian meetings and create a scene. She was angry that this sect was destroying her family and her people.
The first time she came to a church service, Elza resisted the urge to create a scene because, to her shock, she found not only Russians there but also Kalmyks! After the service she approached the pastor, a Russian, to complain. To his credit, he patiently listened to her, and then suggested that they read the Bible together and search there for answers to the questions bothering her. They spent a month meeting, talking, and studying the Bible, and gradually her heart began to change. “The turning point for me was reading Jesus’ words in John: ‘And you will know the truth and the truth will set you free!’” shares Elza. “I was tired of living with constant doubts and fears and superstition. I finally made the decision to accept Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior.”
Elza’s husband was overjoyed that God had answered his prayers for his wife. However, when they returned home they faced three days of intense spiritual warfare, and Elza realized just how bound up she had been in occultic chains, all the while thinking herself a progressive, secular woman. On the third day they finally prayed together, renouncing all of Satan’s influence in their lives and asking God to protect them from evil spirits and make them truly free.
Soon after, they moved to her husband’s village of Tsagan-Aman to plant a church. The people knew Elza’s husband as a healer and came to him asking for his help, but since their prayer rejecting Satan’s influence, he found that he had completely lost his ability to “see” and heal injuries. “However he understood that God had taken away this ability in order to give him spiritual gifts,” Elza shares. “Now instead of physical healing, my husband taught people about Jesus, who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, and the only true Healer.”
After planting a church in Tsagan-Aman, the couple moved to Elista, the capital of Kalmykia, to plant a Kalmyk church. They faced many hurdles and had a lot to learn in the process of planting a church that was Christ-centered yet honored the positive elements of Kalmyk culture. Elza supported her husband, the pastor, and helped lead worship playing on national instruments. “Outsiders sometimes don’t approve of our efforts to present the Gospel in a way that is acceptable to the Kalmyk worldview,” shares Elza. “However our goal was to serve God and serve our people, who are sometimes aggressive and closed to change. We needed patience and a learning spirit!
“SWW was absolutely invaluable in supporting, training, and equipping us in the difficult task of sharing the Gospel in a culturally acceptable way. SWW has trained a new generation of Kalmyk leaders with a heart to reach their people. I graduated from SWW a few years ago and was amazed at how helpful the seminars were in preparing me to fulfill what I feel to be God’s calling in my life.
“Many SWW graduates have become home group leaders, or have moved to other cities as church planters. We continue to serve in Elista, raising up the Next Generation of missionaries and evangelists with a passion to share the Good News despite cultural barriers and the anti-missionary laws passed in Russia last year. We are grateful for the steady flow of innovative ideas and printed resources that we receive from SWW, which are invaluable evangelistic tools.
“The three-day SWW conference in Kalmykia in April brought together our network of church and home group leaders from throughout the region and taught us a wonderful method of building bridges with our people. We were overjoyed and refreshed in our commitment to serve, thanks to the tools we received at the conference, which are very practical and applicable in our culture.
“My life has been filled with deep meaning since I accepted Jesus! I was recently diagnosed with cancer, however I can say with confidence, ‘My Reedemer lives and my life is in his hands!’” Elza has gone through two rounds of chemotherapy and remains active in ministry.
Artem is a current School Without Walls (SWW) student in Russia. He shared with us about his calling to do ministry and how the SWW training program and the examples of his SWW peers are encouraging him and pushing him forward in his service to the Lord:
“I’m 21 years old, and I live in the Krasnodar region. I accepted Christ in 2012, and a year later I was baptized. My parents are also believers, and I grew up going to church and learning about God. I always felt like He was preparing me for something, so I asked Him what His plans were for me, and I felt an urgent call to study church planting at a college in Omsk. I’ve finished my first year of study, and now I am going to do a year of practical ministry training in church planting.
“For the past year, I’ve regularly attended School Without Walls (SWW) seminars, and I have been very inspired and encouraged by the testimonies of those who led these events. I learned a lot about missionaries who are doing ministry work in other parts of the country, even though it is challenging. The challenges missionaries face sometimes frighten me, but at the same time, I know that I have chosen to experience these things by deciding to be a missionary. I’ve also learned a lot of practical information at SWW, and this knowledge is very helpful, since I am still learning about missionary work. I believe SWW will help me make new disciples for Christ.
“Now I am facing a choice: I can either use my life to serve the Lord through ministry, or I can ignore all I’ve learned and walk away from Him. And this I know for sure: the example provided by the SWW leaders inspired me to continue pushing forward in my ministry to expand God’s Kingdom. I want to express my deep gratitude to everyone involved in SWW. I’m so grateful for your active, sacrificial service.”
In the midst of the spiritual emptiness spreading across Russia, Light Magazine–a beautiful evangelistic magazine containing the Gospel of John and designed and printed in partnership with ShareWord Global– is helping young people choose to follow Christ, rather than living for the world. These remarkable young people, like Olesya, are spreading God’s Light to their communities and families:
Olesya is 15 years old and was born in South Ossetia, but her family moved to North Ossetia not long after her birth. There they started going to church, where Olesya’s brother and parents were baptized. After becoming a believer, Olesya’s father stopped drinking and swearing. “I was so happy that my family became Christians, because we finally got along,” she shared. However, after some time, Olesya’s father left the Church because he was angry that so many people claimed to be Christians but didn’t live in line with God’s teaching. Sadly, his disappointment led him to start drinking and smoking again.
