Welcome to , 22 Dec 2012
Fortnightly Report on Christianity in Former Soviet Bloc Countries,
by Dr. Robert D. Hosken
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FIRST, THE NEWS:

NEWLY-COMPLETED CHECHEN BIBLE PRESENTED AT PEACE CONFERENCE
from Mission Network News

(19 Dec) Chechnya has been at war for much of the last century. It's a region familiar with the machinery of conflict, dating all the way back to the 15th century with an attempted invasion of the Ottoman Turks. The landlocked country is nestled in the Northern Caucasus and boasts fertile farmland as well as efficient transportation routes to neighboring countries, making it a prize to the nation that conquers it. It was struggle inflamed by intense nationalism and ethnic hatred, and one that cycled again and again, quelling hopes of a new generation that would know peace. To that end, Bible translators began work on the message of peace, completing the first Scripture portions in 1986, and finishing others as recently as 2007.

Once those were completed, a New Testament was produced in 2007, and that lay the groundwork for the rest of the Bible being translated into Chechen. After a generation of faithful work, Wycliffe Associates reports that the Institute for Bible Translation (IBT) released a translation of the whole Bible in the Chechen language two months ago. The Bible was presented at the Second Peacemaking conference, organized by the Public Chamber of the Chechen Republic, two Diocese of the Russian Orthodox Church, and local government. An international team worked on this translation for over 15 years. The Institute's Web site states: "The print run of the Bible in the Chechen language is 2000 copies. Given the total number of native speakers (about 1.5 million), this is not a large number, but we hope that it will be enough to satisfy the needs of libraries, churches, and interested readers." [read more...]


UZBEKISTAN: SINGING AND READING BIBLES ON HOLIDAY PROSECUTED
by Mushfig Bayram, Forum 18 News Service

(17 Dec) Uzbekistan continues to raid people exercising freedom of religion or belief without state permission, Forum 18 News Service has learned. Police on 1 December raided a group of about 80 Protestants on holiday together in the Simurg (Phoenix) resort, in Bostanlyk District in Tashkent Region around the capital. Charges under six different articles of the Code of Administrative Offences have been brought against four of the group, who were meeting together discussing their faith and singing Christian songs. Police also confiscated three Bibles and 100 Christian songbooks, insulted the group, and took their fingerprints of all present

In November three Protestants were fined sums of between 100 and 20 times the minimum monthly wage for meeting together, reading their Bibles, singing Christian songs, praying, and possessing religious books - all without state permission. The books, including Bibles, were ordered to be destroyed. Timur Kholmatov was fined 100 times the minimum monthly wage under the same six Administrative Code articles that the four Protestants charged after the raid on the Simurg (Phoenix) resort are being charged with breaking. [read more...]


RUSSIA SHOULD NOT COPY WESTERN DEMOCRACY OR EASTERN CALIPHATE - RUSSIAN ORTHODOX CHURCH
from Interfax-Religion

(12 Dec) Russia will not copy foreign political models, no matter if it is Western democracy or a world caliphate, Archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin, the head of the Synodal Department for Church and Society Relations, said. "I hope that the history of Russian statehood and Russian pubic processes, especially those that occurred in the past twenty years, showed convincingly that Russia has a right and is able to independently determine the philosophical, spiritual, and ideological foundations of its statehood," Father Vsevolod said at the World Russian People's Assembly held in Stavropol on Wednesday.

The priest believes Russia "does not need to borrow anything from anyone. We have solid foundations to choose our historical path independently." Fr. Vsevolod believes that "we can confidently tell our friends and enemies in different parts of the world: there will never be Western-style democracy copied from somewhere in Russia, and there will never be a 'world caliphate' in our country. We can choose our path ourselves, without anyone putting pressure on us from the outside." [read more...]


KYRGYZSTAN: RELIGION LAW CHANGES BEING DONE "DEMOCRATICALLY"
by Felix Corley, Forum 18 News Service

(19 Dec) Government-backed changes to Kyrgyzstan's Religion Law have begun passage in Parliament, Forum 18 News Service notes. If eventually adopted, they would ban sending students for foreign religious education without state permission, require religious communities to have 200 founders in one locality, and ban all foreigners exercising freedom of religion or belief without a state license. The amendments do not address the long-standing issue of obstructions or denials of burials according to their own rites to deceased non-Muslims.

Mira Karybaeva of the Presidential Administration claimed to Forum 18 that "we're doing all this democratically," insisting that "government and society have reached a consensus." Her claim of "consensus" ignored heavy criticisms by human rights defenders such as the Open Viewpoint Foundation and others, including that the amendments increase the risk of conflict. [read more...]


