Report on the trip to Russia
May 1 through 12, 2001
Tim, Sharon, and Deborah Maxwell
Thank you for your prayers for us!
Getting our passports – We had asked for prayer on Sunday because our passports were stuck in the consulate in Washington D.C. The plan was for a courier to pick them up Monday morning and ship them by air to the Los Angeles airport, where we would pick them up Monday night. When we arrived, about 10:45 p.m., the clerk said that their computer did not show any package for us. She did say she would check in the back, just to be sure. Amazingly, she found it – in the wrong place. So your prayers (and ours) were answered!
Clearing customs in Moscow – We carried extra boxes of materials from Mission Aviation Fellowship. He had also brought funds for the operation of the mission. Everything was dutifully declared, but the officials wanted to know about the money. Dave Bachman, MAF Superintendent there, met us and answered the officials in Russian. They just looked perplexed, pushed all the declaration forms toward us and waved us on with no further questions. We asked Dave what he had said. He replied that he just told them we wouldn’t leave with more than $1500. I guess that made sense to them, but we would never have known what to say.
An illustration of answered prayer – One morning I walked Deborah to the Bachman’s flat because she was going to school with one of their girls. On the way I realized that I didn’t know the combination to get into their apartment complex. There wasn’t time to go back to ask Tim or Sharon, so I told Deborah, "Let’s just pray that when we get there, someone will come to the door so we won’t have to know the combination." Just at the instant we stepped onto the steps, someone else did too, coming from another direction. He punched in the code. Deborah looked at me with a big smile, and we walked right in behind him.
The flight schedules, and the schedule of the first few days, were difficult. In fact, on our fifth day, we had only had two nights in bed. But the Lord gave us all strength and health, and we found the entire journey very interesting and profitable. The Maxwells are great people, and it was a pleasure to be with them throughout this trip. Even Deborah, who is just seven, and who was out late almost every night, never lost her composure.
Impressions in Russia
Obviously, a short trip to Russia does not make us experts in this field. We offer these thoughts in that light. We intend to keep studying Russian history and culture, and keep tracking the progress of evangelical Christianity there. Those who are interested may find more information on our Russia section at Prophecy Central. (http://www.Bible-prophecy.com/russia.htm)
Life in Moscow
Moscow is a very large, relatively modern city. It has a population of approximately 15 million. We were surprised about several things. It has good freeways, with a large outer loop, which I think they said was about 60 miles long, and an inner loop close to the center of the city. There are many radial freeways, which enter the city from every angle and converge in the center. Its Metro subway system is very extensive, carrying 9 million people each day.
It occurred to me that Russians were something like the beautiful and complex Matryoshka, the most famous souvenir of Russia.
1 - The outer person – In public, Russians are actually the opposite of the smiling and beautifully decorated Matryoshka. They are very reserved, even appearing to be unhappy. They do not usually greet one another or smile at strangers. They are all business: walking very fast, and determined to get where they are going. They dress well, but in subdued colors and styles. Many of them wear black leather. We were told by our guide that they have been conditioned all their lives not to stand out because too many in their history have been eliminated for being different. Actually, some of the young women are an exception to this pattern. They may have brightly dyed hair and stylish clothes.
2 - The person as a Russian – Most of them are proud of being Russian to a certain extent, but they are also angry and ashamed of their history and what it has done to their family and to them personally. They have a tragic and brutal history of slavery. Eighty-five percent of them were Serfs during the Feudal Period. The Tzars were generally unkind. They tell the story of the building of St. Petersburg. Peter the Great used his people from the Ural Mountains as slave labor, working them literally to death during the 20-hour daylight hours of each day, and then just burying them when they dropped, bringing in fresh replacements to keep the work going. It is claimed that 100,000 died building the city, and it is called "The City of Bones" by the Russians. As many as 60 million people were killed in the Communist purges. Anyone who was a religious leader or who had the wrong ideology or was even suspected of any opposition to Communism was executed or sent to slave camps in places like Siberia, where most of them died. The Soviet Union lost 26 million in WWII - half soldiers/ half civilians. America lost less than 350,000 by comparison. Everyone has lost loved ones during the wars, and many had to betray loved ones during the purges.
