British Prime Minister Winston Churchill once called Russia “a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.” With decreased inflation and a strengthening ruble, Russia’s economy is rebounding after the crisis of the 1990s. Yet many people’s lives are in disarray: Some 48,000 people commit suicide each year, the divorce rate is 79 percent, and 29 percent of children are born out of wedlock.
The country, inhabited by some 160 nationalities, is deeply divided ethnically, and recent violence in places such as Beslan, Karachaevo-Cherkessk and Chechnya is creating a climate of fear.
After only a few years of freedom from communism, critics state that authoritarian rule is resurfacing, with the appearance of a people’s police and neighborhood informants.
In this land of great contrasts and great needs, Christians are working together to show that there is hope through Jesus Christ. “There Is Hope” is the name of the Russian version of BGEA’s World Television Project. The project in Russia began in 2003, with a broad range of evangelistic outreaches including television broadcasts, newspaper articles, video presentations, theater showings and radio programs. More than 119,000 responded to the Gospel message during that phase of the project.
With the doors for evangelism in Russia still open, the project continued in 2004. From January through September, video missions were organized throughout Russia in venues such as prisons, hospitals, schools, churches, military bases and other settings. In October, the World Wide Pictures film A Vow to Cherish, dubbed into Russian, was shown in more than 500 venues. Finally, in November and December, new “There Is Hope” television programs, featuring Billy and Franklin Graham, along with leading Russian personalities, were broadcast on regional television stations throughout the Russian Federation. As in 2003, God drew many people to faith in Jesus Christ.
More than 3,500 churches participated in “There Is Hope” in 2004, and more than 60,000 households opened their homes to friends and neighbors for the television broadcasts. More than a million people were reached with the Gospel, resulting in more than 167,000 responses.
Behind the numbers are individuals who desperately need hope–and who are finding it in Christ. Following are glimpses of some of those people:
- A Christian woman in Dagestan had been witnessing to a young man of another religion who had grown up in a broken home with alcoholic parents. Every time Christ was mentioned, the man became aggressive. The woman gave him a copy of an evangelistic booklet used in the project. “Even if you will not read it,” she said, “at least keep it in your house.” One night the young man picked up the booklet and read it. The Spirit of God convicted him, and he fell to his knees, crying for mercy. He was later baptized and is now actively involved in sharing the “There Is Hope” materials with his friends and acquaintances.
- Bashkiria is home to many prisons. The prison system has its own cable television network, and leaders made it obligatory for all prisoners to see the “There Is Hope” programs. As a result, close to 40,000 prisoners watched it. The inmates have decided to start a program of their own, calling it “There Is Hope.”
- A group of people in Novoselsk, in the Krasnoyarsk Region, was invited to attend a house party to watch the “There Is Hope” program on television. A woman attended who confessed to hating Christians and anything related to Christianity. Surprisingly, she watched the program from start to finish. She seemed pleased as she recognized the faces of celebrities featured in the program, and she listened as they talked about their hope in God. She asked to watch the film A Vow to Cherish, and God changed her heart.
- Belgorod, a city in central Russia, has been especially difficult to penetrate with the Gospel message, and opposition has been substantial. However, all five showings of the film were filled to capacity. The theater manager offered to show the film several more times–at no additional charge to the organizing committee. Word spread around the city, and soon other theaters also were offering their venues as locations for future viewings of A Vow to Cherish–all free of charge.
Many television viewers contacted BGEA looking for spiritual help. Following are some of their comments:
- “I am lonely and in the process of trying to find myself–who I am and what my purpose is. I have lost both my faith and my hope. I cannot keep living like this. Please help me if possible.”–Viewer in Tolyaty
- “I saw your program explaining repentance, forgiveness and what it means to be born again. I want to experience this new birth and want very much to study God’s Word.”–Viewer in Kostroma
- “I was able to watch your program on TV. I am a teacher. I must admit that my life is miserable. I need God. Lately, suicidal thoughts have crossed my mind. I am only 36 years old and have a 12-year-old daughter at home. Please help.”–Viewer in Rzhev
- “My husband and I are both highly educated and well established. We buried our son last year after he overdosed. We are both alcoholics, and I personally have tried everything to free myself from this bondage, including burning candles in churches and visiting parapsychologists. Nothing has worked. If you are able, please help us.”–Viewer in Nakhodka
Those who made decisions for Christ are receiving follow-up literature and a 12-lesson Bible study for group or individual use. Additionally, a specially produced follow-up issue of the Russian Decision magazine was sent to those who requested it. Video missions are continuing across Russia through May.