I love traveling to encourage brothers who serve in places that for me, living in Eastern Europe, seem to be in the middle of nowhere. I particularly love to be in areas that are off the beaten track — the kind of places where nobody will go unless they really-really have something important to do there. In the case of my ministry, they also tend to be rather cold places in Siberia, Russia. As I was planning my trip to the city of Nizhnevartovsk, I was only thinking of how to fit those dates best in my Google calendar. February looked fairly vacant. Once I had made my choice and bought my tickets the local pastor reminded me that February is the coldest time in their region, the region which even in other months doesn't boast much warmth.
I was welcomed by -10°F the night I arrived. Soon I learned about the necessary local habit of getting up in the middle of the night to start your car if you want to use it the next day. This habit is something people have to do for a few weeks every winter, and this type of action gives you an idea about what sort of place brother Vladimir chose to serve. He and his wife left their warm and beautiful country of Ukraine over two decades ago.
The best way to encourage a missionary is to spend time with him and his family, to spend time with people in the church and help them from the Word. The first night of my stay about a dozen of us gathered in Vladimir's dining room to study "The Doctrine of Man." Man is to be honored as the one who created in the image of God. Brothers and sisters in Christ are to be specially honored as those who are co-heirs with Christ.
The following day I was given a quick tour of the city. Afterward, we used Vladimir's car to deliver bread to men's and women's rehabilitation houses. As we passed by a sizeable warehouse-looking building with a big cross towering nearby, Vladimir said, "The whole city went through this church. Only three people remained unchanged: the pastor, the administrator, and the accountant". He went on to tell how badly this prosperity Gospel "church" misrepresented biblical Christian faith in their community. Many people were deceived into thinking of themselves as believers while in reality they only sought bread and spectacles in religious garb.
In the evening we held a seminar considering "Christian and Wealth." The topic was designed to help people who had come out of the prosperity Gospel environment and seek to be more biblically grounded. To many, it is a long process of detoxication. However, true believers gladly accept a cross-centered paradigm of Christian living. As they listen to the teaching of Christ about the eternal riches, their hearts respond willingly.
On Sunday evening another seminar was scheduled. During the break between Sunday morning service and the conference, Vladimir said how glad he was that someone with a sound biblical doctrine could come and show an excellent alternative to many of the people who were or are still misled by false teaching. His church is small but well-instructed and vibrant. He is in fellowship with other pastors from the few other churches in the city. Churches' health is a significant burden on Vladimir's heart. People get de-churched because of so much ungodliness seen in immature churches led by immature or untrained ministers. So the next seminar was devoted to the importance of the church as we studied Ephesians. The emphasis was on Paul's high view of the church. We must be closely involved with the church and love her because Jesus fully identified with her and died for her! Can we say we love Jesus but hate the church? By no means! Not if we carefully read the New Testament.
As we were parting with the pastor and his family, I felt like coming back as soon as possible. There is a huge need in grounding believers in the sound biblical teaching in a place like Nizhnevartovsk. The Great commission remains unfulfilled unless the churches that were planted in Siberia some years ago are full of disciples who were taught all that Jesus commanded! If we don't teach the truth there are lots of people who will teach falsehood. Pray that the Lord would strengthen the church in Nizhnevartovsk. Pray for more training opportunities. Give thanks to God for faithful missionaries like Vladimir who withstand cold climate and people's hardened hearts and stay there for the long haul.
Sincerely, Anatoly (Assisting HC in Eurasia and Russia)