Tuesday, July 26, 2016

A Spiritual Oasis for Missionaries. The 2016 Commissioned Summit

By Oleg Turlac

"To belong to Jesus is to embrace the nations with Him" (John Piper).

Speaking on missions with translation
into Georgian language
Mission in the former Soviet Union has unique flavor. It is because mission work in the formerly Communist lands is a relatively new phenomenon. It is a little bit more than 25 years old. I guess, the beginning of mission work at the territory of once the largest country in the world can be traces to the end of 1980’s as Gorbachev came to power and introduced never seen before democratic freedoms – among them freedom of worship and religious gatherings.

I remember those times quite well. I was a teenager, and rapid transition from total state control over everything to freedom without limits was at times shocking. In fact, something like this cannot be imagined today when things in the former USSR started to roll back when Russian president Putin tightened his control over media, business community and the affairs of private citizens.

With missionary summit
participants in front of the massive
Holy Trinity Cathedral in Tbilisi,
Georgian capital
There was no blueprint for missions in the former USSR, for very few expected this giant colossus of Communism that threatened the very existence of the planet with nuclear attack to collapse in the way it did. So, to this very day, very few studies have been conducted and very few books published on missions in the formerly Communist lands. When missionaries from North America venture into Russia, Moldova or Ukraine, they often say, “The more I see, the less I understand.” It is because life in this region of the world is quite unstable economically, politically ad socially. Rapid changes, power takeovers and revolutions break out here and there. All of this makes it very hard to create any kind of long-term strategy for mission work in the land once dominated by militant Communism.

I am grateful to God for nearly 20 years of religious freedom. I thank God for many missionaries that came to preach Christ in Moldova, Ukraine, Kazakhstan and other formerly Soviet republics, for churches that supported publishing of Bibles and Christian literature in Russian and other languages. I am grateful for professors of North American colleges and seminaries that spent their sabbaticals teaching in newly established Bible schools in Moscow, Kiev, Odessa and St. Petersburg. Hundreds of seminary graduates that had a calling to serve as pastors, missionaries, church planters, Christian journalists and social workers were dispatched to the vast territory once known as the Red Empire.

On the road to ministry places
in Rep. Georgia
Today we face a very different reality, which changed the nature of Christian mission in formerly Communist lands. With dictatorial regimes in existence in Russia, Belarus, Azerbaijan and the Stans, failing economies, rise of Islam and terrorism, our brothers and sisters in Christ in the former USSR are facing new challenges. Because of laws that severely restrict religious activities of Evangelicals, many of our brothers and sisters in Christ in the formerly Communist lands were forced to worship Christ in secret.

Having the experience of doing mission work in the Stans since 2008 and having visited Central Asia and Trans Caucasus more than 20 times in the last 8 years, we decided to hold the Commissioned Missions Summit for Christian workers in the Stans and Trans Caucasus in Tbilisi, Rep. of Georgia on July 8-11, 2016. We saw it as a good opportunity to have a time of sharing, study of Scripture, mission dialogue and thinking about the mission strategy for the next decade. The fact is that many missionaries, pastors and church planters in Islamic context do not see each other often, for they work in isolated communities and have few opportunities to see and encourage each other. The summit provided an opportunity for exchange of experience of doing missions, pastoral work and church planting in the context of Trans Caucasus and the Stans.

As we shared meals together with
missionaries, we talked about
things that God is doing in our
lives and ministry
Much prayer and preparation was involved as we thought about this mission get-together. Recent terrorist attacks in Paris, Brussels and Istanbul added to concerns about safety in travels, yet we were sure that it was God’s plan for 20 Christian workers to get together, worship God and bless each other by sharing what God is doing in their lives and ministry.

My heart was filled with joy as I was on my way from Toronto to Tbilisi (with a 10-hour layover in Vienna), for this was the first summit of this kind that our ministry attempted to put together. I was overjoyed with expectation of seeing my fellow workers in the Lord’s vineyard from Rep. of Georgia and the Stans gathered all together for fellowship. Those of you who have the experience of attending international missions conferences understand what I am talking about. Hearing the sounds of different languages as we prayed to one God and shared about the work of the Kingdom of God was simply amazing.