PRESIDENT YANUKOVYCH GREETS UKRAINIANS ON ST. NICHOLAS DAY
from Religious Information Service of Ukraine

(19 Dec) President Viktor Yanukovych greeted Ukrainians on the occasion of St. Nicholas' Day and wished them spiritual grace, the presidential press service reported. Russian and Ukrainian Orthodox observe this holiday on 19 December according to the Old (Julian) Calendar, which is 13 days behind the New (Gregorian) Calendar.

"Today, we address the Wonder Worker as we hope for his favor and mercy and the children look forward to fulfilling their dreams and secret desires with the help of their patron. This holiday since ancient times was filled with generosity, compassion and love for one's neighbor. I am grateful to everyone who fully expresses these qualities, especially with respect to children deprived of parental care and children with physical disabilities. Let the good and mercy unite us now and forever for the sake of a happy future for our children and Ukraine. I cordially wish everyone good health, joy and spiritual grace," reads the address.


RELIGIONS IN RUSSIA: A NEW FRAMEWORK
from The Voice of Russia

(20 Dec) Twenty years ago, religions regained official authority in Russian society. A recent study by the Independent Research Institute "Sreda" gives a convincing picture of the religious map of Russia today. It tones down the influence of the Orthodox Church and gives a real voice to individual choice in religious matters. On December 18, the International Multimedia Press Center of RIA Novosti hosted the presentation of a research project by "Sreda" (which means Wednesday in Russian).

Alina Bagrina, coordinator of the Atlas of Religions and Nationalities (ARENA), introduced the results of a survey, which offers a renewed picture of religious life in Russia. About 56,900 people, from urban and rural areas, have been questioned in 79 regions during the summer of 2012. The aim was to define who the Russian believers are, and how they believe, according to their religion, ethnic roots and regions.

According to this study, about 41% Russians identify themselves as Orthodox Christians. They are people recognizing themselves as Orthodox Christians and declaring their affiliation to the Russian Orthodox Church. Most often they live in the Tambov region (78.4% of the population), less often in the Tuva Republic (0.8% of the population). About 4.5% people also identified themselves as Christians but are not Orthodox, Catholic or Protestant. Furthermore the survey shows that 25% people believe in God but do not recognize themselves as members of a religious community. [read more...]


NUMBER OF ORTHODOX CHURCH MEMBERS SHRINKING IN RUSSIA, ISLAM ON THE RISE - POLL
from Interfax-Religion

(17 Dec) Orthodoxy is the most common religion in Russia. 74% call themselves Orthodox believers, while 7% say they are Muslims. Less than 1% profess other religions (Catholics, Protestants, Jews and others), the Levada-Center analytical center told Interfax. The center polled 1,600 people in 130 towns and cities in 45 regions in late November. The share of Orthodox believers in the country has dropped by 6%, from 80% in 2009, while the share of Muslims has grown by 3% to 7% in the same period. The number of people who do not designate themselves as either religion is up from 8% to 10%. The number of atheists is down from 6% to 5%.

76% of Russians who describe themselves as Orthodox believers are church-goers. 33% of them go to church to light a candle and pray; 29% attend baptisms, church weddings or burial services, and 11% attend church services or liturgies. 29% go to church whenever they wish, 8% have been to a cathedral on an excursion, and 7% go to church to make a confession and take communion. 61% of the respondents said they had never opened the Bible. Of those who did, 24% read the Gospel, 16% read the Old Testament and 11% read the New Testament.


OTHER NEWS HEADLINES:

KYGYZSTAN GIRL "BURNED" FOR FAITH IN CHRIST
from BosNewsLife

KAZAKHSTAN: MOSQUES AND CHURCHES FORCIBLY CLOSED
from Forum 18 News Service

NUMBER OF ORTHODOX CHURCH MEMBERS SHRINKING IN RUSSIA, ISLAM ON THE RISE - POLL
from Interfax-Religion

MOSCOW THEOLOGICAL SEMINARY RETURNS ITS FOCUS ON DISTANCE EDUCATION
from Russian Evangelical Alliance

UKRAINIAN ORTHODOX CHURCH-MP AGAINST ANTI-CHRISTIAN NUDE POSTERS
from Religious Information Service of Ukraine

RUSSIAN PARLIAMENT APPROVES LAW PROVIDING FOR RELIGION CLASSES
from Tserkovnyi Vestnik

UKRAINIAN YOUNG ADULTS VOLUNTEER WITH DISABLED CHILDREN
from NCN News

See HOSKEN-NEWS Daily for more of the latest news!


