Even as Russia’s national soccer team was eliminated from its own World Cup last week, concluding a surprisingly strong run at the globe’s biggest soccer tournament, the country’s Protestants have made their own mark on this year’s Cup. They have high hopes to see their striking evangelistic project go beyond the championship game on July 15.
That project—a nationwide effort to use the tournament as a platform to share the gospel—has already reached hundreds of thousands of Russians, according to Mission Eurasia, a ministry that has equipped Christian leaders in the former Soviet Union for the last three decades.
Across Russia, about 400 churches have attracted more than 10,000 people to live screenings of World Cup games so far. The screenings and their accompanying programs double as outreach events. Over the course of the tournament, half a million pieces of evangelistic literature, including Russian Bibles and special editions of John’s gospel that include directions to local churches, have been handed out.
That the Russian team made it so deep into the tournament, knocked out by Croatia in the quarterfinals, only helped the churches’ mission.
“People are excited, and that has provided a real opportunity for sharing the gospel,” said Pavel Tokarchuk, director of Mission Eurasia’s Russia office, in a recent press release.
National pride, both in hosting the world’s most popular sporting event and the success of the home team, has fueled an optimism around Russia. People are more willing to engage in spiritual conversations, Tokarchuk said.
“People are much more open to the gospel when they are celebrating together,” said Konstantin, a coordinator with Mission Eurasia’s School Without Walls (SWW) program, its leadership training ministry. “For our SWW students, this is a wonderful opportunity to put into practice what they’ve learned during the school year. Almost every day, we go out and talk to people about Jesus and share Scripture.”
About 70 percent of Russians identify with the Russian Orthodox Church; nearly 20 percent are religiously unaffiliated.
“Many Christians have found a new courage and boldness for sharing their faith,” said Tokarchuk. “We are praying they will continue to be encouraged to spread the good news.”
The evangelistic uptick comes amid increasing persecution from the Kremlin.
The Yarovaya law, a 2016 policy that bans evangelism outside of government-approved churches, has hampered believers from sharing the gospel—and landed scores with heavy fines and even some deportations. Jehovah’s Witnesses have been officially banned from worshiping in Russia since last year, with more than 50 now facing criminal prosecution, according to Forum 18, a service working for religious freedom. And for the second year in a row, Russia was listed as a Tier 1 country of concern for religious freedom in the US Commission on International Religious Freedom annual report.
Clever (and sometimes evasive) evangelism has boomed during Russia’s soccer mania, but Moscow’s crackdown on missionary activity has been visible even during the World Cup, asthe nation has been careful to keep press positive.
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Source: Christianity Today