The Russian Union of Evangelical Christians-Baptists’ Union Council has nominated Alexey Smirnov for a second term as president at the next national congress in March. No second candidate is proposed.

Smirnov succeeded Yuri Sipko as the union’s president at the 33rd congress in March 2010.

Committee work on reforming the union’s structures continues. Insiders report that the number and role of vice presidents is in need of further clarification, and better budgeting and bookkeeping practices may be on the road toward resolution.

Government inspection of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) has begun to encroach upon religious organizations. Consequently, Anatoly Pchelintsev, head of Moscow’s Slavic Legal Center, urged that congregations should study legislation and prepare themselves for unannounced inspections. To this end, all relevant laws are to be posted on the RUECB’s website. The barrister noted that congregations have no legal requirement to pass on personal information about members to government agencies.

The RUECB does not have a periodical covering church events and the life of its member congregations. Because of postal and geographic obstacles, the union’s website has taken over most of this role. The union’s one-time flagship publication, Christian Word, is to be redirected toward a non-believing audience.

Noteworthy visitors at the March meeting included Alexey Kolomiytsev, senior pastor of the Russian-language Word of Grace Bible Church at Battle Ground/Washington. Kolomiytsev is an associate of California theologian John MacArthur, whose special form of Calvinism is experiencing both significant support and resistance on Russia’s traditionally Arminian soil.

A very different guest was the Rev. Tom Holladay, a brother-in-law of Rick Warren, senior pastor of California’s Saddleback Church. In Russia, Saddleback has cooperated most closely with the interdenominational evangelical Christian and Pentecostal “VSEKh” movement (All-Russian Fellowship of Evangelical Christians). Some are concerned that Saddleback might attempt to implement a program in Russia that is devised primarily in California. A Russian branch of Saddleback in Moscow with live broadcasts from California or a Western pastor are not regarded as helpful initiatives. The present political climate in Russia demands that Protestant churches increase their efforts to prove that they are not foreign agents or foreign-run entities. Perhaps most important is the fear that a new major church plant in Moscow could only succeed with considerable poaching (sheep stealing) from other Protestant churches.

Other church news in Russia

The business interests of the evangelical Christian businessman Alexander Semchenko have slipped dramatically during the past two years, and his long-time newspaper Protestant is no longer in print. VSEKh and his online news service continue.

Last fall, it was reported that the new campus of Moscow’s Russian American Institute (once known as Russian-American Christian University) was for sale and that the Mormon church would be the likely buyer. That matter still remains unclear. Earlier this month, Moscow’s Advisory Council for the Heads of the Protestant Churches of Russia offered the American owners of the campus a (low) purchasing price of $7 million USD. This offer was signed by all larger Protestant churches in the country except for the Russian Baptist Union and the Lutherans. The American side is demanding $17 million, but the Advisory Council — the highest-level Protestant organization in the country — claims this amount would include a profit of $10 million.

Vasily Ryzhov, a retired professor of psychology from Nitzhny Novgorod, replaced Alexander Negrov as rector of St. Petersburg Christian University last May. But the two sides had vastly divergent approaches on education and Ryzhov departed after only months in office. The university is searching for a new rector; its acting head is Alexander Belyaev.

On April 2, Thomas Tae Kang, a Presbyterian missionary, former South Korean military chaplain and current U.S. citizen, was released from jail in the city of Tula. He had been detained since Sept. 28, officially on charges of paying a bribe to the police of 1.000 roubles ($33 USD). Among Russia’s best-supported foreign missionaries with upper-level political connections in both South Korea and the United States, Kang had been in the process of opening a large, newly constructed house for young people and other guests in the Tula region when arrested.

William Yoder writes for the Department for External Church Relations of the Russian Union of Evangelical Christians-Baptists, a partner church of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). He is a regular contributor to Presbyterian News Service.