NOW, OUR VIEWS:

The last two news articles above give quite different statistics on religious affiliation of the people in Russia: the Russian Orthodox Church often claims that 75% or 80% of the people are Orthodox, but this appears to include all who are culturally Orthodox, that is, ethnic Russians who are not atheists, Catholics or Protestants. Both articles agree, however, that the number of Muslims in Russia has doubled in the past 20 years.

In the above headline article "KAZAKHSTAN: MOSQUES AND CHURCHES FORCIBLY CLOSED" you can read - "One Protestant church was liquidated for providing 'false information' after one of its 54 founders died shortly before the re-registration deadline, its pastor told Forum 18 News Service. Registration requires only 50 founders." The man was alive when the church's re-registration documents were filed, but he died before the deadline. This is just a small taste of the absurdity Christians encounter when they are required to re-register their churches as often as every year or two. Imagine having to file incorporation documents for your church every two years just so that it could continue to legally exist. This kind of government harassment is what Christians in the former Soviet Union experience on a regular basis.

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Ministry as Practical Service (diakonia)

[This is an excerpt from Chapter 5 of my book The Ministry Driven Church, available HERE.]

Can a simple comma twist and distort the whole Christian message? I am convinced it has. And the guilty culprit in this fateful plot is found in Eph. 4:11-12, which reads in the King James Version: "And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ."1 The meaning we receive from this translation is that apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers should perfect the saints, do the work of the ministry and edify the body of Christ. This places the whole burden of work on the ordained clergy, and makes the "laity" into a flock of simple sheep, passive hearers who merely receive teaching and pay tithes.

A much better translation is the English Standard Version: "And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ."2 Do you notice the comma is removed after "saints"? This translation tells us the apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers should equip or train the saints to do the work of ministry (diakonia) in order that they, the saints, should build up the body of Christ. The task of diakonia belongs to all the saints, and through their ministry the church will be built up and grow. As we have noticed earlier, when the apostles taught the Early Church to do this, "The word of God increased and the number of the disciples multiplied in Jerusalem exceedingly" (Acts 6:7). The result when all Christians are doing ministry (diakonia) is rapid church growth!

This rattles our traditional paradigms of the ordained clergy doing or controlling all of the work, and the congregation actively doing little or nothing, mainly warming the pews and putting their pennies in the plate. But is our above description scriptural? Strong's Dictionaries define diakonia as follows: "attendance (as a servant, etc.); figuratively (eleemosynary) aid, (official) service (especially of the Christian teacher, or technically of the diaconate): - (ad-) minister (-ing, -tration, -try), office, relief, service (-ing),? and the definition of the noun form diakon is "Probably from diako (obsolete, to run on errands; compare G1377); an attendant, that is, (generally) a waiter (at table or in other menial duties); specifically a Christian teacher and pastor (technically a deacon or deaconess): - deacon, minister, servant.?3

The latter definitions reflect the traditional church usage: the diaconate, a minister, pastor, teacher, deaconess or deacon. But the first definitions are servant, one who runs on errands, an attendant, a waiter at table. "Waiter" describes exactly the diakonia that the apostles created: "The twelve summoned the multitude of the disciples and said, 'It is not appropriate for us to forsake the word of God and serve tables. Therefore select from among you, brothers, seven men of good report, full of the Holy Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business'" (Acts 6:2-3). Thus Scripture overrules tradition on this point! This was not like today's deacons sitting in deacons' meetings once a month until late at night, deciding who to hire to mow the church lawn or repair the furnace. It was a hands-on, get-your-hands-dirty-carrying-bedpans kind of ministry!

This also goes against the grain of our fallen human nature that seeks positions of honor and respect for itself. But this is exactly the issue that our Lord Jesus addressed in Mk. 10:42-45 -

Jesus summoned them, and said to them, "You know that they who are recognized as rulers over the nations lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you, but whoever wants to become great among you shall be your servant (diakonos). Whoever of you wants to become first among you, shall be bondservant (doulos) of all. For the Son of Man also came not to be served (diakoneo), but to serve (diakoneo), and to give his life as a ransom for many."

If the Son of Man, our Lord Jesus Christ, came to serve (diakoneo) even by stripping down to a menial servant's loincloth and washing His disciples' feet before laying down His life, how then should we serve? We have already seen in Luke 14:13 and 21-24 that we are to minister to "the poor, the maimed, the lame and the blind." And the result will be opportunities for a powerful witness to society's leaders and the common people alike: after Peter and John healed the lame man at the Temple gates, Acts 4:7 and 14 act like the bread of a sandwich with the "meat" of Peter's powerful witness right in the middle: "When they had stood them in the middle of them, they inquired, 'By what power, or in what name, have you done this?'" And "Seeing the man who was healed standing with them, they could say nothing against it." Here is another chiasm:

A: v. 7 - "How on earth did you do that?"             B: v. 8 - "Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit."

