This month I want to report on a strategic outreach in a part of the world where our missionaries face extraordinary opportunities as well as hardship. No, it’s not Israel…
I’m talking about Jews for Jesus’ work in Russia and Ukraine. These are two of the most difficult, dangerous and just plain dark regions for us to minister. But the gospel is a bright light in contrast to that darkness, and Jewish people as well as others seem more open to the message of Messiah at this time of year. So we redouble our efforts to make Him known. And since light is a prominent theme for both Hanukkah and Christmas, we do get timely opportunities to shine for Him.
Our missionaries in Russia and Ukraine have named their special December effort Operation Light in the Darkness.” They are inspired by 2 Corinthians 4:6: “For it is God who commanded light to shine out of darkness, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.”
When we talk about shining God’s light in the darkness in Russia and Ukraine, we’re describing love that cuts through a level of hate and persecution that may surprise you. Daily, our teams in the CIS face an astounding level of resistance and hostility.
Of course one might expect anti-missionary activity from those who feel we pose a threat to the Jewish people, and that is certainly the case. A group called “the Magen League” exists with the sole goal of stopping Jews for Jesus. They spread false accusations to the media, file bogus complaints to the police and sadly, incite hatred among Jewish youth, who actively oppose Jews for Jesus at any opportunity-even to the point of physically attacking our missionaries.
But aside from the anti-missionaries, we face problems from local and state governments. These governments have sought ways to outlaw street evangelism, all the while claiming to support “religious freedom.”
Jews for Jesus missionaries are particularly vulnerable. It’s no secret that anti-Semitism is deeply and historically ingrained in Russian and Ukrainian culture. Unfortunately, it is once again rampant, and even tacitly approved by government officials. Our missionaries are routinely harassed and threatened simply for being Jews. One of our volunteers was recently hospitalized with severe head injuries when an anti-Semite threw a bottle at her. No one tried to intervene or stop her attacker.
Finally, persecution of Christians-also frequently overlooked by police and others officials, and even ignored by the international media-is also on the rise. The Russian Orthodox Church is now the only state-sanctioned church in Russia and is openly hostile, not only to Jews but to anyone who evangelizes and is not part of the Orthodox church. They have significant influence, and use it to paint us and other evangelicals as dangerous cults. During a recent evangelism campaign in Russia, a group of Nationalists from the Russian Orthodox Church surrounded our missionaries, grabbed all of our literature, threw objects at our staff and physically threatened them while the police stood by and watched.
Now you know why our missionaries in Russia and Ukraine have named this month’s special evangelistic efforts “Operation Light in the Darkness.” I’m happy to report that in the last few weeks they have handed out over 82,000 gospel tracts, and received 91 contacts, over half of which were from Jewish people who are curious about Jesus. Eleven people made professions of faith including five Jewish people. Hallelujah!
I’m humbled by the dedication of our missionaries in Russia and Ukraine; they refuse to be intimidated and have never shied away from persecution or hardship. When we first launched our work in Russia and the Ukraine back in the early 1990s, many other Western evangelistic organizations were working there too. Some left because of the difficulty and the danger. Our teams continue to engage in direct, unapologetic evangelism.
With the exception of Israel and the United States, more Jewish people live in Russia and Ukraine than any other area of the world. For that reason, the former Soviet Union is a critically important and strategic area for advancing the gospel. Today we have 26 missionaries working in five Russian and Ukrainian cities. Last year we distributed more than 1.7 million evangelistic broadsides (tracts) throughout Russia and the Ukraine! That activity led to more than 4,000 personal visits to Jewish people by our missionaries.
Our staff has also developed quite a ministry on the Internet, including a Russian version of the Jews for Jesus website, YouTube, Facebook and more. If you or a someone you know speak Russian and prefer to follow us in that language:.
We have every indication that persecution and restrictions on evangelism will continue in Russia and Ukraine-and may even increase. But we have to press ahead. We need the prayers of our Jews for Jesus friends and family to be able reach Jewish people (and Gentiles too) who are desperate for our Messiah.
The Bible tells us that Jesus came as a light in the darkness and that the darkness did not overcome the light. Through God’s power and the prayers of His people, the same will be true for us as we continue to shine His light.