Russia is the world’s largest country, spanning nine time zones. It is home to 173 different people groups, speaking 135 different languages, and nearly half of them have never heard the gospel. Its wealth of natural resources, particularly oil and gas, have helped to boost economic growth during the past two decades; however, sanctions placed on Russia following its annexation of Crimea in 2014 have negatively impacted its economy.
President Vladimir Putin is increasing state control over political institutions and media outlets, and growing feelings of nationalism have led Russia to assert its interests in other former Soviet states, such as Ukraine. The government remains suspicious of Western organizations, accusing them of having political agendas. In fact, a law passed in 2012 requires all NGOs to register as “foreign agents,” and a new set of laws known as the “Yarovaya package,” which was passed in July 2016, requires all religious organizations to receive a government permit in order to continue operating. However, even if they obtain a permit, the government can still regulate their ministry activities. Sadly, these laws also give the government the authority to track citizens’ online activity and fine anyone engaging in evangelism.
About two-thirds of the Russian population identifies with the culturally and politically strong, but spiritually weak, Russian Orthodox Church; however, Islam is Russia’s fastest-growing religion, primarily in the North Caucasus. There are also sizable Muslim populations in Moscow, St. Petersburg, and parts of Siberia. Russia’s legacy of atheistic communism is an attempt to fill spiritual emptiness with wealth, sex, and other material pursuits. As a result, Russia has the world’s third-highest number of teen suicides, along with high rates of human trafficking, drug use, and HIV.
In the midst of the darkness spreading throughout Russia, our School Without Walls students remain committed to sharing the gospel in their own communities. In fact, in 2016, we trained and equipped 265 of these young leaders for ministry, and graduated 130 more!
- For young people growing up in Russia’s climate of materialism and despair to embrace the peace and fulfillment that only Christ can give, instead of seeking it in alcohol, drugs, or other sources.
- For Russia’s evangelical churches to be unified despite denominational, cultural, and geographical distances, and to be bold in their proclamation of the gospel, while at the same time being culturally sensitive in reaching out to their fellow countrymen of various ethnicities and religious backgrounds.
- For all School Without Walls (SWW) students and graduates to develop their leadership skills and their passion to reach their neighbors with the Good News, and for God to provide the funding needed for more Scriptures, training materials, and other resources.
- For God to continue growing His Kingdom in Russia, and granting strength and courage to our brothers and sisters living in this troubled nation, so that His name would be glorified, even in the midst of escalating persecution.
Natalia is from the Buddhist republic of Kalmykia in the Northern Caucasus region of Russia. “In 2010 I felt an irrepressible desire to communicate with God,” she shares. “I started visiting a Buddhist temple and tried to fulfill all the rituals required by Buddha. I soon found out that they did not bring me peace. So I started attending an Orthodox church. Here I felt that God was close, but I did not yet know Him, so my search continued.”
Then Natalia became seriously ill, prompting her to visit an evangelical church. This, in turn, led her to attend a SWW seminar. “Here my heart was filled with God’s love, and Jesus entered my life!” she says. “At the SWW seminars I learned how to talk to people about God, and I began witnessing to my family. Now I boldly share the gospel with my co-workers.”
At SWW, Natalia also learned about the oral communication method of sharing stories from the Scriptures with people who are interested in religion, but don’t read. Often these people accept Buddhism, Islam, or another religion based on the words of religious leaders, rather than texts. “I will now start sharing Bible stories in my native language,” Natalia shares. “I am grateful for any new ideas about how to make ministry an everyday facet of my life, and for my new goal in life—to bring people to Christ.”