Christian churches growing in Russia

During the week, women visit a beauty salon in St.Petersburg, Russia, to get new hairdos or maybe a facial. But on Sundays, people go to the salon for a different sort of transformation.

On Sundays, the beauty parlor becomes a place of worship, fittingly called Transformation Baptist Church.

The Rev. Maxim Baranov, minister of the Russian church, was in Lincoln last week telling people about the growing interest in evangelical Christianity in Russia.

His church, which was “planted” two years ago, has only about 30 members, but its programs for young people and businessmen reach out to many more.

“Our purpose is to mobilize and equip national leaders for a spiritual revival in Russia,” he said.

In St. Petersburg, home to 4.5million people, there are only about 8,000 who regularly attend evangelical or Protestant churches. A larger number identify themselves as Russian Orthodox, but most are atheists or agnostics, he said.

Among young people, however, interest in Christianity is growing, said Baranov, 31. Most of the people in his church are his age or younger, and many are children, he said.

St. Petersburg has some 80 Protestant or evangelical churches, but most have fewer than 50 members. Of 35 Baptist congregations in the St.Petersburg area, only eight have church buildings. The rest meet in offices, homes or commercial buildings, such as the beauty shop.

The Russian churches get a lot of help from churches in the United States, which send mission teams to help with projects ranging from English classes to Bible seminars and retreats.

In Lincoln, Baranov was visiting with local lawyer Fred Kauffman, who attends First Evangelical Free Church. Kauffman met Baranov last summer when he and his wife visited Russia to work with a program that introduces a Bible-based morality and values curriculum in Russian schools.

In addition to having a seminary degree, Baranov is an attorney who has worked on religious freedom issues in Russia.

Baranov’s church sponsors a club that meets twice monthly at a St. Petersburg restaurant and is attended by business and professional people.

Participants hear speakers on such topics as management and business ethics, and some meet in smaller groups to study the Bible.

“About two-thirds of those who come are non-Christians,” Baranov said.

“They like the club environment,” which is an alternative to bars and drinking parties, he said.

His church sponsors soccer, music and other events that attract teenagers. His wife, Sveta, leads a women’s quilting group that reaches out to young families.

“I really believe there’s going to be a revival in Russia,” Baranov said.

In his two-month tour of the United States, Baranov spoke to churches and business groups in California, Texas and Louisiana. In Nebraska, he spoke at a Christian Business Men’s Committee event in Omaha, and in Lincoln he met with Nebraska Supreme Court judges and Gov. Mike Johanns, who made him an honorary Nebraska citizen.

He planned to visit Illinois, Indiana, Michigan and Washington, D.C.

Those wishing to help his ministry can send contributions to: Transformation Church, c/o College Baptist Church, P.O. Box 242, Hillsdale, MI 49242.

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