Peter preached boldly that the lame man was healed by Jesus of Nazareth, Whom they crucified, God raised from the dead, and that there is salvation in no one else: only Jesus can save them!

C: v.13 - "Seeing Peter and John's boldness,         D: v.14 - "Seeing the man who was healed,
they recognized that they had been with Jesus."     they couldn't say anything against it."

It is very clear that the author Luke is placing Peter's famous sermon in a frame of the astonished priests and Sadducees (A and D), and the power of the Holy Spirit Who represents Jesus after the Ascension (B and C). In other words, the high priest and other leaders asked, "Uh, how did you do that?" And after Peter's powerful preaching, seeing the formerly lame man standing before them healed, they couldn't say a thing against this message. Our good works done as diakonia are a powerful witness in themselves, and provide great opportunities for a spoken witness.

It is extremely important to notice that in Acts 6 when the apostles spun off the function of diakonia, the church selected seven who were "full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom" (v. 3). And in v. 8, we read about one of the new deacons: "Stephen, full of faith and power, performed great wonders and signs among the people." Here we notice that the dividing line between so-called "ordinary service" and supernatural, miraculous acts becomes blurred.

Why is that? It is because everything the first deacons did was done in the power of the Holy Spirit. When they distributed food or financial support, they accompanied it with prayer and a blessing. When we minister to the physical needs of handicapped people by massaging their crippled arms, legs or backs, or by exercising their weakened limbs, we always accompany it with prayer and calling down a spiritual blessing from God. When we do this, we see that God transforms our "ordinary service" into supernatural acts, and people are healed. Igor, who suffered a paralyzing stroke at age 45 and about whom the doctors said he would die or would never walk or talk again, after our rehab therapy is now walking and talking. So we must always do diakonia in the power of the Holy Spirit and with prayer!

We find two more examples of this back-to-back in Acts 9:33-42. First, Peter heals Aeneas who had been paralyzed for eight years, and "All who lived at Lydda and in Sharon saw him, and they turned to the Lord" (v. 35): rapid church growth! Then in Joppa a certain disciple, a woman named Dorcas who "was full of good works and acts of mercy" (v. 36) fell ill and died, so the other believers sent for Peter, who prayed for her and brought her back to life. Again the result was rapid church growth: "And it became known throughout all Joppa, and many believed in the Lord" (v. 42). Another example, along with Dorcas, of a woman doing diakonia is Phoebe, who is described as "our sister, who is a servant (diakonos) of the church in Cenchrea" (Rom. 16:1).

A second point is that after the apostles created this new office of deacon, they let the deacons do the work of practical ministry, while the apostles did their preaching and teaching. This is very important: once we've gotten someone trained to do diakonia-ministry, let them do the work! Often our tendency is to attempt to control by always looking over their shoulders or stepping in to do the "complicated part." The apostles recognized when it was time to let go of some of their responsibilities, delegate them to others, and give them the blessing and authority to do the work.

Endnotes to Chapter 5:

1. King James Version, op. cit.

2. English Standard Version, (www.e-sword.net, 2004).

3. Strong's Hebrew and Greek Dictionaries, op. cit.


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Prayer and Praise:

Sun. - Praise God for the newly-completed Chechen Bible, and pray that it will get to those who are really seeking to know God.
Mon. - Pray for religious liberty in Uzbekistan where some Protestants were fined for Bible reading and singing Christian songs.
Tue. - Ask the Lord that changes to Kyrgyzstan's Religion Law will not block the growth of the Church in that country.
Wed. - Thank God that President Viktor Yanukovych of Ukraine acknowledged the importance of St. Nicholas Day in his country.
Thu. - Pray that genuine faith in Christ will grow in Russia despite disappointing statistics on religious faith and practice there.
Fri. - Intercede for the Protestant church in Kazakhstan, liquidated (shut down) because one of its 54 founding members died.
Sat. - Ask God to restore the practice of true diakonia-ministry so the Church will be built up and we will attain unity of the faith.


Select to read about us!   Please remember to pray for Christians in the former Soviet bloc countries, and for...

  Your fellow-servants,

  Bob & Cheryl

p.s. Always keep your words soft and sweet, just in case you have to eat them.


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