Tablet computers enable
missionaries to access a vast
pool of on-line Christian resources
As we thought about common patterns in missions in the Stans, we came to the conclusion that in the last 10 years evangelistic work went from massive outreach to relational evangelism. In strict conditions of state control and persecution from Islamic clergy in the Stans, it is virtually impossible now to preach Christ out in the open. This is why now the motto of reaching one person at a time for Jesus becomes so relevant. Becoming a friend to a Muslim neighbor and sharing the Gospel over a cup of tea in a café now is the most effective way to reach for Christ those that do not know Him and desire to understand what Christianity is all about.

As I tried to gain a deeper understanding of the needs of the persecuted Church in the Stans, I realized that mission work done by nationals in their native languages is the best way to spread the Gospel of the Kingdom in the Stans. Because national missionaries speak Kazakh, Kyrgyz, Azeri and other languages, they know the context best and can easily relate to the needs of their own people. However, that does not mean that we should shy away from international missions. Our task is to support and encourage national missionaries as they minister to their own people in tough economic and political circumstances.

Where we can help is train them in a few strategic areas, such as visionary leadership, church polity and administration, and they can take off from there. We are not to impose upon locals our denominational structures and Western way of life but rather have to focus on principles and methods that transcend cultures. Instead of paternalizing the nationals, it is important to mentor them in the areas where they need us the most and let them know that we are always available to help.

A conversation with Merab G.,
president of Georgian Baptist Union
When we provide theological education to young people from foreign countries in America, Europe, Moldova or Ukraine, we complete only 50 percent of the job. The other 50 percent is continuing the vital relationship with international students once they enter the ministry field, being there for them and showing that we care.

L., a Christian missionary and apologist, Ossetian by nationality said, to me “The fact that you come every year and spend time with me in prayer and conversation, means so much to me. I can share with my you my joys and challenges. Because of the 2016 summit, I feel refreshed and renewed.”

Though the Stans and North America are separated by thousands of miles, missionaries shared that modern technology helps them in ministry a great deal. With your generous support we supplied missionaries with tablet computers through Tablet for a Missionary Project. This made their life and ministry much easier. Now they can access Bibles in different languages and ministerial resources that otherwise would be inaccessible to them.

At the time when jobs for Christians in the Stans are scarce (Muslims will often not hire Christians), we in the West can serve the Church Persecuted with our finances. It does not take much to support a missionary. $20 given to mission work can buy four Bibles in Uzbek language or provide food for missionary family form the Stans for a week.

Eastern Orthodox Chapel in Old Town of
Tbilisi, Georgian capital
S., one of my former students and pastor of a house church in Azerbaijan, said, “We live in a very difficult context where state security services are watching our every step. This is very different from America where people can express their opinions freely and can worship on Sunday morning without restrictions. It would be impossible for any Westerner to do mission work in my home country without being caught. What I appreciate about our friends in North America is that they provide for us financially and pray. I appreciate Oleg and many others who put together this missions summit. It is so important for me to know that Christians in America and Canada know about our circumstances and love us.”

V. ministers to children in the Stans. She invested her life in sharing Christ with the younger generation in hope that seeds planted in their hearts will bear abundant fruit in the days to come. She travels from village to village holding camps for children. Though she cannot open her Bible to read it in front of children, she tells them stories from the Scriptures, which they will remember for life.

V. shares, “At the time when radical Islamists poison hearts of children with militant ideology, I am reaching them with Christ's love. What an encouragement it was for me to be able to come to the missions summit! I understand now that I am not the only one who faces challenges in ministry. I enjoyed the fellowship with missionary friends that minister to Muslims. Thank you, Oleg and all friends from North America, for this opportunity for me to have a ‘spiritual oasis’ and be refreshed by study of the Word and prayer.”