Despite her father’s decision, Olesya still attends a home Bible study and the youth group at her church. She has also participated in several boxing tournaments, where she has won many awards. Now, Olesya strives to be a world-champion boxer, however widespread corruption in Russia has made this very difficult. For a while, she found herself wondering how God could allow such injustice. “I was working so hard, so I didn’t understand why I was facing so many difficulties,” Olesya recalled. “One day, I was upset, so I opened Light Magazine and read these words: ‘The sun may be your light for the day, but the Lord will be your eternal Light.’ My heart was instantly filled with joy! I began to understand that God allows struggles in our lives so we can grow stronger and learn to trust Him.”
While boxing is very important to Olesya, serving the Lord is even more important. If she has to choose between going to Biblestudy and training, she always chooses Bible study. Because she recognizes that studying God’s Word and being in community with other Christians is so important, she actively shares the gospel with her peers, even during her training sessions. Many of the young people she talks to are interested in Christianity, but sadly, her teachers call her a sectarian. Despite the poor treatment she receives from her teachers, Olesya continues to trust that God will provide. She also loved the Light Magazine that our School Without Walls (SWW) students gave her, and because of the artistic, youth-friendly design, she can easily share it with her friends.
“This year, I served as an assistant to the SWW leaders at a summer Bible camp for the very first time,” Olesya shared. “For me, this experience revealed a whole new aspect of the Christian life, as I learned how to share the gospel with children. Now I want to study at a Christian university and pursue a theology degree. I’m planning to start studying at SWW this fall, because I believe it will help me learn more about God and provide experience that will help me serve more effectively and grow my faith. I’ve learned that it is important to look at Christ rather than others as the example for how we should live. And without Him, our worldly achievements are worthless. I am so thankful that I can serve in my church.”
Vlad is a 14-year-old boy from Russia who was born into a military family that has lived in many different places, including the United Arab Emirates, Greece, and Turkey. Sadly, his father died from a heart attack at the age of 39, so his mother is raising Vlad and his younger brother, Ruslan, on her own. A few weeks ago, Vlad and Ruslan attended a summer Bible camp led by our School Without Walls (SWW) students and graduates in Ardon, Russia.
During camp, the boys received their own copies of 101 Favorite Bible Stories for Children, which Vlad began reading whenever he had free time. The stories made him very interested in God, and he started asking the camp leaders insightful questions about Jesus and the Bible. Our SWW students had many significant conversations with Vlad, Ruslan, and even their mother about Jesus, and they plan to continue their friendship with Vlad and his family after camp ends. Vlad and Ruslan’s mother told the camp leaders she is so thankful they are teaching her sons how to live according to God’s Word.
“I am very grateful for the School Without Walls students and people who made this wonderful camp possible,” Vlad shared. “They taught me so much about Jesus by leading by example. I especially enjoyed our conversations by the fire every evening. During these talks, I learned a lot about God and the meaning of life. I also really enjoyed playing sports, swimming, and just being able to relax at camp. I made several new Christian friends at camp, which is so exciting for me. I can’t wait to come back to camp next year, because this was the best week ever. Thank you so much for this wonderful experience!”
Summer Bible camps are still happening across Eurasia, and thousands of boys and girls like Vlad and his brother are finding hope in Jesus for the first time. And like Vlad’s family, our Bible camps are impacting parents, siblings, grandparents, and entire families and communities with the message of the Good News! Thank you for your faithful and dedicated support of our summer Bible camp ministry this summer and in many years past. You have made it possible for thousands of children—and families—to hear the gospel presented in a clear, compelling way by our Christian camp leaders and to receive their own specially designed copies of God’s Word that will uplift their hearts and sustain their faith for years to come.
“My decision to serve Marina, her husband Sergey, and their five children rose out of my desire to be a doer and not just a listener,” shared Maria, one of our School Without Walls (SWW) students in Russia. “After realizing that there is a great need for evangelism in my community, I started praying that God would provide opportunities for me to share the gospel. And one evening, He moved me to start serving a family in my area.
“The next day, I shared this revelation with my fiancé, Rustam, and together we visited the village of Sosnovo, where I had met Marina and her family while distributing Gifts of Hope during the Christmas season. Marina told us that her family was facing very difficult conditions, as they had been living without electricity for two weeks. They had fallen behind on their payments, so their electricity was shut off, and even after they paid their bill, they couldn’t afford to have someone from the electrical company come out to reestablish their connection. Sergey works as a security guard at a café, but he doesn’t make much. Marina isn’t working so she can take care of the children, and even though she receives government assistance, it still isn’t enough to pay for everything her family needs. Right now, they live in a small wooden house with no running water.
“The first time we visited their home, Marina and the children were so excited to see us! We brought them food and spent time praying that God would provide for their needs. At first, it was hard for them to accept our prayers, but over time, we could see God working in their hearts. Rustam and I try to visit Marina’s family every weekend, and now we are reading the New Testament with them. During the past few months, we have seen God’s hand at work, and Marina even invited her friend, Tatyana, to participate in our meetings! Tatyana hasn’t been to church in two years, but she has really enjoyed talking with us about God. Right now, there aren’t any churches or home groups in Sosnovo, so we are praying that God would provide even more opportunities for us to spread the gospel.
“The most important thing I have learned during this process is that we must rely on God and obey His teachings. By ourselves, we can’t give people what they need, but the Lord is able to transform them from within. For me, not only has this experience inspired me to continue pursuing evangelism, but it has also helped me grow much closer to Rustam. It is such a blessing that we can work together to serve the Lord!”