3 - The person as a family member.- What meaning and joy may be experienced by Russians is often found in their family life. Nevertheless, there are many difficulties for their families. Divorce rates are high, and young men feel a keen sense of inability to provide what their wives expect from them materially. Most men suffer from a lack of self-confidence, and are often intimidated by women who are often more bold and confident. Abortions are common. It is said that the average woman has 7 abortions during her lifetime. Josh McDowell reports that only 10 percent of the babies born in Russia are born healthy, that Russian men have the lowest life expectancy in Europe at 57.4 years, and that two-thirds of Russian men die drunk, with more than half that number in extreme stages of alcoholic intoxication.
4 - The person as a unique and talented human being - In spite of their hardships, Russians have produced outstanding art, architecture, music, and ballet. There are over 100 theaters and museums in the city. They are very intelligent and highly educated. Nearly everyone carries a book to read during his or her commute to and from work. They are generally multi-lingual. They are rightfully proud of many scientific and military accomplishments.
5. The spiritual person - Deep inside, there is a lonely hidden person who was created in the image of God and who desperately needs to know the Lord Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. They are not easily reached on this level. Only those who sincerely care about them and who will establish long-term relationships with them will have the privilege of penetrating the outer layers of their personality and touching this inner man with the Gospel.
Sergei, our Christian guide, told us that there are more Dollars than Rubles in Russia now. The people don't trust their own economy. He said his own parents were a good example of the reason for this. They retired after several years of working very hard once they had some economic opportunity. They had saved enough to repair their dacha. (Many Russians have these very small plots of land that were given to citizens during the Soviet Era. They are outside of town, and are meant to provide a little garden space for the people. Many build small cottages on the property also for vacation get-away or a summer house for the grandparents.) Sergei said their retirement fund was about enough to buy two automobiles (just to get an idea of the amount). Within days of their retirement, the ruble was inflated 2000 percent, leaving their retirement fund virtually useless. He said that people will now only save dollars, and they usually do so by hiding the money in jars somewhere.
The European Union is pushing very hard right now to get Russia to switch its monetary standard from dependence on the dollar to the Euro.
The people in Moscow are definitely much better off now than they had been before the collapse of Communism. There are plenty of stores, and the price of food is not outrageous. There is a mixture of large supermarkets and the ever-present small shops near the Metro (subway) station outlets. They have produce, bakery goods, baked chicken, and other goods. The average Muscovite is actually considered middle-class, or relatively prosperous. By American standards, most of them would still be considered poor. But they are much more comfortable than the average Russian outside of Moscow.
Places of interest we visited:
Like most people in Moscow, we took the Metro, their subway system to visit the following sites. Their Metro is fascinating in and of itself. Begun by Stalin, this massive underground railway covers virtually all of Moscow. There are about a dozen lines, some of which intersect others, and all of which intersect the "Brown Line" which is a circle around the inner portion of the city. This inner circle was built after World War II, and was lavishly decorated to celebrate the victory. Beautiful arches, paintings, mosaics and other artwork make these stations seem more like museums than subway stops.
Most people use public transportation. The Metro carries 9 million people per day! Trains run every two minutes. Tickets may be purchased with 10 or 20 fares. The ticket is inserted in a turnstile when entering the subway. The fare is electronically deducted from the ticket, and a record of the transaction and the amount remaining is printed on the ticket. If a person tries to go through the turnstile without a valid ticket, metal arms come out to block the way. This can be a painful experience for those who make this mistake. Actually, three of the four of us experienced this automatic reaction, not because we failed to pay, but for some other reason. I made the mistake, after racing up the stairs with Deborah, of going through the "in" turnstiles instead of the "out" turnstiles. The automatic arms trapped my leather bag temporarily. Sharon and Deborah also got caught. One of them forgot to pick up the ticket after it had gone through the machine, and the other was too fast or too slow going through. The fare was less than twenty cents (but in Rubles of course), and entitled one to transfer repeatedly if necessary to reach one’s destination.
