Moscow, for many years the capital of the former Soviet Union, is now the capital of the Russian Federation, with a population of 12 million people. Among those 12 million there are about 100,000 Jews.
Some of the earliest Jews for Jesus staff joined in marches or rallies to "free Soviet Jewry" back in the '70s. Little did we know that God would open the doors for us to have an indigenous staff of outreach workers there!
Avi Snyder moved to Moscow in 1993 with his family, having pioneered the work in Odessa, Ukraine. When the Snyders moved to New York in 1998, Ella Lipkina assumed leadership of the Moscow branch. When Ella moved to Israel in 2000, Igor Barbanel took over. (He and his wife Galina had previously been serving in Odessa.) Igor?who was helped to faith in part through Jews for Jesus?and Galina served in Moscow until 2003, when they returned to Odessa, and Maxim Ammosov took over the Moscow branch leadership.
Since 1993, the Moscow branch has organized more than ten evangelistic campaigns, including the "Behold Your God" campaign in the summer of 2001. During these campaigns our brothers and sisters there have given out almost ten million broadsides. Of course the "meat and potatoes" work of evangelism is what takes place between the campaigns: the visits, the Bible studies, the discipleship.
Our Moscow branch also holds Sabbath meetings every week, as well as special events for Jewish holidays. These are occasions to invite nonbelieving Jews as well as Jewish believers to hear the Bible and worship the Lord. The branch is located in central Moscow, and there are those in the north and south of the city who will not travel so far. So in addition to the weekly Sabbath meetings and special events, we have a regular Bible study in the home of Mira Gracheva, who lives up in the northern part of Moscow. Usually a half dozen or so people attend her weekly study, the majority being new Jewish believers. Branch leader Maxim Ammosov, who lives in the southern district of Moscow, also conducts home Bible studies every other week. The Bible study is a combination of a small group from his home church with a few new Jewish believers to whom he ministers.
The Moscow branch is also implementing a special program for Jewish young adults. Ilya Khaimovich is in charge of it. The goal of this program is to reach the Jewish youth with the Gospel. Ilya holds regular (once every eight weeks) meetings with Jewish young people, studying the Bible with them in a way that is more appropriate for their age. Our young volunteers from several churches help Ilya in organization of these meetings.
Another area of ministry in the Moscow branch is its volunteerprogram. It is designed to teach brothers and sisters in Christ how to reach Jewish people for Jesus.Mira Grachova is in charge of this program . The program includes so called “volunteer days” that take place last Friday of every month. Volunteers come together at the office, undergo a training, go out to put into practice what they've learned during the training, and then come back to the office for some schmoozing ? a time when every one can share their fresh impressions of evangelism. Trainings include such topics as street evangelism, home evangelism, and phone-calling evangelism.
To understand ministry in Moscow, one must understand that the "official religion" of Russia is Orthodox Christianity. As with many state religions, many adherents are nominal, meaning their religion is in name only, and reflects culture rather than faith in Y'shua (Jesus). The culture in Russia still includes a tremendous amount of anti-Semitism, so many who describe themselves as Orthodox Christians hate our people. This adds to the challenge of telling them about Jesus. To hear the Good News from Jewish lips is still a radical concept.
On a more positive note, nominalism also applies to a number of so-called atheists. Many Jewish people in Moscow automatically describe themselves as atheists, but often we find this simply means they do not follow a religion, Jewish or otherwise. It is not unusual to meet with such an "atheist" who, within the course of one or two visits, is ready to admit the existence of God.
We do face organized opposition to our ministry from Jewish religious circles and from special antimissionary organizations created in Russia to fight us. But with God's help we can overcome!