Well, that’s it. The 2018 FIFA World Cup is over – heartbreak, elation, a fair dose controversy and 169 goals. It was a magnificent tournament, and, considering the current political climate, Russia did an excellent job hosting the enormously popular sporting event. But far from the roaring crowds of Moscow’s Luzhniki Stadium, a different team were working away to win over the thousands of sports fans with the gospel.
Alongside the scintillating soccer games, Russia’s Protestant community committed themselves to proliferate the gospel as far and wide as they possibly could during the month-long event. And, by all accounts, they did a phenomenal job. According to evangelism organization “Mission Eurasia,” hard-working believers managed to reach hundreds of thousands of Russians with the good news across the duration of the sporting extravaganza.
The tactics were simple yet effective: screen the World Cup games on huge projectors inside the Church buildings – and double it up with a bit of gospel outreach! According to Christianity Today, over the past four weeks, some “half a million pieces of evangelistic literature, including Russian Bibles and special editions of John’s gospel that include directions to local churches, have been handed out.”
Incredibly, the home nation managed to exceed all expectations and reach the quarterfinals – evangelism experts say this has opened up more opportunities to share Jesus with the locals.
“People are excited, and that has provided a real opportunity for sharing the gospel,” said Pavel Tokarchuk, director of Mission Eurasia’s Russia office, in a press release.
Currently, around 70 percent of Russians have some level of affiliation with the traditional, Anglo-Catholic Russian Orthodox Church, while nearly 20 percent do not identify with any religion. “Many Christians have found a new courage and boldness for sharing their faith,” said Tokarchuk. “We are praying they will continue to be encouraged to spread the good news.”
This is encouraging news for a country that has some of the most stringent anti-evangelism laws in the world. A 2016 policy called “The Yarovaya law,” effectively banned evangelism outside state-approved churches.
Following the passing of the controversial laws, Thomas J. Reese, the chair of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, said that “Neither these measures nor the currently existing anti-extremism law meet international human rights and religious freedom standards,” adding that it “will make it easier for Russian authorities to repress religious communities, stifle peaceful dissent, and detain and imprison people.”
Incredibly, however, there was no major crackdown on evangelism activities during the World Cup. Despite the Russian Government banning any non-Russian evangelists from carrying out mission work during the tournament, several foreign ministry teams converged on several cities in which soccer games were being held.
“Yesterday was supposed to be a day where we get oriented on how to use the metro,” described an outreach team leader from South Africa, according to CT. “It ended up being four hours of ministry as everyone wanted to take photos with us.”
Mission Eurasia shared an incredible Facebook post, declaring that it staged an evangelistic “flash mob” in Red Square, with the sole purpose of spreading the message of Jesus Christ.
“Police officers were in every corner of the Red Square, but even that couldn’t stop the message of the gospel!” the post began.
“Last week a team of 25 of our School Without Walls (SWW) students in Russia organized an evangelistic flash mob in the middle of Red Square in Moscow as part of our Scripture outreach during the FIFA World Cup games this month. The goal of these flash mobs is to share the gospel quickly and spontaneously in a public place (since open evangelism is now illegal in Russia). As soon as the first flash mob started, people from all over the square came running over to watch it. Amazingly, the students were able to do the gospel presentation four different times, and each time they drew a large crowd to watch and listen. Even though a few people in the crowd mocked them for sharing their faith, many others applauded and were open to praying with them and receiving copies of the Gospel of John.”
Mission Eurasia added that their evangelists were “able to talk with 200 people about Jesus and pray with 80 of them! They also handed out 500 copies of the Gospel of John.”
Police officers were in every corner of the Red Square, but even that couldn’t stop the message of the gospel! Last week…
The Christian faith has seen a surge in interest from the Russian population over the past couple of decades. According to Pew Research, the percentage of Russian adults who said they are at least “somewhat” religious rose from 11% in 1991 to 54% in 2008. In addition, “the portion of adults who said they believe in God rose from 38% to 56% over the same period,” the research noted.