As the 2018 FIFA World Cup enters its final weekend — France and Croatia will meet in Sunday’s final, with England and Belgium playing Saturday’s third-place match — so too are outreach efforts in Russia. But hopes are that the seeds they’ve planted will grow long after the World Cup ends.
Evangelism or preaching the Gospel can be dangerous work in Russia, where doing so publicly was deemed illegal two years ago. But that didn’t stop some people.
One such evangelical group is Steiger Union, a worldwide mission organization that is called to reach and disciple the global youth culture for Jesus. The organization seeks to raise up missionaries and equip local churches through outreach events, discipleship and partnerships with churches.
A team from the Ukraine partnered with a large church in Moscow and decided to venture right into the heart of the city by preaching in the Red Square.
“We started out doing a normal street outreach with art and music, and it went really well – people were very open to the message of Jesus,” said Steiger missionary Stephan Maag. “Next, we decided to go to Red Square, to break every spiritual barrier and to see if we could preach the Gospel there … There were so many military police and lots of fans yelling and screaming. At first, we were unsure what we should do, but then the Lord just made us brave.
“We did our first flash mob and then we preached. In the beginning, we weren’t too loud, but with each flash mob and preacher, we got bolder and louder. We were able to pray for many people, God moved powerfully, and no police nor military interrupted us. It was awesome to see how the Lord was with us, and we just seemed to be invisible to the authorities.”
"Do you have permission to do this?" the police officer asked authoritatively. "And do you realize that you're blocking the whole street?" his partner added. It was clear that we probably wouldn't be able to finish our performance now, although at least 200 people had gathered to watch."We just turned on the music and started dancing, like others do. We didn't think so many people would stop to watch. Maybe we're just more interesting than the others." I replied, spontaneously. A moment of silence followed. "Let them continue. Leave them alone!," the crowd shouted. The people were for us!"You at least need to take breaks to allow people to get down the street," the policeman told us."Yes, we were planning to take a break in five minutes," I answered, smiling. "Five minutes. We only need five more minutes," I thought to myself. And it worked – the officers left! They simply turned around and were gone. I knew we had just five more minutes, but that would be enough.The crowd was on edge, emotions were high, and they wanted to see what would happen next. The improvised show in the center of Moscow continued, as our flash mob told the crowd, "It's not only football that unites us!" in 20 different languages. Then I grabbed the mic. "What if the police come back again now?" I fought the thoughts in my mind for a fraction of a second, but then realized it didn't matter. Only one thing was important – and I began to preach the Cross, declaring, "We are all united by something much bigger, and that is Jesus Christ!" This is just one story from Denis Malimonov, Steiger missionary and leader of our World Cup Outreach. The Steiger Ukraine team (along with the many local believers who joined them) spent nearly a month far from home, sharing Jesus on the streets of Moscow. At the conclusion of their outreach, they had talked personally with 904 people, sharing the Gospel with 651 of them. They were able to pray for 362 people and 53 surrendered their lives to Jesus. We continue to hear stories of how the courage and boldness of the Steiger World Cup Outreach team challenged and encouraged believers all over Russia, and in other parts of the Russian-speaking world, where prohibitive laws about publicly preaching the Gospel are in place. Keep praying for these nations, and that God's people would rise up to the challenge and preach the truth wherever they are!
Posted by Steiger International on Wednesday, July 11, 2018
“What happened on the streets of Moscow and St. Petersburg is beyond our understanding,” said Angela Tkachenko, a Steiger leader for the Russian-speaking world. “Bold proclamation of the true Gospel, flash mobs, preaching in Red Square — it caused so many Christians in this country to decide that they too can take a step of boldness now, and go the streets to share Jesus.”
In just the first 10 days of its World Cup outreach, which concluded Thursday, Steiger says a total of 1,428 people heard the Gospel and 382 of them began conversations with Steiger team members about Christ. The team prayed for 210 people, with 41 making a decision to follow Jesus.
The efforts of Mission Eurasia, which is based in Wheaton, Ill., will continue through the final match on Sunday. It’s expecting record visitor turnout for live viewings of the last two games hosted by nearly 400 churches across Russia. The group estimates nearly 10,000 people, through Monday, had attended Mission Eurasia events, and nearly 500,000 people had been impacted by the whole outreach.
Its efforts included publicly distributing Scriptures and other Christian literature, believing the Russian Constitution protects their team members’ right to share their faith. However, some people were detained by authorities in Moscow, Kaliningrad and Ekaterinburg for talking with people and passing out literature in public places. They were released without charges, but their literature was confiscated.
“Many Christians have found a new courage and boldness for sharing their faith,” said Pavel Tokarchuk, Mission Eurasia’s Russia director. “We are praying they will continue to be encouraged to spread the Good News.”
Among the literature being passed out is SportGoMag, which features stories of soccer players past and present sharing their faith. While a version in Russian was handed out, an English version of the magazine can be downloaded too. Also being handed out are Scriptures in Russian, and a special-edition New Testament with a QR code link that gives directions to a local church.
Mission Eurasia believes the outreach will reach nearly 3 million people. Thus, leaders will have follow-up programs, such as 1,800 home Bible study groups and sports camps for up to 15,000 children.
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