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Flourishing Under Pressure Series -- Flourishing in the Midst of Conflict

Many Russians are leaving their country to avoid being caught up in the war -- the Church is welcoming them.

(Fourth in a series of five "Flourishing" articles)

The Russian invasion of Ukraine had been going on for several months. On Sept. 21, 2022, however, Vladimir Putin announced a mobilization of 300,000 military-aged Russian men to reinforce his military operations in Ukraine. Some sources estimate this number to be as high as 500,000. This event, even more than the war, caused turmoil inside Russia.

Russian citizens faced a difficult decision: stay and risk being drafted or flee Russia with no promise of safety or security. Around 1 million Russians decided to leave their home country and enter foreign countries they knew would be unfriendly to them. These people hoped to escape the war and find some form of stability. In the middle of that chaos and turmoil, the Lord continued to speak to the hearts and minds of young Russians, supplying opportunities for them to hear the gospel.

Five months before this mobilization, a global outreach team that had been stationed in Moscow, Russia, had to relocate to Tbilisi, the capital city in the Republic of Georgia, because of complications surrounding the war. The team was disappointed not to serve in Moscow, where they felt God had called them. However, the Lord quickly showed the purpose of their relocation.

During their first five months, this team faithfully shared the gospel in Tbilisi. They made connections with people and started Scripture studies, but the spiritual soil was hard and the work largely unfruitful. However, on September 21, 2022, when the Russian military announced the mobilization, things began to change. Overnight, Tbilisi became one of the major destinations for fleeing Russians. Through God’s divine providence, He had moved this missionary team out of Russia and began moving Russians to them.

The morning of Sept. 21, 2022, one team member was in a language class taught by *Viktor, a Russian believer. Just a few months earlier, Viktor had left Russia because of the war. During the class, Viktor’s phone rang every few minutes and interrupted his teaching. Friends were calling him from the border begging for help. They knew he was in Tbilisi, but there was nothing anyone could do to help. Lines at the border were up to 10 miles long. Because of the backlog, people were trading the titles of their cars for bicycles so they could more effectively cross the border.

Eventually, Viktor stopped teaching the class because he was overwhelmed by the situation and plight of his friends. Viktor and the team member prayed about what they could do in the face of this crucial situation and felt led by the Holy Spirit to go to a mall. They knew many of the Russians would end up there after fleeing the country. Viktor wanted to see if there was anything he could do to help them.

Once they arrived at the mall, they sat with a group of ten Russian men from the Republic of Tatarstan. In Russia, there are 4.7 million Tatar people; 90% are Muslim. Less than 0.46% are evangelical Christian. Viktor and the teammate discovered that these men were Tatar Muslims. Because of the emotional weight of their circumstances, these men allowed Viktor to pray over them in Jesus’ name for comfort and provision. Even more important, they allowed Viktor to share the gospel with them. He read from the Gospel of John. Out of the pain of war, a forced mobilization, and fleeing a country, God provided an opportunity for these men—from a predominantly Muslim region and people group—to hear about Jesus for the first time.

A young girl named Masha fled to Tbilisi. The first time the team encountered her she wanted nothing to do with Jesus. She claimed to be an atheist and did not want to talk about religion. The team stayed in contact with her, and eventually she agreed to come to a Scripture study, but only to observe, not to participate. During that study the team read the parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11–32). As they neared the end of the passage, they noticed that Masha was wiping tears from her eyes. After taking a minute to compose herself, she exclaimed, “I’m surprised this kind of story is in the Bible. Since childhood, all I heard from my religious relatives was punishment and fear—how you couldn’t do this or that or something terrible would happen to you. But in this story, the father is so forgiving.”

From that moment Masha began to attend regular Scripture studies with the team. She also invited her friends from a depression recovery group to come and experience Jesus.

During one of the meetings, after a moment of silence before God, Masha told the team, “I feel so much peace. It’s like I never had depression.” In that moment she decided to pray the prayer of repentance and be welcomed as a daughter of God.

In the weeks that followed, Masha told the team she wanted to celebrate her first Christmas as a believer by being baptized. On Christmas Eve, Masha shared how Jesus had changed her life. She told how He had worked all the details in her life perfectly to bring her into relationship with Him at this exact time. When she came up from the water, her first words were, “That was awesome!” Over the following months, Masha and her friends continued to come to the Scripture study to be discipled. A couple of months after her own baptism, Masha baptized one of the first friends she had brought with her to the Scripture study. The Lord was producing disciples who were making their own disciples.

In the middle of war, a mobilization, and a population of displaced people, the Lord continues to work in the hearts and minds of the Russian people. He is still drawing people near to Him, providing opportunities for them to hear the gospel for the first time, and making disciples who are continuing to multiply.

When you hear news about unfortunate things happening in Russia and surrounding areas, remember the Lord is reaching people like Masha. The gospel is being preached, lives are being transformed, and the church is being planted.

*Names changed for security throughout the series. This article originally appeared in Worldview magazine, Vol. 10, Issue 2. Used with permission.