MOSCOW — As the countdown begins for the June 14 kickoff of the 2018 World Cup soccer tournament in Russia, so does an evangelistic campaign to reach 3 million soccer fans in the host country. Mission Eurasia’s innovative outreach, sidestepping a crackdown on evangelistic activity in the country, is gaining momentum.
The number of churches taking part in an initiative that will see them open their doors for free, big-screen broadcasts of the games in the competition that runs from June 14 through July 15 has almost doubled.
“While soccer fans around the world cross their fingers as their national teams play in the coming days, hoping for a victory, Mission Eurasia urges Christians to join their hands in prayer with a different result in mind,” said Sergey Rakhuba, president of Mission Eurasia. “We have an unprecedented opportunity in the next few weeks as Christians around the world join us in praying that God will use this campaign to reach many people with the gospel to extend his kingdom.”
By hosting the screenings at their meeting places, the churches address 2016 legislation that restricts evangelism to buildings of officially recognized churches only. Since the creative World Cup initiative was first announced, the number of churches wanting to take part has risen to more than 400.
Central to the effort is the distribution of around 600,000 pieces of Russian-language scripture, including 100,000 special-edition New Testaments with a QR code link to further discipleship resources and directions to local churches. Mission Eurasia has launched a campaign to raise $75,000 to meet a matching grant from one of its partners to provide the New Testaments. Currently, $25,000 remains to be raised for the match.
Churches from many evangelical denominations are taking part in the World Cup outreach in partnership with Mission Eurasia (www.missioneurasia.org). The ministry has helped train and equip young Christian leaders in the former Soviet Union for almost 30 years.
Among those who have applauded the Mission Eurasia project is Dmitry Lunichkin, a church pastor in St. Petersburg and coordinator for Every Home for Christ.
“We are very grateful that such important evangelistic tools are being made available to us free of charge,” he said. “Thanks to Mission Eurasia, we are sharing the living word of God with the people of our city. We believe that Christ will come one day and reveal how many people accepted him into their hearts as a result.”
While the outreach does not contravene the law, there has been some concern about how the authorities might react, particularly in parts of the country where churches are more closely monitored.
“We need people to pray that the authorities will understand that this campaign is meant to help improve the lives of Russian people and be a part of bringing positive change to the country,” said Rakhuba, from Mission Eurasia’s headquarters in Wheaton, Ill. “There are such great needs in Russia — from high rates of various addictions to teen suicide and other social problems.”
Anticipating a big response to the outreach — one of the largest of its kind in World Cup history — Mission Eurasia leaders are planning extensive follow-up programs in partnership with national churches. Believing they will reach as many as three million people, they are expecting to form around 1,800 home Bible study groups and run evangelistic sports and day camps for up to 15,000 children.
Overseeing the outreach in Russia is Pavel Tokarchuk, Mission Eurasia’s Russian director. A product of the ministry’s progressive model of raising up leaders from young nationals, he is familiar with the native people and culture. “There’s been a great deal of eagerness from churches to be part of this effort,” he said.
Interest is high in the World Cup, with most tickets for the games already sold, heightening the appeal of getting to see the action on a church’s big screen.
The tournament opens on June 14 when Russia faces Saudi Arabia at Moscow’s Luzhniki Stadium, where the final will be played on July 15. Thirty-two teams will compete in the World Cup.
More information is available at Mission Eurasia’s website:
Mission Eurasia (www.missioneurasia.org, formerly Russian Ministries) was founded in 1991, just after the collapse of the Soviet Union, by Rev. Peter and Anita Deyneka. Designed to react quickly and decisively to new opportunities for evangelism and church planting in the former Communist region, the ministry and the Association for Spiritual Renewal (now Mission Eurasia Field Ministries) helped train more than 5,000 church planters and start more than 1,000 evangelical churches. Today, Mission Eurasia and Mission Eurasia Field Ministries work in 13 former Soviet countries (now known as Eurasia) and Israel to train, equip and mobilize the next generation of Christian leaders.