Victory Park and WWII Museum
We spent several hours going through the museum and the outdoor collection of military equipment. It was a great day to visit this museum since it was May 8th, just before their great victory celebration of May 9. Many people were there in uniform, with all their medals. Sergei, our guide explained the various movements of the war from the Russian perspective. They lost an unbelievable 26 million lives during this war
We had lunch at McDonalds and dinner at Pizza Hut all on the same day! Our McDonalds was a "small" one with only about a dozen counters. They were very efficient. By the time you received your change, the food was ready to take to the table. There are eight McDonalds in Moscow. The "big" one has about 40 counters, and can seat 700 people! I bought a fish sandwich meal, and only paid $1.37 (in Rubles). It tasted exactly like it does here. We were told the story of establishing the McDonalds chain here. They had to make farms and factories that would insure that Russians would make all of the food and supplies. This was begun years ahead of the opening of the actual restaurants.
Incidentally, this was the only place I was asked not to take pictures! We purchased the right to take pictures and/ videos, even in the museums, but when I took a picture of the inside of McDonalds, two employees came up to ask me to stop.
Boat ride on the Moscow River
It was a cold day for a boat ride, but we enjoyed it anyway. We were able to see many of the landmark buildings and monuments of the city from the river. The Kremlin was most impressive from this perspective.
Folklore Dance Concert
This was a great evening of folk dancing and music! Tim had worked in the office during the day, but he met us there for the event. Mike and Ellen Holman met us there.. Ellen had planned out all of our activities in Moscow. Becky Bachman also came to be with us. Flash pictures and video were not allowed, but Mike had a great digital camera that didn’t require flash. He gave us a CD ROM disk before we left with great pictures of this event and other views around Moscow.
Izmailovo Park Markets
Ellen Holman took us to this famous shopping area where we were able to see a great variety of Russian souvenirs. There was an incredible variety of Matryoshka nesting dolls. They came in all sizes and ins an endless variety of beautiful colors and styles. The outermost doll is generally thought to be the grandmother (from Latin mater, "mother"), with future generations of dolls tucked inside her. Most of them had 5 smaller dolls inside, usually painted with the same theme. Many depicted cathedrals or key buildings of Moscow. Some were even humorous: a Clinton doll, a Bush doll, etc.
It is believed that it was derived from the Latin word, mater, which means mother or, more to the point, grandmother. A peasant mother of old Russia often tended to a large family. The largest doll is the grandmother with future generations of dolls tucked inside her.
There were many other kinds of souvenirs. Deborah got a little device that had a swinging ball underneath. As the ball was swung around, chickens would peck at the grain on the paddle, while a farm girl would appear to be throwing grain out to them. They had elaborate carved birds, painted eggs, jewelry, and other interesting reminders of Russia. We enjoyed a good BBQ meal there before returning to our accommodations. I wanted to take a picture of the man doing the BBQ. He motioned for me to come over. He handed me a skewer, and posed for a great picture.
We attended the famous Bolshoi Ballet in the Bolshoi Theatre, built in the 1780’s by Matvei Kazakov, one of the most brilliant architects of Classicism. The building is also known as The Noble Assembly. There are many stories of narrow balconies. The program was good, but we were all pretty tired. Deborah was the main reason we went to this. She fell asleep in the middle of the program. We were all very happy we attended.
I took a picture of the sunset after 10 p.m. that evening! Since it was May 9th, there were also fireworks from Red Square which could be seen all over the city.
The Kremlin and Red Square
Kremlin means "fortress." Thus there are many kremlins in Russia, but this was THE Kremlin. The heart of Russian history, and the seat of government. The great museum there houses artifacts from the times of the Tzars until the present. Clothing, carriages, thrones, jewelry, household items, and much more are preserved. I thought it was most interesting that the signs on each display were written first in Russian, but also in English.
We were then permitted to go through the grounds of the Kremlin, containing many palaces and cathedrals. We stood right across a street from the place where President Vladamir Putin was working in his office. We visited the various cathedrals and learned that they had been closed completely from the time of the Communist Revolution until the days of Kruschev, and were then opened only as museums. Today they serve as cathedrals again.
It was a surreal experience to stand on the pavement of Red Square. Lenin’s tomb was prominent, but there were only scattered small groups of people around it, not the long lines of the Communist Era It was a good feeling in the sense that Christian places and names have been restored. We entered through Resurrection Gate. The highest structure there is Savior’s Tower. And St. Basil’s Cathedral (Cathedral of the Intercession) is the most beautiful structure imaginable, to the glory of God!
