by Andreas Reh
Andreas is an Emmaus coordinator, involved in ministry among local volunteers in the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS).1
Under Stalin, Brethren assemblies were forced into one union with Baptist and Pentecostal churches. Unfortunately, there are very few Brethren churches in CIS countries. However, Emmaus courses are offered to evangelical churches that accept our biblical convictions. In 1992, the Emmaus Bible correspondence school started to reach out to the CIS. Since 2006, as the number of adult students has decreased, we have focused our attention on children using Bible Education Service (BES). Children are open to the gospel and it is our prayer that through them, we will reach their parents too. Local churches use these courses as an evangelistic tool, for discipleship training and in prison ministry.
A Great Opportunity for the Gospel
After the fall of communism a spiritual vacuum existed in people’s minds and many were searching for truth. During this time, we had a steady increase in the number of courses distributed and graded. However, over the last 15 years there has been a decreasing interest in the gospel, due to materialism, a growing sense of national pride and open hostility towards the Western world – despite embracing ‘Western’ materialism! Evangelical Christianity is still regarded as a Western religion, whereas Orthodox Christianity is the official, privileged state religion in a number of CIS countries. In 2016, a new Russian law forbade any ‘propaganda’ of religious beliefs outside registered church buildings. This law applies only to evangelical Christians.
Some evangelical churches have lost their missionary zeal: one reason is the restrictive law; another is the undue focus on health and prosperity. Evangelical churches had a deep spiritual life in the decades of the Soviet Union, but this has become shallower in recent years. Given the situation, Emmaus courses are not being used as openly and publicly as in the early 1990s. Instead, the focus of gospel ministry has shifted to personal evangelism and discipleship, in which we have witnessed an increased interest.
Now every month, 10,000 children in Belarus, Moldova, Russia and Ukraine study these courses – what an amazing outcome!
God’s Ways are Wonderful
Having ministered with Emmaus Bible courses for many years, BES is growing. We have received requests for children’s courses, of which Emmaus produces three or four. However, we did not have the freedom to publish them in Moldovan, Russian, Ukrainian, or any other languageused within the CIS. Knowing that children would love the courses, we were sorry to tell them that so few were available.
In 2005, I attended a meeting in Hungary. As there was no daily flight between Budapest and St Petersburg, where we lived, I stayed for an extra day. A British mission worker, serving among Muslim people, was the only other participant who stayed on longer. As we enjoyed a walk alongside the Danube River, in the small village where the Christian guesthouse was located, I told him of their need for children’s courses and of the difficulties of not having enough material to keep children busy for prolonged periods. He replied, ‘You should get in touch with Bert Gray. He and his wife, Wendy, created a Postal Bible School for children. These courses would be a help for you.’ As our walk continued, we saw another person coming towards us – Bert Gray! Bert was travelling to Romania and as he grew tired on the drive through Hungary, he remembered a Christian guesthouse where he decided to stay overnight. Heaven organised this crucial meeting.
I was able to ask Bert many questions and, as a result, BES courses were translated into Russian and Ukrainian. Now, every month, 10,000 children in Belarus, Moldova, Russia and Ukraine study these courses – what anamazing outcome!
BES in Russia & Belarus
Since 2006, we have used BES courses in Russia. In the beginning they were printed with black ink on white paper; now we have full-colour courses available for Russian children.
The sister responsible for BES in Russia had worked as a librarian in a Russian army library. After she attended a BES meeting in Western Europe to become better equipped to serve with the children’s courses, she was fired from her job for being in an ‘enemy country’. Even though this was a significant financial blow, she faithfully continues her gospel ministry to this day.
In 2017, the children’s ministry made remarkable progress because of the internet. Adverts were placed on social networking sites, and a group called Homeschoolers recommended our Bible courses as one of the best programmes for children: BES is ‘…valuable, gives a lot of Bible knowledge, presenting the Saviour in a language which is understandable for children.’ As many members of this homeschooler group are Orthodox parents, or those who have neither knowledge of the Bible nor of the Christian faith, many families are being introduced to the gospel for the first time.
A BES student from West Siberia remarked: ‘We like your courses very much. Our daughter is reading the courses and studying them with great enthusiasm. Please send us booklets etc. so that we could make BES known in our church!’
Since 2015, we have also had a team based in Brest, Belarus. They started a children’s ministry from scratch and are seeing many children eagerly exploring the Word of God!
BES in Ukraine
L, who is responsible for BES in Ukraine, reported that the president of Ukraine, Poroshenko himself, signed a document declaring 2018 as a year of studying the Bible. This year many school doors have been opened for BES. Biblical themes have entered the curriculum of public schools. In March 5,500 BES courses were printed. Every month many orders and letters of gratitude are received.
This year many school doors have been opened for BES. Biblical themes have entered the curriculum of public schools.
Our co-worker in Rivne, West Ukraine, is distributing BES courses in huge quantities to public schools, handing them over to the teachers who are studying them with their pupils. Our co-workers there invite believers into public libraries and village clubs, to encourage them to conduct evangelistic children’s meetings with BES courses.
In the areas affected by the war in eastern Ukraine – where Russian-supported separatists, Russian volunteers and soldiers are fighting the Ukrainian army – our co-worker, V, is working with children from unbelieving families. Families are studying the Bible: the parents through Emmaus and children through BES. The children attend the BES meetings at the evangelical church. Believers from Kiev started visiting villages close to Chernobyl in 2013. Local people were interested in their work and gatherings were organised. Four years later, children’s camps were conducted in several villages. A team of 12-15 young believers camp in public schools for the week, conduct evangelistic outreach and organise camp fires, inviting the local youth for conversation and fellowship. In March 2018, several directors of the village schools agreed that further teams of young people could visit their schools and hold a BES day for children from every grade.
BES in Moldova
The co-worker responsible for BES in Moldova, T, reports that BES has been a great blessing for Moldova over the past 11 years. It is hard to estimate how many children have studied BES courses. They are thankful to the Lord for providing Emmaus with the opportunity to work with children. In many evangelical churches BES is a vital part of their outreach. Sunday school teachers are often former BES students! Every month they receive hundreds of BES courses for grading. Many of the children live in small villages where there are no evangelical churches. In one village meeting,BES students came from five neighbouring villages. Since the beginning of 2018, we send about 2,000 children’s courses every month. Parents ask for Emmaus Bible courses for adults and we have already received the first Emmaus courses for grading. Pray for our ministry in Moldova.
God is powerfully at work through Bible correspondence courses…
We Have a Great God
We thank Him for Bert and Wendy Gray, for Sam Balmer and many other believers who help make BES ministry possible.
God is powerfully at work through Bible correspondence courses, both BES and Emmaus, in CIS countries. Pray for lives transformed by His Word and a continuing openness to this ministry.