Building Churches and Children
Where the territory is vast and the challenge is daunting
By Laurie Falvo
The Euro-Asia Division is geographically the largest Seventh-day Adventist territory in the world. It stretches across nearly half the globe, from eastern Europe to the Pacific Ocean, and from above the Arctic Circle to central Asia. If you were to travel the width of this division, you’d have to adjust your watch for 11 different time zones!
Euro-Asia consists of 12 countries, including the predominantly Christian nations of Armenia, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova, Russia, and Ukraine; and the predominantly Muslim nations of Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan.
Each of these countries is highly diverse, with its own mix of ethnic groups, religions, and languages. But they share a common past: they were all once part of the former Soviet Union.
The rise of Communism in 1917 led to a loss of religious freedom in this region. By 1929 many Seventh-day Adventist churches had been confiscated or closed. Adventist publications were banned and religious meetings in private homes were strictly forbidden.
Hundreds of Seventh-day Adventists were arrested, imprisoned, or sent to labor camps for sharing their faith. Some even lost their lives. By 1938 no congregational worship services existed anywhere in Russia. Yet church members remained faithful to God.
When Communism fell in 1991, Soviet citizens experienced many new freedoms. Thousands were hungry for God, and the Seventh-day Adventist Church grew rapidly. But this surge in religious interest soon waned as people began to adopt the secular lifestyle of the West.
Today the church continues to grow, but progress is slow. Of the 280 million people in the Euro-Asia Division, fewer than 140,000 are Seventh-day Adventists.
Because religion was largely forbidden during Soviet times, many Christian believers are nominal followers of their faiths. Few read the Bible. Atheism and agnosticism are strong. Political chaos, inflation, and unemployment have left millions disillusioned and indifferent to religion. Yet many search for something spiritual that won’t let them down.
Adventists in the Euro-Asia Division are reaching out to these seekers with something special. Through evangelism and one-on-one outreach they are touching hearts for Jesus.
Covered with virgin forests and waving grasslands, Siberia is the vast empty part of Russia to the east of the Ural Mountains. Life can be harsh there, with bitterly cold winters. But Adventist churches are drawing people into the warmth of God’s love.
Krasnoyarsk is a city of about 1 million people with only five Adventist congregations. One of these meets in a simple house church.
Olesia was looking for a way to share Jesus with her friends and neighbors and felt impressed to start a small group Bible study. She invited Margeurita, who has been attending now for a year and a half.
“This is my family,” says Margeurita. “They are the closest people to me…. [Because of them] I know Jesus loves me and is always with me.”
Today Margeurita is a Seventh-day Adventist and is sharing her faith with others.
Evangelistic meetings and small groups such as the one Olesia helped start are winning hearts to Jesus. But as membership grows, there are no permanent church homes for new members to join.
Guillermo Biaggi, president of the Euro-Asia Division, underscores the lack of church buildings: “Our greatest challenge is to have more chapels here in this great division territory, so that church members and their guests can worship the true God and be prepared for heaven.”
The believers in Krasnoyarsk have purchased land and have laid plans to build a church.
Another area in Siberia where small groups and evangelism are helping to grow the church is Tomsk, a university city with a population of about 500,000. But only one house church, hidden away on a back street, represents the Seventh-day Adventist Church there. Some 180 Adventists live and worship in Tomsk. While the little house church seats only about 90 people, many more often squeeze in. There simply isn’t any room for new members!
Alexander is now a local elder at the house church in Tomsk. But a few years ago he planned to stir up trouble for the congregation in Tomsk. Convinced it was a sect, he went to the church determined to “rescue” a relative. But things didn’t turn out as he planned.
“I came as an enemy to this place; I came to create a war between me and the church,” says Alexander. “But I decided I had to follow this lifestyle, because God showed me through those brothers and sisters His love, His smiles. I was just amazed by those relationships I developed.”
The Adventists in Tomsk have purchased land and are working toward building a new church large enough to accommodate two congregations. “We really need a new, nice building for worship that will become a witness in this city so others can join with us,” said Alexander.
The Republic of Azerbaijan lies along the Caspian Sea south of Russia. Some 8 million people live in this country, but fewer than 5 percent are Christians, and only about 700 are Adventists. The Adventists worship in small groups and a few scattered churches across the country.
Sharing one’s faith in Azerbaijan is difficult. Religious freedom is restricted, and those who belong to minority religions, or change their faith, are often persecuted.
In one city about 300 Adventist believers have purchased a building they hope to turn into a center to help people in their community. Currently they operate the Good News Café and hold training seminars for members. Future plans include an English-language school and a small clinic where they can present the health message. They hope soon to have a second Adventist congregation meeting in their city.
Something for Children
The countries of Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia make up one region of the Adventist Church called the Trans-Caucasus Union Mission. More than 16 million people live in these three countries, but only 2,000 of them are Adventists. Entire villages have no Adventist believers.
The children in these countries don’t have access to Sabbath school materials in their own language. “It is very important to have materials for children, because new generations are forming right now,” says Sergo Namoradze, pastor of the Adventist church in Tbilisi, Georgia. “I belong to the generation that in the Soviet Union had nothing religious to read. If I had, maybe I would’ve been converted earlier. This new generation has to have these materials about the Bible and Jesus, as many materials as possible.”
The church in Euro-Asia faces many challenges to mission. But one-on-one sharing and evangelism are winning hearts to Jesus. Thousands are coming to Him and are eager to share their faith. But they need church homes in which to worship, and Sabbath school materials suited to their languages and comprehension levels. We can help provide these resources so that more and more people can know of Jesus’ love.
Your prayers and generous support of the Thirteenth Sabbath Offering can make an eternal difference in the Euro-Asia Division. Please give generously. For more information about the challenges of reaching others for Christ, visit www.AdventistMission.org.
Laurie Falvo is communications project manager for the Office of Adventist Mission.