Spiritual condition of the people
For years now, since the fall of the iron curtain, we have been aware of the wonderful opportunities for evangelism in Russia, but have not heard of a great revival there.
President Boris Yeltsin did much good. As the first to preside over a free economy, during a period of honesty about the failures of Communism, he and his government renamed many cities and monuments to honor pre-Communist history and Christian traditions. He rebuilt cathedrals which were destroyed by Stalin, and opened the many cathedrals which had been closed during the previous period.
A coalition of Christian organizations, led by Campus Crusade for Christ, was allowed to develop and introduce the "Christian Ethics and Morality" curriculum for use in the public schools of Russia. It actually uses the Bible as its basis, and was very well received. More than 42,000 teachers were trained in the use of the materials, and the CoMission claims that half of them accepted Christ in the process! An estimated 8,000,000 students have seen the JESUS film in their classrooms. More than 1,600 lay men and women have served on one-year CoMission follow-up teams
Religious freedom does in fact exist. There are many new churches filled with sincere born-again Christians. Except for the language difference, there are many similarities between these churches and our own.
Yet the average Russian has not eagerly embraced evangelical Christianity.
A 1997 law required all religious organizations to register with the Russian government. As of January 1, 2001, the Russian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriarchate) represented approximately half of all religious organizations with 10,912 registrations. Protestant Churches represent approximately 3,800 organizations, overtaking Islam with their 3,048 organizations.
Mixed Signals About Chrisianity
Confusion is an issue. Two denominations were allowed, even during the Soviet era, supposedly to show that the people had some freedom. They are the Russian Orthodox Church and The Russian Baptist Church. Both were monitored and controlled by the government, so they would not become sources of dissention against the party line.
The Russian Orthodox Church was the official Christian church before the Communist Revolution. Moscow has many beautiful cathedrals, with their striking gold domes and elaborate architecture. The Communists closed most of these, and some of them were destroyed. Even the Kremlin, in the heart of Moscow, has several of these outstanding cathedrals. They were closed by Stalin, and only opened again as museums during the 1950’s.
The state of the Orthodox Church was partly to blame for the Communist revolution because it did not stand against tyranny. It actually taught that the Tzar was the brother of Christ. And it taught this in sprite of the fact that the Tzars had little or no regard for human life or freedom. Today the Russian Orthodox Church has freedom, but it has no evangelistic zeal, and it even opposes the growth of evangelical churches.
The Russian Baptist Church had true believers, but was limited in its scope by the government. There was one large church building in Moscow, and visitors to the country would often visit this church. They walked a moral tightrope during those 70 years, trying to teach the truth without overtly opposing the rule of the Communists.
Sergei, our guide – He accepted Christ in 1995. He had studied physics in college, and had been a design engineer. After the fall of Communism, he couldn’t find a job that would pay enough to support his family, so he became a tour guide. (He makes $5.00/ hour as a guide). One day, while taking his daughter to school, he was told by some people about the Jesus film which would be shown in the same building. He did not attend the film, but made friends with one of the men, invited him to his home for discussions, then began attending his church. He attended a small evangelical church for six months before making a decision. Then, one night, he saw the Moody Institute of Science film, "Origins." He realized, as a design engineer, that the world had to have an intelligent designer. He gave his heart to Christ. His wife is not yet a believer, and he knows that he could face hardship for his belief if the government should swing back the other way.
Dr. Alexi M. Bychkov – I met this great man at the Moscow Evangelical Christian Seminary, where he serves as President. His grandfather was among the leaders of the Russian Evangelical Baptists who were sent to concentration camps for their beliefs, and were never seen again. For 20 years he was the head of this same church group during the Communist Era. He is very well known by Christian leaders around the world, and is highly respected for his role. We had a wonderful conversation, and he invited us to work with in some way him if we can return to Russia.
Ministry in Russia
Mission Aviation Fellowship
MAF is famous around the world for its flight program. It maintains the largest private fleet of airplanes in the world, and is considered a partner will virtually all missions organizations, helping them accomplish their work by overcoming some of the logistic barriers they face.
