More than 2.3 million tickets have already been sold for the June 14th World Cup in Russia. Officials say the games will be sold out leaving international soccer fans looking for other venues to watch the games.
The search is an evangelistic opportunity for Christian ministries in a nation where open evangelism is now illegal.
Several have found creative ways to share the gospel in a hostile environment.
Missionaries find creative ways to share the gospel
Mission Eurasia and two partnering organizations are producing specially designed New Testaments. They will be presented to visitors who come to 250 registered Russian churches—basically being transformed into community centers—to watch live, big-screen broadcasts of the soon-to-be sold out World Cup games. That means events in churches, many of which will use their sanctuaries to screen the games, are likely to attract considerable crowds, according to Sergey Rakhuba, president of the ministry.
“This is an unprecedented opportunity, especially at a time when the Iron Curtain that cracked down on Christianity during the Soviet era has been strictly limiting public missionary activity and evangelism under the guise of anti-terrorism,” says Rakhuba, a native of Russia. “It will likely be a little bit of a stretch for the more traditional evangelical churches to use their facilities as soccer game viewing centers, but this fresh, strategic approach, which actually is a demonstration of the power of ‘the gift of hospitality,’ is needed in the current political and social climate. Creative outreaches like this one are what our young leaders are trained to do through School Without Walls, Mission Eurasia’s flexible, ministry-based leadership training program.”
Two years ago, the Russian government began cracking down on religious groups other than the Orthodox church. Ostensibly to fight terrorism, the Russian Duma passed laws placing tight restrictions on missionary activity and evangelism outside of churches.
The Forum 18 news service reports the law is being used to confine religious exercise to easily regulated places, with 156 prosecutions for violating it last year and others continuing this year. Activities ranging from prayer meetings in homes to posting worship times on a religious website, or praying in the presence of other citizens, have been interpreted as “missionary activity.” Evangelical Christians make up the vast majority of the law’s victims.
Donald Ossewaarde, a U.S. citizen and pastor in Oryol, Russia, was arrested in his house while holding a Bible study connected to his church. He said the crackdown on missionaries are hindering the spread of the gospel and forced many to leave the country.
The Mission Eurasia initiative offers a window of opportunity to spread the gospel in a very restrictive environment.
QR codes and other creative ways to share the gospel
The Russian New Testaments that will be handed out contain a modern twist: a QR code that will connect users with a New Life app and 70 pages of discipleship materials. They will also include 12 pages of printed material that provide an introduction to Christianity, the gospel and Bible reading.
The campaign will enlist Russian evangelical churches to distribute 100,000 Russian-language New Testaments to soccer fans who come to watch the matches. A total of 64 matches will be played in 12 venues located in 11 cities across Russia. The games end July 15.