T. ministers to Chechens, a Muslim ethnic group in Southern Russia (Caucasian Mountains). Many Chechens are currently involved in fighting for ISIS in the Middle East. Every week, T. goes to Chechen villages and shares with them stories from the Bible. 

Khachapuri is bread with Georgian cheese
inside. It reminds me of cheese pizza
T. shares, “Many Chechens adhere to Islam just because it is customary in that culture. The majority knows virtually nothing about Islamic theology. Very few study Quran in depth. People’s lives are empty. Many do not have purpose in life and resort to drinking and violence. I believe that Jesus presents a much better alternative for them. This is why, placing my life at risk, I share the good news with them. Quite a few listen and several already accepted Christ as their Lord and Savior.”

Together with missionaries from different nations, on Sunday July 10th, 2016 we ministered in several Evangelical churches in Georgian cities of Tbilisi and Rustavi.

As we met with the president of the Union of Evangelical Baptists of Rep. of Georgia (which unites over 50 churches) Rev. Merab G. over lunch, we all agreed that it is vital for all missionaries stay in touch and have get-togethers from time to time. Lord willing, we will plan another missions get-together before too long. 

Rev. Merab G. said, “I commend Turlac Mission for caring about missionaries to so many ethnic groups. We all need encouragement from our brothers and sisters in the West and we are grateful for their support and participation in our lives. Oleg, I appreciate you being an ambassador of persecuted Christians.”

Here are several important conclusions that we worked out as a result of joint conversation with missionaries:

1. The Church persecuted and the Church triumphant should make an effort to stay in touch and maintain active communication as to provide and access information about the state of persecution of Christians in difficult places of the world. 

2. Financial support of ministry to persecuted Church is vital but also so is spreading awareness of what is going on in our world regarding persecution of Evangelicals by Islamists and dictatorial authorities.

3. In spite of the news that Islam is gaining more ground in the Stans, the Church of Jesus Christ there is alive and well. Christians in the Stans are committed to their cause of staying faithful to Christ and are ready to suffer for His name's sake.

Parting with my friends – participants in the summit – was one of the hardest things that I have ever done. It was good to have Christian fellowship together and pray for each other. But all of us realized that now we are to get back to what Jesus Christ called us – sharing His Gospel to the furthest corners of the earth. As I watched missionaries board buses and trains to depart to their home countries, I tried to live the moment and thought to myself that during the summit, I felt a close presence of Jesus. I found myself in a situation that the two disciples of Christ found themselves in while travelling on the road to Emmaus. After Jesus departed from them, they asked each other a question that I kept asking myself, “Were not our hearts burning within us while He talked with us?" (Luke 24:32).

I saw Jesus in words, prayers and smiling faces of my missionary friends. I saw Him in them, for it is His work that we all do. It is He who shines through our lives and it is because of Him that we go into the world. We love Him so much that we always desire to tell one more person about Him. This is what Christian life and mission are all about. They are about Him.

H.Martyn, missionary to India and Persia said, "The spirit of Christ is the spirit of missions. The nearer we get to Him, the more intensely missionary we become."

Thank you, my dear friends, for making the 2016 Missions Summit possible and for enabling us to minister to Christians from the Church persecuted. You were with us every step of the way. Thank you for thinking of your fellow brothers and sisters overseas. We could not have done it without your vision for missions, prayers and generous support. John Stott said, "We must be global Christians with a global vision because our God is a global God."

The summit is over but mission work continues, and I just a few days I will hit the road again doing all I can to "help one person at a time in the name of Jesus."

Monday, July 25, 2016

Vitali and Olga Welcome Baby Girl Diana Into the World

MOLDOVA. On July 24th, 2016, Vitali and Olga welcomed into the world their second daughter Diana. Both baby Diana and Olga are feeling well and will go home tomorrow, Tuesday, July 26th. We congratulate Vitali and Olga, and their daughter Melissa (who is now a big sister) and thank you, dear friends, for your prayers and good wishes!