In Russia they do not have a flight program. Commercial transportation is adequate for most needs. Yet they are the backbone of cooperative missionary activity in many ways:
Warehouse – MAF maintains a large warehouse of Christian literature. It is a converted airplane hanger, with adequate space on two floors for most of the Bibles, books, and other materials used by about 25 different mission groups. They also provide local delivery of materials from the warehouse, and remote shipping via commercial channels or creative alternatives, such as a network of train conductors who arrange small package deliveries to remote spots throughout the former Soviet Union.
Passport Service – From their office in the Christian Center, a facility owned by several Christian groups and shared by many, MAF processes the passports of workers and visitors for the various missions groups. This simplifies the process, and also provides a level of protection to other Christian groups in case of a governmental backlash against Christian missions work.
Secure Email – MAF provides encrypted Email service to Russian organizations. This is vital because of the private and sometimes sensitive nature of their communications.
Distance Education – As a leader in this emerging field, MAF had developed the methodology and initial course offerings for a practical and inexpensive method of training Christian workers in far-away places. Once the program is perfected, it will be usable to a broad spectrum of Missions organizations in training national leaders. We witnessed the first graduating class of the Beta test of their first course on hermeneutics. The trial group consisted of about 15 seminary students at the Moscow Evangelical Christian Seminary. They used a modern computer lab, equipped by MAF for the purpose. These initial students not only did the coursework via computer, but participated in Email interaction with other students and instructors, and made valuable suggestions about how to improve the system.
Campus Crusade For Christ
Campus Crusade has provided leadership and inspiration, not only for the CoMission project, but for other cooperative work among Christian groups in Russia and the former Soviet Union.
New Life Leadership Training
This is Campus Crusade’s program for training Russian nationals for ministry. Outside speakers often come to help, speaking for two weeks on a certain subject. Their lessons are translated for the Russian-speaking class.
Josh McDowell Ministries
Josh McDowell has provided ministry to the former Soviet Union countries for a decade now. He brings large teams of personal workers to help administer the humanitarian aid which they call Operation Carelift. Some of his books have been printed in Russian, and are popular among Christians there.
This is one of the largest and most effective ministries in Russia. It was started by Peter Deyneka,
who has since gone home to be with the Lord. Their purpose is to train Christian nationals so they can start churches in every community of the former Soviet Union. Through Autumn, 2000, 1,470 Christians had been trained in specialized areas of ministry, including church-planting, evangelism, ministry to women and children, family care and counseling.
Russian Christian Radio
This ministry is in the same building as Campus Crusade, Russian Ministries, MAF and others. It provides periodic Christian programming to various Russian communities
Moscow Christian Evangelical Seminary
This small accredited seminary in Moscow has an excellent reputation. Dr. Alexi Bychkov is President. MAF conducted the beta test of its Distance Education project there.
OM (Operation Mobilization)
Active in many countries, this evangelistic organization shares space with Moscow Christian Evangelical Seminary, which it sponsors.
Assemblies of God
The largest Protestant denomination in Russia is making great inroads with church planting. A large section of the MAF warehouse is devoted to their literature.
This is the English-speaking school for MK’s. It has 180 students, has its own building, and is a real first-rate operation. Debbie Bachman (Dave’s wife) is an administrator there. I had the privilege of teaching prophecy to the Jr. High class. The young people were very attentive and had many questions.
There are many other vital ministries in Russia. Find links to some of them on our Russia page on the Internet.http://www.Bible-prophecy.com/russia.htm
Russia in Prophecy
We have mixed emotions about this. Russia is likely to be the leader of the Gog and Magog coalition that strikes against Israel. (Ezekiel 38-39) Different prophecy scholars differ somewhat on the timing of this war. We think it makes the most sense when seen as the war of the second seal of Revelation 6. Still, The Lord loves the people there. Just like Jonah’s call to revival of the Ninevites (Nineveh was the capital of Assyria, the country that would defeat the northern ten tribes of Israel), we desire to proclaim the Gospel to these people, and hope that they will experience a great spiritual awakening, just like Nineveh did.
See our section on World War III at Prophecy Central.http://www.Bible-prophecy.com/ww3.htm
Continue to pray for Russia!