Vitali, Olga and Melissa reside in Moldova, where they direct the on-site work of Turlac Mission. Vitali and Olga were married in November 2011. Their daughter Melissa is 4 years old.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Terrorism and Its Impact Upon Global Christian Mission

By Oleg Turlac

As I watch breaking news on major Western TV channels and read headlines on Internet news hubs, I realize that unfortunately things in our world do not improve. It seems like the world just started recovering from Paris terrorist attacks, when Brussels terror followed. Then there were Istanbul Airport explosions followed by hostage taking in Bangladesh...

Because our ministry takes place in a cross-cultural context and because of my many travels to Eurasia, I often think of terrorism and its impact upon Christian mission. You probably know that Istanbul is my major hub for connecting flights to the Stans. I have been in that very terminal, which was recently attacked by terrorists more than 20 times within the last 5 years. I could have easily been in place of those people that suffered because of ISIS-planned attacks. I thank God for His protection.

At the 2014 missions conference in Romania, missionaries just like us that serve in Muslim context reported that with the rise of  such radical Muslim organizations as Al Qaeda, Taliban and ISIS financial support for missionaries serving to Muslims was affected greatly. It declined rapidly. I do not know the real cause for the decline, but my guess is that Christian friends most likely began to think that since Middle Eastern radicals pose such a big threat to Israel, Middle Eastern Christians and Western civilization, ministry in that context is undesirable and is by no means safe. So, why give?

Indeed, mission work in Islamic context is quite challenging. Travel became risky. However, our Lord Jesus and his disciples never looked for easy places for preaching the Kingdom. Jesus often stood in the midst of those that despised Him and wanted Him dead (John 5:16). However, Christ did not let His cup of sorrows pass by Him. He suffered and died on the hill of Calvary, and accomplished His glorious mission having been raised from the dead on the third day. Jesus’s disciples suffered a lot too. Many experienced violent deaths.

The bottom line is that we were not promised that mission work would be easy. However, when Jesus commissioned His disciples (Mat.28), He said that He will be with them always. It is because of Him and in His name that we go into our unsafe world, proclaiming the Gospel of His Kingdom. And it is because of Him that we regard our lives not as our own  but as belonging to Him.

Let is not grow weary of going on mission and supporting Christian mission effort worldwide. May God’s name be glorified in our going and giving.

Friday, July 1, 2016

Happy July 4th to Our American Friends!

"Count your many blessings, name them one by one,
And it will surprise you what the Lord has done."

We wish a Happy July 4th to all our dear friends and ministry partners in the United States of America! It is indeed a special day for all of you living in the U.S., for this is one more opportunity to be reminded of how blessed you all are to have freedoms that millions of people in other countries do not enjoy.

I will never forget the first time when I was at the July 4th worship service in a Baptist church in the U.S. It was in Birmingham, Alabama in 1998. I was a student at Samford University back then. I was so taken by the sight of the whole church congregation singing "America the Beautiful" that it left me speechless. Before this, I could not really imagine that someone could love their country that much. My own country where I was born (Soviet Union), disintegrated in 1991. When it existed, I could not be proud of things that happened in it -- persecution of believers and oppression of people whose opinions differed from the one of the Communist government.

In the last several days, both chambers of the Russian Parliament passed a law on religious freedoms that severely restricts Evangelical witness in the country. It is sad to see that freedoms for which so many Russian Christians paid with their lives, are now being taken away. Let us never take for granted the freedom to believe in the God of the Bible that we have!

Today, as we celebrate July 4th, let us thank God for all good things that we have and let us not forget that it is to Him that we owe all that we have. Surely, we live in challenging times when no one can feel safe at any place anymore. Recent Istanbul Airport explosions reminded me of this once again, for just a month or so ago I was passing through that very terminal that was attacked by terrorists. Nevertheless, we know that our God is all-powerful and that He is in control. Let us stick to our Christian, Bible-based values and protect the freedom to believe in God and worship Him freely.

Your missionary,

Oleg Turlac.